Outdoor adventure is more accessible than ever. With the advent of new and exciting gear, the availability of educational resources and guides, and the consistent exposure to other people’s excursions getting out for your own adventure is well within reach! Among these forms of fun is bikepacking – the modern-day, off-road form of bike touring, where you carry your gear with you (tent included!) as you venture through backcountry trails. My husband and I were in dire need of some thrills, so we decided to plan a bikepacking trip to Alaska. We learned a lot along the way and wanted to impart some of that knowledge to you!
1. Prepare Physically & Mentally
Going into this trip, we knew it would be a difficult physical feat, but we underestimated the mental toll that it would take. We spent plenty of time on our bikes leading up to the trip, but we didn’t think much about how we would handle things mentally when it got tough. Both of us were pushed to our limits. I got extremely frustrated by trail conditions, Chris had a few mechanicals and ended up with a very sore bum, and we were both taxed mentally. There is no way to truly “prepare” for this, other than to be aware that your bikepacking trip will likely be harder than you imagine. Set expectations about the journey, plan for flexibility in the route, and always have a back-up plan if things go south.
2. Go for a Backyard Test Run
One thing that proved extremely helpful was to go for a test run with fully-loaded gear. This ended up being a total blast and a simple backyard adventure that we’ll likely repeat! After work one night, we packed up our bike bags and pedaled straight from our house, 8 miles up into the mountains (we live in Park City, UT, which made this is doable), and set up camp for the night. It was a great opportunity to figure out how to balance the weight on our bikes, to realize we’d need a LOT more air in our suspension, and to appreciate that you don’t have to travel far to get away.
3. Distribute Gear Appropriately
Lighten the load on your handlebars and back, load up your frame & seat bag! The extra weight on your bike is obviously more taxing on your body, but the weight on the handlebars dramatically changes the steering. Be mindful of how you’re packing to minimize the load up front. This will help maintain the natural handling of your bike, and make descents more fun! Also, try to pack as much onto your bike as you can, so that you’re not adding too much weight directly on your back. As Chris’ bum would have you know, a heavy pack is painful on climbs, especially by day 5!
4. Shorten Your Daily Mileage by 20%
It’s very difficult to estimate just how much your gear will slow you down. One modification that we would have made to our trip was the daily mileage. Ideally, we would have added one more day to the journey and reduced our daily mileage by about 20%. That would have allowed us to have some leisure time after we got to camp each night, instead of shoving food down our throats and immediately hittin’ the hay. A bikepacking trip isn’t simply about crushing miles, but enjoying yourself along the way.
5. Plan for a Resupply
If you’re planning a bikepacking trip longer than 4 days, try to plan for a resupply! Not all routes will go through towns, but if they do, this is a great way to limit the weight you’re carrying at once. Chris and I mailed 3 days of food, spare bike parts (a tire and brake pads), plus some clean clothes to General Delivery at the U.S. Post Office in Seward, Alaska – a quaint fishing town at the half-way point of our trip. It was the best feeling to put on a clean chamois and dry socks! We even snuck some dark chocolate in there as a special treat.
6. Pack Only What You NEED!
I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of gear in this post, but what I will say is that taking a less-is-more approach is hugely beneficial. Once you have the essentials (this will vary depending on the location of your trip), don’t throw in any comfort items – they won’t make you more comfortable, trust me. For Chris and me, travelling in bear country meant bringing bear spray and a firearm. Since we were in Alaska, and there was plenty of water around us, we didn’t need to bring giant bladders for water storage or multiple water bottles, like you might need in a desert climate. Our water filter system was enough. We also needed GoreTex outer layers since we knew we’d be riding in the rain at some point during our journey (or for two straight days…). I used everything that I brought with me on this trip and ended up with only a little extra food at the end of our trek.
Bikepacking is a great way to get immersed in nature and explore trails in a new way. But lack of planning and preparation can leave you more frustrated than it’s worth. Hopefully these tips will give you the edge you need to take on your first bikepacking trip!
If you want to read more about our adventure and explore the details of our gear, visit www.jenhudak.com/blog