I get asked about bikepacking quite frequently so I thought I'd write a blog answering some of the most common questions, along with some tips I've learned bumbling about the outdoors and as a Bike Leader. In no way does this mean I think I know it all or it's how it should be done but hopefully there's something helpful.
So if you are thinking of giving bikepacking a go or just want to have a nosey at my kit list then read on. It won't be too loaded but if there's more information you want on something I've written about just drop a comment below and I'll do my best.
What's stopping you?
I think the thing that holds people back the most is their self limiting beliefs and perceptions of others.
I don't have the right bike or the right bags, I'm not fit enough, I'm scared I get lost or my bike breaks, I should probably wait until someone wants to do it with me, I'm waiting for good weather...does this sound familiar? I had the same thoughts to begin with. You're only human, we all are.
My first bikepacking trip was to the Isle of Arran carrying a 60l rucksack with ALLLLL the 'just n case' items you can think of, I had a ball but learned to streamline my kit for the next adventure.
WE ALL START AT THE START. So don't worry about getting it 'wrong' or doing it differently from others, just get out there and give it a go, The bike (particularly bikepacking) community is a friendly one, I'll go out on a limb and speak for the whole community here to say we are happy to see people out enjoying their bikes and nature.
Find your own way of bikepacking, there's no wrong way, what works for others might not work for you. You do you. Please don't let other people put you off, and if you're keen to give advice...thank you, but wait until being asked otherwise it doesn't come across as being helpful.
The what if's...
We've all experienced 'The What if's'. ..but whats really stopping you from trying it? I used to look at people like Lee Craigie & Jenny Graham on a biking bivvy adventure and think 'I wish I could do that', but the truth is everyone can (although they're next level badass). Like everything it boils down to training, practice & preparation.
What if I can't do it all?
Pick your challenge. Start off small, you dont have to attempt the LETJOG self supported in Winter over two days...although now I think I've just given somebody a challenge lol.
Find that balance between being comfortable & embracing your wild side. If you can't finish your plan A then do it another time, that's why we have plan B, C & D.
If it's a case of fitness being your main concern then try to build it up, add a mile on every now and then, do that big hill twice. Just keep moving forward. That's progression 🙌. The 100 mile adventures will come in time. If you're worried about the camping aspect then start close to home so if it's not for you, you can always return home.
What if I get lost?
Again, start small, leave the secluded mountain ranges until you're confident and capable to navigate amongst them. That's intimidating for those that are nav trained.
If it's something that's holding you back then book yourself onto a navigation course, workshop or ask a friend/leader to take you out and show you some basic nav skills. I learned how to navigate on my Mountain Leader training at Glencoe many years ago and I've not looked back (unless it's to relocate 😏). It's a skill worth having. I will keep you posted with dates of future Nav workshops I'll be putting on this Summer.
Don't rely on technology, start your love affair with maps.
I'm not saying don't use technology but ALWAYS have a back up. Technology & signal can fail. I use Komoot/Ride with GPS and OS Maps to plan my ride, note it down on paper and let loved ones track me on Strava or Komoot. If you plan do to lots of solo missions like I do then level up and buy a Spot Tracker. Peace of mind for everyone. https://www.findmespot.com/en-gb/
What if my bike breaks?
Ahh, it's going to happen at some point so why not practice in your warm, cosy house?! When I was going through my Level 2 MTB Leader I knew that my mechanics were pretty poor so I booked myself onto the Velotech Award course(s). They're delivered at Bronze, Silver & Gold level and pretty thorough, albeit pricey.
Again there's lots of courses/workshops and training out there but I highly recommend learning some trail side repairs at minimum, I picked something new to 'fix' every couple of weeks and it soon begun to add up and make sense (I'm still learning).
When you're in the middle of nowhere and your hanger is broke, you have a flat or your gears are jumping you want to be able to fix it and carry on without having to find a shop or return home right?! If I can, you can. Links below for all your learning style needs (this book is amazing!!).
What if it rains and I get too cold?
'My skin is waterproof'. This is what I tell myself when it's dreich (that's Scottish for shite weather).
When I've planned an adventure I check the weather waaaay too often but I like to be prepared. I use Met office every day as you can even type in mountain summits & it's pretty accurate. We can't control the weather so don't let it stop you, if you're waiting for good weather then you'll be waiting a while. Layers, lots of layers...read on for some staying warm hacks. Or my Winter clothing blog, if it's of interest.
Congratulations you've made it to the Kit part...why are kit lists so exciting?
I appreciate I have fairly decent kit, it's taken me a while to build it up & find what works for me, There's plenty that can be replaced with 'better gear' but I'm a sustainable gal, so will replace when really needed rather than for vanity.
What kit should I take?
Take only essentials. Define essentials I hear you say...shelter, food & water. If you've spotted beer in the photo, yes, beer is essential to me. Don't worry about having the 'right' kit or all the latest gear, just use what you have and give it a go.
Bike frame bags
I have the 9L Handlebar bag & 14L saddle bag from the Expedition series at Apidura and love them, I definitely recommend going big, better to have extra room. I then have a custom handlebar bag that fits nicely on top from London Broil Bagshop. As my handlebars are very narrow it means I can't really use the drop bars but using the hood is fine for for me.
There are other options of course, but I rate Alpkit and Ortlieb very highly. My pannier bags are from Ortlieb and they're bombproof. I have one of the handlebar bags from Alpkit which was good but the range always seem to be sold out and I wanted the bags NOW haha.
Don't overlook the simplicity of using a bumbag/hip pack and jersey pockets for additional items. A rucksack works too, so does a dry bag and bungee cord/Voile strap combo. In fact always take cable ties, duct tape and bungees/straps with you,
My bike has been held together by a combination of straps, cord, cable ties & tape at some point I'm sure.
This is probably the bulkiest bits of kit to pack but sleep is important for recovery too. I'm sure you already know this but just in case you don't. The sleep mat goes on the ground then you jump on like a big wrapped up caterpillar 🐛.
As a woman we tend to get colder quicker, particularly loosing heat from our bum & hips, so chose your sleeping bag carefully. There's lots to think about... this might be helpful.
I opted for synthetic fill for ethical reasons but I'm also allergic to down. Synthetic fill seems to do better in humid environments anyway, that's pretty much the UK all the time 😅 It's also worth noting that the sleeping bag doesn't actually warm you up, you're more likely to stay warm by raising your body temperature before jumping in. So do some star jumps, eat something and have a hot drink.
Top Tip: Use a Nalgene water bottle with boiled water to stay warm overnight (must be Nalgene).
I tend to use my Thermarest 2 season sleeping bag most of the year and just add more layers and liners, an effective way of keeping the bulk size down as synthetic doesn't pack down as small as down. This is the one I use and love.
Obviously you know you need to be off the ground in order to stay warm but there's always a compromise between the weight/size of your kit and comfort. I tend to opt for lighter products and sacrifice a little comfort. If you choose a filled or rigid mat then it will take up more room but you will probably be warmer. I have this one below and again I use it all year round. https://alpkit.com/products/numo
Bivvy Bag & Liners
My bivvy bag is also by Alpkit. It's pretty durable and waterproof, it's also a good size for me to roll about in and change layers if need be, I think they do an XL too if you're bigger than me, which most people are haha.
Along with my sleep mat, sleeping bag & bivvy bag I have a silk liner by Rab as an extra layer for warmth when needed, it protects your sleeping bag from your mucky clothes too and easier to stick in the wash. There are fleece versions for winter albeit more bulky. If I'm really cold I've used a space blanket (silver foil blanket) on top of it all but that was just once and was due to the mist rolling in and making everything nice and soggy. Good practice to carry one with you at all times anyway. Oh and remember your breathe causes condensation so don't be tempted to put your whole head in the bivvy bag, leave your wee nose mouth & poking out.
I prefer to sleep as wild as possible but tarp is fun and sometimes the weather has other plans for you. Tarp is soooo versatile and light, I absolutely love it, you can even make a 'tent' out of tarp. (How to links below)
Be aware of wind direction, especially if you are using the two wheels and tarp method I tend to use, nobody wants a wind tunnel. Block one end with clothes or bags if it's changed direction and you don't want to re-pitch.
I have 2 tarps at the moment and have recently fallen in love with the Rig 3.5 tarp, by Alpkit of course. It's perfect for bikepacking, super small and light at 2.4m x 1.4m, perfect for shoving over your wheels. The Tarp by DD Hammocks is your standard 3m x 3m and very thick and durable but bigger and heavier.
Top Tip: To save you time when its pouring down or you're cold, tired & hangry, have all your items rolled up, ready to deploy 🤓.
Food & Water
Everything you need to cook with is in this handy wee bundle. I've also used the BruKit beofre and it's ace. https://alpkit.com/products/solo-cooking-bundle
Other popular but more expensive brands are:
So I'm vegan which means I need to be quite organised with my food in general but also at times I find it quite hard to stomach meals when exercising so I tend to snack very often then have a meal when I stop. Depends on how I feel I guess.
Snacking: Nuts, dates, energy balls/bites/bars, vegan sweeties too obviously 😋. I've recently discovered wraps and nut butter, particularly these nut butters, they taste amazing and the wrapper is compostable. Hurray!! They do tasty bars too. https://outdoorprovisions.co.uk/
Meals: Take hot meals, nobody wants a salad after a hefty day, not even us vegans 🙈. There's lots of lightweight dehydrated options, I like these guys...https://basecampfood.com/
Coffee deserves a section of its own in my opinion. I love coffee and just can't handle instant, so I'd rather take the extra weight with me...there's some nifty and lightweight options these days.
I don't tend to use filtration devices or chemicals to treat my water very often but I do like to have a back up. As a rule of thumb if its running fast, white and from high up with no obvious signs of contaminants then it's 'safe'.
I do take a Life Straw and tablets with me, it's a just in case item I'd rather have than be stuck without but most of the time I have my stove with me so just boil it for 1 minute. Attach an additional carry cage or two to your bike, use a bladder to cart extra water with you. Don't be stuck without water!
MISC items...but needed
You'd be surprised at how many people don't take tools with them, as a Bike Leader it's habit for me to take a little more than most would but I'd rather it that way.
Space saving tip: Use an old soy sauce bottle from sushi packet for chain lube (the wee fish guy).
You know what I'm going to say here...be trained & prepared. At least take an 'Ouch pouch' with you.
Bike lights and a headtorch are a must as well, spare batteries and/or powerpack too. https://www.nitecore.co.uk/Shop/Products/Batteries/13940-Nitecore-NB10000-Power-Bank.html
I'm yet to try Dynamo powered stuff, let me know if you're a fan and why...
Your bivvy set up should be sufficient in most circumstances as an emergency shelter but in case you want to improve it here's a couple of extra items. Also make sure someone knows where you're going, think back to the times we didn't have mobiles (showing my age) and we had to tell people our plans and when we would be back.
Ticks & Midges
People are more concerned with midges than getting lost in the mountains haha. I use Citronella essential oil mixed with water to 'repel' midges, cover up and pray for a little light breeze. Tight clothing is ideal when it's tick season, carry a wee tick remover with you & check regularly.
The famous bullseye ring is only visible within 12 hours of bite. I've read about people using lint rollers after a walk 🤷♀️ I just wash clothes, myself and check regularly. Try not freak out about it, you'll realise your hardier than you give yourself credit for.
Leave no trace 💩
Dispose of waste properly.
Leave it better than you find it.
Minimize campfire impacts.
Be considerate of other visitors
Zero fires is best practice in my opinion.
We all poo, here's what to do...
Use a trowel or a V shaped tent peg to dig if you're tight on space..or a stick I guess...skies the limit, prizes for most unique method.
And on that note, I hope there's been something helpful for you. Happy bikepacking.