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A few years ago, I completed my first long-distance bikepacking trip. A friend and I biked 630 miles across the state of Washington. It was an amazing adventure filled with ups and downs (physically and mentally!), but I loved (almost) every minute of it. Like most people just starting out, though, I spent a lot of time searching the internet for bikepacking tips and advice to help me prepare for my adventure
I realize that there’s no one right way to approach a big trip like this, but I wanted to share some of the bikepacking tips I learned from my trip that will hopefully come in handy as you plan your next (or first!) multi-day two-wheeled adventure.
1. Don’t focus on the miles
“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” —Ernest Hemingway
A mile is a long way. When you’re driving in a car or taking a cross-country flight, miles don’t seem like a big deal, but when you’re pedaling a bike for hours on end, a mile can seem like an eternity. This is especially true when you have a destination in mind like an ice cream parlor or a pub with a juicy burger. Those last few miles draaag by.
On the flip side, miles can also pile up! There were several days on our Cross-Washington trip that I looked at my odometer and we’d already gone 25 miles in just a few hours. Crazy!
So my bikepacking tip here is to not focus on the miles or even set a rigid number of miles you need to complete in a day if possible (of course if you’ve booked a hotel or campsite that you need to arrive at, you’ll need to pedal that distance).
Instead, let the miles pile up and enjoy the journey. This strategy will also help preserve your mental state should you run into obstacles like deep, slushy snow…
2. Invest in a good saddle
The limiting factor for my first long-distance bikepacking trip wasn’t my tired legs or overworked lungs, it was my very, very sore butt. The first 30 miles of each day were fine, but after that, it felt like I was doing some permanent bruising to my sit bones. So please do yourself a favor and invest in a good saddle.
To find the right saddle, the first thing you’ll need to do is measure your sit bones to see how wide of a saddle you need. If you don’t have a good friend willing to do that for you, another way to measure them is to sit on a piece of tin foil on a carpeted step. Then measure the distance between the two largest depressions.
Once you have your sit bone measurements, you can start shopping for a saddle. After my Washington trip, I ordered the Terry Butterfly Century Saddle which is designed for long days on a bike. I haven’t gotten to use it yet for an overnight trip, but I’m hoping it will make long-distance bikepacking much more comfortable!
3. It’s ok to adventure your own way
During our Washington trip, when we realized that there was snow on Mission Peak and the alternate route was going to be a miserable hike-a-bike for 5,000 ft up a mountain, we decided to rent a U-Haul truck and drive ourselves and our bikes to rejoin the route 30 miles away.
I felt a little guilty and uncomfortable with our decision at first, but then I remembered that this is our adventure and it’s 100% ok to do it our way! In fact, renting a U-Haul truck added to the experience of the trip.
So if you’re worried that you won’t be able to complete that big long-distance bikepacking route you’ve been eyeing or you’re not sure you’re strong enough to do all the climbs, that’s fine! You don’t need to follow the route precisely or literally. A great bikepacking tip is to figure out what will work for you and do it that way.
4. Two is better than one
For your first long-distance bikepacking trip, I highly recommend doing it with a friend, a group of friends, or a partner. I’m not sure I would have had such a great experience if I had done my first trip solo.
In addition to having someone else to help navigate, carry food and gear, fix mechanicals, and push me on when I was tired and hungry, it was also just really nice to have someone to talk to on those long days.
I am excited to do some solo trips in the future, but I’m glad I did my first trip with a friend!
5. Take time to Stop & explore
A the same time we were doing our long-distance bikepacking trip across Washington, there was also the XWA Race happening simultaneously and we had racers pass us almost every day. I’m not trying to take anything away from racers (although, why…???) but personally I think part of the appeal of big trips like this is to stop and explore the places you pass through.
We spent a day wine tasting in Woodinville; we stopped for an amazing trailside BBQ lunch in an old train depot; we sunbathed on the shores of a lake mid-day; we soaked in a hot tub at the top of Snoqualmie Pass. These are the experiences that really make a trip, so don’t be fooled into thinking that you can’t take your time to stop and explore (and enjoy!) the places you pass through.
6. Pack for comfort (at first)
I definitely packed for comfort on my first long-distance bikepacking trip and I have no regrets. I had several changes of clothes so that I didn’t have to wear sweaty, gross chamois or sleep in my biking apparel.
I packed camp slippers so my feet would be warm and toasty in the evening. I loaded up on tasty snacks like chocolate-covered pretzels and M&M’s. I always had plenty of wet wipes for my nightly wet wipe bath. My sleeping pad is 3.5 inches thick and super comfortable (but heavy).
For your first big bikepacking trip, go ahead and pack for comfort. Your bike might be a bit heavier, but you’ll appreciate those small comforts when the going gets tough. It’ll also help you figure out what your necessities are and what you can do without next time.
7. Drop the food rules
I typically eat pretty healthy. I have my master’s degree in Nutrition, so I know what’s good and bad for me (at least in theory…). However, on a long-distance bikepacking trip I crave Gatorade, Pringles, chips, ice cream… all the ‘bad’ stuff.
But you know what? It’s my body saying that I need more salt and calories. And Pringles are really delicious. So drop the food rules while you’re on your trip. You’ll have a better time if you’re not worrying about what you can eat from the gas station market and maybe you’ll even give yourself a break when you’re back home, too 🙂
Have you done a long-distance bikepacking trip? What are your bikepacking tips? What would you do differently next time? Leave a comment below!