It’s like backpacking, but on a bike! Here’s an idea, how about letting your bike carry all the weight? All you have to do is pedal it. Sound easy? Just about, but there are a few things to consider. One is - you guessed it - weight. The more you carry, the harder it is to get over that next hill. We’ll teach you some basics so you can get started on your own journey, exploring further than you had ever thought possible! We call it Gravel Travel. Some call it bikepacking. But what is it? What is “Bicycle Tourism” anyway? Our friends from PathLessPedaled.com explain…
Bike - Just like gravel grinding, the best bike for touring is the one you already have. No, seriously, start there. Learn how to strap gear to your bike. You don’t necessarily need fancy racks and packs to get started. If you can afford a pack of bungie cords, you can bikepack. Once you get your feet wet, you’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t - like your gearing! You’ll probably figure out that you need MUCH lower gears to get up and over the hills when your bike is fully loaded. Also, starting out modestly helps you figure out who else tours on their bike, or where to go, for how long, and what bike is better suited to your needs. Keep it simple to start out and go somewhere close, so if you do have to bail, you’re close to home. Try an overnighter (or S24O) for example.
Tools - Spare tube, patch kit, pump or other way to get air into your tire, tire levers, and a multi-tool (preferably one with multiple allen wrenches). Minimum. Things good to have because you’re miles and miles from nowhere: chain tool and a spare quick link, zip ties, electrical tape, cell phone (although you might not have coverage). What else? A tire boot, emergency derailleur hanger (trust me on that one), maybe a spare set of brake pads and spokes. Ultimately, it’s up to you to know your limits and comfort level. Most of the time in a larger group, at least someone has something to contribute to the situation.
Clothing - You already have everything you need. It doesn’t need to be bike-specific, but if you have that too, that’s cool. Your best bet is wearing fabrics that dry fast and keep you warm and dry. Those things aren’t necessarily all found in a single item. What you’ll want to do is layer. Layering many thin fabrics is better than layering a few thick ones. For example, don’t ride in a heavy insulated jacket. If you must take it, save it for when you stop or get to your destination to warm up. The last thing you want to do is sweat and get cold. It’s really hard to recover from that. Synthetics don’t absorb moisture as much, but they can feel like a plastic bag sometimes. We’d recommend natural fibers like wool and down. They have properties like not retaining odors and staying warm when they get damp. Do your homework, because - as they say - there is no bad weather, only bad clothing choices.
Shelter - You mean a tent, right? Well, not necessarily. It could be an Air B&B, hotel room, or a cabin. This type of travel is often referred to as “credit card touring”. But for fully-loaded self-supported bikepacking, let’s talk about shelter. Yes, it could be a tent, one or two person is good. Or, it could be a simple tarp. Or a bivy. Very light weight! The key is to choose the right shelter for the right situation. Little or no rain in the forecast? Maybe just throwing your sleeping bag down under the stars is the way to go. Chance of sprinkles overnight? A tarp or bivy should do ‘ya. Extended multi-day excursion with a chance of meatballs? A full coverage tent might be your best bet, as it’ll protect against rain and wind and give you some room to keep your gear dry, too. Plus, tents always seem to give you that “piece of mind” to help you saw those logs!
Sleeping - Speaking of catching some Z’s, lets touch on the subject of your bedroll. So you know you need a sleeping bag. There are synthetic (cheaper, bulkier, heavier) and down (expensive, lighter, warmer). There is a model for everyone, on every budget. Look for yearly “Editor’s Choice” awards and go from there. Also keep in mind that temperature ratings usually run about 10° higher than you need. So if you buy a 20° bag, expect to start getting cold when the temps hit freezing. Now, there are remedies to that. One is your clothes. Don’t be afraid to wear some - OR ALL - of your clothes to bed. Some people say “if you don’t wear all your clothes to bed, you brought too many clothes”. Another factor is your sleeping pad. Believe it or not, a large portion of your body heat is lost through the ground you’re laying on. I’m a cold sleeper, so I use an insulated pad, even in summer. In the winter, it’s a good idea to have two pads, your regular inflatable with a closed-cell foam pad underneath.
Food - Easy. Hard. Both. The choice is up to you. You could save weight and go no-cook, just PB&J sandwiches or tortilla wraps with your favorite cold fillings. You could also just carry snacks and buy meals along your route. That saves even more weight. BUT…there is something to be said for a hot meal out on the trail. Maybe it’s Ramen noodles with a tuna pack stirred in for protein, or a Mountain House meal where you just add boiling water and wait 15 minutes. All you really need are three things: a metal cup to boil water in, a small stove with fuel, and a spoon. That’s it! You can even make your own Pepsi Can Stove for pennies and burn denatured alcohol that you can find at most hardware and some grocery stores.
Get out there.
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