How to prepare for your first bikepacking expedition

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.

bikepacking bikepacking gear how to bikepack bikepacking routes

The 33-year-old Alff, seen here bikepacking through Taiwan’s East Rift Valley, has seen most of the world on his bike. Photo: Courtesy of Darren Alff

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.

bikepacking bikepacking gear how to bikepack bikepacking routes

Alff says the first thing to understand before attempting to bikepack is the costs required for essential gear. If you don’t already have a dependable bike and tent, Alff suggests you invest in them. Photo: Courtesy of Darren Alff

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.

bikepacking bikepacking gear how to bikepack bikepacking routes

Alff is steadfast in his belief of the importance of packing lightly while on the road. Photo: Courtesy of Darren Alff

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.

bikepacking bikepacking gear how to bikepack bikepacking routes

Start slow, says Alff. “That way, you won’t get discouraged your first time trying out bikepacking.” Photo: Courtesy of Darren Alff

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.

bikepacking bikepacking gear how to bikepack bikepacking routes

In the States, Alff suggests the Pacific coast. But his favorite place he’s ever bikepacked? Romania (above). “The colors of the country are so unique.” Photo: Courtesy of Darren Alff

What are some good bikepacking trips within the country for beginners?

Number one is the Pacific coast. Check with the Adventure Cycling Association — they have tons of maps you can follow. That’s the best bikepacking route in America.

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.

Read more about bikepacking on GrindTV

Insider tips for photo-worthy bikepacking in Costa Rica

These guys bikepacked across 100 miles of frozen tundra; video