Introduction to bikepacking – the first overnight trip

by Andy Amick on August 24, 2011

in Bikepacking, Tips

Sunset on first bikepacking trip

It’s time to put the theory into practice and enjoy a night camping under the stars.  For this first overnight trip, you want to keep things close to home to test your setup.  Being 50 or more miles from home when you realize your ideas don’t work as well as you imagined is not a great way to start your bikepacking adventures.

If you are not comfortable sleeping out by yourself, recruit some friends and bring them into the realm of bikepacking.  If you can’t get away from the family for the night, you could try packing up the kids in a trailer or tag-a-long and bring them with you.  That’s not the ideal way to try out your gear setup, but it’s better than not going at all.

Location, location, location

Bikepacking camping spot

For this first overnight trip, you don’t have to pick the coolest campsite way back in the woods, but you would get bonus points for this.  Focus on a site that is a rideable distance from home if you can.  State parks and National Forests are always good bets.  There is also the option of “stealth camping“, but be sure you are not trespassing on private land.

What to pack

In addition to your sleep system and clothing that have been described in earlier posts, you need a few other items for your first overnight trip.

Food – You will need at lest two meals worth of food.  Depending on how far the total ride will be, you may need to pack a few snacks.  More detail on which foods to bring is provided in the next section.

Water – Just like the food, you need to carry plenty of water for the ride to the campsite, the night, and the ride home in the morning.  If you are making coffee in the morning, be sure to factor in the water used for coffee in your total amount.

Light – You should have some sort of light source for your campsite.  It can be a simple as a small flashlight, but my choice is the Princeton Tec EOS.  The light mounts to your helmet and is bright enough to use while riding.  You could also go with a Petzl headlamp or other camping headlamp but most of these do not come with helmet attachments.

Chamois cream – You will need to re-apply your chamois cream for the ride home.  Friction Freedom and Chamois Butt’r both make single use packets that are perfect for bikepacking, but I’m a huge fan of the Friction Freedom.

Personal Care – Toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, insect repellant, and any personal medications you need.

First Aid – Don’t skimp on the first aid, especially if you are riding solo.  Adventure Medical Kits makes several small first aid kits that are not too bulky.

Rain jacket – A basic cycling rain jacket will keep you dry from a storm, but it also doubles as an extra layer to keep you warm at night or for the ride home in the morning.

Cell Phone – No, you are not calling home to check in every couple of hours.  It’s for emergencies only!

Cash – It’s a good idea to carry a few dollars just in case you need it.

Glasses – For those that wear glasses but ride with sunglasses, you will want your regular glasses for wearing around the campsite as it gets dark.

Toilet Paper – When nature calls, be ready.


3000 calories full of nuts, chocolate, and sugar

Mmmm, 3000 calories of nuts, chocolate, and sugary goodness.  The trip is only one night which means you can forgo the healthy veggies and even the quick cook camping meals.  Instead, you can embrace the “I’m not a nutritional role model” mantra of Kent Peterson.  Heck, Sour Patch Kids fueled Jill Homer over the Tour Divide route so they can’t be all that bad.

Focus on calorie dense foods that your body can easily digest.  Some foods that pack well are raisins, dates, other dried fruits, single pack pastries, fig newtons, and one of my favorites – the Moon Pie.  You could even pack tortillas or flatbreads which would make a great wrap with some peanut butter and raisins inside.

Sleepy Time

Final sunset from bikepacking tripWith your camp setup and darkness approaching, there is little else to do but sleep.  If you are in bear country, please be sure to follow proper bear safety with your food.

For a campsite that is in an established campground, the night will be nothing out of the ordinary for you.  For a solo campsite in the woods or away from other people,  prepare for a new experience that is both exhilarating and a little spooky.  The night will be much quieter than you are used to and your mind will try to figure out what made every sound.  Don’t be surprised if a sound from wildlife or the wind wakes you up in the middle of the night.  On my first solo trip, I woke up at 2AM with 6 deer around my campsite trying to figure out who/what I was.  There was never any danger, but it spooked me enough that the rest of the night did not result in good sleep.

The key to enjoying a solo night is to relax and realize you are in no real danger.  If you know that you won’t be able to relax your mind, you may want to consider packing some Tylenol PM to help you get to sleep.  Some people even pack Ambien to make sure they get good sleep.

Return of the King

No matter how well the night goes, when the sun comes up you will have a smile on your face.  You have successfully completed your first bikepacking overnight trip!  Take your time and enjoy the ride back home.  Rolling up to the driveway will have you feeling like a king.  Just don’t expect king like treatment once you enter the house. 🙂

Happy bikepacking,


About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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