Bikepacking: Get Out Of Dodge

Bikepacking: Loaded for remote, extended trips and exploring off road. Ideal bicycles are mountain bikes and fat bikes. Riders generally carry enough equipment for camping and surviving in areas with minimal amenities. Gear is carried inside frame bags as opposed to panniers and racks.

We talked with Casey Greene, the cartographer behind Adventure Cycling Association’s Idaho Hot Springs route, to get a few beginner tips and strategies to make every bikepacking trip—big or small—something to remember.

Bikepacking is a quickly growing segment of the mountain bike market. What was once a little-known activity done by a small group of hardcore DIYers is well on its way to becoming a full-blown category of bicycles and equipment. The selection of gear has increased greatly to offer anyone with the spirit for adventure numerous options. Yet, with seemingly endless options for bikes and gear, many people are left all dressed up but unsure where to go, as there are few well-established routes.

First let’s take a look at what bikepacking is. The easiest way to explain bikepacking to the uninitiated is to simply say it is backpacking on a bike. Where touring cyclists often tend to carry a significant amount of gear with panniers and racks, bikepackers generally opts for a lighter-weight, more agile setup—using frame, handlebar, and seat bags along with a backpack for their gear-carrying needs. Trips can range from multi-week, multi-state adventures to the ever-popular “s24o,” or sub twenty-four hour overnight, just a simple excuse to spend a night in the woods. This increased agility is freeing, allowing people to cover more ground and see more of the outdoors. However, not everyone lives in an area with hundreds and hundreds of continuous miles of singletrack, and route planning can become an issue.

Many people aren’t able to bag the big trails and instead have to find adventure in their back yards. It pays to treat every trip, no matter the scope, as a true wilderness outing. Route selection and mapping are of paramount importance when one ventures into the wilderness. While the touring cyclist is generally never too far from some type of civilization, the bikepacker can easily find him- or herself days away from another person, let alone a town or store. Preparedness when it comes to route selection can also help determine what parts of the route may or may not be open to cyclists. In general, any protected wilderness area is off limits to anything other than foot travel, while the National Forest Service and BLM have numerous guidelines for camping in their parks.

“One routing technique that has worked for me is to plot out destinations in an area, then connect them,” says Greene, who advocates taking a destination-first approach to mapping. “Here in the Northern Rockies, I love connecting hot springs and forest fire lookout towers, but you may prefer waterfalls, quaint towns, ice cream stands, breweries, knitting shops, gold mines, idyllic streams to fish, or desert towers to climb. Connect destinations that give you that warm, fuzzy feeling of excitement or that grizzled sufferfest feeling of accomplishment. Your destination goals do not have to be points. They can also be linear parts of the greater route, such as singletrack you’ve always wanted to ride.”

From there, Greene explains that all you have to do is add in the rest of your trip, such as places to sleep, resupply, or simply rest, and you have yourself the workings of a basic bikepacking route. “Work in where you are going to sleep each night. Again, this can be a point such as a campground. Or, it can be a rough area like along a certain creek. If it is a longer trip, you will need to locate resupply destinations, and work them in. It also helps to figure out water sources, especially in arid environments.”

Start small. Don’t make your first adventure the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. While famous routes such as the GDMBR, the Idaho Hot Springs Route, or the Arizona Trail may be
well mapped, an important part of bikepacking is to make sure your gear is dialed and your fitness is up to snuff. The sub-24 hour overnighter is a great time to experiment and shakedown your gear to ensure that everything is working properly when you head out on your real-deal adventure.

Fine-tune your nutrition plan. Food resupplies can be few and far between in the backcountry. Make sure you have enough food to sustain long days in the saddle and enough extra calories in the event you are out on the trail longer than you planned. Foods that are calorically dense and high in energy, like nuts, honey, or almond butter, are good choices on the bike while foods that are high in protein for recovery once you reach your camp can make a big difference in your ride.

Bikepacking is a great way to experience your favorite places and trails in a different way. All it takes to have the trip of a lifetime is a little preparation and planning. When you’re adequately prepared, you’re free to truly enjoy your surroundings instead of worrying about the basics.

The Only Way To Know For Sure

A little experience can go a long way, and helping your customers get started bikepacking can encourage them to come back to your shop again and again. Salvegetti Bicycle Workshop in Denver, Colo., has had success creating events that get people outdoors and on bikes, while building customer loyalty. A key example is the annual Salvegetti/Surly Camping Extravaganza.

“It’s a new way to expose customers to bikes,” says Arleigh Jenkins, Salvegetti general manager, of the shop’s event partnership with Surly. “It gets them out on the bikes in the environment in which they are meant to be ridden. It creates a sense of community and gets people more excited than if you were just in a parking lot. And after three years of doing the event, shop employees and shop customers alike look forward to it and get excited to be there.”

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