What is bikepacking?
Bikepacking is best described as the union of mountain biking and backpacking. Compared to asphalt touring, bikepackers traditionally operate within the backcountry realm, carry lighter loads, and find solace in a more wholistic approach to two wheel travel…scouting our own routes, DIY gear projects, and taking part in underground events like the Tour Divide.
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The most versatile option for any route is a 29er hardtail mountain bike. Using cyclocross or "gravel grinder" bikes are not unheard of on calmer forest service routes/races like the Alberta Rockies 700. It all depends on the terrain you will be predominantly riding. Suspension and wider tires are preferred for more challenging terrain. And of course, fat bikes with studded tires in the winter. Above all, we like to encourage new riders to use what they've got first. There is no bike snobbery among the bikepacking community.
If looking to buy new, several major brands have come out with hybrid 'Adventure bikes'. These models are generally more accommodating for bikepacking bags (the middle frame area in particular), have extra water bottle mounts, and hold more of an upright position - better for long days in the saddle.
Canvas bags that affix directly to your frame via velcro straps have emerged as a lighter, more reliable way to carry gear on rougher terrain (and easily mount to any bike in minutes). With traditional panniers, there is concern for metal fatigue and unnecessary bulk; bikepackers emphasize a light and quick approach, restocking more often vs. carrying everything but the kitchen sink.
Types of bags
Saddle bag - Where most of us carry our clothing
Frame bag - Best for heavier items like tools, a possible water bladder, and extra food
Top tube bags - For smaller items that you need to access more often. A little bit of food, your cell phone, a multitool, etc.
Food pouches - Good for carrying water bottles or food. These bags mount to your handlebar, facing you
Handlebar bag - Accessed less often, this is where most of us carry our camping gear
Backpack - Extra carrying capacity for longer stretches between restock points
Canadian bag makers are unfortunately in short supply. That said, Porcelain Rocket out of Calgary is an internationally recognized provider. MEC sells a beginner/ less expensive version of Scott's bags. They are a great option for those just getting started. You should also check out Apidura out of London, England. They have been a great supporter.
Update: The Bikepack Canada team is currently looking into making our own bags. Starting small, we hope to have a few top tube options availible in 2018.
Whether you use a tent, tarp, sleeping bag, bivi sack, Therm-a-Rest, hammock, quilt or plan on motel-hopping, the right way to get your ZZZZs is truly a personal preference. And don't expect to nail it on round one! It takes a lot of practice to become comfortable sleeping out in the elements.
Navigation & Lighting
It's always a good idea to have a few forms of navigation, just in case one fails. A hardcopy map (or directional cues), a GPS unit, and a combination of both saved to your smartphone is a solid plan. On the technology end, AA battery operated GPS units are the gold standard - you can buy batteries anywhere; Garmin's Etrex 20 & 30 units are preferred by many. More expensive, rechargeable units, they walk a thin line between greater functionality (beyond a simple breadcrumb trail and basemap) and being able to hold a charge. Do you know how to power via your dynamo hub? Do you carry a USB battery cache? Sinewave chargers to the rescue.
For lighting, you ideally want a torch on your helmet and handlebars. In regards to the latter, we are the exclusive provider of dyanmo-powered K-Lite lights and accessories in Canada. These Australia-made units utilize the most powerful LEDs on the market and are the go-to for many top riders.
Dynamo power has made a resurgence because of bikepackers. These hubs generate small amounts electricity to power lights and other gadgets. Shutter Precision (SP) - which we sell - and SON are the go-to for most. Which brand you go with will largely depend on your hub size, spoke count, and power needs.
For secondary power, AA / AAA batteries and USB power banks are also recommended.
How and when to use each of these sources will take a bit of practice. Every gadget has different power needs, recharge times, and potential restrictions, as in the case of current generation SPOT units, which can only use AAA lithium ion batteries (and are not easily sourced while on the road).
Both have their pros and cons as far as functionality and cost. If you're just looking for basic tracking, an SOS button to notify emergency services, and the ability to send a few pre-programmed messages to family, SPOT is the more affordable option. InReach takes it a step further with weather reports, greater texting freedom, GPS functionality (cutting down on the need for an extra gadget), and more.
In both cases, you will need to purchase the unit plus a monthly service plan. We also recommend getting the GEOS emergency extraction insurance. Without this coverage, you may be on the hook for any extraction costs.
Carrying one of these units is required for events that utilize Trackleaders.
The typical bikepacker is generally able to carry 2-3 days worth of food. Store bought or ready to cook-on-the go, the choice is yours. Each has its pros and cons as far as convenience and nutritional value.
When riding for multiple days at at a touring pace, the body depends on internal fat reserves and anywhere between 200 – 400 calories / hour of ingested carbohydrates. Electrolytes and water are also an important part of the equation. How much of each will depend on environmental conditions and your sweat rate. A good rule of thumb is to consume one water bottle an hour.
A good restock plan includes the following:
- Know how far it is to the next town
- Carry iodine tablets and/or a water filter
- Pack extra of calories for what-if scenarios
- Have multiple way to pay for goods (in case power goes out)
If combing whole foods with more traditional sport nutrition products, make sure to check out Hammer Nutrition Canada. They offer a comprehensive line of fuels and are a great go-to for questions.