What is Bikepacking and How to Start?

What is Bikepacking and How to Start?

Aaron Johnson CEO Aaron Johnson CEO
12 minute read

What is Bikepacking?

BIKEPACKING, born from the spirit of adventure and self-sufficiency, is the art of embarking on overnight or multi-day journeys by bike, immersing oneself in the great outdoors and distancing from civilization. Originating from the Hemistour Bicycling Expedition in 1973, bikepacking has evolved beyond traditional touring, embracing a mix of terrains and surfaces on a single bicycle. The essence of bikepacking lies in packing light, utilizing bags that attach directly to the bike frame without the need for racks. Whether traversing gravel paths, mountain trails, or urban landscapes, bikepacking enthusiasts load their bikes with essential gear—overnight supplies, food, clothing, and spares—enabling them to explore diverse landscapes with a sense of freedom and efficiency. This style of travel, once rooted in the practicality of utility bicycles, has evolved into a contemporary form known as bikepacking, where adventure and versatility meet the open road.

  1. Choosing Your Ideal Bike for Bikepacking: Tips and Considerations Discover the perfect bike for your bikepacking adventure with insightful tips and considerations to ensure a comfortable and efficient ride.
  2. Optimal Bag Selection for Bikepacking: A Comprehensive Guide Navigate the world of bikepacking bags with our comprehensive guide, assisting you in choosing the right bags to maximize storage, convenience, and efficiency.
  3. Exploring Sleeping Options for Bikepacking Trips: From Tents to Hammocks Dive into the realm of bikepacking sleep systems, exploring various options from tents to hammocks, ensuring a restful night's sleep on your outdoor adventures.
  4. Essential Electronics and Accessories for Bikepacking: A Complete Checklist Uncover the must-have electronics and personal accessories for your bikepacking journey, ensuring you stay connected and well-prepared for any situation.
  5. Cooking on the Go: A Guide to Bikepacking Food Preparation Master the art of cooking while bikepacking with our comprehensive guide, covering essential tips and gear to create delicious meals on the go.
  6. Optimizing Center of Gravity: Packing Your Bicycle for Balance Learn the art of distributing weight effectively on your bike, optimizing the center of gravity for enhanced balance and control during your bikepacking excursions.
  7. Embarking on Your First Bikepacking Adventure: A Beginner's Guide Take the first step into the world of bikepacking with our beginner's guide, offering valuable insights and practical tips for a successful and enjoyable inaugural bikepacking adventure.

1. Choosing Your Ideal Bike for Bikepacking: Tips and Considerations

CHOOSING the right bike for your bikepacking adventure doesn't necessarily mean splurging on a new, specialized touring bike. The beauty of bikepacking lies in its versatility, with any bike potentially becoming your ideal companion. Select a route that aligns with your current bike's capabilities, whether it's road cycling, easy gravel trails, or navigating singletrack.

GoGrava.com full image of all the bikepacking bags we have to offer.
(GoGrava Final and Prototype Bags. 2023)
SELF-SUFFICIENCY is key, especially when venturing into remote areas. Equip your bike with essentials to handle common mechanical issues, such as flat tires or chain problems. Carry spare inner tubes, a puncture repair kit, pump, tire levers, a multi-tool with a chain tool, and a chain quick link. For longer journeys or more isolated routes, consider packing additional items like a spare derailleur hanger, brake pads, gear cable, and spare bolts for potential equipment rattling.

REPAIR isn't your forte? Invite a friend with expertise along for the ride. Navigation tools, such as a GPS bike computer or map, are essential. Don't forget to bring a charging solution for your bike computer if needed. Enhance security with a lightweight bike lock, handy for safeguarding your bike at campsites or during quick stops at shops. Remember, the key is adapting your current bike to the demands of your chosen bikepacking adventure.

2. Optimal Bag Selection for Bikepacking: A Comprehensive Guide

CARRYING your gear for a bikepacking adventure?  The choice of bags plays a crucial role in both comfort and capacity. Bikepacking bags, strategically placed on the seatpost, handlebar, and inside the main triangle, offer versatile options for stowing your essentials. Unlike traditional pannier racks, bikepacking bags don't demand specific mounting points, making them compatible with virtually any bike.

Gravel bicycle with GoGrava.com bicycle bags.  Frame bag, seat bag, and handlebar bag
(GoGrava Bag Testing in PA 2023)

OPTING for shorter trips, a rucksack may suffice, but it pales in comparison to the comfort and capacity provided by bags strapped onto the bike. The front of the handlebar, seatpost, and saddle rails are common attachment points for bikepacking bags, and the best gravel bikes often come equipped with additional mounting points on the fork, top tube, and underside of the downtube for enhanced capacity.  However, GoGrava has the perfect Adventure Backpack if that is what you are looking for!

Grava Cycling and Walking Backpack

Grava Cycling and Walking Backpack

$89.00

Introducing the Grava Cycling and Walking Adventure Backpack, a must-have companion for the everyday adventurer seeking convenience and durability. This backpack, thoughtfully crafted by a Colombian cyclist, embraces simplicity as its core principle. … read more

(GoGrava in Cali, Colombia Testing. 2023)
A RANGE of prices, from entry-level options to premium waterproof designs. You don't have to break the bank to start—consider a handlebar bag and saddle bag as a cost-effective solution for your bikepacking essentials. GoGrava.com offers budget-friendly front handlebar bags and seat bags, providing quality options that won't strain your wallet.

IF BUDGET constraints are a concern, a waterproof dry bag secured to the handlebars using bungee cords or voile straps can be an effective alternative. GoGrava.com offers two sizes of affordable dry bags, ensuring your essentials stay dry during your ride.

APIDURA stands out as an industry leader with lightweight and waterproof solutions, it comes with a higher price tag. If you already have a pannier rack and bags, they can be repurposed for bikepacking, though they may be more effective on smoother roads than bumpy off-road trails. GoGrava.com's Panniers provide a versatile solution, fitting any bicycle rear rack with a simple strap design and a guarantee to keep your items dry in wet conditions. Whether you're looking for affordability, versatility, or premium features, choosing the right bags enhances your bikepacking experience. Explore GoGrava.com for front handlebar bag options that offer both quality and savings.
Apidura bikepacking bags.  The most expensive option.
(Loaded up with Apidura Bikepacking Products in Germany)

3. Exploring Sleeping Options for Bikepacking Trips: From Tents to Hammocks

PLANNING for overnight stays during your bikepacking adventure involves considering the sleeping kit you'll need. While it's tempting to invest in specialized lightweight gear, it's essential to be mindful of your budget. Often, lighter-weight items come with a higher price tag. The good news is that you might already have some suitable items for your trip.

YOU CAN CHOOSE from various options for your overnight setup, including a bivvy bag, lightweight tent, hammock, or even accommodations like guesthouses, B&Bs, hostels, hotels, or bothies. Utilizing what you already have, such as a lightweight tent or a sleeping bag from your camping gear, can be a practical and budget-friendly approach.  Heck, I have even used a tarp to give me cover in a camping spot. 

FOR THE OPTIMAL bikepacking sleep system, aim for gear that is light, durable, and packs down small. While specialized equipment is available, consider repurposing items you own to meet these criteria without breaking the bank.

GoGrava setup up outside with a Tarp to provide a quick shelter as a tarp covering.
(Practicing Shelter in the Bavarian Forrest, Germany)

IF CAMPING is your preference, you'll need essentials like a tent, bivvy bag, or tarp, along with a sleeping bag and sleeping mat. When packing your sleeping kit into bike bags, prioritize placing it in the least easily accessible bag, often a handlebar roll, as you'll only need it once you've finished your ride for the day. Additionally, putting light but bulky items in this location minimizes the impact on steering.

REMEMBER, if you're just starting out in bikepacking, staying in established accommodations like B&Bs or campsites can provide a sense of security, especially after a long day of cycling. As you venture off the beaten track, your kit list may expand to include additional items like cooking equipment. With a bit of creativity and resourcefulness, you can make the most of what you already have, ensuring a comfortable and budget-friendly bikepacking experience.

4. Essential Electronics and Accessories for Bikepacking: A Complete Checklist

MAINTAINING basic hygiene and ensuring you have essential electronics are crucial aspects of a successful bikepacking trip. A compact toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste are handy for dental care, especially after indulging in sugary energy snacks.

DON'T FORGEGT to include sun cream, insect repellent, and SPF lip balm in your kit to shield yourself from the elements. Pay special attention to personal hygiene, changing into clean, casual clothing after riding and ensuring cleanliness 'down there' to prevent skin irritation and saddle sores.

AS FOR ELECTRONICS, a fully charged battery pack is a must-have, providing the power needed to recharge essential items like your phone, GPS device, lights, and camera. Consider that while bicycle computers are popular, a phone can serve as a versatile alternative for navigation and tracking. Some of the best cycling apps offer tracking functionality, allowing your loved ones to keep tabs on your safety, especially if you're riding solo.

BEFORE EMBARKING on your bikepacking journey, inform someone of your destination and estimated return time. This precaution, coupled with tracking features on cycling apps, adds an extra layer of safety to your adventure.

5. Cooking on the Go: A Guide to Bikepacking Food Preparation

WHEN it comes to bikepacking meals, the key is to keep cooking equipment compact and lightweight for easy transport. Whether you're planning a gourmet creation or a simple boiled meal, a small and efficient stove is a must-have.

FOR THE EASIEST bikepacking meals, focus on options that only require boiled water, such as dried noodles, pasta, or dehydrated food. Don't forget the essentials for your morning routine—pack porridge, tea, or coffee for a refreshing start to the day.

COMPACT AND LIGHTWEIGHT bikepacking stoves are ideal for those conscious of space and weight, although they may come at a cost. If you're biking with friends, consider sharing a stove among the group, either cooking together or taking turns. This collaborative approach not only saves weight but also fosters a sense of camaraderie during meal preparation.

(Gravel Ride through Geo-thermal area in Iceland)

ADDITIONALLY, depending on the fire caution levels in the forest where you're riding, you might explore the option of using sticks and rocks to build your own fire. Always prioritize safety and adhere to fire regulations to minimize environmental impact. With the right cooking equipment and a touch of resourcefulness, you can enjoy delicious and satisfying meals on your bikepacking adventure.

6. Optimizing Center of Gravity: Packing Your Bicycle for Balance

MASTERING the art and science of packing is essential for a successful bikepacking adventure, and right now, GoGrava offers fantastic bikepacking bags at incredibly affordable prices. As you load up your bags, prioritize distributing weight low and central to maintain balance, especially crucial when navigating off-road terrain.

WHILE THE SADDLE PACK typically holds the most, be strategic about placing heavier items, considering additional bottle cage mounts under the down tube for tools or a tool keg. Opt for a separate tool pack to ensure easy access during mechanical fixes, avoiding rummaging in deeper saddle packs or bar bags.

Grava bicycle bags at a train station getting food.
(More Bag Testing in Philadelphia 30th St. Train Station)


KEEP ESSENTIALS like waterproofs, sunscreen, and snacks easily accessible by placing them at the top of bags or in a frame bag. Top-tube bags or canister bags on the handlebar provide convenient storage for ride essentials, ensuring they're within reach during your journey.

FOR ITEMS NEEDED occasionally or at day's end, pack them further down for easy retrieval when you have time to reorganize. Ensure that essential items like a down jacket, spare clothing, and sleeping kit, particularly a sleeping bag, are stored in waterproof locations to prevent a night of discomfort in a wet sleeping bag.

GOGRAVA'S waterproof dry bags add an extra layer of protection, offering assurance that your belongings will stay dry even in unpredictable weather. Take advantage of the affordable and reliable bikepacking bags available from GoGrava to enhance your packing strategy and make the most of your bikepacking experience.

7. Embarking on Your First Bikepacking Adventure: A Beginner's Guide

EMBARKING on your first bikepacking adventure doesn't require you to venture far from home. Start by exploring your local area and even consider camping in your backyard to test all your equipment before diving into a grand adventure. Riding close to home allows you to get comfortable with your gear and make any necessary adjustments without the added pressure of being far away.

YOUR INITIAL TRIPS can focus on places that are easily accessible and legally rideable, with your bike being the only limiting factor. For road bike enthusiasts, sticking to local roads or light off-road trails with wider tires is key. Gravel bike riders, while more versatile, should consider the manageability of terrain based on their gearing and tire capabilities. Even mountain bike enthusiasts should be mindful of how extra weight may affect off-road capabilities and maneuverability.

(Testing our Bags on Cheaper Bicycles Cali, Colombia)

AS YOU GAIN CONFIDENCE and experience, you can explore established routes in the USA. Classics like the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona or the 3,000-mile off-road Great Divide Mountain Bike Route offer diverse and challenging terrains for bikepacking enthusiasts.  You can even use the many rail trails on the East Coast of the United States.

REMEMBER, the key to a successful bikepacking journey is to start close to home, familiarize yourself with your gear, and gradually work your way up to more ambitious routes as you become more comfortable and experienced. And don't forget, GoGrava offers excellent and affordable bikepacking bags to enhance your local explorations and future adventures across the diverse landscapes of the Americas.

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