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I want to go bikepacking. Where do I start?

Hi @REI-JohnJ  and @ryanjohnson!

i hope you’re enjoying your bikes.  My handlebars were way too wide.  A stem riser, better grips, and cutting the bars down made the bike fit very comfortably.  Rode in snow /mud the other day on the wall kill valley rail trail in walkill, ny, about 22 miles—a workout!— and came home all smiles with tons of mud on me and the bike. My wife “suggested” fenders so I just received the fat tire fenders rei sells that cover tires up to 6.5” (PNW) and plan to mount ‘em and try them this weekend.  This bike makes me smile.  And little kids are always complimenting the bike or the tires and it’s a hoot.  

I’ve never camped or slept on the ground or in a tent in my life.  At 63 I’m intrigued by articles on bike packing.  I’d love to try it but I’m a little intimidated and would like to try it with at least one buddy. I also don’t know about the equipment but I can read about that and I think REI will be a great resource. Maybe the first time I do it it’ll be a relatively short ride and stay somewhere overnight near my house and ride back the next day I have a feeling I’ll love it and just gradually build up to longer trips. Have you guys done it?

Loving my orange beast.  
hank

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
10 Replies

@HankG 

I'm so excited to hear that you're interested in bikepacking! This is an activity I had long thought about but had not truly participated in until I moved to Fairbanks six years ago. There is so much ground to cover in Alaska that it just made more sense to do those miles on a bike! I've done around a half dozen bikepacking trips and feel as though I'm only getting started in this activity. You'll find lots of good information in our Intro to Bikepacking and Intro to Bike Touring expert advice articles. Hopefully I can share some perspective and tips that are helpful as well.

Depending on who you talk to and how interested you are in semantics, bikepacking is an off-shoot of bike touring. Generally speaking (again, depending on who you talk to), bikepacking is done off-road and primarily on singletrack trails and bike touring is done mostly on pavement and well maintained bike paths. There is definitely some overlap (i.e. gravel routes) and bikes and gear that are pretty good at both activities. Like so many other things it really depends on your preferences and how you want to participate. I recall you purchasing a Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 as well; that would be considered a bike touring bike, while your Co-op Cycles DRT 4.1 fat-tire bike would be a better suited bike for a bikepacking adventure.

While you could simply load up a backpack with your camping gear and then get on your bike, most people find it more comfortable to let the frame of the bike bear the weight of your gear and forego the backpack altogether (or wear a lightweight pack with a water bladder and essentials). Bike racks, panniers, and even trailers are all ways of getting your camping gear onto your bike.

As bikepacking leans toward longer distances off-road and more technical trail riding, some of the gear is designed specifically in mind for those things. Bikepackers tend to (but not always) eschew bike racks with panniers as those can hold the weight of your gear further away from the center of the bike and make balancing, particularly on more challenging trails, more difficult. Seat bags, frame and cockpit bags, handle bar 'rolls', and lower profile 'cages' on the front fork are all designed to spread out the weight of your gear across your bike from front to back. They can also help keep the weight as close to the center of gravity as possible. Additionally, spreading your gear out more equally helps keep your front wheel down if you are facing a steep, slow uphill and need to go over an obstacle like a rock or a root. An important factor to remember is that bike touring panniers and racks tend to have more volume. If you are planning on purchasing bikepacking specific bags for your gear, then you'll want to pay very close attention to the volume (and weight) of your gear. This is why some bikepacking specific gear, such as tents, are designed to take up as little space as possible.

In terms of your first 'trip', I recommend making it a very simple ride that you know well and can easily bail from if something isn't working for you. A local campground within riding distance that is a great way to learn the activity. On my first bikepacking 'trip' I started at my house with a fully loaded bike, rode across town to my local mountain bike singletrack trail, rode back home, and slept in a tent in the back yard. It was a great introduction to how everything worked (or didn't) and I was in a position to easily pull the plug if I needed. 

This should be enough info to get you started thinking about your journey into bikepacking. It is such a fun and rewarding activity! I'll see if I can dig up a few photos from bikepacking trips to help fuel your stoke. We'll also respond later with some ideas around sleeping comfortably in a tent for the first time and likely tag some of our other users who have experience there as well.

Hopefully this helps, don't hesitate to reach out with any questions!

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

Honestly, I've never done a bikepacking trip, either. But I have camped hundreds of times, and completed several road bike tours, largely with a pannier setup.

There are many great bikepacking sources, including bikepacking.com and its excellent bikepacking 101.

I hope you're able to get some trips in! It's going to be awhile for me.

Thanks Ryan!  

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
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Ryan

the bikepacking site is very useful, I appreciate it.  Frankly overall I think my biggest fear is sleeping in a tent, something I’ve never done. Silly question:  how come snakes snd other critters don’t get into your tent and sleeping bag seeking your body warmth?  John please feel free to pipe in to this total newbie question. 
hank

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@HankG 

That's a great question! Most tents enclose with a zipper completely and have mesh ventilation so snakes and (most) bugs and things aren't able to get inside your tent. That being said, tent fabric is quite thin so you want to be sure not to keep any food or items that might be of interest to animals that might chew, gnaw, or peck through your tent to get access to food. Additionally, I find it a good idea to shake out my boots and double check my backpack, which I often stash in the vestibule of the tent, just to make sure nothing has opted to spend the night in there. The vestibule is the open area just outside the tent door that is outside the tent body but still underneath the rainfly.

Keep the questions coming!

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

Hi Hank! My bf recently started bikepacking! We have Revelate bags (frame bag, seat bag, and I have a sweetroll), a Big Agnes 2-person bike packing tent, and Nemo insulated sleeping pads. We’ve done overnight trips in national forests, where you can stop and camp wherever, as well as organized events such as the Fargo Sub 48, where campsites and food are provided. It’s a blast!

Thanks @iujenn22, great to hear from you!

im really eager to give it a try and I appreciate your tips on equipment.  For sleeping in the tent how does one protect against unwanted animals insects reptiles from getting in? Crazy question maybe but I’m new to this. 

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
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Hiya, @HankG!! I'm also looking into bikepacking, and super happy I stumbled on this thread! I feel like there's so much to learn. I'm going to try a small trip with a friend soon - I feel so underprepared, but so excited. Still waiting on a bike I've ordered. While the idea of long distance cycling is new to me, camping I'm pretty familiar with, so maybe I can offer some insight! Definitely not a crazy question.

Like JohnJ mentioned, the natural enclosures of a tent do a really good job of preventing critters from getting in, and keeping food/crumbs out of your tent certainly helps. I would suggest keeping it closed at all times, as well, as an added prevention measure. On a longer hike I went on, I sprayed my tent (+ other gear) down with permethrin (I used Sawyer's spray) for more protection against insects. Check for rips or tears regularly and patch em up - my tent had quite a few patches of duct tape haha. But I, personally, rarely had insects (and never small animals) in my tent unless I brought them in with me! 

Totally give it a shot, those articles look awesome and I'm definitely going to check them out. Sleeping under the stars to a place you pushed yourself to is a feeling like no other.

For inspiration, I've recently discovered REI's "REI Presents" videos and they are amazing! There are some cycling related ones (Pedal Through is one I watched most recently) and plenty more to fuel your imagination! 

Hi @likeanniewithanh and @HankG - Seeing this awesome discussion going on, I wanted to share that Mikah Meyer, an REI Partner, just did a Q&A about getting started bikepacking that might have some information you'd be interested in. If you want to watch, you can find it on REI's Instagram Highlights (click through the first few slides, which are from a previous Airstream Q&A, to get to the start of Mikah's!).

If watching it sparks any ideas or new questions, you can follow up on the Continue the Conversation: Getting Started Bikepacking thread on our Co-op Member board. Happy riding!

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