As a self-sufficient person you are on your own with your bike, you only have the bare essentials with you, you decide for yourself how long you ride and where you sleep. You will experience a strong closeness to nature, perceive your surroundings as unfiltered as you will experience with almost no other travel method.
Bikepacking promises unlimited freedom and awakens the thirst for adventure in you. These are just some of the reasons why bikepacking is becoming increasingly popular and has long ceased to be a short-lived trend from the USA.
With light luggage on remote paths
It’s not that easy to force bikepacking into a rigid definition. You could describe it like this:
“Bikepacking is the synthesis of a bike tour with an all-terrain bike and minimalist camping.”
The transitions are fluid: whether a tour of several weeks abroad, an Alpine crossing with pre-planned overnight stays in a hotel or a so-called overnighter (bikepacking tour with only one overnight stay) with a minimalist overnight stay in the open air.
Bikepacking is as multifaceted and varied as the people who practice this adventure sport and therefore ultimately what each individual makes of it.
Bikepacking vs. bike travel – what exactly are the differences?
Biking fun and nature are the focus of bikepacking. To do this, bike packers like to leave paved roads and bike paths and move on field or gravel roads or on narrow trails and forest paths.
In order to achieve the necessary agility and off-road capability, the bike not only has to be off-road capable and light, but special bikepacking bags are also used, which can also be attached without a luggage rack or holding devices.
The classic cyclist usually travels with a robust touring or trekking bike. Equipment and provisions are transported in up to six bicycle bags, which are attached to the luggage rack, fork and handlebars. This quickly adds up to 15-20 kg of luggage that needs to be moved including the driver and bike.
In summary, the main differences are as follows:
- Use / travel area
- Bike type
All-rounders wanted – choosing the right bikepacking bike
The bikes that can be used for this purpose are as varied as the routes that can be ridden while bikepacking.
The “right” bike for a bikepacking tour should be off-road, as light and comfortable as possible.
Gravel bikes, mountain bikes, cyclocrossers or so-called adventure bikes are therefore widespread types of bikes.
It doesn’t have to be a new bike – if you are a beginner and just want to get a taste of bikepacking, it doesn’t make sense to buy a new, expensive bike right away.
Perhaps you already have a suitable bike in the basement that can be “transformed” into a bikepacking bike with a little effort. Alternatively, you can ask your friends and acquaintances whether someone can lend you their bike for a weekend.
If you have been infected by the bikepacking virus and you want to buy a new bike, you should consider the following aspects when choosing a bikepacking bike:
- In which terrain will you mainly ride?
- Which frame material should your new bike have?
- Should the bike have suspension?
- What is your budget?
The best way to buy a new bike is at a bike shop you trust. Experts work there who can advise you extensively. You can try out different models and types of bikes and find out which bike suits you best. – Not to be forgotten is the test drive. Regardless of whether you buy your bike used or from a specialist dealer, an extensive test ride is required to get a feel for the bike.
Flexible lightweights – the bikepacking bags
Classic, large-volume pannier bags, which are commonly used for cycling trips, offer plenty of storage space and space for all kinds of clothing and equipment. It can therefore quickly happen that the bike becomes overloaded and therefore sluggish and difficult to navigate.
Bikepacking bags are lighter and smaller. For this reason alone, you are forced to limit yourself to the bare essentials.
When speaking of a bikepacking setup, this set usually includes:
- a seat bag,
- a handlebar bag (handlebar roll / handlebar bag)
- and a frame bag.
Additional packing volume is created by various accessory bags. These include smaller top tube pockets, stem pockets and fork pockets. Many bikepackers also use rucksacks or hip bags to generate additional storage space. Waterproof pack sacks are used to protect clothing or equipment from getting wet.
In addition to their lower weight, bikepacking bags also have the advantage that no luggage racks are required to attach them to the bike. The special bags are attached using straps / Velcro fasteners and can thus be attached to almost any frame geometry.
Less is more – the bikepacking equipment
Every bikepacker has different preferences and needs when it comes to equipment. Weather conditions, the length of a tour and how you stay overnight all influence the equipment you need.
A classic bikepacking sleep set-up consists of a tent, a sleeping bag and a light air mattress or sleeping mat. Since bikepacking is often about the lowest possible weight, ultra-light bikepackers also like to use minimalist tarps or bivouac bags instead of a full-fledged tent in order to reduce the transport weight as much as possible.
The bikepacking bags are the heart of the bike equipment. Bottle holder, bell and of course a bicycle helmet are also included. A lot of bikepackers use their mobile phones for navigation and of course a corresponding mobile phone holder is a must.
Cycling shorts and jerseys are the basics. Depending on the weather, additional items of clothing such as rainwear, gloves, cycling goggles, insulation jackets or special cycling shoes with click pedals can be put in the “mobile wardrobe”.
If you are self-sufficient, a light gas stove, dishes and cutlery should be in your pockets.
Toiletries and first aid kits
Toothbrush, toothpaste, personal medication, sunscreen and mosquito repellent can be found in this department. It can also be helpful to have some toilet paper or wet wipes with you. It is also important to have some basic first aid equipment with you. There are first aid kits specially designed for outdoor use.
Tools and spare parts
Breaking down is always annoying. It’s even more annoying when you don’t have the right tools for the repair. Bikepackers therefore always have a certain amount of tools and spare parts with them. A multitool already covers many tools and should therefore not be missing. Tire patches, air pumps and tire levers are also very helpful and should have their permanent place on board. Especially on longer tours, you should still consider standard spare parts such as brake pads, shift cables and chain links.
Food and liquid
Cycling is an endurance sport. Your body has an increased need for nutrients and fluids. This should not be neglected when planning the equipment. You need to make sure that your body is regularly supplied with energy and fluids. Foods with a high energy density (whole grain products, legumes, pasta, etc.) are very suitable for replenishing the stores. Regular snacks in the form of nuts or energy bars also belong in hand luggage. If you don’t want to carry along every meal, you can also plan your breaks to suit you
Buying food and drink in a supermarket or having a tasty meal in a restaurant.
There is room for individual preferences and needs in this equipment category. From additional technology such as a camera, Bluetooth speaker or flashlight to an iPad or favorite book – what you like and what you personally consider important comes with you on tour. Even if it’s not always easy, you should still try to stick to the minimalist approach of bikepacking and really only take what you need with you.
Bikepacking starter guide – 5 steps to your first outdoor adventure
Have you already felt like getting started with bikepacking and are you dying to start your first tour? Wonderful! A little preparation is necessary to make the first bikepacking tour an unforgettable experience.
Plan your route
Unless you have an endless quota of time and money, it makes sense to think about the nature and length of your tour in advance. Do you want to camp or do you only sleep in pensions and hotels? A prior reservation is often necessary in both cases.
Do you depend on supermarkets and restaurants or are you self-sufficient? Do you start from your front door or do you have to include arrival and departure in your planning? If you travel to foreign countries, visas and vaccinations may be necessary. For longer trips, it is advisable to draw up a checklist or a detailed travel plan that takes all relevant criteria into account. The effort is worth it, because if you are well prepared, you can enjoy the trip better.
Make a packing list
A packing list is also part of conscientious preparation. The mere fact that your space is very limited makes it necessary that you think about what to bring with you on your bike tour. With a packing list, you not only ensure that you have all the necessary equipment with you, you can also optimize it on every tour and try out which set-up is the most ideal for you.
Pack your bags cleverly
A packing list is a good tool for planning your equipment as minimalistically as possible. In order to actually be able to stow everything that you want to take with you in your pockets, you need a clever and structured way of packing. This is not only due to reasons of space, but also ensures a balanced weight distribution. A basic recommendation is that lighter items belong in the saddle and handlebar bags and that heavier items of equipment should find their place in the frame bag.
Items that need to be quickly accessible (rainwear or snacks) go upstairs and things that you need to set up the camp (sleeping bags, tents, etc.) can be stowed in the pockets at the bottom. Waterproof packsacks are very helpful when it comes to protecting sensitive items from moisture or separating dirty from clean equipment. The same applies when packing the bags: Practice makes perfect. The more you have packed your bags, the better you know what is important.
Take a test drive
A fully loaded bikepacking bike behaves completely differently than you are used to from your “bare” bike. The additional weight and the changed weight distribution make for a driving experience that takes some getting used to. Once you’ve put your equipment together, it’s always a good idea to take a test ride in travel conditions. You can already practice how best to pack your bags and get used to the changed driving behavior. A so-called overnighter is ideal for testing equipment and bikes. Find a suitable spot in the area and test there
your equipment for one night. The findings from this dress rehearsal can then flow into the further preparations.
Go ahead and enjoy
Conscientious preparation makes sense and ensures that you do not experience any nasty surprises. Some people actually enjoy planning a tour and preparing meticulously for it. With all this, it should not be forgotten that the spontaneous and unplanned moments during a bike tour are the most beautiful and impressive. – Go for it!
Where is the journey going?
It doesn’t always have to be a multi-week bike trip abroad – on the contrary. In addition to family, job, hobbies and friends, very few of us have the time to go on extensive bikepacking trips on a regular basis. An overnighter in your area or a bikepacking weekend in the neighboring forest can be just as terrific as a tour of several weeks abroad.
Bikepacking has meanwhile become a widespread outdoor sport in Germany, which is why there are more and more events and routes that have been developed for bikepackers.
If you’re planning on doing something more than just an overnighter, there are some interesting bikepacking tours in Germany. These include the Jurasteig, which meanders through the mountain peaks and beech forests of the low mountain range for 240 km, or the Hanse Gravel Trail in northern Germany, which runs between Hamburg and Stettin and can be mastered in about 6-7 days.
However, these gravel tours are a bit more demanding and you should not underestimate the required level of fitness and the routes. As a bikepacking beginner you can start with less demanding tours, for example along the Rhine or Danube cycle path.
Now it’s your turn
A closeness to nature, thrills, camping adventures and loneliness – you can experience all of this while bikepacking and these are also the reasons that fascinate me about this outdoor sport.
Don’t let equipment, foreign terms and high-tech equipment put you off too much. With just a little equipment and a little planning, you can start your first bikepacking adventure in no time and find out for yourself why bikepacking is becoming increasingly popular.
Once you’ve tasted blood, I’m sure it won’t stay on this single tour.