Bikepacking is becoming increasingly popular among outdoor adventurers. This is particularly true in the Northeast, as more and more people discover that the range and pace of a bicycle make it ideal for exploring and connecting the region’s scenic byways, gravel roads, dirt paths, and singletrack. 

If you’re interested in a multi-day adventure off the beaten track by bike—like on the Green Mountain Gravel Growler or XNHAT—below are 10 tips to ensure you return from your first biking trip happy and excited to explore more.

Bikepacking in New Hampshire
Credit: Tim Peck

What is Bikepacking?

For those unfamiliar with bikepacking, it’s a blend of two classic modes of self-powered recreation: bike touring and backpacking. Bikepackers take advantage of the efficiency of the bicycle—allowing them to cover more distance in less time than those on foot—to explore a variety of terrain. Unlike bike tourers, bikepackers typically travel on a mix of surfaces ranging from gravel roads to dirt paths to woodland trails and avoid pavement when possible.

Bikepacking in Vermont
Credit: Tim Peck

10 Tips for Your First Bikepacking Trip

1. Take a Trial Run

Before heading out for multiple days on your bike, take a test run with it fully loaded to get used to how the bike handles with the additional weight of your bikepacking gear and make sure nothing interferes with its operation—for example, a handlebar bag impending a brake lever or a seat pack rubbing against the rear tire. Keep in mind that small annoyances can turn into enormous issues when logging big miles.

Also, spend some time packing and unpacking your bike. Getting all your gear on your bike is often a bit of a puzzle and the more familiar you are with where the pieces go, the easier time you’ll have loading and unloading your bike. You’ll appreciate the time you spent dialing in these skills the first time you need to set up or break down camp when you’re exhausted or the weather is uncooperative.

2. Don’t Geek Out on Gear

It’s easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of gravel bikes featuring a multitude of mounting points and super-slick bikepacking-specific bags. That said, if you’re outdoorsy, you likely already have almost everything you need for your first bikepacking trip in your gear room.

It’s often said that the right bike for bikepacking is the bike in your garage. Rigid and hardtail mountain bikes, along with gravel bikes, work best, but you can make most anything work. Similarly, the internet is filled with clever do-it-yourself ideas for bikepacking bags—most of which involve repurposing dry bags and attaching them (or gear itself, like tents and sleeping bags) to your bike with straps.

Bikepacking tips
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Get Weight on Your Bike

If you come from a backpacking background, it’s tempting to load up your big bag, strap it on your back, and begin pedaling. However, you want to get as much weight on your bike as possible—it keeps your center of gravity low, improves bike handling, and most importantly keeps you feeling fresher. The more weight on your back, the more stress you put on contact points like your butt and hands (which will have enough of a burden without the additional weight).

While most seasoned bikepackers avoid backpacks altogether, newer riders and those looking for more space might employ a small backpack. Just remember to use it for lightweight items like a sleeping bag, puffy coat, or extra layers.

4. Precision Packing

A less-is-more ethos will serve you well while bikepacking. The heavier your bike gets, the more work it is to pedal, and the less fun it becomes. Bikepackers will want to trim their kit to the necessities, with maybe an exception for a luxury or two. Ultralight gear is a great way to keep your load light and bike nimble.

Another option is to think strategically about your route choice and how it affects your gear needs. For example, it’s common for bikepacking routes in the Northeast to pass through towns. This may make it possible to pedal carrying a minimum amount of food and water. Plan to eat meals in town and you can even leave your stove behind.

Credit: Tim Peck

5. Get a Pedaling Partner

There are a lot of compelling reasons why it’s awesome to have a bikepacking buddy. A bikepacking partner is someone to share the highs and lows of a trip with. For some reason, a beer at a mid-ride brewery is a little colder and tastier when the experience is shared, and the hill you need to walk up is slightly less dispiriting if someone is pushing their bike beside you.

A riding partner is more than someone to share emotions with, they’re also someone to divide common gear with. For example, you can share the burden of gear like tents, stoves, and repair kits. A bikepacking buddy can also add a second set of eyes when navigating, which is especially beneficial as the hours in the saddle add up, fatigue sets in, and decision-making becomes questionable.

6. Moderate Mileage

It’s surprising how much a fully laden bike will slow you down, even if you’re accustomed to cranking out big bike rides on the road or all-day epics in the backcountry. The extra weight of bikepacking gear will affect everyone differently, so play it safe and start by setting conservative mileage goals.

Bikepacking tips
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Find a Weather Window

The white whale of seemingly every outdoorsy person in the Northeast is nice weather. That said, if possible, schedule your first bikepacking trip around good weather. Wet weather and colder-than-expected temperatures happen—and you should account for them—but ultimately nice weather will make your trip more enjoyable and eliminate extra challenges.

8. Care for Contact Points

You might not notice how hard your seat is or how much pressure you put on your hands while riding short loops and day trips, but log enough hours on the bike and slight discomforts can become all-out aches. A good pair of padded bike shorts and gloves are a great first line of defense against the soreness from big days on the bike.

Another thing to consider is a handlebar that allows for multiple positions. One of the reasons for the popularity of drop-bar bikes is they allow riders to move around and relieve pressure on certain parts of their body. Even still, many drop-bar riders equip their bikes with aero bars for even more position options. Mountain bikers may want to consider adding bar ends to their bikes as they offer an easy and affordable way to add another grip position to a mountain bike.

Bike packed for bikepacking
Credit: Tim Peck

9. Full-Value Feelings

It’s not just New England roads that are up and down, it’s often your emotions on a bikepacking trip. It seems like an inopportune puncture, soul-crushing hike-a-bike, or inability to find a place to camp are followed by stumbling across an unexpectedly great place to eat, speedy downhill, or energy-saving tailwind.

While it’s possible to plan for a pleasant bikepacking trip, it’s pretty common for them to devolve into some solid Type 2 fun. Know there will be a few low points, keep pedaling, and focus on the ice cream stand or fast strip of road that’s sure to materialize eventually. In the end, bikepacking is supposed to be fun—even if it’s more fun after the fact.

10. Be Flexible

No matter how meticulously you plan your first bikepacking trip, something will inevitably go wrong—whether it’s a mechanical, a nagging injury, road closure, or simply being slower than anticipated. Adapting your route on the fly is part of the adventure of bikepacking, so embrace it!