Bikepacking is becoming a popular way to experience the outdoors. It’s basically backpacking for those who would rather pedal than walk. Here are 6 tips to keep in mind if you’re thinking about making the jump to camping on two wheels.
1. Be Patient with yourself as you figure out your system. It is more complex than stuffing everything into one backpack. You will need to feel out the best way to distribute weight between your frame bags, handlebar bags, seatpost bags, and small backpack. If you are short and don’t have much clearance between your seatpost bag and your rear tire, pack your lighter items in the back and use a Voile ski strap to cinch it even tighter against your saddle. It’s okay to bury your camping gear at the bottom of your bags since you won’t be getting it out until the end of the day -- but make sure your tent and sleeping bag are in a waterproof stuff sack or dry bag. Keep your raincoat, your ride food, and your camera easily accessible. It might take you a few days to get your packing method dialed. Go with patient friends who are okay with you being a beginner.
2. Be ready to adjust your riding style to your bike’s new weight and limitations. It won’t maneuver quite as easily, so be prepared to walk sections of trail you might normally ride. Be aware of where the majority of your weight is and think about how that might affect your bike. If lots of weight is in the rear, be aware of your load hitting your tire on bumpy trails if you're riding a full suspension bike. If lots of weight is in the front, you'll have a harder time getting your front end up and over obstacles.
3. Focus on finding inspiring camp spots and make camp with plenty of time to experience them. As a beginner, you may feel tired during your day of riding and need to focus on turning your pedals. My favorite days on the bike are when I leave myself time at the end of the day to go exploring, make a good nutritious dinner, relax at camp, and generally enjoy my surroundings.
Make sure to “sweep” the area under your tent to clear out any rocks, pine cones, or other poky things that might interrupt a good night’s sleep. Bring a little notebook or use the notepad on your phone to record your experiences and take notes as you learn so you can implement them next time you pack up your bike bags. Take photos. Enjoy the place you’ve worked so hard to get to.
4. Keep Moving at Camp. This may seem counterintuitive, but remember, you’re on a bicycle all day doing the same movements in the same body position for multiple days in a row. It will feel really good to move your body in a different way once you’re off the bike. Go for a mellow hike or jog, do some yoga, or even swim around in a lake if it’s warm enough. Spend some time stretching and doing mobility exercises for your back, shoulders, and hips before you settle in and rest for the night. You’ll sleep much more soundly and be less sore on the bike the next day.
5. Eat Breakfast! I tried skipping breakfast and just eating ride food as I pedaled in the morning, but I always felt flat. Instant oatmeal packets sprinkled with trail mix are easy, fast, and provide energy for the first couple of riding hours. If you can find them, hard boiled eggs can be a delicious and simple treat as well. I love starting my day packing up camp in a relaxed manner while enjoying my oats and instant coffee and soaking up the sun's first rays. It puts me in a good mood and fills my energy tank. Don’t start your day feeling like you’re already ready to end it.
6. Above all, don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the process. I meet lots of bikepackers who are rushing through their day from the time they wake up until the time they crash exhausted in their tent. That might be fun for some people, but as a beginner or simply as a person interested in fully enjoying their experience, I highly recommend moving at a more relaxed pace. There’s nothing better than riding your bike all day, especially when you get to discover the world’s most beautiful places to fall asleep and wake up in.
Save your headlamps for adventurous night missions: this inflatable lantern is the ticket for after dark tent musings, card games and meeting that work deadline you nearly forgot.
I was camped out in the high desert above Sedona, Arizona, swapping stories after mountain biking with some newfound friends and fellow vandwellers, when I suddenly remembered I had some writing to do. I was giving a talk at an event and needed to finish the first draft of my presentation. I excused myself to my van, turned on my headlamp and got to work, silently lamenting the fact that I hadn't changed my batteries in quite some time.
Five minutes went by and there was a knock on my door. In popped the head of Craig, a 67 year old full time adventurer who had been camping every day for seven years. He had a gift for me: an Mpowerd Luci, the inflatable solar lantern. He supposedly had many, and was happy to pass one on. I blew it up, clicked the switch and instantly my little room transformed into a productive working studio. I hung my tired headlamp back on its hook and cranked out my rough draft in time to rejoin my friends for a nightcap.
Since then, my gifted Luci has become a standard item for not only my daily van camping life, but also for my bikepacking and backpacking trips. It packs down to the size of a large chocolate chip cookie (also on my standard pack list) and is flexible enough to slide into the side of any bag I choose. Clip it to the outside of my pack as I go about my day, or stick it in the windshield of my van, and it keeps my nighttime exploits lit up for a full 12 hours.
For the creatively inspired, Luci comes in many colors, and also in a frosted tone to add mood lighting to those romantic fireside tent dinners when you actually want to see your food on its way to your mouth. For the philanthropic types, Mpowerd works with NGOs to send lights to impoverished areas without electricity and you can help empower people in these areas with your Luci purchase. It retails for 17.95 to 24.95 depending on your preferences, and can be found online or at REI.