Bikepacking 101

A beginner's guide to bikepacking: gear list, clothing, popular routes and tips.

April 07, 2020
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© Nacion Salvaje

Bikepacking provides a way for you to cover long miles and live minimally while staying off the beaten path. Unlike cycle touring where you are riding with some luxury and comfort, bikepacking merges the ultralight hiking ethos with the biking community. Another difference between the two is that cycle touring takes part mostly on paved roads, while bikepacking involves gravel, mud and dirt trails; thus, it requires a sturdier bike.

Either way, you'll be transporting the essentials that you need on your bike while you pedal your day away and sleep under the stars each night.

How to Choose a Bikepacking Bike

Bikepacking merges hiking with biking, so you'll need some solid backpacking gear and a rugged bike to match. Here is our list of recommended biking equipment to help get you started. If you're already a backpacker, you'll need to focus here on the bicycle-specific items.

bikepacking bike

1. Bike type

You'll want a rugged mountain bike to take you off-road. For the smoothest ride, choose front and rear suspension or look for a hardtail with front suspension. To save money, you could go with a rigid bike without suspensions at all. Test out the bike to make sure it is comfortable. Upgrade the saddle if needed and look for handlebars with ergonomic grips and a sweep to help take the pressure off your wrists.

2. Wheels and tires

Most mountain bikes ship with either 26-inch or 27.5-inch wheels, but some bikes are equipped with larger 29-inch wheels. These larger wheels are faster and smoother, but they can be heavier. Width is another consideration with measurements from 1.6 to 2.5 inches. The wider the tire, the slower it will be on the pavement, but the better it will do in difficult terrains such as mud and snow.

3. Gearing

Choose lower, easier gearing especially if you are traveling uphill. You’ll have to spin more, but you’ll avoid the dreaded walk-the-bike-up-the-hill maneuver. Many bikepackers choose a 1X configuration with a single chainring up front that is paired with a back cassette. Because there is no front derailleur, this combination is easier to maintain and lighter than a traditional back-and-front derailleur setup.

4. Frame material 

Bikes are constructed with either Chromoly steel, carbon fiber, aluminum or titanium. Chromoly steel is the heaviest, but it can take a beating which is critical when you are traveling to remote locations. It also can be repaired easily if it does get damaged. Aluminum frames are lightweight but they are stiff which makes them jarring to ride on rough terrain. As a result, many aluminum bikes are equipped with front or dual suspension. Both carbon fiber and titanium frames are both light and strong. They are expensive and reserved only for those with some extra cash to invest in a bike.

5. Pedals

You can bike in a pair of sneakers, but you’ll need to attach a pair of toe clips onto each pedal. They are necessary to hold your foot on the pedal while you ride, but they can be frustrating. When you try to hop off your bike, your foot often gets stuck in the clip. You also have to tighten and loosen each one at least once a day. Some mountain bikes use clipless pedals that require specialized shoes. These shoes attach directly to the pedal making it easy to hop on and off your bike.

The biggest difference between toe clips and clipless pedals is efficiency. Clipless pedals are more efficient than the traditional toe clips because they help transfer all your leg power to your pedals without slipping. This added power may mean the difference between biking up an incline or walking it. A clipless pedal system is more expensive, but it is worth the extra expense if you can afford it.

Bikepacking Gear List

Bikepacking essentially is backpacking with a bike. You’ll want the lightest gear you can afford so you can travel without being weighed down. Below we run down the essentials you'll need for your rig. Check our backpacking essentials list or ultralight backpacking gear list for additional suggestions. Just be sure to stick with gear that works on a bike. You don’t need trekking poles, for example, when you are pedaling.

bikepacking camp setup© Flynn McFarland

Bike Gear

  • Bike packs: Bikepacking doesn't load your bike down with bulky panniers. Instead, you'll want smaller bags that'll fit under your handlebar, on the frame of the bike or under the seat. Make sure they are waterproof as you don’t want your clothes, food or sleeping supplies to get soggy.
  • Front and rear lights: A good headlamp for your handlebars is helpful for riding at night. If you are riding on roads, then you’ll also want to add some rear lights for safety.
  • Bike lock: You'll need one to keep your bike safe in town and at camp. A lightweight option like the 2-oz Ottolock Hexband will do the trick.
  • Helmet: Some wear a helmet, other don't. Although it's a matter of a personal choice, we highly recommend it you wear one. If you ride enough miles, you'll inevitably miss a turn or hit an unexpected root and fall. When it happens, you will be glad your head is protected.

BIKE Repair Supplies

  • Multi-tool: Essential element of your repair kit, you'll use it to adjust and repair different parts of your bikes. Consider buying one that includes a chain breaker in case you find yourself needing it.
  • Bike lube: Use it every few days to keep your bike chain performing at its best. 
  • Tire repair kit: Flat tires are the most common issue you'll have to deal with on the trail. Familiarize yourself with the kit and learn how to patch a punctured tire before you head out.
  • Pump: Bike tires lose pressure over time. Re-inflate them every couple days or before every ride to ensure an optimal riding experience. More on tire pressure below.


  • GPS bike computer: Used by most, this tiny device attaches to the handlebar of your bike and allows you to log your miles and navigate. Don't forget to pack a charging cable or extra batteries.
  • Map and compass: a reliable backup navigation tool

Personal Care

  • Chamois cream: This viscous cream reduces friction between the saddle, your shorts and your skin and can be very helpful in preventing chafing. (related: Chamois Cream | How to Use and Apply)
  • Soap or hand sanitizer: Use it to sterilize your hands and clean your camp dishes.
  • Toothpaste or powder: As its name indicates, tooth powder is a powdered (lighter) alternative to tooth paste. Simply drop a pinch of powder on your toothbrush and brush away. It truly works, and you can even make your own!
  • Toothbrush: You can shave off a few ounces by cutting the handle of your toothbrush or packing only the upper half of a travel toothbrush.
  • Towel: You may use it to wipe off sweat, handle hot pots or dry your face and hands. 
  • Sunscreen (optional): Especially useful if the trail is exposed to sunlight. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF level of at least 50+ and apply it generously to your ears, face, hands, arms and legs before every ride.
  • Bug spray (optional): Depending on the season and location of your trip, bug spray may be needed to keep mosquitoes, black flies and ticks away. 

Worn Clothes

  • Lightweight shirt: Choose something that is comfortable and breathable. Avoid cotton. Rather opt for moisture-wicking fabrics such as polyester and merino wool. And yes, you can absolutely use your hiking shirt for bikepacking.
  • Bike shorts: At least one pair of biking shorts with a chamois are essential. You'll need that extra protection for all the hours you'll be spending on the saddle. Make sure your chamois is properly fitted to avoid the risks of chafing and saddle sores.
  • Socks: Your feet are going to get wet so wrap them in wool socks. Not only will your feet stay warm, but they also won't smell thank to the odor-repelling properties of wool.
  • Shoes: You can wear your own sneakers or choose a pair of biking-specific clipless shoes. Whatever you choose, make sure they are breathable and comfortable.
  • Rain jacket: Biking in the rain is nearly as bad as hiking in the rain. You'll need a decent rain jacket for most wet conditions and rain pants when it's raining extra hard. 
  • Gloves: Grab some gloves to throw in your backpack. Pick a pair based upon your projected weather. Choose a heavier glove if it's going to cold or lighter liners in the warmer months. You'll appreciate them if you find yourself pedaling through snow or have to do some work on your bike in the cold.

Camp Clothes

  • Down jacket: When you stop for the day, you'll want a light but warm coat to keep you cozy around camp.
  • Beanie/Buff: A beanie is helpful when the temperatures are cold while a lightweight cap or buff is useful in the summer. Pro tip: stuff your buff with a folded jacket to make a comfortable camping pillow to rest your head on at night.
  • Sleeping top and and bottom: Always bring a fresh pair of clothes to wear when you call it a day. You’ll want to get out of your sweaty clothes while relaxing in the evening. We like long merino wool base layers.
  • Camp shoes: You'll want to slip off your biking shoes at the end of the day and slip into something something more comfortable. It'll let your feet breathe, give them a break from the constricting shoes and allow blisters to heal.


  • Pot (~750ml): Pack a lightweight titanium pot for boiling water and cooking food. 
  • Spork: A spork is the ultimate utensil for all of your meals.
  • Stove: Look for a stove that takes up minimal space and weight.
  • Fuel: Make sure you get the right fuel for your stove.
  • Lighter: Some stoves have an igniter, but I guarantee the automatic ignition will fail when you need it the most. Bring matches as a backup.

Food and Water

  • Food (~2 lbs per day): Bring a variety of foods to keep your food choices fresh and exciting.
  • Water: Carry 1L minimum at all times. You can carry it in a bladder tucked inside a backpack or use any available space on your bike frame to mount a water bottle cage.
  • Filter or purification drops: It's best to purify your water to make it safe for drinking or cooking.
  • Electrolyte tablets: Those tablets aid in recovery or water flavorings to add variety to your hydration.
  • Stuff sack 10L (optional): Use a medium-sized stuff sack to hold all your food. It makes it easy when you have to hang your bag to deter bears from getting your food.


  • Pack (~32-45L capacity): Don't go too big on the backpack as you want to minimize fatigue on your back and neck. Try to pack as much as you can on your bike and use a backpack for the overflow. A big daypack or a small backpacking pack is the most you will need. The smaller, the better. Some also choose to carry nothing but a hydration pack on their back.
  • Pack Liner or Pack Cover: A pack liner will protect the contents of your pack from getting wet when it rains. You also can use an 18-gallon trash compactor bag and use that as a liner for your backpack

Sleep System

  • Sleeping Bag: Choose a sleeping bag with a temperature rating for your trip. A 20-degree to 30-degree bag is an excellent all-around choice for three-season bikepacking. 
  • Sleeping Pad: A sleeping pad not only adds comfort, but it also protects you from the cold ground. Choose a pad with an r-value that matches the temperature you will encounter on your trip. In general, the higher the r-value, the more insulation it will provide.
  • Pillow (inflatable) or Lined Stuff Sack: Some people prefer an inflatable pillow, but you also can use a simple stuff sack or buff packed with clothes.
  • Sleeping Bag Liner (optional): A sleeping bag liner is a lightweight way to add some extra warmth to your sleeping bag. It also keeps dirt and grime out of your bag.


  • Tent with poles and stakes: Choose a lightweight tent that fits your party size. Ultralight tents tend to run small, so a 2-person ultralight tent is preferable for a single person and gear. If you have two people and don't want to be sleeping on top of each other, go with a 3-person tent. If you prefer to keep things simple, you may want to check out a bivy instead of a tent.
  • Fly/ Rain tarp with guylines: Most tents come with a rain fly or tarp. Use it if it is going to rain.
  • Footprint/Ground Cloth (optional): A footprint protects the bottom of the tent from abrasions and tears. It adds extra weight, so you have to decide if you'd rather be gentle with your tent or carry a few more ounces. You can also easily make your own

    Emergency Supplies

    • First aid kit: Your kit should includes pain killers, an antiseptic solution, band-aids, tweezers, a needle and other basic medication (eg. diarrhea, allergies, etc.). See our ultralight DIY first aid kit
    • Personal locator beacon (optional): Some people also choose to carry a personal locator beacon or a satellite communicator in case you need assistance. If a beacon is too pricey, a simple whistle can be heard for miles.

    ACCESSORIES (Optional)

    • Headlamp: Your bike can have its own lights, but you still need a headlamp for around camp. Bring extra batteries, so you don't get stuck in the dark unexpectedly.
    • Sunglasses: Helpful both in the summer and the winter.
    • Ear plugs: Come in handy against noisy woods and loud snorers.
    • Knife: Keep it simple. You don't need more than a small knife for simple cutting tasks like cutting threads, opening a package, cutting food.
    • Phone/Camera: Your electronic item requires a source of power so you should pack a charging cable and at least one of these 20,000 mAh power banks like this one from Anker. If you are going to be in a sunny area, a solar charger might be a good idea.


    Backpacking vs. Bikepacking 

    bikepacking clothes© Naresh Kumar


    Both bikepacking and backpacking emphasize lightweight equipment, but you'll need more of it while bikepacking. You not only have to take care of yourself, but you also have to tend to a bike. Though you have more gear, bikepacking is easier on your upper body as you can store most of your supplies on your bike instead of your back.


    Bikepacking and backpacking share the same sleeping situations. As long as you bike the path, both hikers and bikers have access to shelters, campsites, and stealth sites.


    Bikepackers travel mostly on trails, but oftentimes a lot on roads as well. This means there are nearly endless routes to pick from. However, a lot of 'trails' are designated for foot traffic only. This means that hikers generally have more pure trail options.


    You can travel further and faster on a bike. It's easy to go 60 or 70 miles a day for several days in a row on a bike. Most hikers average 15 to 25 miles a day once they have their trail legs. This can make travelling on bike more appealing if wanting to cover more ground. Also, how can you turn down the nice breeze from a bike?!


    Whether it's 20 miles a day backpacking or 60 miles a day bikepacking, both burn an extraordinary amount of calories. Both groups should carry plenty of calorie-dense foods for their trips, as well as sufficient water to properly hydrate.


    Biking is a bit more dangerous than hiking because you can crash at high speeds. Helmets required. It sounds obvious, but watch out for cars. A lot of parts of the world are not used to keeping an eye out for cyclists and bikers.


    Unlike a backpack that you carry almost everywhere, a bike must be left behind when you go into a restaurant or a store. Unfortunately, this probably makes it susceptible to being stolen. Bring a lock to deter people from stealing your bike and keep it in sight as much as possible.

    6 Bikepacking Tips for First-Timers

    Bikepacking should come easily if you have some backpacking experience under your belt. Here are a few tips to help you transition from foot-powered to pedal-powered adventures.

    bikepacking the col or tourmalet© Tommy Persson


    A great way to learn how to maintain your bike and fix it. The two most common problems you'll encounter on the trail are flat tires and chain link breaks. At the very least, know how to handle those situations.


    Look for bags that are rubbing against a tire or your legs. Be sure to distribute the gear evenly on your bike, so your bike doesn't list to one side. You will tire more quickly if you are continually fighting to keep your bike in balance.


    At the beginning, stick with short and easy trails. That'll give you a chance to test out your gear, make any necessary adjustments, and familiarize yourself with the unique challenges that come with traveling on two wheels. Once you feel comfortable on those easier trails, slowly increase the distance and difficulty of the routes you choose.


    Tweak your tires and suspension to account for the weight of your gear. You are carrying extra weight and should compensate for it by proportionally increasing tire pressure and suspension settings. Check out this article by MTB Time for guidance on tire pressure.


    You have a lot to carry in a small space. Compartmentalizing your gear using stuff sacks will save you time and frustration as it'll help you know where everything is located. 

    #6. KEEP IT LIGHT 

    The less you pack, the more comfortable and more enjoyable your trip will be. Stick to lightweight options, get rid of non-essentials and hack your gear to shave off additional ounces.

    Popular Bikepacking Routes

    map of bikepacking routes in usa

    Route State Distance
    1. Denali National Park, Alaska AK 92 miles
    2. Huracan 300, Florida FL 313 miles
    3. Oregon Timber Trail, Oregon OR 668 miles
    4. Virginia Mountain Bike Trail, Virginia VA 473 miles
    5. Black Canyon Trail, Arizona AZ 67 miles
    6. Maah Daah Hey Trail, North Dakota ND 248 miles
    7. Kokopelli Trail, Colorado And Utah CO & UT 158 miles
    8. Olympic Adventure Route, Washington WA 66 miles
    9. Colorado Trail, Colorado CO 539 miles
    10. Alabama Skyway, Alabama AL 120 miles
    11. The Arizona National Scenic Trail, Arizona AZ 739 miles
    12. Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, Multi-State Multi-State 2700 miles
    13. Trans North Georgia, Georgia GA 357 miles
    14. Tahoe Rim Trail, California And Nevada CA & NV 165 miles
    15. Great Allegheny Passage And The C&O Canal Towpath, Pennsylvania PA 334.5 miles
    16. Wild West Route, Multi-State Multi-State 2700 miles
    17. North Country Traverse, Michigan MI 173 miles
    18. Coconino Loop, Arizona AZ 250 miles
    19. Three Sisters Three Rivers, Oregon OR 250 miles
    20. Los Padres National Forest, California CA 275 miles

    1. Denali National Park, Alaska

    Distance: 92 miles

    Denali National Park in Alaska limits private passenger vehicles to the first 15 miles, but it does allow bikes to travel the park's 92-mile long road. You can bike between campgrounds or snag a permit and camp in Denali's pristine backcountry. Most of the road is gravel, making for a smooth but sometimes steep ride.

    2. Huracan 300, Florida

    Distance: 313 miles 

    Designed as a self-supported bikepacking race, the Huracan 300 lets you experience the sun and sand of Florida in a whole different way. The ride mixes singletrack with double-wide forest paths and pavement that lets you cruise. You'll need wide tires for the sandy stretches, and you may have to traverse a deep few river crossings, so be prepared to get wet.

    3. Oregon Timber Trail, Oregon

    Distance: 668 miles 

    Designed with mountain biking in mind, the Oregon Timber Trail is considered by some to be the world's best long-distance biking trail. It's 60 percent singletrack, so you don't have to worry about running into jeeps or UTVs. Not for the faint of heart, the path climbs 8,000 feet in its first ten miles. It's broken down into four tiers and ten segments, which makes it easy to cover in small section rides if you can't do all of it at once.

    4. Virginia Mountain Bike Trail, Virginia

    Distance: 473 miles 

    Travel through the Allegheny and Blue Ridge mountains in this epic backcountry ride. It's a rugged trek through remote forests and rocky ridgelines. Be prepared to suffer while you enjoy the but oh-so-worth-it Virginian views.

    5. Black Canyon Trail, Arizona

    Distance: 67 miles

    The Black Canyon Trail is known for its fast and flowing singletrack that winds through the beautiful Sonoran Desert. Pedal your way through the canyons and saguaro forests as you cruise along this mellow route.

    6. Maah Daah Hey Trail, North Dakota

    Distance: 248 miles

    A wild adventure the Maah Daah Hey Trail takes you through the badlands of North Dakota. You'll encounter ample wildlife -- bighorn sheep, elk, and coyotes, to name a few -- as you pedal across the flat grasslands and push your quads to the limit up the steep buttes.

    7. Kokopelli Trail, Colorado And Utah

    Distance: 158 miles 

    You can pedal from one mountain bike capital to another in this epic ride that begins in Fruita, Colorado and ends in Moab, Utah. You'll traverse steep and technical singletrack along with hard-packed jeep roads as you make your way across the desert. Want to ride even longer? Then complete the Grand Loop which includes links the Kokopelli Trail, the Paradox Trail, and the Tabeguache Trail to create a 360-mile loop

    8. Olympic Adventure Route, Washington

    Distance: 66 miles 

    A weekend getaway in the woods, the Olympic Adventure Route takes you through dense, old-growth forests in the lush Olympic Mountains of Washington. You'll spend your days traversing flowy singletrack and navigating steep climbs that reward you with glimpses of Vancouver Island and the Strait of Juan De Fuca.

    9. Colorado Trail, COLORADO

    Distance: 539 miles 

    Instead of hiking the Colorado trails from Durango to Denver, consider biking it the next time you are ready for a challenge. You'll climb over the high Rocky Mountain peaks (13,000 feet), pedal around glacial lakes, and cruise through mountain forests. There are only a few places where you have to hit the pavement as you detour around wilderness areas that prohibit bikes.

    10. Alabama Skyway, Alabama

    Distance: 120 miles

    Plenty of primitive campsites line the Alabama Skyway, formerly known as the Talladega Traverse, in the Talladega National Forest. Steady inclines will challenge your fitness, but most of the trail follows forest service roads and paved roads, making it an easy ride.

    11. The Arizona National Scenic Trail, ARIZONA

    Distance: 739 miles

    Ride across Arizona from Mexico to Utah as you cover a diversity of terrain on this multi-use trail. You'll travel through the desert and grasslands of the Saguaro National Park, the gorgeous canyons of the Grand Canyon, and the mountains of Sky island. You will have to plan your trip across the Grand Canyon as you can only walk across the national park. You either have to shuttle your bike or disassemble and carry it.

    12. Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, Multi-state

    Distance: 2700 miles 

    The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is The Continental Divide Trail for bikers.  The 2,700-mile trail lets you bike along the continental divide from Canada to Mexico. The route isn't technical -- its actually 100 percent rideable --but it does require a fair amount of endurance and a ton of commitment to pedal that far and for that long. The path is the grandaddy of bikepacking, considered by many to be the birthplace of the sport.

    13. Trans North Georgia, GEORGIA

    Distance: 357 miles

    The Trans North Georgia trail winds through the southern Appalachian mountains. The trail starts in South Carolina, snakes through Georgia, and ends in Alabama. Though not a highly technical ride, the Trans North Georgia trail will test your physical endurance with thigh-crushing ascents and bone-jarring ascents. In between the highs and the lows are a few short stretches of flats that give you a chance to recharge. The trail travels through a variety of terrain, including hardwood forests, stands of pine, and rock-laden mountain ridges.

    14. Tahoe Rim Trail, California and Nevada

    Distance: 165 miles

    The Tahoe Rim trail climbs high into the mountains and winds down to the lakeside trails that hug the beautiful Lake Tahoe. The Tahoe Rim Trail is also used for hiking and traverses several wilderness areas, so you cannot bike the entire trail.  That isn't stopping some creative mountain bikers who have created a custom route that lets you circle the lake without having to travel on foot.

    15. Great Allegheny Passage and The C&O Canal Towpath, Pennsylvania

    Distance: 334.5 miles

    Ride along these two historic routes as you make your way from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Washington DC. The first leg on the Great Allegheny Passage follows a 150-mile railroad bed that was converted to a gravel trail. It has a very mellow 1.5% grade that climbs steadily from 720 feet in Pittsburgh to the top of the Eastern Continental Divide at 2,392 feet. It then descends gradually into the nation's capital.

    16. Wild West Route, Multi-state

    Distance: 2700 miles

    If you want a truly remote wilderness experience, then the Wild West Route show be one of your top choices. Passing through Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona, the trail is mostly dirt roads and jeep trails. It provides non-technical traverse for those craving an epic adventure. You also can do it in sections if time is a limiting factor.

    17. North Country Traverse, Michigan

    Distance: 173 miles

    The North Country Trail (NCT) is a National Scenic Trail that passes through Northern Michigan's stunning landscape. You'll ride on sweet singletrack and dirt roads that wind through Michigan's hardwood forests, lush river banks, and old-growth stands. Remote but not very technical, it is suitable for beginner bikers with backpacking skills.

    18. Coconino LOOP, Arizona

    Distance: 250 miles

    The Coconino loop trail connects some of the best trails in Northern Arizona, including sections of the Arizona Trail and trails within the biking epicenter of Sedona. Almost half of the trail is challenging singletrack, while the rest is rough jeep paths and country roads. You'll ride through ponderosa pines, lava rocks, mesas, and snow-covered peaks. There are even a few hike-your-bike segments thrown in for good measure.

    19. Three Sisters Three Rivers, Oregon

    Distance: 250 miles

    Saddle up and climb your way through Oregon's Cascade mountain range on the Three Sisters Three Rivers route. More than 60 percent of the trail is technical singletrack, some of which hugs the sides of cliffs and is not for the faint of heart.

    20. Los Padres National Forest, CAlifornia

    Distance: 275 miles

    Bike the public forest roads and trails in this often-overlooked national forest. you'll have to pick and choose your paths carefully as the park is dotted with wilderness areas that are open only to foot traffic. If you'd rather follow a route instead of freewheeling through the backcountry, you can bike along with the Tour De Los Padres,  a 275-mile bikepacking route through the southern part of the Los Padres National Forest. You can bike this course alone or join others in the annual race/group ride.


    Bikepacking is growing and there is a growing number of resources online to learn more about the sport. Here is a list to get you started:

    Kelly Hodgkins photo

    About Kelly Hodgkins

    By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.

    About Greenbelly

    After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

    Stoveless Backpacking Meals
    • 650-Calorie Fuel
    • No Cooking
    • No Cleaning