While “adventure” often conjures images of, well, flying by the seat of your pants, the reality is you still need to prepare for adventure in certain scenarios. Anyone whose “call of the wild” is a call to go bikepacking knows this, as the right gear is critical to a bikepacking trip.
However, if you have heard that call for the first time and have no idea where to start, we have you covered here. We will walk you through all of the best gear to make your first bikepacking adventure a thrilling (and safe) one.
First….What is Bikepacking Anyway?
You have likely heard of “backpacking” as a hobby, which refers to hikers who carry their gear and camp along the way. Of course, these are not your average grade school “backpacks.” These hikers are carrying bags designed to maximize enough space for gear while also remaining portable enough to carry for long periods of time through difficult terrain and sometimes in adverse weather conditions.
In the cycling community, there is also a group of people who want to combine their love of cycling through the outdoors with camping along the way—and this is how the term “bikepacking” was coined. Bikepacking is favored by those who want to get out on their bikes and stay out.
This is the ideal hobby for those who love long rides off the beaten path: rather than worrying about allowing enough time to get back home in daylight, the bikepacker can simply stop and set up camp and do it all over again the next day.
Essential #1: Bags and Packing
When setting off on your bikepacking adventure, you will need the right bags for your bike’s frame, handlebars, and saddle. These are bags designed specifically for cycling and will enable you to pack just enough gear to ensure your bases are covered when you are out on a cycling adventure in a remote location.
Bikepacking preparation means ensuring you have enough supplies but not too much. You do not want to be unnecessarily weighed down during a monstrous uphill climb, for example. So this starts with choosing the right bags and packing system for your supplies.
The Moosetreks Bike Full Frame Bag comes in a number of different sizes for both touring/road bikes and trail/mountain bikes. These durable and water-resistant bags are an ideal way to carry needed items in a compact space. The manufacturer does recommend using an internal dry bag to protect electronics, so bear that in mind if planning to store your phone or GPS in this bag.
The Northseven 3XL Frame Bag is an affordable choice for a frame bag with Velcro straps and removable D-ring mounting straps. The waterproof bag has one full zipper compartment with two mesh pockets inside. It comes in one size only (18 x 4.7 x 2 inches), so be sure to measure your bike before ordering.
The Rockbros Handlebar Waterproof bag enables you to use your handlebars to carry bikepacking gear without getting in the way of functionality. The detachable bags can be used together or alone on the handlebar and are made of durable nylon with roll-up closure.
The bag’s reflective logos are a great added touch to increase your visibility while biking at night. These bags can be used to carry extra clothing, tools, snacks, and more.
The Zukka Bike Handlebar bag is a great choice for those on a budget who also like options: this bag comes in five colors.
A touchscreen window pouch allows you to see your smartphone and the removable shoulder strap makes it easy to use when not on the bike. Made from Oxford fabric and transparent PVC, this bag is lightweight, durable, and waterproof.
The reflective straps on this bag increase your visibility while riding at night, and the fixed buckle and straps make it easy to secure to any bike.
The Rhinowalk Bike Saddle Bag is another reliable choice for packing your gear. The 10-liter space is made of durable and lightweight nylon, and your gear and clothing will stay dry in this waterproof bag.
In addition to the interior storage, you can easily hang items on the outside of the bag, such as a helmet or bicycle pump.
The anti-slip wear-resistant straps ensure this bag will last through your bikepacking adventures.
Essential #2: Clothing
Clothing for cyclists is incredibly important, whether you are bikepacking or racing. Clothing serves to protect us both from the bike and the elements, and this is an important area of preparation for bikepacking, especially if you could face adverse weather conditions.
With space in bags at a premium, you also need clothing that can be rolled up tightly and packed into small compartments. When bikepacking, there is not a lot of room for extras. You may be used to packing seven bathing suits and eleven sundresses for a three-day weekend in the Bahamas, but this is not that kind of vacation!
When bikepacking, you need a few functional pieces to keep you dry, safe, and warm.
Arsuxeo Cycling Shorts boast four zippered pockets for extra storage and have a width-adjustable waistband. These quick-dry, breathable shorts provide both comfort and durability for bikepackers. Plus, they come in four different colors and offer the option of rear padding, which can be a plus on longer rides.
Cycorld Mens Mountain Biking Shorts are another quick-dry and durable choice, with an impressive six pockets for storing small items. These shorts come in three colors and six different sizes, ensuring a good fit for any rider. A reflective strip on the pocket increases visibility, and the reinforced crotch seams ensure these shorts stand up to wear and tear out on the trails.
The Endura Men’s FS-260 Pro Thermo bib is a great choice for those bikepacking in colder conditions. The Thermo fabric provides insulation and comfort, and the raw edge cuff provides a snug fit at the ankle. Reflective prints are added for safety, to catch the headlights of vehicles, and this durable bib is a worthwhile investment for anyone bikepacking in the cold.
Sportful Giara Jerseys are a favorite among cyclists and a great piece of clothing to have during a backpacking trip. The temperature-regulated polyester is useful on steep gravel grinds. The three rear pockets and a zippered security pocket are a fantastic touch for small items like keys or credit cards.
This form-fitting jersey is available in four colors, and Sportful also makes thermal, long sleeved-jerseys for colder trips.
Speaking of cold, Athlos Arm Warmers may come in handy on your bikepacking trip. This is an easy way to pack some extra warmth in your small bags. They come in seven colors/patterns, and in addition to providing warmth, they also protect from too much sun exposure.
Sun exposure is a concern for cyclists, and in addition to your clothing, you will need to be sure you have a high-quality sunscreen for your trip. SunBum makes a fantastic SPF 50 Face Stick that will easily fit into a small pocket in one of your bags. This water-resistant sunscreen is also vegan and cruelty-free, and it should be applied every two hours for the best sun protection.
A small tube of anti-chafing cream is also a must for long rides, so be sure to pop some into your handlebar bag before you take off. Experienced bikepackers will tell you that this is an absolute must!
Essential #3: Food and Cooking Systems
Nourishment is an absolute must for cyclists. The fuel from food will enable you to survive those steep gravel climbs and the all-day adventures. Without the proper nutrition (and hydration, too), a bikepacker will certainly fall behind the pack. So preparation when it comes to food and cooking systems is a must before any bikepacking adventure.
Experienced cyclists know that everyday cravings will be pared down considerably out on the trail. You may love a good steak and a baked potato for dinner, but it simply is not doable when you’re hitting the gravel. And a steakhouse is unlikely to be on your path, either.
On the other hand, a few days of trail bars can really wear you down, too. And cyclists are not stuck eating only “nuts and berries,” despite the stereotypes you may have heard. There is a happy medium here, thanks to some prepackaged foods that can be prepared easily while camping.
Perhaps there is no better piece of equipment available to bikepackers than the Jetboil Flash Java Kit. One system that can help you prepare dinner and also provide French Press coffee on a cold morning? “Sign me up” is the answer from bikepackers everywhere.
This compact unit boils water in an incredible 100 seconds, and it can be used to prepare soup or dehydrated meals while out on the trail, in addition to a delicious morning cup of joe. Weighing in at under a pound, the Jetboil Flash Java Kit is easy to carry along without slowing you down.
The BRS Outdoor 3000T is another great option for on-the-trail meal prep that is lightweight enough to stow in small bikepacking bags.
Made of titanium alloy, it weighs in at only 25 grams and boils a liter of water in just under three minutes. You will need to purchase the canister separately.
The Toaks Titanium Cup is the perfect accompaniment to your outdoor camping stove, weighing in at only 2.7 ounces.
It holds just a little less than two cups of liquid, so it is a good size for a small meal for one (soup, oatmeal, etc.) or a cup of coffee.
Mountain House Adventure Meals offer a wide variety of freeze-dried meals to suit even the most discriminating bikepacker’s palate, including a traditional spaghetti with meat sauce, a hearty breakfast skillet to fuel you up for the day, and even chicken teriyaki for those who miss their favorite Asian-inspired cuisine while out on the trail.
Do not forget to factor in plenty of water: you will need anywhere from 5 to 10 liters per day (depending on how much you need for cooking). Staying hydrated on the trail will be critical to keeping your energy levels up, so do not skimp on water.
Even though bikepacking requires light packing, water is something you would certainly rather have too much of than not enough.
Essential #4: GPS Cycling Computers
Even if you pack the “perfect” amount of clothing, cooking supplies, food, and water for a few days of bikepacking, your planning will be for naught if you end up lost in the wilderness for a few days beyond your original plan.
A GPS tool is essential for any bikepacking adventure, ensuring your safety and ability to navigate yourself out of harm’s way. Staying on course and on track is easy with the help of a GPS tool, and there are a number of options available at different price points, with everything from the basics to the extra bells and whistles.
Perhaps no name is more often associated with GPS systems than Garmin, and the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus Bundle is your top-of-the-line choice for a navigation system with every bell and whistle imaginable. In addition to the GPS bike computer, this bundle includes a chest strap heart rate monitor, bike mounts, speed and cadence sensors, a USB cable, and a tether.
The protective silicone case and tempered glass screen protectors keep the device safe from the elements, and the Garmin Connect app allows users to access the most popular paths shared by other cyclists. Navigation alerts will notify a cyclist of an upcoming sharp turn, and incident detection will even alert your emergency contacts in case of an emergency.
The Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt GPS is another outstanding choice to aid your navigation out on the trail. Two mounts and a charging cable are included when you purchase this GPS computer, and it works with numerous third-party apps (such as Strava and Ride with GPS). Additionally, Wahoo’s free ELEMNT Companion app automates pairing and is easy for anyone to use.
Call, text, and e-mail alerts can be set up when the device is paired with your phone, but you also can set these to “do not disturb” when you want to fully disconnect from work out on the trail. The ELEMNT also works seamlessly with Strava Live segments if you want progress updates on fitness goals.
A more budget-friendly choice for a bikepacking GPS is the Bryton Aero 60E GPS Cycle Computer. The under $200 price point makes this an attractive choice for cyclists who do not want to break the bank but still need a reliable GPS.
With a 32-hour battery life and smartphone notifications, this GPS provides most of the basic features you need out on the trail and works with third-party apps to download various routes.
The Aero60 comes preloaded with OpenStreetMap and has full GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) support.
Essential #5: Sleeping Systems
Last but certainly not least in our list of bikepacking essentials is a sleeping system. Your body will crave rest after a long, hard day up and down gravel trails. You may be zapped from the heat or perhaps looking for a warm place to rest after a day in the bitter cold and whipping winds. Sleep on the trail may not be luxurious – this is no night at the Ritz – but that does not mean it has to be brutally uncomfortable or unbearably cold.
Compact sleeping systems for bikepackers provide warmth and comfort without weighing down your ride. Your three main options for sleeping on a bikepacking trip are a tent, a bivy, or a sleeping bag.
A tent comes in handy if you know you will be in especially windy or wet conditions, but the downside is they can be heavier to haul. If you plan your bikepacking trip around better weather conditions, you should be fine with a bivy (bivouac bag) or hammock.
A bivy is smaller and lighter than a tent; it is basically a waterproof covering for your sleeping bag. Setup is easy for those who want something quick and lightweight when traveling the trails.
Hammocks are a great option as long as you are in a wooded area with somewhere to hang them, and they provide an alternative to a bumpy or sometimes soggy ground surface. The downside of getting off that ground, though, is the air and wind can feel chillier, and you may need an additional sleeping pad to stay warm in the hammock.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur Bikepacking Tent can sleep two people and has a three-pound trail weight. Once assembled, the tent offers an impressive 29 square feet for resting in comfort. The packed size of the Big Agness Copper Spur tent is 6 inches by 12 inches, for an easy bike mount and carry.
The waterproof compression sack ensures your tent stays dry while you are out on the trail, and the shorter 12-inch pole sets are ideally designed for handlebar storage.
The Slumberjack Contour Bivy offers a lightweight place to rest in warmer climates. With a stuff sack included, this bivy shields you from insects while sleeping but provides comfortable ventilation at the same time.
With a packed size of 11x11x4 inches and a weight of only 15 ounces, this is a great and affordable choice for bikepacking in the warmer months.
The Sea to Summit Comfort Plus, true to its name, packs a whole lot of comfort into something easy enough for a bikepacker to carry along, weighing only two pounds. This sleeping mat comes in several different sizes, including women’s sizes, to comfortably fit any adventure cyclist.
Delta core foam cushioning offers you great support while resting, and an easy inflation valve makes setup a breeze. The stuff sack is included for easy packing on the go, and a nonstick grip print keeps your sleeping bag in place on the mat.
The Sea to Summit Comfort Plus is the perfect mat for those who love adventure but are not quite to sleep-on-the-cold-hard-ground adventurers. The support provided for your body by the Comfort Plus could aid those with aching backs after a hard ride and simply make for a better night’s sleep than a regular sleeping bag on the ground.
If a hammock is more your speed, look no further than the Hyke and Byke Power Hammock for your next bikepacking trip. This four-season hammock will mean an additional 3.46 pounds attached to your ride, but if you plan to sleep in colder temperatures, you will be grateful for the 800 Fill Power Goose Down sleeping bag out on the trail.
As bikepacking budgets go, the Hyke and Byke Power Hammock may be a bit of a splurge, but one we think is worth it for a great night’s rest.