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M Lightweight Bikepacking: An Introduction

by David Chenault

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Article Summary:

It’s called bikepacking. Backpacking while on a mountain bike. Multi-day mountain bike touring. As impresario of cycling culture Gerard Vroomen has written, “Slow enough to see the trees, fast enough to get through the forest.” If you’re a mountain biker and not much of a backpacker, bikepacking will open up new galaxies right out your front door. If you’re a backpacker but not a mountain biker, bikepacking will allow you to explore new worlds in your pre-existing universes. And if you’re neither a mountain biker nor a backpacker, but are reading this anyway, what took you so long? You’ve been missing out!

This article will provide an overview of contemporary bikepacking, discuss its origins and ways of sub-dividing the main approaches to traveling with bikes in wild places, and point out some places in which bikepacking might be enjoyed. Two companion articles will discuss bikepacking-specific gear in detail: one reviewing suitable backpacks, the other rackless on-the-bike carry systems (e.g. frame bags and seat bags). BackpackingLight has covered bikepacking before, but it’s been five years since the trip on the North Umpqua trail that Doug Johnson discussed in the ninth issue of BackpackingLight magazine (“Singletrack on the Ultralight”). In that half-decade, a minor revolution has taken place with bikepacking gear, which in turn spawned a major revolution in the minds of bikepackers. The range of routes being bikepacked and the way in which these trips are approached are quite different as a result of these advances.

It’s worth noting that this article will discuss lightweight bikepacking only. As with lightweight backpacking, ski touring, or packrafting, the “light” part is only on the surface concerned with weight. No one has yet proposed a weight classification quite as rigorous as the base weights which have come to separate lightweight from ultralight and then superultralight (less than 20, 10, and 5 pounds, respectively). In this article I’ll use a simpler method: lightweight bikepacking means multi-day adventure-based mountain bike riding with no trailers and no panniers. No trailers, no panniers! You eBayed your Arcflex Terraplane a decade ago, yes? Same thing here. Not only are seven-pound backpacks, Bob trailers, and panniers (and often racks) heavy, they allow you to carry even more gear, which is not only heavy on the body (SOMETHING is propelling that bike!), but heavy on the mind and soul. The superficial aspect of lightweight wilderness travel is having a light pack so you can use less energy, move faster, longer, easier, and so forth. The deeper reasons for lightweight have to do with mindfulness, personal growth, and a studied and respectful approach to the land and the human relationship with it. Bringing only the gear and food you need forces you to pay greater attention to both external and internal conditions. For virtually all bikepacking trips, a trailer with a huge load bespeaks of a problematic relationship with the world at large.


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