Embarking on a bikepacking adventure is like opening a door to a world of unforgettable experiences. It's a journey that allows you to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life and reconnect with the beauty of nature. Yes, it all sounds wonderful doesn't it?!! Alas it's not always 'Instagram perfect'. It's not always like the emotive-music infused Tinkerbelle YouTubes, every ride is different and every ride presents new challenges.
Nothing is a constant in bikepacking; the terrain, the weather, your physical health, your mental health, your equipment and your interactions with people you meet along the way. These change every time you venture out.
Do I consider myself qualified to preach to you? No, not really but what I think I can do is make some suggestions to smooth what can be a rocky and sometimes self-doubting path.
I will always consider myself a beginner bikepacker, I firmly believe no one has all the answers. We are all individuals, embarking on a journey, searching for something that is personal to us.
I hope these tips help you to have a wonderful experience first time out!
First-Time Bikepacking - Things to Expect & Things to Do
Have a 'Late-Pack' piece of luggage This has transformed my ability to venture out at short notice. I can have my bike mostly packed up except for my rear bag and backpack, that will carry items that cross-over to other disciplines of outdoor pleasure such as hiking, car camping and mountain biking.
Make a packing list If you would like to download my packing list to Excel click here. Knowing what is carried where has many benefits, for instance you won't be half packed up at camp, only to find there's no room left in your luggage for the rest of your stuff.
Don't be afraid to carry a backpack I carry a 60 litre lightweight, properly fitted backpack, it's no hinderance at all. This also allows for a solar charger to be attached to my back and to be working whilst I'm riding. Be sure to pack it symmetrically, so it doesn't flop around!
Check your packing list off fully - On a previous ride I just ticked my item named Clothes off, without looking at the detail of the clothes, which resulted in me forgetting to wear my sponge pants or taking them with me. Sore bum city!
Test any new items you have - For example I went on an over-nighter with a new, good quality (Sea to Summit) cooking pot, I had washed it but hadn't cooked in it at home. On my ride I found that the hard anodising was leeching an awful taste into any boiled water or food. It spoiled the ride somewhat.
Test electronics the day before you leave - Check everything works, check everything is charged and make sure all necessary software is subscribed to and downloaded and works properly, including offline, if it's meant to. Don't forget to download some films etc. to watch when you are chilling at camp.
Carry a small notepad and pencil that are easily accessible. Have a page for To Buy items and a page for To do items. Jotting them down as you go along will mean you are better prepared for the next ride or the next leg of your journey. You can note down the names of people you meet and keep a daily record of your activities, temperatures, weather etc., which is helpful if you are Vlogging or Blogging
Label your luggage - I have Rollpacker 1, Rollpacker 2, Gorilla Cage 1 and Gorilla Cage 2 plus a few small ones. On my phone I have a list of exactly what goes in which piece of luggage. This makes pack-up tidy and quick. A half-arsed, lop-sided pack-up will annoy you all day!
When you get to camp unpack fully - Packing and unpacking can be fiddly especially when you're tired. But resist the temptation to skimp on the unpacking, get into the routine of unpacking everything you may need. When it's the middle of the night and you realise you've left your head-torch or toilet paper in the luggage it's a PITA!!
Stopping to make adjustments - You may have to stop in the first kilometer to adjust a piece of luggage that just doesn't feel right. 500 metres later you may have to stop and adjust something else, this could happen many times. Don't worry, you haven't done a bad job, until you ride or shake-down, it's not easy to know what will work best. The same with your clothes, you may swap your T-shirt for a vest, and long shorts for short shorts etc
Take a strong elastic band or use a cable tie to hook over your front brake lever when you park up. It makes the world of difference to the ease of propping your bike up.
Invest in a Click-Stand This lightweight stand enables you to prop your bike up anywhere, you don't need to look for a tree or a fence. It's such a gamechanger. It also comes with some brake lever bungees, so point 9 is dealt with!
Check the weather forecast - Do this before you leave and twice daily on the ride, be prepared for any rain or heat-wave events
Your fitness might not be quite up to managing the weight of your loaded bike - don't plan on extreme distances for the first week or two, unless you know you are fit enough
Cramping - If you are not used to pedaling such long distances you may find you get cramps in your hamstrings and calves. I found that to relieve this, if I occasionally positioned my foot on the pedal so as to have my toe pointing down, shortening my calf, and rode like that for 5 minutes, it eased any cramping. Be careful that your toe doesn't hit the ground!!
Difficulty getting up inclines - I always understood that you should never stomp on your pedals and that if you did, you would go to hell! I'm not particularly fit and often get off and push up hills, but found that if I lift my feet off the pedal a small amount and gently stomp on it, actually it's more like a rhythmic tap, I could actually get up inclines that I would normally push up. This may be an additional load on your drivetrain, but I would expect it to be in tip top condition if you are planning a tour
Consider getting some quick release pedals - These really have helped me, especially when pushing the bike, no damaged shins. See my YouTube here