What to Wear Bikepacking
The Apidura guide to choosing appropriate clothing, for on and off the bike, when bikepacking.
Key to making the most of any bikepacking trip is having appropriate equipment, chosen for its suitability to the type of ride on which you are embarking.
Think about your clothing as just another component in your setup as a whole, and make choices holistically, taking into account all of the factors (detailed below). Good decisions about clothing choices can only be made when the bigger picture is also considered.
Here, we run through the key influential factors, and provide some examples of clothing lists for different bikepacking setups. Using both as a starting point to decide on your own wardrobe, you will be able to set off with confidence in what you are wearing.
Hot and warm weather
Bikepacking trips in warm weather generally do not require an extensive wardrobe. Take a pair of shorts and jersey that offer protection from the sun as well as ventilation. Synthetic materials are a good choice in hot weather, as they’re lightweight and airy, and can be very efficient at wicking away sweat from your skin. You can also wash synthetics regularly as they dry quickly.
Other accessories to consider if it’s very hot are sunglasses, and a lightweight hat to protect your head under your helmet. Consider using SPD sandals as an alternative to shoes; it’ll be much cooler, and your feet will smell a lot nicer.
Hot temperatures during the day don’t always equate to hot temperatures at night, particularly at altitude. Research potential nighttime temperatures and plan accordingly: extra layers such as a softshell jacket or tracksuit bottoms could be useful.
Cold weather bikepacking trips often require much more clothing. Layering is key, as you’ll still get hot when riding, but you will need the extra protection for when you’re off the bike. Start with thermal baselayers (top and bottom if it’s really cold), and add mid-layers according to how cold it is; a softshell jacket or fleece combined with a water (and wind) proof outer shell should be fine. Some insulative waterproof trousers will be fine for the bottom.
Warm gloves, a neck buff and beanie hat can be worthy, if not essential, additions to the kitlist.
When choosing materials, opt for natural fibres such as wool for baselayers and socks, which are insulative when both wet and dry, and do not start to smell if they go unwashed (which can be tricky in the cold). Natural duck down is also worth considering for mid–and–outer layers, due to its insulative properties, but be sure not to get it wet, as it can be very difficult to dry out properly.
If you’re expecting wet weather, ensure you have waterproof layers for top and bottom. Try and choose garments that pack down small so that you can easily store them when it’s not raining.
Synthetic materials tend to dry out faster than natural ones, so keep this in mind when making kit selections for wet weather conditions. Use what you can find to your advantage, too: plastic bags over your feet can do wonders for keeping them warm and dry, as can scrunched up newspaper pages stuffed inside damp shoes for drying them out at night.
Having a spare set of clothing is of utmost importance when it’s wet, as you’ll need it to change into once you’re off the bike and under shelter. Spending all night in cold, wet kit is not just unpleasant but potentially dangerous, with the risk of contracting hypothermia raised. Make sure you bring spares, and keep it all protected in dry bags.
If you’re taking a tent and sleeping bag, your change of clothes for nighttime doesn’t need to be extensive. If you ride all day, eat a meal at camp in your cycling gear, then hit the sack, you’ll potentially just need some underwear in addition to your cycling kit. Many prefer to relax around camp in different clothing though, in which case, you should pack a warm jacket and trousers, as well as a spare change of underwear and some lightweight footwear (e.g flip flops).
If you plan on sleeping under just a bivvy, with a sleeping bag but no tent, pack some extra insulative layers (like a down jacket and leggings) to provide extra protection. If you’re going super lightweight and don’t intend on packing a sleeping bag, then an insulative jacket and leggings to change into out of your riding gear is essential.
Linking up hotels or homestays can be a great way to increase comfort while reducing the amount of stuff you need to carry. You can wash or rotate your kit every night, and if you don’t intend on leaving your room, then all you need is underwear. If you plan on venturing further afield, then pack some shorts, a t-shirt, and some lightweight footwear.
On any given bikepacking trip, you’re going to be doing one of two things; cycling, or not cycling. You need to be comfortable doing both. If the focus of your ride is the time spent on the bike, then you’ll probably benefit from padded cycling shorts, cycling gloves, sports sunglasses, cleated cycling shoes, and cycling-specific clothing.
Synthetic materials are a common choice for sports clothing, as they are lightweight and dry quickly. Woolen gear is warm when both dry and wet. Think about the weather when choosing your on-bike gear. A merino wool baselayer combined with a synthetic jersey could be the perfect combination.
In reality, most of your time on tour will be spent off the bike, and you’ll want to be comfortable then, too. Having a spare set of clothes to change into can be a big morale booster, so try to pack at least one set of spare clothes. Lightweight, insulative items such as down-filled jackets and trousers should be priority, and then you can add t-shirts, underwear, casual shorts, and fleeces to suit your comfort needs.
Some lightweight footwear such as flip-flops (thongs) or trainers can add a lot of extra comfort to your time off the bike if your primary footwear is a pair of cleated cycling shoes. You can strap them on top of your Saddle Pack or inside.
Choosing items of clothing that can be utilised both on and off the bike can save you a lot of weight. In many instances, you can wear the same jersey and shorts both on the bike and off, as long as you wash them regularly. Likewise, with any waterproof gear; try to choose items that have a style and fit that will be suitable for both cycling, and walking around town. Meanwhile, flat pedals used in combination with hiking shoes, or walking shoes with an SPD mount are both clever ways to ensure you only need take one set of footwear.
When considering any item of clothing, try to think whether you’ll be able to use it both on and off the bike. It will offer you much more flexibility with the logistics of life on the road.
Staying visible is a key concern for all cyclists, so try to choose clothing that will maximise your visibility to all road users. As we’ve outlined in the past, seeing clearly, using fluorescent, reflective, and contrasting elements in your clothing are effective ways to increase visibility. These elements are particularly effective when located on the outer edges of your body (such as your helmet) and on moving objects (such as feet).
If you don’t see yourself wandering around in fluorescent clothing around town, then a lightweight packable gilet can be a good option for use just on the bike.
The cultural context is worth some thought when choosing clothing, to ensure your choices won’t be likely to cause offence to others, or make you feel uncomfortable yourself. For example, lots of skin exposure might be fine on a tour of California’s coastline, but it won’t be as welcome in a country with a more conservative approach to dress: Be sure to cover up when and where it’s fitting.
This applies to both men and women, so be sure to do your reading beforehand; it’ll help keep everyone comfortable.
Another case where cultural context could apply is if you’re travelling through an area where certain colours or symbols come with an attached meaning or disposition.In unstable environments with deep political or cultural divisions, this can lead to trouble, so be careful.
Example kitlists for what clothing to pack for a lightweight setup, and a more comfortable one. Items appearing in bold indicates potential for use on and off the bike.
Lightweight off-bike shoes