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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

What is Bikepacking

By alpjim
19, Aug, 2013

Bikepacking is cycle touring off-road, a discipline that has been around as long as people have been riding bikes. However its recent popularity can be linked inextricably to the explosion of lightweight equipment available now.

Bikepacking with Scott Swalling

Riders have been freed from the shackles of heavy equipment and can now carry everything they need for an overnight trip without diluting their riding experience. There are many different definitions floating around but we like to think of it as the cycling equivalent of Alpinism. An alpinist climbs a route only once, carrying all their equipment needed up and over any obstacles to successfully reach the summit. The successful alpinist minimises gear and eliminates redundancy often finding multiple uses for equipment. They carry the smallest pack possible so as not hinder their progress when walking and climbing and are often cut-throat in their packing. Bikepacking follows a very similar ethos to enable a cyclist to experience the same trails as if they were riding an unladen bike.

Gear Freaks?

Like Alpinists, Bikepackers tend to spend hours pouring over boxes of equipment before selecting exactly the right combination for their trip. Do not despair if you haven’t got piles of equipment, where as “Fast” and “Light” were the buzz words a few years ago most kit is now light enough to get you on the trails. The pinnacle of bikepacking is bespoke bike luggage but a few carefully thought about bags and straps will be fine. Just remember riding off-road can mean you carrying the bike for some time over all sorts of obstacles, The more ruthless you are with your equipment, the lighter the bike, the easier it will be to carry. The important thing to remember is the adventure should come first, get out there and do it and you can start to buy lighter, specialist kit later.


Things break when you are at the furthest point from help. A loaded bike handles differently and things tend to bounce around, stressing seams and load points differently than the designers perhaps thought. Try to keep your equipment system as simple as possible. This will not only help with its durability but also the time it takes you to load the bike.

Eliminate Redundancy

Why carry a down jacket and a four season sleeping bag? Could you get away with a three season bag and wear your down jacket in bed?

Keep Things Handy

Throughout your day you are going to be delving into your bags to get food, water, tools, cameras etc. Try to plan your system to keep these items handy and accessible. You don’t want open the drybag with your sleeping bag inside, in the rain, just to pull out a spare tube buried at the bottom of the bag. Having an order items are loaded and unloaded off your bike can help streamline setting up camp without getting equipment unduly wet.

What Wrong With Panniers?

Nothing, but even the lightest rack and panniers will weight more than a modern bike packing set up. They give you a lot of space... which you can fill with more stuff, unfortunately this normally equates to a heavier bike! You can be disciplined with panniers and not fill them but I have yet to meet someone who doesn't just pack that extra Mars Bar.
Panniers can also make it hard to carry a bike for any distance as well as affecting the balance and handling of a bike to a much greater extent than framebags and seat packs.

Get The Balance Right - Go For a Test Ride

Make sure you ride your bike around the local park before heading out on the trails. Try different configurations of weight and luggage distributions and see how it affects the handling and carrying of the bike. Make sure there are no straps and fixtures that could work loose and cause you an embarrassing tumble. A local sub 24 hr overnight ride, often termed a microadventure, makes the ideal test ride.

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