If you know how to ride a bike and you’re comfortable camping, you’re ready for bikepacking. You don't need the most rugged terrain or remote singletrack. Dirt roads offer a great way to get started. And once you get comfortable with the equipment and skills, bikepacking can take you from weekend wilderness escapes to multi-month transcontinental journeys. Let’s get going.
Choose the Right Bike
Bikepacking starts with the right bike, and you may already have it. The most important consideration is what terrain you will be riding on, such as dirt roads or singletrack trails. For dirt roads, the speed and weight savings of a rigid bike, like a gravel or cyclocross bike, might be the best option. But if you’re planning on rowdier riding, you’ll want a hardtail or even full-suspension bike. Check out our bikepacking bike buyer's guide to find the best choice.
Outfit Your Bike with Gear Bags
You need to carry your camping gear, just like with backpacking, and the key to comfortable (and safe) bikepacking is outfitting your bike so your load is balanced. You want compact gear distributed between the front, middle, and rear.
Bags: You’ll find a variety of bags designed to fit the front of your handlebars, in the gap between the tubes of your bike’s frame, and underneath your seat (extending outwards over the rear tire). For longer or more gear-intensive trips, you can also get bags that attach to your front forks and on either side of the rear wheel, and in small crevices where you can squeeze a bit of storage. Start with a handlebar bag, a frame bag, and a seat bag. Test packing your kit in bags before buying, as you want a good fit (without loose fabric or needing to cram gear in). To save weight and improve balance, get bags that attach directly to the bike.
Waterproofing: Waterproof bags offer extra insurance, of course. They’re more expensive, but worth it if you’ll be riding in wet weather. If you’re mostly a fair-weather rider, you can always use waterproof stuff sacks or garbage bags to keep your gear dry (use these on the inside of your bike bags).
When loading gear for a bikepacking trip, keep three priorities in mind: balance, organization, and access.
Balance: Stow your heaviest objects low on your bike to maintain the best handling. This means your frame bag is often the best place for dense, heavy items like water, tools, and food. Distribute other gear between your handlebar bag and seat bag. Store the bulkiest items (like a sleeping bag) in the rear so they extend out behind you rather than in your field of vision. Keep the weight balanced between the front and rear.
Organization: Think of your gear in systems. Pack your sleeping bag and pad together, stove and cookware, etc. This will make loading and unloading easier, especially if you want to cook a hot lunch in the middle of the day.
Access: Keep things that you need frequently or quickly within easy reach. You don't want to be digging around for your rain shell when you need it. Same for navigation tools and snacks. Consider adding extra bags, like a small snack bag on the top tube or a phone mount on the handlebars.