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Bikepacking conundrum - seeking advice

Hello all,

I am going to be bikepacking the Colorado trail in late June.  I have most of my bags and gear sorted out but there are a couple of things that I could use some advice on.  I have backpacked extensively and I am an avid mountain biker so what better than merge two of my passions?

I plan on doing a couple of shake down trips in Michigan where I live prior to the trip.  

Knowing that there will be a lot of 'hike a bike' sections I am torn by what pedal/ shoe combination to use.  Al ittle history I was one of the early adopters of clip in pedal in the mid 90's and have not looked back since.  In fact I cannot imagine mountain biking while not clipped in.

From my research it seems that I have 2 options.  Find the softest flexing SPD compatible shoes and stay clipless or go with a comfortable hiking shoe and flats.  It seems like either way will be great in some parts and not so great in other parts.  I am looking for folks with real experience to guide me to the right choice.  (the people I am going with are not much help as a couple are going clipless and a couple are using flats and both sides argue passionately about their choice be right)

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
12 Replies

This would be my option, "Find the softest flexing SPD compatible shoes and stay clipless" but what do you mean "stay clipless" if you have SPD shoes? I ride in a pair of soft, flexing, SPD shoes from Trek/Bontrager I have hiked a mile or two in. I also use two sided pedals, one side for clipping in and the other flat for street shoes. When bike camping I carry Crocks or Tevas for wearing when not on the bike, and the two sided pedals allow me to take short trips without having to put on my SPDs.

aka "Boonerelli"

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@John"clipless" means the pedals don't have cages (clips) but have a mechanism in the pedal and a cleat on the shoe.  In other words it means opposite of what it seems.  It is one of those oddities of terminology evolution.


I have no bikepacking experience and am only an occasional bike rider but If you are not familiar with them I suggest using pedals that can be used both platform or "clipless". Shimano make a variety of platform pedals with clips (eg PD-M424) and they have a line of offroad footwear which recess the clip (eg SH-MT301). Carry a spare cleat and screws. These won't be the best hiking shoes but should work well enough for short walking sections.

And/or consider carrying a second pair of shoes. Unless you expect it to be very cold something like Bedrock Sandals or similar hiking sandals pack fairly flat and allow a fairly quick change and may be more comfortable to hike in. You may want something a bit more substantial if the places you have to walk the bike are rugged. A light weight trail runner with elastic lacing can give a quick change and might be worth a try. They wont pack as flat but if you switch shoes you will need a place to store your bike shoes anyway so that may not be an issue.


I bike toured back in the days before time began.  What worked just fine were tennies and traditional toe clips, allowing me to walk as far as necessary.  i kept a pair of low gaiters handy, just in case.  Today i would probably go for something good for trail running.

Bike commuting same way. I kept office shoes at my desk.


Trust we, one way or another, you will do some walking.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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This is too true! one way or another, you will do some walking!

I had to ask my buddy what he meant when he said "rat-traps"... he meant "clips"....


Unless you are racing, or trying to; stick w/ clips and gooooood shoes!



Great question!

I have ridden (road/commuter bikes) with a clipless system but, as a mediocre mountain bike rider, I have never made the transition to riding clipless on the trail. I am able to rationalize this choice by the number of times I put my feet down when I'm riding technical trail. That being said, having done the Resurrection Pass Trail on the Kenai Pennisula twice, with 20 miles of uphill riding followed by 20 miles of downhill riding, I can say that I really could have used clipless pedals on the uphill parts. There really is no way to get the comparable amount of power and efficiency in your riding that you get with clipless pedals. The more distance and uphill you add to the equation, I believe the more you'll appreciate having clipless pedals.

All of that is to say that my vote is to find a clipless system that mitigates the unpleasant hike-a-bikes and gives you the full advantage of riding clipless otherwise.

Hopefully this helps, keep us posted on what you decide and how it works for you!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I’ve been bike packing since the early nineties. My favorite set up EVER, is Shimano “big **bleep** mountaineering looking SPD compatible boots”, or: Model SH-XM900-S G,   and the big platform Deore XT pedals with SPD on one side and a large pinned platform on the other. The boots are really comfortable for extended hike-a-bikes, and are waterproof with a Gore Tex liner.  (Fill the cleat slots with silicone for extended snow hiking).  They will take snow/dirt gaiters too. They pedal without too much flex when clipped in, and they are VERY comfortable to hike in, if you get some good insoles, like SOLE.  They are very roomy and comfy, not at all like bike shoes. I needed thicker insoles to take up some room, but I have low volume feet.
When you get sick of being clipped in (during your fourth day of nine hours of riding), flip the pedals. The soles stick great. When my bike is loaded and I hit some sketchy downhill rocky single track, I unclip, flip to platform and slowly pick my way down, dabbing easily as needed. They are warm with thick socks, and amazingly, not too hot in the summer. (Hard core Colombian mountain bike guides swear by them for use in the humid jungle and alpine). They look heavy, but they are not. They are lightweight.  The mid height protection for the ankles is great when climbing scree fields and when laced tight helps protect your ankle from rolling and getting sprained.  You can hike forever in them.  They are as comfortable hiking in as a regular lightweight hiking boot with EVA mid soles....  But you have the power of being clipped in.  The mid height doesn’t interfere with pedaling as one might think.  

 The Deore XT pedals have bearings, not bushings that drag, and are designed to work with their shoes...or vice versa. 😏  They hang vertically on your cranks, and hopefully you quickly adapt to clicking in on the right side, and not look like an idiot trying to clip into the platform side...🙄 Ahem. 
For extended, rough stuff, gnarly bikepacking, this is the best system if you want to run clipless. 

That being said, a top female ultra distance racer wears 8” high leather work boots with wedge soles, using platform pedals, and kicks **bleep**.  The sole stiffness is about right for extended pedaling, no lugs to get hung up on the pins, flat sole for the pedals, some ankle protection, high height keeps small stones and dirt out when hike-a-biking, and they are very comfortable when the leather breaks in.  She’s a race Goddess, so I bought 6” high wedge soles work boots to try bike packing.  Didn’t work for me. I’m too attached to clipless and the extra available power they provide.  When exhausted, it’s easier to pedal clipped in too.


Thank you for the input everyone!  

you have helped me make up my mind to stay with what I am comfortable with.  My next purchase will be some SPD compatible shoes that are fairly comfortable to walk in.  (my current shoes have a super stiff carbon sole with no give to them)


At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I danced around this problem for a bit- but not in bike shoes(lols sorry). Could never rock clipless off-road, I don't race.


Bike-packing, I frequently found my-skinny-weak-self gettin' off and carrying it. mmmm... sometimes a lot. I found that my shoes that were great in the cage sucked on the trail. I am not even talking about clipless/SPD/Whatever here... just rat-traps and my off road Adidas. I am not bringing two of any thing w/ me except for tubes. Regardless, those sneakers that were great for commuting to work aren't great for the trail, especially when shouldering or dragging a bike up a sloppy hill. So I got a pair of hiking "shoes"/boots. None fit in my cages w/o scrubbing my crank on every stroke. So, to the internets. The company Mt. Zepal makes a pair of that don't need straps.... similar to cages/rat/traps but w/o the strap, so almost any width of boot or shoe can work.


Last year I had a pair of Adidas Terraflex shoes that where awesome for the trail/on the bike/carrying the bike, and fit in the toe box of those Mt Zefal "cages". Check 'em out:


I dunno, there is an efficiency you are losing if you aren't clipped in. But I can wear my most comfortable shoes or boots w/ my bike and not worry about extra shtuff. Especially not trying to push up a hill and think about when I should get off and change footwear!