Looking for local travel options? Ready your bike, choose a trail, and set out into the countryside.
By Annie Hayes
With international travel off the cards for the foreseeable, many of us are looking to British destinations for a break.
Enter bikepacking, which involves loading your bike with camping kit, choosing a trail, and setting out into the countryside for a multi-day cycling trip.
To cover as much ground as possible, we spoke to Richard Seipp, endurance cyclist and author of The Cycle Rider blog, and David Scotland, owner of family-run online camping retailer Outdoor World Direct, to find out more about the benefits of bikepacking, what to pack for your first trip, and tips for making the most of the experience:
What is bikepacking?
Bikepacking is essentially multi-day cycling. ‘In its simplest form, it’s a camping and cycling trip in one,’ says Scotland. ‘Typically, riders will select a route and pack a light load onto their bike, bearing the essentials and pitch up camp either at designated campsites or wild camping spots if permitted.’
‘In its simplest form, bikepacking is a camping and cycling trip in one.’
Routes vary in length, distance and style, from S24O (sub 24-hour overnighter) trips to multi-week holiday adventures. They may involve planning rides around local trails, or require travel to established bikepacking routes. ‘Multi-day cycling carrying the minimum amount of equipment is the essence of bikepacking,’ says Seipp.
Bikepacking vs touring
While both involve multi-day trips, bikepacking involves navigating rough terrain such as rocks and sand. As such, bikepackers typically use a lightweight mountain or gravel bike, rather than a touring bike, which is designed for long distances on road.
More important than the bike is the way you carry kit. ‘Travelling with a lightweight set up means that you can cover longer distances in a day,’ Seipp continues. ‘A bikepacking setup is usually more streamlined than a conventional touring bike with panniers, which makes the bike more manoeuvrable off-road.’
Bikepacking is the ultimate self-sufficient adventure, says Scotland. ‘There’s no reliance on public transport, you have the freedom to go where you want at your own pace,’ he says. ‘For people who love mountain biking and hiking, it’s the best of both worlds.’
Cycling is known to have many health benefits. Getting on two wheels on a regular basis has been shown to have a positive effect on:
- Cardiovascular fitness
- Muscle strength
- Bone health
- Body fat levels
- Stress levels
- Joint mobility
- Posture and coordination
The greatest benefit of bikepacking, however, has to be the time spent reconnecting with nature. ‘The freedom of camping and hiking combined with the thrill of mountain biking offers an exhilarating, liberating experience for those who love the outdoors,’ says Scotland.
How to plan a bikepacking trip
Finding a route
When mapping out your adventure, you should always choose routes that you are permitted to ride. A good starting point in the UK is to look at routes on the National Cycling Network, Seipp suggests. ‘One of the classic Coast to Coast trips would make a good two or three day trip.’
Choosing the distance
How far you choose to go will depend on how experienced you are on a bike, the difficulty of the terrain, the length of daylight hours, and the weather conditions. You can expect to cover between 25 and 75 miles per day in the saddle – bikepacking is a type of endurance cycling, after all – so factor in your fitness level when choosing a route.
Planning where to camp
It’s also important to know that wild camping is illegal in most of the England and Wales, so you should seek permission from the landowner before you set up camp. Most will be open to the idea so long as you respect the area and avoid anywhere close to people’s homes or roads. Wild camping is allowed almost anywhere in Scotland thanks to the right-to-roam laws, although there are general ‘leave no trace’ guidelines to follow.
Is bikepacking safe?
Bikepacking is safe, but it’s important to be well prepared. Keep your first aid kit fully stocked – ‘a combination of plasters, bandages and sanitiser to clean any wounds,’ says Scotland – take spare GPS-navigating equipment, and prepare a basic bikepacking repair kit before you leave. ‘A multi tool, chain links, puncture repair kit tube and some spare brake pads should cover most maintenance issues,’ says Seipp.
Bikepacking is safe – but it’s important to be well prepared.
When you’re out on the trail, you’re carrying more weight than usual, so limit your speed – especially downhill – and allow longer stopping distances and more room for corners. Make sure you’re wearing the right safety gear, and most importantly, know your limits. ‘Bikepacking off-road is safe, but make sure you ride within your capabilities,’ says Seipp. ‘If in doubt, I’ll get off and push. Ensure you have lights and wear brightly-coloured clothing if you’ll be riding on the road.’
Do I need to buy a mountain bike?
You don’t need to shell out on a top-of-the-range mountain bike to enjoy the perks of bikepacking. As long as you can fit mount racks or storage bags to the frame, and the tyres can handle the terrain at your destination, the one in your garage is most likely fine fine. ‘Most types of bike can be used for bikepacking,’ says Seipp. ‘Ensure your bike is in good working order before your trip – especially tyres and brakes.’
Packing list for bikepacking
The contents of your kit list will change slightly according to the location of your route and the time of year you’re riding. However, when it comes to a bare-minimum checklist, there are a few non-negotiables to include to make the best of your bikepacking trip:
- Lightweight lock
- Waterproof jacket and trousers
- Power bank for phone
- Water filter
- GPS (and spare batteries if needed)
- Lightweight stove and pan
- Pocket knife
- Sleeping bag
- Bivi bag (to store the sleeping bag)
- Sleeping mat
- Head torch
- First aid kit
- Repair kit
- Multi-tool that includes a chain tool
- Lightweight tent
- Dehydrated meal and snacks
‘When packing equipment, always check the weather in advance to make sure that a) it’s safe to actually go on your trip and b) you have the right equipment for the conditions,’ says Scotland. ‘For example, if you’re going to endure cold temperatures, you will need a three to four season sleeping bag.’ On the flipside, ‘you may consider packing some rehydration salts if you’re going to endure hot, sweaty conditions.’