Bikepacking 101: Everything You Need To Know to Get Started

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Becky standing next to fully loaded bikepacking bike on rock ledge overlooking Canyonlands National Park in Utah on White Rim Trail
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Have you ever wanted to explore the backcountry on your bike, but didn’t know where to start? Well, bikepacking is for you! In this bikepacking 101 post, I’ll cover everything you need to know about getting started with bikepacking. From what gear you’ll need, to where to find the best trails, I’ve got you covered.

So whether you’re a seasoned mountain biker, avid gravel rider, or just getting started, read on for everything you need to know about how to start bikepacking.

Learn everything you need to know about bikepacking 101 with this comprehensive beginner’s guide


What is bikepacking?

Bikepacking is a type of long-distance, off-road cycling. It combines elements of both mountain biking and backpacking, using a bicycle as your main mode of transportation. Bikepackers typically ride on singletrack trails, dirt roads, and other off-road terrain.

There are many different ways to approach bikepacking. Some people choose to ride lightweight and carry only the bare essentials (i.e. they ditch the comforts!), while others (like me) pack heavier and bring more gear along for the journey. The key is to find a setup that works best for you and your riding style. Read more about bikepacking 101 gear below.

bikepacking vs bike touring

Bike touring and bikepacking have similarities, but ultimately they’re quite different. Bike touring is the more traditional form of long-distance cycling, where riders travel on paved roads or gravel roads and typically stay in accommodations along the route.

Bikepacking, on the other hand, involves riding on more rugged terrain and packing all the gear you need to be self-sufficient.

Two loaded bikepacking bikes resting upright against fence in the Pacific Northwest
Bikepackers carry all their gear on their bikes while bike tourers typically stay in accomodations

Choosing the right bike & gear for your trip

The first step in planning a bikepacking trip is to choose the right bike and gear. For most people, a mountain bike or gravel bike is the best option. These bikes are designed to handle rough terrain and provide a comfortable ride.

If you’re planning on riding singletrack trails, you might want to consider a full-suspension mountain bike. This will give you more control and traction on technical terrain. If you’re mostly interested in gravel riding, a hardtail mountain bike or gravel bike will be a good option.

When it comes to choosing gear, there are endless options available. Start by looking at what you already have and see if there’s anything you can use. Here are a few essentials that you’ll need for most bikepacking trips:

For a more detailed list, head over to my Complete Bikepacking Gear List.

Man sitting on rocks at dispersed campsite with camping gear laid out around him and tent set up. Bikepacking bike learning against a large rock and sun setting on red rock bluffs in background

Bikepacking bike

As I mentioned above, a mountain bike or gravel bike will typically work best for bikepacking depending on what type of terrain you plan on riding. That being said, the best bike for bikepacking is the one you already own. If it has collected dust and cobwebs in your garage, be sure to take it to a bike shop for a full tune-up before heading out on your trip.

If you don’t have your own bike, see if you can borrow one from a friend or rent one for a few days. Before you shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a bikepacking bike, it’s a good idea to make sure you actually enjoy doing it.

Once you have a few trips under your belt and have ultimately decided that you do, in fact, enjoy bikepacking, then you can start to think about making that big purchase. Think about what type of bikepacking you will be doing most (singletrack vs gravel roads) and what kind of bike will best suit your pursuits.

Becky standing next to loaded bikepacking bike and Cathedral Valley sign in Capitol Reef National Park
My first bikepacking bike was a Santa Cruz Chameleon

Bikepacking bags

Bikepacking bags allow you to carry all – or most – of your gear on your bike frame. Investing in a full bikepacking bag set-up can be very expensive, so I recommend using what you already have in your gear closet first.

Dry bags can be attached to your bike frame or rack using voile straps or you can even carry most of your gear in a backpack if you’re only doing a short trip (this is actually my preference for 1-2 nighters, especially if the route is mostly singletrack).

To learn more about bikepacking bags, my recommendations, and how to pack your bike for bikepacking, head over to this post.

Woman straddling loaded bikepacking bike in middle of dirt road in Moab, Utah

Biekpacking 101 Route Planning & Navigation

Now that you have your bike and gear sorted, it’s time to pick a route. Here are a few tips for how to find bikepacking routes and how to choose a beginner-friendly option.

How To Find Bikepacking Routes

There are many resources available for finding bikepacking routes. A few of my favorites are:

  • Bikepacking.com: This is my favorite resource for finding and planning bikepacking trips. There are tons of different routes to choose from and the interactive map make it easy to search for a choose routes that suit your timeframe and ability. They also have a great bikepacking 101 section on their website.
  • Adventure Cycling Association: This website also has a lot of great resources for finding and planning a bikepacking trip. They’re more geared toward gravel riders.
  • TrailLink: TrailLink is the organization behind a lot of the Rail Trails across the US. It’s a good resource if you want to plan a route that is mainly on rail trails and bike paths.

Tips For Picking Your First Bikepacking Route

  • Trip Length: If you’re new to bikepacking, I recommend starting with a shorter trip of 2-4 days. This will give you a chance to test out your gear and get a feel for what it’s like to travel by bike. Bikepacking.com allows you to filter routes based on trip length, which is really helpful.
  • Water availability & services: One of the benefits of bikepacking is that you can travel to remote areas that are inaccessible by car. However, this also means that you may not have access to services like food and water. When choosing a beginner-friendly route, make sure there are plenty of places to resupply along the way and fill up on water.
  • Terrain: When choosing a route, consider the type of terrain you’re comfortable riding on. If you’re mostly a road rider, look for routes with paved roads and well-maintained dirt roads. If you’re more of a mountain biker, look for routes with singletrack trails and more rugged terrain.
  • Logistics: A loop will be more easy to plan logistically than a point-to-point route where you’ll need to set up a shuttle.
  • Cell service: While it’s nice to unplug and get away from ‘normal’ life, for your first bikepacking trip, I recommend picking a route that has good cell service. This way, if something goes wrong, you can call for help.
Female bikepacker straddling fully loaded bike in front of Rock Springs cafe. Rider is pointing at sign
For your first trip, choose a route that has easily accessible services – like pie!

Determining how much water to carry

One of the biggest questions people have about bikepacking 101 is how much water they need to carry. This really depends on a few factors including:

  • Temperature and humidity levels
  • Water availablity along the route
  • Personal needs (for example, I tend to need to drink a lot more water than my boyfriend)

As a general rule of thumb, I’ll typically carry 3-4L of water per day IF I know there will be water at camp or along the way.

If there is no water availability, I’ll carry at least 4L of water per day, sometimes more if temps are hot. This includes drinking water and cooking water.

Keep in mind that a liter of water equals 2.2 lbs, so if you need to carry 3-days worth of water (12+ L), that’s an extra 26.5 pounds or more!

Navigating Your route

Once you’ve picked a route, the next step is to figure out how to navigate it. This can be done a few different ways:

  • Paper maps
  • GPS units
  • Phone apps

If you’re using a paper map, mark the places where you’ll be camping and resupplying along the way. This will help you plan out your daily mileage and make sure you have enough food and water to make it to the next stop.

If you’re using a GPS unit, load the route onto your device before you start riding. GPS devices, like the Garmin Edge 830 which is what I use, will give you turn-by-turn directions and help you keep track of where you are. This is my preferred way to navigate a bikepacking route because it doesn’t require you to constantly keep pulling out a map and it drastically reduces the chances of getting lost. (Although getting lost can be part of the adventure 🙂

There are also several phone apps that can be used for navigation as well, such as TrailForks if you’re riding primarily on singletrack and Ride With GPS. These apps allow you to download routes and track your progress in real-time. However, it’s not a good idea to rely mainly on phone apps since battery life can be a real concern.

Female bikepacker walking bike across narrow and shallow river

Bikepacking 101 Pre-Ride Checklist: How to Prepare

Now that you’ve chosen your route and sorted out your navigation, it’s time to start preparing for your trip. Here’s a quick pre-ride checklist to help you get ready and organized:

1. Make sure your bike is in great working order

This is by far the most important thing on this list. You don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with a non-functional bike, especially if it’s something that could have been prevented beforehand!

  • Check your tires to make sure they have enough tread and have fresh sealant if they are tubeless
  • Inspect your brakes to make sure they’re working properly and the pads have enough life left in the them
  • Lube your chain, check for excessive wear, and clean your drivetrain.
  • Listen for any worrisome noises like creaks, clunks, or squeals and figure out what they are!
  • Go through your shifting to make sure it’s smooth
  • Tighten bolts (don’t overtighten them, especially if your frame and/or components are carbon)
  • Grease pivots

If these things sound scary or you’re not sure how to do them, it is absolutely worth taking your bike into the shop for a full tune-up. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

2. Test & organize your camping gear

Before packing all your gear, be sure to test it to make sure all the pieces are there and everything is working correctly. The last thing you want is to go to set up your tent on the first night only to find a pole is missing!

3. Brush up on basic bikepacking 101 repair & maintenance skills

At a minimum, you or someone in your group should know how to:

  • Plug a flat tire and/or replace a tube
  • Swap out a derailleur hanger
  • Fix a broken chain
  • Change brake pads
  • Lube a chain
  • Add tire sealant to a tubeless tire
  • Pump up tires
  • Replace a broken or failing valve core
  • Use a tire boot
  • Basic adjustments to shifting

4. Go over your route & have a few plan B’s

Double and triple check your route before heading out to make sure you know roughly where you’ll camp, where resupply points are, how much water you need to carry between water points, among other logistics.

It’s also a really good idea to have a few Plan B’s like bail options, hotels, alternative ways to cross a river if water levels are too high, etc… the more you plan and prepare, the smoother your trip will go!

5. Check the weather

Always, always, always check the weather before heading out on your trip! Depending on the forecast, you may need to add rain gear, carry more water than expected, or even change your trip dates if a storm is rolling through.

6. Tell someone where you’re going

Last, but not least, always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be finished with your ride. It’s also a good idea to carry a GPS communication device like a Garmin Mini inReach just in case you run into a problem and need help.


What questions do you have about how to start bikepacking? Is there anything you’d add to this bikepacking 101 guide? Let us know in the comments!

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Looking for tips on how to start bikepacking? In this detailed bikepacking 101 guide, learn all basics on how to get started.
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