How to Plan a Bikepacking Trip
The Apidura guide for how to plan a bikepacking trip, with advice on location, length, route, and kit.
Planning your first bikepacking trip can often feel like a bit of a minefield. There are a lot of unknowns. While that’s part of the appeal, it can also be a bit daunting. That’s why we’ve put together this guide, which covers the four main pillars of the planning process: location, length, route, and kit.
We’ll cover each of these areas in more specific guides to follow, but for this introduction, we’ve taken a step back and offered advice on how to begin thinking about your approach for each.
Everyone’s idea of a good bikepacking trip is different, and no two trips are the same, which is part of the appeal, so we’ve endeavoured to educate, rather than tell. That said, we have included lots of practical information and tips for beginners, as well as some pearls of wisdom from riders in the Apidura community, to help get you started.
Keep reading, take inspiration, then get planning!
I love the pace of travelling by bike, the things you notice about the environment as your mind wanders, and the unexpected encounters each day brings - Marion Shoote, Apidura Ambassador
Part of bikepacking’s charm is its sheer simplicity and adaptability. It can be enjoyed almost anywhere – so, in the spirit of discovery and adventure, start by picking a place that’s new, and that excites you. The reasoning behind the choice isn’t important, but bikepacking is a journey of exploration, and the intimacy with a place that bike travel affords is one of its greatest assets, so go somewhere you want to get to know better.
Go to the mountains, go to the deserts, go to the forests. Go anywhere that’s going to take you away from the noise of everyday life and allow you to reconnect with the wilder side of it. Stay close to home, or venture abroad; go near, or go far. Just go. There is no limit to the places that you can discover.
First-timers often start by choosing somewhere close to home. That way you can ride away from your front door, stay on familiar roads, and return again via a looped route or a train ride home. With an overnight stop, or by following trails you’ve never explored before, you can add a whole new dimension to an area you thought you knew well. Apps such as Strava or RideWithGPS can be really helpful to find popular routes in your local area – and also where to go in order to get off the beaten track.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll realise that the differences between a local overnighter and adventures further afield are relatively few in execution. You’ll be planning an around the world trip before you know it.
The length of any bikepacking tour will largely be dictated by how much time you have, and how intense you expect your riding schedule to be. Off-road, technical tours could mean that you’ll be struggling to ride more than 50km in a day. Long-distance road riding can take you hundreds of kilometres in the same time period.
Equally, distance will be affected by riding approach. If your idea of a good time is to spend as much of it as possible in the saddle, then the total distance of your trip will differ from that of someone with a more leisurely approach, who enjoys stopping off at sights along the way.
If you have a week off, just go for a week and see how far you get, or if you have a specific destination or route in mind, be prepared that it might take longer than anticipated - Patrick Martin Schroeder, Apidura Ambassador.
The best course of action is to go out for some day rides and get a feel for what sort of distance is comfortable for a regular day (including stops). Using the results as a reference point, you can begin to work out what length of trip to plan for, depending on the time you have, and the kind of experience you’re after.
For your first tour, we’d recommend starting off gently. Taking 15kph as a fairly relaxed pacing example, if you did two hours on the bike before lunch, then took a two-hour lunch, and did another three hours afterward, you’d end up riding 75km. If you find you can achieve more in a day, start building extra loops or extensions into your tour. If it looks like you’re not going to manage the distance you’d planned for, look at how you can cut out sections of route, or research transport options to jump ahead again.
Once you know where you’re going, and the rough length of the trip, it’s time to start planning a route.
Good route planning starts with good research, so try to glean a little about the place in general, paying particular attention to geography, climate, terrain, remoteness, road infrastructure, public amenities, and points of interest (because you don’t want to miss the sights along the way). Having some knowledge about the history, culture, people, and language can also greatly enhance your experience, but don’t do so much research that you leave yourself with no surprises on the road.
Once you’ve got a good feel for the place, and have an idea of your total distance or timeframe, you can start looking at potential routes. We recommend using Google Maps to make a vague sketch of directions and distances between locations, either in a big loop back to the place you started, or via a place-to-place route that finishes in a different area.
With a series of staging posts identified, you can use physical and digital maps of the local areas between them to help identify specifics such as resupply points, scenic detours, or places of interest (Marco Polo, Ordnance Survey, Michelin, Reise-Know-How, and Freytag & Berndt are all trusted map publishers). To map out your route digitally, try using RideWithGPS.com, Strava, or Komoot.com, which allow you to tailor your route for cycling purposes, or export it to your GPS device in order to follow on the road.
We believe in packing light, taking only what you need, and sticking to the essentials. The less space that is consumed by unnecessary baggage, the more time and freedom you have to enjoy the ride itself.
Deciding what to pack will largely depend on the decisions you’ve made about location, length, and route. Our advice is always to travel light, but the longer your journey, or the more variation in climate and terrain that you’re likely to encounter, the more stuff you’re likely to need.
You’ll be surprised with how little you can get away with taking. In terms of required kit, the difference between an overnighter and a cross-continental epic is actually very little. Depending on how Spartan your approach to packing is, there may be no difference at all.
You need a lot less than you think - Paul Spencer, Apidura Ambassador
Basic Kit List
- Ride clothing
- Waterproof jacket
- Arm warmers
- Leg warmers
- Socks & underwear
- Off-the-bike clothing
- Warm jacket
- Warm trousers
- Flip flops / lightweight shoes
- Sleeping gear
- Sleeping bag
- Bivi bag / tent
- Tool kit
- Puncture repair kit
- Multi tool
- Pen knife
- Inner tubes
- Brake / gear cables
- GPS (if required)
- Power bank
Discard kit where you feel comfortable for an ultralight setup (maybe you only need one set of riding gear, and no off-the-bike clothes or tent, for example). For tours where more self-sufficiency and comfort is required (longer / more remote / slower ones), items such as cooking gear, food supplies, clothing variety, and a tent, become more important. Here, you can begin adding more storage options as appropriate.