One of the surprising results of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a growing interest in outdoor adventures. For those who were already Mother Nature enthusiasts and newbies alike, there’s something exciting and fulfilling about being alone in the great unknown. Fresh air, vitamin D and the quiet of a forest or mountain can provide a renewed attitude and spirit, particularly in times of great stress.
A recent trend is bikepacking — a new form of vacationing rooted in minimalism. As you can guess from the name, bikepacking combines biking, camping and backpacking all in one. The concept is you pack everything you need and hit the trails, stopping to camp along the way.
Tobias Woggon, mountain biker, adventure athlete and co-editor of the forthcoming “Nordic Cycle,” is an experienced bikepacker and is excited to see its recent emergence. “It is a great way to explore landscapes and regions and experience them visually and physically,” he says. “If you are exposed to the weather and the forces of nature — sleeping in a tent — you will experience the country better than if you stay in a beautiful warm hotel room.”
Throughout 2020, many have been challenged to think critically about what’s most important to them, what they actually need and what they value the most. While it may be an extreme way to soul-search, Woggon says bikepacking provides the time and space to concentrate on the most important things by carrying only what you need and embracing the open road ahead.
Sound like a fun ride? We think so. Here’s what you need to get started:
Best bikepacking bags
Think about everything you use in a 24-hour period — from toiletries and clothes to food and personal care products. Now, cut that in half. And then again. When you’re bikepacking, you have to fit everything into one backpack. Not only do you want it to be lightweight (since you’ll be wearing it while biking long distances), but you need it to have many smart compartments for easy organization. Try these:
High Sierra Pathway Backpack ($69.89; amazon.com)
Built for those who stay off the grid and like it there, this 40-liter backpack features space and durability. It has 2,440 cubic inches and features padded, wraparound shoulder straps for additional support. And if you need or want it, the wraparound hip belt comes in handy too.
Deuter Trans Alpine Pro Backpack for Hiking and Everyday ($195; amazon.com)
Recently redesigned after taking the advice of alpine climbers and long-distance bikers, this 28-liter backpack is said to have one of the most comfortable fits on the market. This is largely due to its Airstripe back system that allows for added control. Inside, there’s a built-in organizer that keeps your gear and goods neat.
Mammut Trion 50 (starting at $129.95; amazon.com)
What’s not to like about this classic hiking backpack from Mammut? It’s lightweight, and it features breathable fabric and a back ventilation system. Ideal for a weekend bikepacking trip, you can pack plenty inside the bag and hook or clip extra necessities on the outside.
Topeak BackLoader Seat Post Mount Bikepacking Bag ($88.36; amazon.com)
Need a little more room than what your backpack allows? Or want to take out some of the weight? Enter: this seat mount that attaches to your bike. It’s easy to access, stays put and helps you bring some extra goods for a more extended trip.
Best bikepacking bikes
When you’re traveling for triple-digit miles over many days, you can’t just hop on any ol’ bike. Instead, you need an option that’s been tested for long-distance treks, that’s lightweight (in case you need to carry it!) and that can handle unpredictable landscapes. They are definitely an investment compared to a traditional commuter bike, but when you consider the amount of money you save on hotel and rental car bookings for a vacation, it’s well worth it.
These bikes were the top three rated in 2019 for bikepacking bikes from Bikepacking.com:
Santa Cruz Carbon Chameleon ($1,949; santacruzbicycles.com)
This bike is built to keep you going, with a smart, efficient design that’s equally attractive as it is practical. Reviewers at Bikepacking.com took it on journeys in Arizona, New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest, and it earned a first-in-class recognition.
Salsa Cutthroat V2 ($3,299; salsacycles.com)
For those who are up for an adventure, this bike will take you from point A to point B, worry-free. It has a revamped fork and boost spacing, and allows for a custom-fit bolt for the frame bag. This means you can basically customize it to fit your specific needs and specifications, making for a comfortable long-haul ride.
Ibis Ripley V4 ($2,833; ibiscycles.com)
Beloved by distance cyclists, this bike has even bigger tires for getting through tougher terrain. One reviewer raved about better suspension and support, the lightweight feel and the quiet frame design, all creating a smoother ride.
Best bikepacking tents
When you’re deciding on the right type of shelter for your bikepacking excursion, it’s essential to focus on a few aspects. First, weight: It needs to be featherlight so you can take it wherever the trail leads. Secondly, the weather: Think about the temperature at night when you set up camp so you aren’t freezing at sundown.
And lastly: space. If you’re traveling alone, a one-person tent is sufficient. But if you’re bringing a partner or pal for the journey, it may be better to utilize body heat and take a two-person tent with you.
River Country Products Trekker Tent 2 (starting at $49.95; amazon.com)
Not only is this tent easy to set up, it’s even easier to use. You actually use your own trekking poles to support this tent that can fit up to two people, and it comes in at a whopping 2 pounds, 12 ounces. There’s also a version that comes with its own trekking poles you can use in case you don’t already have some of your own.
Hyke & Byke Yosemite Backpacking Tent (starting at $129.97; amazon.com)
With a lifetime guarantee, this backpacking tent is an Amazon favorite. With versions for both one person and two people, this dome-style tent is just 2.5 pounds.
Naturehike Cloud-Up Lightweight Backpacking Tent (starting at $99; amazon.com)
Another Amazon favorite, reviewers rave about how lightweight the entire setup of this waterproof tent is, coming in at just 3 pounds. Available in sizes for one, two or three people, the tent gets extra points from shoppers for being incredibly easy to set up and coming in its own stuff sack.
Best bikepacking clothes and accessories
When you’re leaving for any type of getaway, what’s step one? Packing! For a trip when you’ll be outdoors 24/7, layers of clothing and accessories become vital. And a reminder for adventure seekers: Body temperature changes when you’re pedaling and the wind is blowing in your face. So here’s some gear to get you started.
Norrona Fjora Convertible Alpha60 Jacket (starting at $148.05; backcountry.com)
This award-winning multipurpose jacket is ideal for all sorts of biking adventures. From scaling mountains to flat, long-distance treks, it’s breathable, durable, lightweight and windproof. A super-cool and useful feature are the zip-off arms, which allow you to cool down during the day’s hottest time.
Chrome Industries Storm Rain Pant ($120; chromeindustries.com)
Come rain or sun, these pants will allow you to keep pedaling. They’re made of waterproof polyester and feature water-resistant front pockets and a two-layer back panel. Your valuables (and your bum!) will stay dry, even if the weatherperson gets the forecast wrong.
Coalatree Trailhead Adventure Shorts (starting at $45; amazon.com)
During your bikepacking vacation, you may stop to climb a rock, climb a mountain or even have a picnic. And if it’s hot outside, these shorts are built for it all. They’re super stretchy, waterproof and stain-resistant, and they pack into the front pocket in a snap.
Randy Sun 100% Waterproof Socks (starting at $18.99; amazon.com)
Woggon says it’s especially important to pack waterproof socks when you’re bikepacking. How come? If it’s raining, it’s impossible to keep your shoes completely dry, but at least if your socks protect you, your feet won’t become unbearably cold.
Best bikepacking gear
These will make bikepacking more enjoyable and exciting, not to mention safe! After all, it is a vacation, so come prepared to have a little fun along the way, without worrying about the necessities.
Light-A-Fire 100% All Natural Starter Pods ($17.99; amazon.com)
Damp wood isn’t easy to start. And after riding for hours, you likely won’t have the energy to use wood and leaves to foster a flame. Instead, pack a few fire starter pods with you and enjoy 15 minutes of heat at a time.
Ascher USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set ($9.34; amazon.com)
At dawn and dusk, your bike should be glowing so you’re noticed. Plus, you want to know where you’re going! You’ll need the bare minimum of a bright headlight and a red tail light, preferably flashing at nighttime. Reflective strips could also be a good idea.
Primus Firestick Stove ($89.95; rei.com)
Woggon says a small gas stove that makes breakfast, lunch and dinner is important. You don’t want it to weigh much, though, which is why this option is a smart one. It’s only 3 pounds, 6 ounces, and it can fit in a jacket pocket. Just don’t forget to pack a pot and some gas for the ride.
Cotopaxi Noches Sleeping Bag ($100; cotopaxi.com)
If you’ve been in the wind, rain or snow all day, a warm, comfortable sleeping bag is the best place to relax at the end of the day, Woggon says. We like this low-key option that’s dependable 365 days a year. It’s made of 100% repurposed fabric, making it cozy, soft and great for the planet too.