How To Plan Your First Bikepacking Trip

Follow these pointers to head out overnight.

Bikepacking has plenty of overlap with backpacking. You’re using a lot of similar gear, you’re spending long days moving, packing and unpacking bags, plus dealing with the elements (and your physical and equipment needs). But while backpackers will feel right at home once they’re on a bike and moving, the act of planning a bikepacking trip has some notable differences. Instead of picking out your favorite park or wilderness area and connecting must-see dots by trail, bikepacking offers nearly limitless options that range across the road network of roughly 4 million miles crisscrossing the country.

Sure, comfortable campsites aren’t as easy to find on the side of a gravel farm road as they might be along a backpacking trail. However, other road-connection elements do factor into bikepacking trips, like the ability to quickly drop into civilization for a night of lodging or a hot meal. So, while the backpacking fundamentals of light travel are an excellent start, those normally bound to boots should shift to a broader mentality to plan a first bikepacking trip. Here’s how to get moving.

Identify Your Objectives

Backpacking trips normally start with goals: a beautiful view to experience, an epic campsite to enjoy, or maybe a summit or destination lake to cap the journey. Working backward from the end-goal, you plan the trip and its needs.

Bikepacking isn’t much different, though your goals might be. Start by thinking about what you want to accomplish on this trip. First off, where do you want to go? Is it a specific dedicated route to complete? Perhaps it’s transit across a target area, connecting to a beautiful road section, or pedaling over a recommended mountain pass. If there’s a specific camping spot or geographic destination to visit, begin by mapping those points, as well as your starting location.

This launch area is key, as it typically needs to factor where you can safely leave a vehicle. If leaving a vehicle or arranging a dropoff (via friends or public transit) is not an option, that’s OK. Start where you are. Depending on where you live, a route that begins from your own doorstep is an ideal way to begin experiencing (and planning) bikepacking trips. (It’s also something you probably haven’t experienced with a backpack.) 

Next, consider duration. How many days do you want to spend out? Determine the number of miles that you can comfortably ride per day. If you haven’t tried riding all day, and you’re in reasonable shape, it’s probably a lot longer than you think—consider starting at between 25 and 50 miles for your first time. Finally, figure your overnight preferences: camping or staying indoors along the way. Knowing these trip parameters will help you sort out your route (and your gear). 

Where To Ride

There are a lot more rideable roads and trails in this country than there are hiking trails, but selecting a suitable route isn’t as simple as just picking the shortest option between two points. A lot of those roads—like highways or busy roads without shoulders—simply aren’t places you’re likely to enjoy biking. Steer clear of busy multi-lane roads in favor of quiet rural roads, bike paths, and safer options. Use resources like Google Earth and Google Street View to get a sense of the roads you’re thinking about riding: How large is the shoulder? Is it paved or gravel?

Gravel roads hold a special place in bikepacker’s hearts: They’re typically more scenic, rolling through more rural areas, often have less traffic, and the traffic that they do have is moving a lot slower. Use a website like to identify gravel roads that other riders have reviewed. But, of course, only consider gravel roads if you have a bike that can handle them. You don’t necessarily need big beefy mountain bike tires, but your skinny-tired carbon racing bike might not be the best touring option for these paths. (Here are some tips on how to choose the right ride.)

Finding Camping

Most backpacking trips happen entirely within national parks, forests, wilderness areas, and other places that make it fairly easy to find permitted camping areas. Your bikepacking trip likely won’t. So, if you do want to camp (the beauty of bikepacking being that’s not always a necessity when traveling through towns), you’ll need to integrate those sites into your route. Start with established campgrounds, but consider taking your route through public lands where dispersed camping is also an option. National forests—which are usually bisected with a maze of scenic gravel forest-service roads—often allow camping just about anywhere a set distance from roads, water, or trails (be sure to check local regulations). And though you can’t legally bike into the same wilderness areas you would backpack into, there can be plenty of overlap between your backpacking and bikepacking campsites. 

Only on a Bike

Take advantage of the unique opportunities that traveling by two wheels allows. For instance, instead of finding a scenic point on the trail to sit down for lunch, or waiting until you get to camp to make dinner, make a pitstop at the famous burger joint in the town you’re riding through. On that note, explore cities and towns on your bike. Plan your route to take you right down main street and stop in to grab a souvenir and a cold drink before continuing on. Or, plan a night midway through your trip for a hotel stay to recharge by taking a shower and sleeping in a real bed. 

And, not to be overlooked is the biggest planning factor of all: distance. Bikepacking allows you to cover a lot more mileage and ground than you might as a backpacker, so don’t be afraid to explore. Spot a different route that passes a more scenic landscape? Check it out on your map and give it a shot! You never know where the road less traveled will get you. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.