How to Pull Off a Fat Bike-Packrafting Adventure

Take a fat bike, add 100 pounds of climbing, rafting, and camping gear, trek into scarcely chartered territory, and you’re bound to have a hell of a time. That’s exactly what Steve Fassbinder planned for when he paired up with Specialized Bicycles to tackle a first ascent of a monster butte called “The Pinnacle” and packraft the Dirty Devil River with just a few Fatboy bikes to haul his and his crew’s gear for four days in the arid Utah desert.

Fassbinder is a guy who has spent 10 days in Northern Alaska, biking and rafting the entire time without seeing another soul. But this time he brought along his buddy Adam Zurn, photographer J.R. Mankoff, and director Warren Kommers to help him enjoy — and document — the journey. We asked Fassbinder and his crew what it takes to combine your favorite outdoor endeavors into one epic adventure. They shared their expert advice.

Gear prep is paramount.

“Your gear is an extension of your body,” Fassbinder says. “Don’t take anything into the backcountry right out of the box. Know your gear and test everything. If your stove doesn’t work and you can’t cook or boil water, you’re going to be in trouble.”

Balance your bike.

There isn’t a lot of space on the frame of a bike, but you have to keep your supplies balanced so that you can still control your tank-like rig, says Mankoff. Each bike held six liters of water and four day’s worth of food in saddlebags, a packraft and collapsible oar strapped to the front, a sleeping bag hooked in behind the seat, camping supplies strapped onto a rack, and everyone carried a backpack with clothes. To keep the heaviest gear near the bike’s center of gravity, the water, food, and packraft need to be on the rear rack, just behind the seat. Lighter gear, such as clothing, aluminum oars, and sleeping bags, can be kept on the front bars or side panniers without impeding your ability to steer. 

Ditch the tent.

When you're pedaling a 100-pound adventure mobile, every piece of gear has to be worth its weight. For trips in temperate climates, Fassbinder says that tents are an unnecessary burden when you can just sleep in your cold-weather mummy bag underneath the stars. 

Schedule: Raft, camp, then bike.

“You’re going to be getting up early and moving all day, so it’s important to plan your rafting days to end on the banks of your campsite — not then biking to a campsite — so you can easily set up for biking the next day,” Fassbinder says. “It takes time, effort, and energy to set up camp, build your bike again, and deflate your raft. The less you have to do that, the easier the trip feels.” Fassbinder recommends timing the end of the rafting to coincide with the end of the day so that you can pack up your boats and set up camp all at once.

Bring bungee cords. Lots of them.

“Steve put bungee cords on our gear list, and we didn’t understand why we needed to bring so many bungees,” Mankoff says. “Then we ended up needing to strap the shit out of everything.” The group quickly learned that off-roading is a balancing act of gear on the bikes. “Things bounce around and fall off, and you can’t stop every five minutes to readjust.”

Always have a dry layer.

Fassbinder’s go-to clothes list is as follows:

  • two full thermals
  • wool socks
  • rain jacket
  • rain pants
  • puff jacket
  • fleece jacket
  • T-shirt
  • zip-off hiking pants
  • waterproof hiking shoes
  • two pairs of underwear

But according to Fassbinder, the most important part of clothes when you are switching from water to land activities is to keep a dry layer for camping. “A lot of people don’t realize that temperature variation is huge when you are in and out of the water. Always keep that one set of clothes in your dry bag. You have to have a safety layer.”

Beer is essential.

"It seems funny, but take it seriously,” Mankoff says. “At the end of a long day, you need a reward. A case of beer is worth every extra pound.” Instead of throwing a 30-rack onto the bike, Mankoff suggests splitting up the beers and keeping them in different bags to even out the weight.

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