The beauty of bikepacking is that there are myriad ways to prepare and pack for it. You can have a rear rack, front racks, lowriders, gas tanks, saddle bags, frame bags, handlebar bags, stuff sacks, compression sacks, panniers, backpacks, or even a trailer. Because you have the assistance of your bike to haul gear and don’t need to carry it all on your back, you can carry as much as you want with you. Need a kitchen sink? Shower? Small couch? Hitch it up, friend! You might not go quickly, but you’ll be comfortable when you get there, assuming you don’t just dismount and pass out from sheer exhaustion.
Gavin and I plan to bike and camp along the way with rare stops at hotels, and to cook as many of our meals as possible. This means we need the ability to carry our riding gear, shelter, clothing, food, water, cooking accoutrements, and cleaning supplies on our bikes, somehow.
Considering that our planned route takes us over four mountain ranges and my asthmatic breathing affects me at sea level while lying in bed (let alone at 10,000 ft while riding a bike), I wanted to make it as easy as possible on my body.
So when I first began researching all of my options, I made a beeline (by way of Google search) for the ultra lightweight section of the internet to see what they had to say about bike touring. I wanted to know what the bare minimum was, what kind of weight I should expect as a baseline, and how other people live on the road.
Here’s what I learned:
1) If there are women out there writing about their bikepacking experiences, I don’t know about them. (Hello, do I need to pack eye cream? Do I need one of those weird devices so I can pee standing? Who will tell me these things!?)
2) Hygiene is a seriously flexible concept for people riding solo on bikes. Like, one pair of bike shorts and no shower for three days kind of flexible, which is more “bare” than I’m willing to accept as a minimum.
3) You can get featherweight items so light they seem to defy gravity. Of course, it’ll cost you, but technological advances on the gear weight reduction front is pretty impressive.
4) A credit card in your pocket can save you bunches of weight. Eat out! Stay in hotels! Leave all that cooking and camping gear behind and save hours upon hours of labour and work. Unless, of course, there’s no town to be had for miles and miles, and then you’re hooped.
5) The average lightweight bikepacker's gear (sans bike) is 15 pounds.
6) All the men who are criss-crossing the globe on bicycles are way, way, taller than I am.
There were countless articles by these men about riding with stuff sacks strapped to nothing but the saddle rails and handlebars, and pretty pictures of their packing setups.
Bike racks add weight that you can’t use for shelter/sleeping, clothing, cleaning, or eating, making it an obvious candidate for elimination.
Several frustrating tries with my friends proved that there was no safe way for me to do this on my bike. At 5’4”, and with legs that might be considered long if I were 4’0”, the clearance between my saddle/handlebars and wheels just wasn’t sufficient to hold my gear. A rack was the only way.
After a long search for something that would fit my bike, accommodate disc brakes, and weigh as little as possible, I ended up with an aluminum rack weighing a pound and a half (707g) that fit my bike like a dream. Now, all it needed was some gear strapped to it!
I made a spreadsheet with everything I could think of/find on the blogs I’d been reading. I weighed everything in ounces and grams, priced out my top selection, scoured the web for reviews and products, and made countless trips to sporting goods stores.
During my research, I discovered that collapsible, silicone pots are no longer a future dream; laundry detergent comes in dry little sheets the size of a Listerine strip; tasers are legal in most states without any kind of permit. I was disappointed to learn that a laptop case weighs more than my sleeping bag and almost as much as my tent, but delighted to find that someone has invented a contraption for converting a sleeping pad into a chair. Also, it turns out that kitchen sinks are much lighter than previously expected.
It took months of planning, begging, borrowing, stealing, and more than a few purchases, but I finally got it all together. Minus the cookware, which I haven’t had a chance to weigh yet, I’m at 15.56 lbs including the rack, so I’m a bit above my goal but close enough to be satisfied.
This is the gear that will (hopefully) see me through an entire summer:
AND I. CAN. NOT. WAIT!
If there’s anything I discover I need along the way, I’ll pick it up. And, as Gavin and I adjust to traveling together and figuring out what we don’t need, we’ll ship things home to keep it light.
A test of most of this gear is happening this week on a camping trip. Stay tuned for a mini update about how it all worked out!