Bikepacking for Beginners: all the gear you need for a multi-day cycling adventure
- Thursday 6 May 2021
So, you’ve done a bit of touring and stayed in a B and B or a hostel overnight before continuing your ride. That was all jolly good fun but now you fancy staying outside all night as the next step. In this blog we look at what you need to take, what you might want to take, and how to pack it on your bike. To buy a copy of Pennine Bridleway with 20% off and free UK postage, click here.
First, you need really to decide what you are going to sleep in. This may well depend on what you already have if you’ve been camping previously. If it’s really dry and warm all you need is a sleeping bag and a mat, but it’s usual to take a little more than that for extra cover. A bivvy bag is an easy way of adding some waterproofness, or extra warmth and is certainly the lightest way to do it. However, if you want extra protection then you’ll probably be looking at a tarp or a tent as well. Tarps are generally lighter and cheaper but not as cosy or as private as a tent. You may also prefer to take some poles and lightweight guys as well as pegs if you are going for the tarp option – poles tend to give an easier and more consistent result than trying to use the bike as a support method. Whatever method you are aiming for, practise at home first. No, really. It’s amazing what a lovely set up you can get going in your living room, and it will be worth it when you get to the first camp in slightly inclement weather. There are some incredibly lightweight tents but generally speaking the more you pay the lighter the tent. Don’t get carried away until you’ve decided this is the life for you.
I tend to pack all of the sleeping stuff in one bag strapped to the front of the handlebars. This way when I get to camp, setting up is quick and easy, with everything to hand. Put the sleeping bag ready in the bivvy bag – this means the sleeping bag has an extra layer of waterproofing during transit but also saves you a job at camp. Don’t bother putting stuff in compression sacks in the bar bag; just kneel on it all when you are packing and it will squash down plenty enough.
I use an Alpkit 20l double ended bag strapped to my bars. 20l is heaps of room and can cope with my winter gear. Often there’s space to spare in summer. A double ended bag means you don’t have to get everything out at once but can unpack from both ends if it makes life easier. It’s also inexpensive. There are very fancy bar rolls out there but as ever with these things, cost goes up.
- Tarp or tent
- Bivvy bag
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
Bikepacking sleeping gear © Joolze Dymond
Food and water
Another important consideration is food and water. Take plenty of food as there is nothing like being out overnight for stimulating the appetite. Again, you have plenty of choices here. You can either plan your ride round cafes and shops for your big meals and take snacks for the rest of the time – this can keep things light and means you don’t need a stove. Or you can take some combination of stove and cooking equipment and fend for yourself. Camp food can either be dehydrated meals, cook something from scratch or a combination. It’s only limited by your imagination and how much you are willing to carry. At least dehydrated meals these days are considerably better than they used to be, but as ever, try at home before you commit on a trip. Don’t forget that adding cheese to anything makes it instantly better. Unless you aren’t a cheese fan.
Stoves come in a multitude of sizes and weights with various fuels. I tend to use gas as it’s quick and easy and doesn’t tend to leak. Meths is also popular. Don’t forget some means of lighting the stove, preferably a waterproof method, something like a fire steel. Lightweight stoves may need protection from the wind and you’ll need to take a pan as well. All in one kits such as the JetBoil and Brukit have a built-in pan and ignition system, tend to boil water quickly and be pretty weatherproof but are heavier.
The most lightweight option is using a metal mug directly on the stove, but this limits the amount of water you can heat at once, and you can’t eat from your mug and drink from it at the same time. There are plenty of pan sets of varying sizes and weights available. Substitute some foil for the lid to save weight. Foil can also be used to create a windshield for the stove as well. And take something to eat your food with.
If you are a coffee fiend you can get lightweight filters and still have decent coffee outside for not much extra weight. There’s nothing like a brew at a camp.
A water filter or some form of purification system means you can feel easy about using water from pretty much anywhere. I know people who will drink straight from streams and I know those who have got very ill doing so. Your choice. Filters have got lightweight and effective in recent years and don’t leave the taste that tablets do. Boiling water can also work but that uses a lot of fuel which adds weight to your trip.
- Stove – variety of styles, variety of fuels.
- Mug – Can cook in your mug if going very lightweight
- Pans – variety of sizes and weights.
- Coffee filter
- Means of lighting the stove, preferably waterproof
- Food - cook your own or dehydrated?
Bikepacking food and cooking equipment © Joolze Dymond
It’s going to get chilly at camp. Take something to change into so you can get out of your sweaty riding gear – this can be aired and then dried off in your sleeping bag for the next day. I tend to sleep in a fresh base layer and some woolly long johns – sleeping in riding shorts tends not to be comfortable and frankly a bit grim. An insulated jacket of some sort will hopefully stop you getting chilly at camp, but you can also sleep in it if it turns out to be colder than you expected. Ditto a woolly hat. Incidentally if you are cold when you start off riding the next morning don’t discount riding in this stuff until you do warm up.
This of course is in addition to your normal riding clothes. When packing I stick my camp clothes in one dry bag and what I may need for riding in another. Camp clothes are packed deeper than day clothes, and I tend to pack this stuff in a seat pack. My spare clothes in a dry bag then tend to act as my pillow at night.
- Clothes for sleeping – base layer, leggings
- Insulated jacket
- Woolly gloves in winter
- Normal spare riding clothes
Bikepacking clothing modelled by Hannah Collingridge © Joolze Dymond
Obviously, you’ll still be taking your normal riding gear of tools, first aid kit, guides and maps. If you are heading out for a multi-day trip you may want to expand the tools a little bit but only take what you feel confident using otherwise it’s dead weight.
You should also take a poo shovel and paper and read up about how to poo responsibly.
Painkillers are always handy to have in your bag as well as any other medication you normally take. You can spot middle-aged bikepackers as they rattle more.
You probably won’t get it right first trip – it takes time and experience to work out exactly what you need to take to make it a fun trip. Are you a hot or a cold sleeper? Is it midge season? Will it be light enough at night to nip for a wee without needing a headtorch?
Experience will also teach you the best method for you to pack – it’s got to make sense to you. Some people do everything they can to get weight off their backs so use a combination of bar roll, seat pack, top tube bags, frame packs etc. Some don’t mind a sack and this might be a way of experimenting with bikepacking without investing in a seatpack. If you decide this is the life for you, you’ll probably find a combination of bar bag, seat pack and a top tube bag works as a good starting point. As with all outdoor gear purchases, it can become addictive.
- First aid
- Maps, guides
- Poo shovel
- Midge net and midge repellent
- Powerbank for phone/GPS charging.
When you’ve worked out what you are taking, load up your bike and go for a local potter to get used to how a loaded bike feels. It can be really quite different and it’s much better to discover than a couple of miles away from home rather than a couple of days away. The only thing left to do is set off and enjoy yourself.
Bikepacking setup © Joolze Dymond