First things first – check out the bike you already have! If you already have a mountain bike you’ve taken on the trail, chances are you can modify it for a bikepacking experience. If not, think about the terrain you plan to take it on choose a bike that can handle the lifestyle. Hardtail mountain bikes are generally a good option as they have a suspension fork in the front to help absorb impact on the front wheel, great for cross-country rides. Something to keep in mind: make sure it’s comfortable! You’ll be on your bike for long hours – and depending on the length of your trip, maybe even days. So, choose a saddle that’s comfortable and look into Ergon Grips to help relieve hand and wrist stress. Don’t be afraid to ask the folks in the bike shop to see what they recommend too – they may have some personal secrets up their sleeves!
2. How to Pack your Gear
Not only are you going to need to investigate what type of gear to grab with your newly selected bike, you're going to need to know how to pack it. In fact, you should plan how you’re going to integrate your gear with your bike’s structure before you go out and shop for your gear. Going for lightweight, portable items are a must, but understanding how each individual item is going to be stored on your bike will prevent you from purchasing unnecessary or ill-fitting gear.
A good place to start is finding bike-specific soft bags that attach to your handlebars, seat and frame. Generally, keep your light and bulky items (like sleeping bags and spare clothes) in your handlebar bag and your heaviest items (like tools and food) in your framebag. It might take a few games of tetris to make it all work!
3. What to Bring
Similar to backpacking, you'll need to decide what the real necessities on the trail are for you. Bikepacking and backpacking have similar goals of condensing and lightening the load. Look for small, compact and lightweight gear, and bring dehydrated food. It’s also a good idea to cut back on the luxuries and replace with items than can be used elsewhere; For example, swap pillows with your rolled up clothes in a stuff sack. You'll also need a great tent! The LightHeart Gear Solo is a great option, weighing only 27oz but being roomy enough to spread out in after a hard day of singletrack.
4. Trip Planning
A big part of your first bikepacking venture is going to be what trail you decide to take. We suggest taking your first go around on a shorter trail with adequate bail out options you are already familiar with. You want to feel far enough out that it’s a new adventure, but close enough to familiarity if you ran into an unexpected snag with your bike, gear or conditions, you can get to safety. Regardless, plan ahead and scour maps to make sure you have exit options if you need them. A maiden voyage to get comfortable on your new setup is always a yes for us!
5. Bike Riding Techniques
This may seem silly for biking pros, but your bike is definitely going to ride differently when it's loaded with weight and a packs that aren't usually there. You would hate for something so simple to cause unnecessary discomfort or a trip-ending injury. Consider swapping your saddle out for an extra-comfy (more padded) one, and pick your shoes wisely! If they’re too stiff or too flexible you may end up with sore soles after so many hours on the bike. Just like hiking, pick materials that are sturdy without being too heavy and think about how fast they will dry. Biking with wet shoes is no one’s ideal situation!
Above all, put you’re your shoes and your gear through the ringer before leaving for the main event. Test everything out multiple times on a short day-ride or two before to allow your body to get used to riding on a packed bike. Transition your day rides into overnighters and eventually you’ll be ready to embark on a multi-day excursion your body will love!
Last - but certainly not least - study up on bikepacking! Chat to your buddies, folks in bike shops, or on one of the many forums out there (like bikepacking.net) to get educated before hit the trail. Nothing will ruin the experience for you more than setting out on a great trip only to be let down by a routine occurrence that you weren't prepared for. Plus, you may learn some bikepacking secrets from old-time pros that you can’t find anywhere else! We think everyone should get out there and bikepack a major trail at least once, but not before they're prepared!