Bikepacking – or backpacking on a bike – is somewhat of a new and growing trend but how do you get started? We sat down with Kurt Refsnider, pro mountain biker and bikepacking expert to get his bikepacking tips and insights into this adventurous way of camping.
Q: First concern I have with riding a bike with a weighted pack is keeping my balance on the bike while on a single track. What’s the best advice for people with this concern?
I found myself trying to figure out how to strap bags and extra water bottles onto various parts of my bike back in 2008 as I was preparing for a 360-mile self-supported mountain bike race called the Grand Loop. This route essentially connected Moab, UT, Grand Junction, and Montrose, CO. At the time, I was still racing road and cyclocross quite seriously, but I was in need of new challenges. What better way to challenge yourself than to see how fast you could ride a giant, rugged loop with no outside assistance? It turned out that through the preparation for this race, I fell in love with bikepacking, a way of traveling and exploring that I’ve since been trying to share with others. Bikepacking is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to cover ground quickly and exploring new country while still traveling under your own power. Here I’ll share a bit of advice about heading out on your first overnighter and considerations for some gear you might want to bring along.
Bikepackers, like backpackers, carry all their own camping gear, clothing, food, water, and repair items, only all that gear is distributed through various bags. Seat and handlebar bags are great places to stow clothing, a sleeping bag, a compact sleeping pad, and a tarp or ultra-light tent. Food, water, spare tubes, and repair items packed in a frame bag keep weight centered and low. And then a small daypack is a good place for more water, snacks, and items you want to keep handy throughout the day. All this weight, which often amounts to ~15 pounds plus food and water, undoubtedly changes the handling of the bike, but it is still very possible to ride technical singletrack.
Q: What is a good length of trip to take to say you were able to experience a true bikepacking trip, but not over extend yourself?
Your first bikepacking trip can be quick and simple – choose a weekend with good weather in the forecast, find a 20- to 30-mile loop along which camping is permitted, fill your pack with only items you’ll really need, leave the tent at home (unless something like mosquitoes might be a problem), and give it a go! The first trip does not need to be long, grueling, or anywhere new. Keep it short, fun, and enjoy a new way of traveling. And you’re bound to learn quite a bit. Once you’re hooked, start looking at bikepacking-specific bags, such as those made by Revelate Designs, to get some of the weight off your back and onto your bike. Your back, hands, feet, and butt will all appreciate a lighter pack, as your trips get longer.
Q: What are the top 10 essential pieces of bikepacking gear needed a trip?
Given the limited volume in bikepacking bags and a desire to keep gear weight down, choosing what to carry on trips can be a bit daunting, so I want to share with you 10 of my favorite (or most important) pieces of bikepacking gear in no particular order:
- A frame bag: Keep weight low and centered on the bike
- Trangia alcohol stove for cooking
- Leatherman Squirt multi-tool
- Fenix LD22 flashlight with mount on helmet
- Revelate Designs seat bag
- Black Diamond Beta Light tent with poles from Z-Packs
- Hike-a-bike-friendly cycling shoes
- Complete tire-repair kit (patches, boots, needle/thread, plugs)
- Durable tires (i.e., with reinforced sidewalls)
- A camera to capture the beauty
Q: What is the memorable bikepacking trip you have done?
Many of my most memorable travel experiences in recent years have been while bikepacking. I did a month-long solo trip across Utah, connecting familiar places through very unfamiliar and remote areas. Through that trip, I developed a new connection with the deserts, plateaus, and mountains that will never disappear. Kaitlyn (my fiancé) and I spent a month traversing the western half of the Alps following trail as much as possible. I will never forget how enormous and unbelievably beautiful those mountains are. And together, Kaitlyn and I taught a class of Prescott College students all about bikepacking (and the geology of the Colorado Plateau region) during a four-week course we developed. The sense of accomplishment those students felt by the end of the class was so inspiring. Through all these trips, I never cease to be amazed by how good it feels to crest a long climb, seeing a new landscape out in front of you and the last day’s surroundings behind you.
Get out there and give bikepacking a whirl. I think you’ll get hooked.
Kurt Refsnider is a geology professor at Prescott College, a Salsa Cycles sponsored rider, and founder of Ultra MTB Consulting, offering coaching and consulting services for endurance mountain bikers and bikepackers. Kurt also is co-author (along with Kaitlyn Boyle) of an introductory bikepacking guide that will be available through your local bike shop by mid-summer, 2015.