Do I need special kit to try bikepacking?
There’s rarely a need for pannier racks because bags fit to the bike directly and are smaller. Consequently everything is lighter, as you have to carry less. Bike handling is better. You’re more aerodynamic and, if heading offroad, the undergrowth is much less likely to snag your luggage.
The cycle industry will sell you bikepacking specific bikes, bags and gear, yet you don’t need to spend a fortune to give it a go. While lightweight kit usually comes with a premium price, if you’re just spending a night out to try it, use what you have. A lot can be picked up from army surplus stores, and some organisers (e.g. pannier.cc) will hire it for their trips.
Tarp or tent is the big question. For me, it’s weather dependent. On a long trip with a risk of bad weather, I take a tent and accept I’ll have less space for other gear. For short trips with a couple of nights out, I prefer a bivi bag.
Tarps are cheap and lightweight compared to tents. You’ll have change from £20 for a tarp, pegs and guy rope (especially if you take the latter from an old tent). Tarps are quick to set up and take down, and much less obtrusive – perfect for stealth camping.
And that’s the beauty of bikepacking: it goes hand in hand with wild camping. With your bivi or tarp, you’re a part of the nightscape. It’s a different experience from the luxury of a tent, where you’re separated from the outside by nylon walls and zips.
For your first time out, keep an eye on the weather forecast for a dry night and head somewhere local you have scoped out before, ideally away from popular dog walking spots. It doesn’t need to be an epic adventure. Just get out there and give it a go!
Got a bike, luggage, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat? The other essentials needn't be expensive…(prices and links below accurate at time of publication)