What frame material do I want?
What your bike is made of has a significant effect on your riding experience. These are your options.
For most other types of riding, steel is becoming less common, because it’s heavy. But many bikepackers still choose steel bikes, since they’re incredibly durable, less expensive, and more affordable to fix.
This metal is lighter than steel (and costs more) but is still impressively durable.
Bikes made with carbon fiber are incredibly light, but not as durable as metal frames. Repairs are also far more complicated and expensive. They’re a good choice if you prioritize speed and comfort over durability.
Nothing is lighter and stronger, but titanium’s high cost makes it an option for only the most enthusiastic enthusiast.
What size wheel do I need?
This will depend first on the type of bike you’re using, and second on personal preference. If you are using a road, gravel, or cyclocross bike you’ll most likely have the standard 700c wheel. If you’re riding a mountain bike, you’ll likely choose between a 29-inch wheel and a 27.5-inch wheel. Some riders prefer a 29-inch wheel for the way it rolls efficiently and manages larger obstacles. Others prefer the 27.5-inch wheel for its quick response and nimbleness.
Other, less common, options include a 26-inch wheel, which is more nimble, and a 27.5+, which accommodates tires as wide as 3 inches or more, which is great for loose terrain.
How wide should my tires be?
For bikepacking, you’ll almost always want tires with an aggressive, knobby texture to give you grip on loose surfaces like gravel, sand, and dirt. Wider tires offer a more cushioned ride, but they’re heavier than narrow tires and slow you down on descents and flats, so it’s a balancing act. A good all-purpose width for bikepacking is about 2 to 2.5 inches. To see how wide a tire you can use, look at the available clearance on your bike frame. You can go as big as the clearance allows without having your tires rubbing the frame.
What gearing do I need?
Bike nuts will talk your ear off about gearing. Go ahead and join the debate, or simply remember that for bikepacking you want a few gears that are easy to spin. You’re going to be climbing hills with a heavy load of camping gear, not racing. Bikes designed for bikepacking, mountain bikes, and gravel bikes will often have a “granny gear”—an exceptionally large, “easy” gear in the rear.
You may also have the choice between a 1x (pronounced “one-by”) or a 2x (“two-by”), which refers to the number of gears in the front. A 1x has a single gear and a 2x has two. While a 2x gives you a wider range of gear ratios, a 1x is great for bikepacking because of its simplicity and lower weight.
How do I carry my camping gear?
You’ll need to attach panniers and other bags to your bike. The idea is to create a balanced load that won’t hinder your riding. Some bikes have numerous frame mounts (like the mounting points used for screwing on water bottle cages) designed for this purpose. No mounts? No problem. Plenty of bikepacking bags come with straps and other systems to attach them to the frame.