Among the many emerging trends in the outdoor and adventure sports world, one of the more interesting to witness is the growth in the number of people bikepacking.
Websites like Bikepacker.com and Bikepacking.com were both founded in the past five years as online communities for those passionate about the endeavor while the hashtag #bikepacking currently has nearly 180,000 posts on Instagram. But how would somebody who has never had any experience in long-distance bicycle touring get involved in the trend?
To answer that, we spoke to Darren Alff, who runs the @bicycletouringpro Instagram account. Alff has been traveling the world by bicycle for more than 17 years and has biked through nearly 70 countries around the globe. Here’s what he had to say.
So what should people know before trying bikepacking?
Before you head out, you need to figure out food and lodging. In certain places that might be more heavily populated, camping might not be feasible and you might need to stay at a hotel or call around and see if you can find a couch to sleep on.
Also, in those same areas, it might not make sense to have to carry a ton of food, and it might be easier to just buy food at corner stores and whatnot.
Speaking of food and gear, what are the essentials people should bring with them while bikepacking?
So you need some way to carry a tent, a sleeping bag and a mat, those three items are essential. Traditionally, the easiest way to carry them would be on a cheap $40 rear rack and bungee it all to it.
After that, you need to pack sustenance that will be light and efficient. If you’re just doing a short two-day trip, you can load up on freeze dried food. If you’re going for longer periods, I tell people to find what food is available to them in the world.
I like to bring nuts, crackers, dried fruits and protein bars and snack all day while pedaling. Then, for dinner, if I’m in a city I’ll buy something in town, otherwise I’ll bring smaller pots and pans and a camp stove and maybe boil some pasta.
The same notion of carrying what you need applies to water. I generally just bungee a bunch of two-liter water bottles to the frame of my bike, but I’ve been in parts of Africa where I’ve needed to carry as much as four gallons of water on me. You just always have to assess where your next water and food sources will be, and recognize that the more you carry, the less you’ll be able to travel.
If someone has all the gear they need, what would you tell them before attempting their first bikepacking tour?
Just do an overnight to start off.
On a Saturday, go and maybe bike 30 miles to a nearby campsite or a mountain top and set up camp there. You’ll learn a lot from that first short overnight as far as what you need to pack. And it will be a good testing ground for potential riding partners to make sure you’re compatible.
The two things that destroy bikepacking trips are planning to travel too far on any given day and and choosing the wrong people to travel with. So don’t overestimate yourself.
On the first day you should bike half of what you’ll do on every other day. If you think you can handle 50 miles a day, on your first day, only cycle 25 miles and work your way up.
What are some good bikepacking trips within the country for beginners?
Outside of that, I tell people to try riding from Nashville, Tennessee, to New Orleans on the Natchez Trace. It’s a protected, scenic highway with almost no cars that’s basically completely flat and you can do it all in one week.
Beyond those two, the entire state of Utah is great. There’s just so much diversity there, especially for bikepacking. There’s so many dirt roads to pedal and places for free camping. There’s Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park and Uinta National Forest. The whole state is a gem.
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