Bikepacking 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring New Terrain on Two Wheels
If you’ve ever been intrigued by the idea of bikepacking but don’t know where to begin, fret not. We’ve assembled a treasure trove of information to catapult you into the world of pedal-powered exploration. Bikepacking, an enticing mix of all-terrain cycling and backpacking, unleashes a whole new realm of possibilities for those seeking to break free from the ordinary. Instead of being confined to paved roads and familiar routes, you’re able to venture off the beaten path, discovering hidden gems and untamed landscapes that can only be reached by two wheels.
Contrary to popular belief, bikepacking doesn’t demand a hefty sum to get started. Many people mistakenly think that you need top-of-the-line bikes, custom bags, and the latest ultralight camping gear. While having quality gear is certainly beneficial overtime, it is not a prerequisite for embarking on your bikepacking adventure. There are many DIY bikepacking rigs that get the job done just the same.
- Use the bike you already have. Your trusty, well-loved bike can be your steadfast companion, regardless of its make or model. Whether it’s your vintage hardtail from the 90’s or a sparkling new gravel bike, it’ll work. By adding a set of beefier tires to your existing bike (ensuring sufficient clearance), you can breathe new life into a forgotten gem that may be gathering dust in the garage. While lighter, more bikepacking-focused bikes can enhance your comfort and experience, there’s a certain charm in making do with what you’ve got.
- Any camping gear will do. Embrace the spirit of resourcefulness and make the most of what you already own. If you’re unsure about investing in expensive equipment or simply want to try out different gear, utilize local gear swaps or consider borrowing from friends. Strap your trusty camping gear onto your bike using Voile straps, bungee cords, or racks, and make use of versatile dry bags to carry your essentials (they also make great pillows when stuffed with softgoods!). The options are truly endless.
- Start small. Before venturing out on your first overnighter, take the time to test out your gear on a local trail or even ride around the neighborhood. While bikes are sturdy, their handling can feel quite different when loaded down with gear, especially at the start of your journey when you realize just how heavy water and snacks can be. It’s way more enjoyable to troubleshoot what’s not working in the comfort of your own backyard rather than at the trailhead. Remember the golden rule of bikepacking: less is more. Optimize your packing by bringing only the essentials.
- Brush up on general bike knowledge and maintenance. Being well-versed on the ins and outs of your trusty steed will not only enhance your overall experience but also ensure a smoother journey. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the basics, such as fixing a flat, chain maintenance, and brake adjustments. A little know-how can go a long way when you’re off the beaten path.
WHAT TO PACK
With bikepacking, you have the freedom to pedal to hidden gems while carrying all the goodies you desire. Although your bike can handle a surprisingly substantial load, opting for a lighter setup will provide a bit more comfort during your trek. Keep in mind that as the miles pass by and the secret stash of chocolate mysteriously disappears, your load will naturally lighten. Oh, and most importantly, a can of Pringles nestles perfectly into most standard water bottle cages. Here's a basic list of the items we'd recommend packing when starting out:
- Bike Gear. Helmet, lights, bags.
- Shelter. A tent, bivy, tarp, or hammock - whatever you'd like to make your home for the night.
- Sleep System. This includes a sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping pad.
- Food / Cooking Supplies. Items like a stove, lighter, utensil, mug, and fuel. Quick energy sources are important. Clif Bloks Energy Chews are a favorite!
- Water. Aim for about 2L a day, and always pack extra if you can! Keep in mind the water you'll use for cooking if you're going that route. It's always smart to pack iodine pills or a water purification system; you never know when you're going to stumble upon a surprise natural source.
- Clothing. You'll want clothes for riding like shorts (A pair with a chamois is highly recommended), a jersey, socks, bike gloves, rain gear, and a wind jacket or vest. Also, pack clothes for camp, like an extra pair of shoes, a lightweight jacket, a hat, and pants.
- First Aid Kit. This includes things like bandages, gauze, pain relief medication, and blister pads.
- Toiletries. Anything you'd like to keep you feeling fresh, but most importantly, sunscreen!
- Electronics. External batteries/chargers and GPS systems are essential, particularly if you're not familiar with the route. Never rely solely on cell service.
- Repair Kit. Bring things like a spare tube, tire levers, a pump, tire sealant (if you have a tubeless setup), tire plugs, chain lube, and a multi tool.
LET’S TALK BIKE BAGS AND HOW TO PACK THEM!
Bikepacking-specific bags are incredibly beneficial and bring a delightful mix of organization and efficiency to your two-wheeled adventures. However, don’t underestimate the versatility of making your own and strapping items directly to your bike. Need to carry more water? Attach water bottles to the fork or downtube. Looking for space to accommodate bulkier gear like a sleeping bag or tent? Secure a dry bag to your handlebars using two Voile straps. Just remember to distribute the weight as evenly as possible for a more stable ride. Investing in one or two dedicated, versatile bikepacking bags, such as a frame bag and top tube bag (which are great for commuting), and DIY-ing the rest is a great place to start. As you embark on your adventures, chances are you’ll discover your own preferences along the way, learning what truly suits your style and what doesn’t. We have a wide selection of bags from Swift Industries, Rapha, Blackburn, Arundel, and Pro if you need more than what you have at home.
- Frame Bags. Designed to fit within the triangle of your bike’s frame, these bags maximize space and provide a stable and balanced storage option for heavier items like food, cooking equipment, tools, water, and spare parts.
- Top Tube Bags. Attaching just behind the handlebar, these smaller bags are great for storing items you want quick and easy access to along your route.
- Stem Pouches. These small bags are ideal for carrying quick snacks, a water bottle, or even a small map.
- Handlebar Bags. These provide ample storage space for bulkier items like a tent, sleeping bag, food, or extra clothing.
- Seatpost Bags. Coming in a variety of sizes, these are commonly used to carry clothes, sleeping gear, and other lightweight items that don’t need to be accessed too frequently throughout your ride.
- Fork Bags. Another convenient way to store some essential, heavier items like food, water, cooking supplies, and tools.
- Panniers. Arguably providing the most storage of all, these bags attach to the sides of your bike rack and offer a balanced weight distribution. They can really handle it all, so consider packing anything from clothing to cookware to other large items that you’ll need access to throughout your journey.
FOUR BEGINNER FRIENDLY ROUTES IN UTAH
Antelope Island State Park
One of the more accessible trips from the SLC valley, this route is all relatively flat, paved roads with the option for some dirt and gravel riding if you’d like to venture off the beaten path. This is a great short and fairly easy ride to test your gear and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t, only pedaling about 10 miles each way for an overnight trip. There are a handful of campsites to choose from on the island with a favorite being White Rock Bay Campground. It's situated right on the water and has some great singletrack trails nearby. We'd recommend tackling this ride in the spring or fall, otherwise get ready to brave the bugs and heat on the island during the summertime. Surrounded by wide open landscapes and wildlife, you'll have plenty of opportunities to soak in the natural beauty as you pedal along.
Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park
This enchanting two-day bikepacking trip is the most challenging of the four, but quite possibly the most rewarding. You’ll find yourself immersed in Utah’s classic desert landscape, pedaling along scenic dirt and sandy doubletrack roads and climbing up bentonite hills. To make the most of this adventure, it's recommended to tackle the route in a clockwise direction. This way, you can begin by crossing the Fremont River, one of only two natural water sources available throughout the entire route (it's always important to check forums to see if water is available before you go). You'll camp at the Cathedral Valley Campground which is about 28 miles from the Fremont River, and your halfway point for the trip. The next day is a journey alongside sandstone monoliths until you're back where you started. This route is best enjoyed during the spring or fall when the temperatures are milder. Taking in the breathtaking beauty of the desert via bike is an unforgettable experience.
Squaw Peak Road in Provo, UT
This route offers the freedom to choose your own adventure, customizing both the path and the miles you log. Starting right off Provo Canyon Road, you can take the paved Squaw Peak Road straight to Hope Campground (4.8 miles). If you're interested in adding some grit to your ride, continue on the dirt portion of Squaw Peak Road until it intersects with Left Fork Hobble Creek Road (another 20 miles with a bit more climbing). Getting off the pavement and onto the dirt is the perfect way to put your gear to the test. Just make sure everything is strapped on tight before you let loose! Nestled right in the mountains, this route will guide you along winding roads and dirt doubletracks, treating you to spectacular views of the city along the way.
Soapstone Basin in the Uinta Mountains
When the scorching heat of summertime in Utah sets in, finding solace in the refreshing Uinta Mountains can be the perfect remedy. This route starts off of Mirror Lake Highway and leads you into the backcountry for a moderate climb up the mountainside. With a mixture of riding on paved and dirt roads, this route offers diverse terrain so you can really put your gear to the test. A 30 mile roundtrip brings you back to Soapstone Campground where you can rest your feet and take in the beautiful surroundings of Utah's high country. Known for the stunning alpine views, adventurous terrain, and remote wilderness, this trip through the Unita Mountains surely won't disappoint.
Bikepacking is a thrilling and liberating way to explore the wonders around us, opening up a world of endless possibilities. Whether you're embarking on a multi-day excursion through remote wilderness or simply exploring your local trails, bikepacking allows us to break free from the ordinary and discover hidden treasures off the beaten path. The open road (or trail) awaits.