Bikepacking in the Snow: A Survival Guide
Brave the snow on your next bikepacking adventure with the Apidura survival guide for cold weather riding.
When we dream up new bikepacking adventures, the archetypal trip that most of them conform to will be filled with days of sunshine, balmy weather, mountain landscapes, and long, drawn-out evenings under the stars.
Less likely to spring to mind will be landscapes filled with snow, air filled with cold, and clothing filled with down, but that doesn’t mean that winter can’t be an equally as rewarding time to be out adventuring. Indeed, the pristine freshness of your surroundings, the change in their appearance that the snow brings, as well as the added challenges associated with wintertime travel, can be a joy when experienced by bike. Just be sure to stay safe, and give yourself the chance to enjoy the cold, rather than loathe it, with our survival guide for bikepacking in the snow.
Having the correct (high-visibility) clothing is obviously an essential part of being prepared for snowy conditions, from effective, wicking baselayers, to insulating down jackets, and wind-breaking outer shells. Making sure that you dress in layers though will ensure that you’re able to adjust as the temperature changes between night and day, or when you’re active (and potentially sweating) or stationary, and losing heat.
Gloves and socks
Keeping your extremities warm and dexterous is hugely important. Consider doubling up with a glove liner for extra insulation for your hands, and with a pair of insulating socks for your feet. Traditional materials such as wool have done this job for years, but there are plenty of new materials and technologies out there now as well.
If you’re venturing into very harsh climes, or if you just want to make sure your hands stay warm, then pogies (over-sized mittens which attach permanently to your handlebars, breaking the wind in front of your gloved hand) are worth consideration.
If you plan on wild camping in the snow, then choose your campsite wisely. Snow, as well as being comfortably soft, is actually very insulating, so pick a spot with deep snow to make use of this, rather than melt your way through a shallow patch and find yourself shivering on frozen ground come morning. Forage for long sticks to use in place of your tent pegs, and pitch your tent with the smallest panel angled into the wind to avoid snowfall building up on the canvass overnight.
Pack an inflatable mattress as opposed to a roll-up or fold-out foam one. The air inside will form an insulating layer between you and the ground to help keep you warm. Investing in a decent, four-season sleeping bag is a given, but try pulling the face cavity to the back of your head in order to form a real cocoon.
Very cold weather can make some plastic or metal components very brittle, which, combined with the slush, grit, and grime from the road, can mean things break easier, so either pack more spares than usual, or be prepared to get inventive with repairs. Some electrical products (such as phones and batteries) can also have difficulty retaining their charge in the cold, so try to pack them in a well-insulated place.
Whether you’re riding on or off-road, wider tires can provide a welcome amount of grip and stability to your bike, making navigating your way through the snow and ice that bit easier. For the truly committed, consider investing in snow tires, which have metal studs protruding from the rubber.
The cold weather means that your body will be burning a lot of energy in order to stay warm, which, combined with the physical exertion of riding, will create a big calorie deficit. Be sure to account for that and keep yourself well fed and watered.
When it’s cold, any time you spend stationary will be quickly pounced upon. If you’re not either riding, or inside a tent or building, you’ll start to get cold quickly, so be sure to keep that time to a minimum by packing efficiently, being confident in your planned route, and doing all you can to keep indecision to a minimum.
If you are heading out into a remote region, make sure somebody knows what you’re doing and where you’re going. Also consider taking a Spot Tracker, which regularly shares your location via GPS with a number of pre-selected recipients.
Winter bikepacking setup
The extra challenges associated with cold weather bikepacking mean that you will likely end up with a longer kitlist than usual, and so a different approach to packing could be necessary. As well as an extra Food Pouch for storing extra calorific snacks, consider employing a Full Frame Pack, which enables you to transport large items (such as a tent) with minimal impact on bike handling, or a larger Saddle Pack, to accommodate for a bulky, four-season sleeping bag.