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How to pack for your first bikepacking trip 

James Stout was a professional cyclist with Team Type 1 in the US . He is the Executive Director of the Diabetes Community Empowerment Project, an organization which uses peer mentored and goal focused exercise to educate and empower Native American communities to live healthier and happier lives. You can find his writing in publications like Men's Journal and Bicycling and most recently in a two part series he has shared with Velocio about his take on Bikepacking and a “how to begin” guide below. 

Photo: John Watson

Remember your first 100 mile ride? Remember how much you panicked about what to bring, what to wear, what to eat? You probably got most of those things wrong, but now you’ve got it dialed. If you’re packing for your first bikepacking trip, you’re probably feeling that same sense of existential dread as you browse websites devoted to dehydrated meals and inflatable sleeping pads. Don’t worry, we’re here to tell you that you’ll have this down in no time. To help you avoid being the guy with the bulging pockets and swinging saddlebags, here are some tips for your first overnighter. 

Clothing

Check the weather and make sure you don’t just look at the high but also the low temperature. Chances are you’ll be riding at the hottest time of day and in a sleeping bag at the coldest. You need clothing that’ll allow you to ride comfortably from the temperatures about 90 mins after sunrise (you’ll be surprised how early you wake up when the sun is your alarm clock) to just before sunset. You’ll also need something to wear around camp. Try to select items that do double duty. A powerwool long sleeve baselayer works on the bike, and after riding, paired with a puffy vest doubles up to keep you warm at night and during those chilly first miles, a wool cap keeps you warm at night and on the bike.  We tend to take a second set of bibs, because nobody wants to get back into sweaty bibs, and a fresh set of socks “for morale” but jerseys, warmers and jackets all get worn on both days of a weekend trip. 

Shelter 

If you’re confident it won’t rain, you can’t beat sleeping out under the stars. For those warm summer nights we love SOL’s bivvy bag or a lightweight camping hammock if we’re camping in a forest.  A great budget option is a Tyvek groundsheet which you could pick up at a construction site or store for a few dollars. If weather is a worry, or trees aren’t a certainty, a lightweight freestanding tent always delivers. You don’t even need to peg it down, sandbags or rocks work just as well in the desert. We like MSR’s Hubba Tour NX. When buying a tent, make sure it fits in your bikepacking bags. Generally tent poles are the largest items in your whole set up and can be tricky to find space for. 

Photo: Sean Burke

Sleeping

If you don’t sleep well, your ride will be less than enjoyable. A good inflatable pad can double up in a hammock to keep you warm (you’d be surprised how much heat you lose to the air) and a tent to keep you comfortable. Thermarest makes several excellent options. As for sleeping bags, down bags are warmer for their size but if they get wet they’re useless. Synthetic bags are bulkier, but more robust. Pick the one that best suits your needs and budget. You’ll notice we have shown our bag without a stuff sack, that’s because we pack it that way. Shoving a sleeping bag into a drybag or pannier last, and without a stuffsack, allows the sleeping bag to fill extra space and stops all your gear rattling around. But hang onto that stuff sack; use it to corral your spare / dirty clothes and turn them into a pillow. 

Eating 

Half the fun of riding lots is eating lots. But you don’t want to take up lots of space by bringing the kitchen sink. A simple gas stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket fits inside a metal mug (which you can use for coffee / oatmeal) and works reliably unless you’re at really high altitudes. If you plan to be high up, or want to fly with your stove, a liquid alcohol stove is better. 

Bring plenty of food! Oatmeal is an easy morning option, it’s compact, delicious and perfect for all day energy. We like to mix in a little peanut butter and always bring plenty of coffee! For dinner, Good to Go makes some shockingly delicious camp meals. Couscous is great for DIY camp meals, it requires very little fuel (just add boiling water) and has plenty of carbs. Bring at least one extra serving of food, you never know when hunger will strike! For ride food,  you’ll want a little more than gels if you’re going to be out there all day. Pack some snacks with protein and a little fat, trail mix is a great start.  

Photos: Sean Burke

Bags 

The first and most important thing is to run whatever works for your bike and budget. A handlebar roll and saddle bag should fit on any frame, take off a bottle cage and you can fit a frame bag as well (Blackburn makes some great options). If you have a budget to stick to, try using Ski Straps to secure your things to your bars / top tube and work out what you need to buy.  Be sure to pack your big light items higher up and heavier stuff lower down to keep handling pretty similar to an unladen bike. Also, have essentials you need to grab available. Beyond a few snacks, you’ll want to have rapid access to a tool, a flat kit and an extra layer. That way, a puncture or shower doesn’t have you sifting through your camping gear to get what you need. 

Photo: Sean Burke 

Route Planning 

Remember that you’ll be going slower and that climbing will begin to suck. We’re not saying don’t, we’re just saying don’t start out with a 90 mile, 12,000 foot day. Aim for 50-60 miles a day on hilly terrain. You could do more, but you want to be able to stop to check out some sights along the way. We like to plan a mid ride picnic at a cave, or a visit to a historical site. On our last trip, we swung by a miniature horse sanctuary to say hi! 

Aim to roll up to your campsite with an hour of daylight left. That way you’ll have time to work out any kinks in your tent pitching routine and get set up before you’re operating by the light of your headlamp. 

Photo: John Watson

Extras 

Everyone gets one indulgence item. For some it’s a flask of whiskey, others bring a book or a set of cards. Bring something that you can enjoy and share with your group and it’ll be well worth the weight. 

You can read more about James Stout’s non profit at: nativeexerciseempowermentproject.com