What is Bikepacking?
Bikepacking is the freedom to travel by bike and explore varied terrain. Bikepacking is self-supported; your bags contain all the equipment and food you need for your chosen route. Most importantly, bikepacking is open to everyone. Whether you’re on a mountain bike, a road bike or a designated adventure gravel bike complete with custom bags and the latest ultralight gear, you can go bikepacking. Sometimes I go on solo ‘weekender’ bikepacking trips lasting two or three days, other times I go on longer adventures with friends. I especially love spending undiluted time with my six-year-old girl.
This guide will dispel the common myths and provide all the information required for bikepacking success. Whatever style you choose, whichever bike you have, there’s a bikepacking adventure waiting for you.
Why I Bikepack – My Journey!
For two years, I travelled across Asia and South America undertaking intrepid journeys with little planning. After returning to the UK, I missed the peace of these wild and remote places, however, UK bikepacking has provided me with the same opportunities to see places less-travelled. Sharing these journeys with others has brought an epic deeper meaning to these trips. I led the soldiers of blackwatch on a bikepacking adventure cycling and wild camping around Scotland’s North Coast 500, and I’ve guided from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. Perhaps my favourite of all has been pedalling the Hebridean Islands, enjoying perfect weather, sampling fresh seafood and sleeping on the beach, raising a beer to the sunset on one of the country’s most beautiful and empty beaches.
I now plan things with meticulous detail and leave less to chance. I’ve experienced the ‘excitement’ of being lost in Cambodia with a flat tire and no inner tubes and having to flag down locals to help. But time is now less available, and I tend to avoid these stresses. I plan fully and use my experience to share my passion for British bikepacking. In my next bikepacking journey, I hope to inspire others and lead an ethical business to the benefit of all involved.
‘Learning to bikepack gave the freedom to travel further into places less travelled, explore places steeped in history on singletrack trails, gravel, dirt roads, carrying the essential gear, and not much more.’ – Alan Little
You can read more information about the Cycle Britain team here.
Bikepacking Gear List
Investing in quality gear is fantastic. But don’t let not having the latest and best stop you from ever getting started. The following list should offer a basis for what to take on your first bikepacking adventure.
- Sleeping Bag – Be sure your sleeping bag is rated for the expected temperature .
- Insulated Sleeping Mat – A sleeping mat elevates you from the floor, keeping you warm and allowing a comfortable sleep.
- Bivvy bag , tent, hammock or tarpaulin – There are a variety of options for shelter. A bivvy bag or tent is recommended for the greatest diversity of camping options. I love the Alpkit Soloist tent; it is spacious and packs down small (to the size of a wine bottle!) and weighs around 2.6 pounds.
- Spare pegs .
- Stove. Stoves come with gas, liquid or solid fuels. Be sure to bring enough fuel for the trip.
- Pot . A 550ml is perfect for boiling water on solo trips.
- Matches and Lighter. As well as matches, we suggest bringing a flint or lighter to ignite your fire.
- Water storage. Bring water bottles or a Camelbak with enough capacity to last between water stops. We suggest a minimum of two litres.
- Water Filtration. A filtration system or purification tablets makes the job of finding water on a remote trip easier.
- Reusable container. Preserve leftover food and use the lid as a cutting board.
- Ziplock bag. Effective organisation makes everything easier. Ziplock bags are great for carrying small bits and pieces.
- Emergency Food. It’s always worth having extra food in case of an emergency. A few cans, an energy bar or a backup banana all work great.
We suggest bringing the following spare parts. Of course, you also need the knowledge to know how to use them. Our Introduction to Bikepacking courses will teach you how to complete emergency repairs . Ensuring your bike is serviced by a professional bike mechanic will reduce the likelihood of needing to make field repairs.
- Inner tubes. We suggest bringing at least two.
- Tubeless repair (if applicable) . One or two ounces of extra sealant should be fine
- Puncture repair kit and Tyre Levers . Make sure the glue isn’t dried out and the sandpaper is in good shape. Test tyre levers in advance; if they snap on a tour you’re in trouble. I prefer nylon levers to metal.
- Pump. On longer bikepacking trips, a pump is more reliable (and has less environmental impact) than compressed cartridges.
- Tyre boot or spare tyre. In a pinch, Gorilla Tape can also repair a tire wall.
- Gear and Brake Cables. If you get your bike serviced in advance, you can leave these at home.
- Multi-tool – This tool should contain variously sized Allen Keys, a chain-breaker, and a spoke wrench. Missing Allen Keys or torx drivers can be packed separately if required.
- Powerlinks. This simple tool makes fixing a chain far simpler.
- Chain lube . Keep your drivetrain performing well by cleaning and lubing the chain properly.
- Superglue, Zip-ties and gorilla tape. You’ll be amazed how often these basic supplies save the day.
- Spare Cleats.
- Spare Bolts – Considering bring rack bolts, chainring bolts, rotor bolts, and cleat bolts. Alternatively, ensure your bike is fully checked each day to remove the risk of losing them.
- Spokes – You can hide a few spokes in your seatpost and forget about them until you need them. We cover various tips like this on our Introduction to Bikepacking courses. Make sure you also carry matching nipples and have a spoke wrench on your multi-tool.
- Brake Pads – Check how much wear there is on your brake pads before you set off. Bear in mind these will wear out faster on a heavily-loaded bike.
- Derailleur Hanger – This is very useful but no use if you don’t know the repair.
- Clothes. UK weather is highly changeable. Be sure to carry warm clothes and waterproofs even where the weather forecast is good.
- Personal First Aid Kit. We recommend keeping this in a waterproof container . A survival or space blanket is a good idea.
Wild Camping Legality
England and Wales
All land in England and Wales is owned by someone. That means, except for a loophole in Dartmoor, wild camping is technically illegal. To camp somewhere, even in deserted woodland or mountains, you require landowner permission. These trespass laws are a civil rather than criminal matter, however, so if found camping you must leave a place as soon as is reasonably possible. Note: there are a few places where you would be committing criminal trespass as soon as you enter that land: railway lines, some educational establishments and sites vital for national defence and security.
In theory, you can camp wild as long as you avoid settled areas, follow the Leave No Trace principles and are prepared to move on if the landowner asks you.
Scotland’s Right to Roam legislation – the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 – allows access to most land and inland water for recreational purposes. Thus, you are legally entitled to camp on most unenclosed land.
Some overused areas, such as Loch Lomond & The Trossachs NP are subject to byelaws that mean camping is only permitted within campsites or with a camping permit. If you are unsure of the rules for the area you intend to visit then seek local advice.
Leave No Trace
Have you ever heard the expression, Take only photos, leave only footprints? Any time you camp wild, the aim should be that no-one ever knew you were there.
Whenever wild camping, the important thing is to stay mindful of your impact on the area. You should;
– arrive late and leave early;
– take all rubbish with you;
Route Planning and Navigation
Choosing the right route is the biggest secret to an enjoyable bikepacking trip. The nature of bikepacking often encourages people to escape busy roads in favour of peaceful bridleways and gravel paths. These can be hard to discover. We have developed many thrilling multi-day backpacking routes which are available for free on our komoot page. They are a great starting point for your next bikepacking adventure.
(Cycle Britain are an official Komoot partner. We can offer a free regional pass to new users. Please send us an email, if interested.)
When planning your route, it is important to understand where you can/can’t ride a bicycle. This information is found in the Highway Code. Note: e-bikes are generally indistinguishable from regular bikes for the purposes of route access.
Footpaths – It is illegal to cycle on a designated footpath. An exception is canal towpaths where special allowances are made for cyclists. Local bylaws vary so ensure you adhere to these. You must be mindful of other users and be polite and courteous when using these routes.
Byways – Also known as Greenlanes, these are unpaved routes that can be used by all traffic. Motorised traffic is most likely 4×4 vehicles only. They are generally good cycling routes.
Bridleways – Bridleways are open to non-motorised users. You may share these paths with horses, walkers and other cyclists. Be aware that bridleway status does not guarantee a rideable condition. Especially after heavy rain, be prepared to walk some sections and it is good practice to have other options in mind.
Cycle Paths – These are bicycle-specific lanes and paths, generally in urban areas, which are designed to make cycling safer. The UK’s cycling infrastructure is not as advanced as some European countries but is developing quickly. Though cycling-specific, be aware you may sharing these routes with pedestrians or motor vehicles.
Restricted Byways – These are routes that were previously accessible to motor vehicles but have been re-designated for non-motorised use. Access is essentially the same as regular bridleways.
Roads – Cyclists are permitted to share A-roads and B-roads with motorised traffic. There are occasions where cyclists are prevented from using a localised section of a busy road for safety reasons. Motorways are always out of bounds for cyclists.
A good starting point for planning a trip is to research established cycle routes. These routes are specifically plotted to favour quieter roads and tracks. They may be waymarked and pass bicycle mechanics, campsites, food or water stops, and points of interest more frequently. In addition to our komoot page, it is also worth checking the routes developed by Sustrans, CyclingUK and Eurovelo.
We suggest a combination of paper maps and GPS devices for navigation.
Paper maps are perfect for planning a ride. They allow an overview of a wider area and provide a useful backup to their electronic equivalents. A 1:50,000 laminated map is my preferred scale.
GPS devices can make your trip easier by offering turn-by-turn route directions and locating your position with remarkable accuracy. Modern smartphones are useful when combined with various mapping apps. Be sure your chosen map works offline and your device has enough battery. For multi-day trips, it is advisable to have some means of charging your device.
(Sign up to one of our Introduction to Bikepacking courses to learn navigation tips.)
Cooking while Bikepacking
Bikepacking and camping don’t need to be a suffer-fest. You can still eat great food and get that all-important nutrition to continue riding.
Breakfast – In the morning I go for porridge. I’ll pre-soak the porridge mix overnight and then add boiling water and top with granola, seasonal fruit and maple syrup. Leftover boiling water makes a mug of instant coffee.
Lunch – For lunch, I’ll have sandwiches, some fruit and nuts and an energy bar.
Dinner – I’ll boil water again and prepare a quick and easy one-pot pasta dish.
Get a Headstart with an Introduction to Bikepacking Course
The Cycle Britain Team have extensive bikepacking experience. They have cycled around the world or pedalled across Cambodia, and they are passionate about sharing their experience and celebrating the best of British Cycling. Cycle Britain offer an Introduction to Bikepacking course in three different UK locations. We run trips in Snowdonia, on Salisbury Plain and in the Peak District (featured in the video below). These courses are covid-secure, fully-supported weekends that will teach you all the skills you need to transform from bikepacking newbie to bikepacking hero.
Our introductory courses are aimed at beginners. There is a support van throughout. Some of our guests buy all the gear in advance while others attend with their current bike setup, let us transport their bags to the camp and learn what they need before going out and buying it all.
Our guides will teach the following skills;
- Site Selection
– Considerations of weather and weather forecast;
– Proximity to water sources;
– Environmental consideration .
- Shelter Selection
– Bivvy Bag;
– Cooking Methods;
– Choice of Stoves and Fuel;
– Do’s and Don’ts.
- Sleeping Systems
– Sleeping Bag;
– Sleeping Mat;
– Weigh vs. Comfort.
- Packing Techniques
– Packs and Panniers ;
– Lightweight bags ;
– Distribution ;
– Organisation .
6. Emergency Procedures
– First Aid and what kit to take;
– Emergency services ;
– How to share your journey progress and remain safe;
– Online tools to share location but remain off-grid.
– Navigation Aids;
– Useful apps.
8. Basic Mechanical Skills
– Correct bike set-up;
– Fixing a puncture;
– Fixing broken spokes;
– Fixing a broken chain;
– Fixing a derailleur hanger;
– Replacing brake pads.
9. Bike Handling Skills
– Cycling on varied terrain.
– Effective stretches to stay injury-free.
– Climbing on mixed terrain;
– Braking on mixed surfaced.
10. The Best Bikes for Bikepacking
– We recommend the Cannondale Topstone range for its great quality and value (video below).