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Going the Distance: Bikepacking in the PacNW

Saturday, November 14, 2015


As the weather turns in the Pacific Northwest, wheels continue to turn.  Cyclists continue to seek adventurous ways to use their bikes to experience the world.  Here in the PacNW, where there are plenty of mountain biking trails and great roads to be ridden, bikepacking is the perfect all-in-one adventure.

Part camping trip, part “road trip,” bikepacking challenges mountain bikers to combine the best of a multi-day backpacking trip and squeeze all that gear onto a bicycle.  Bikepacking can be as extreme as a transcontinental trip to Idaho’s recent Smoke’n’Fire 400, which actually covers almost 450 miles.

How to Get Started

As long as you have a decent bike in your garage, you can get started.  The more technical the route, the more technical the bike.  The type of bike you choose may also depend on how much gear you decide to pack.  Some of us are heavier packers than others.  We come by it naturally, especially if we are inexperienced.  And the more you pack on that bike, the more suspension you may need.

Choosing which gear you pack on is just as important as what you put in it.  Because you are stuffing everything you need for a trip on the frame of your bike, your bags need to be lightweight, yet roomy.

If you’re bikepacking in inclement weather, choosing a dry bag is going to involve some technical knowledge.  There are bags with windows for taking inventory.  There are those made to fit inside gear cages mounted on frames.  And there are some that are so low-tech they are ideal for stow-and-go.

Take to the internet to find bikepacking forums and blogs that share resources and tips.  There are groups on Facebook, and Bikepackers Magazine lists training camps and races.  The internet is a great way to plan your route as well.  Bikepacking routes are typically through-routes or loops and multiple websites on which you can find pre-planned routes, like Oregon Bikepacking or Bikepacking.com.  These sites are great resources for getting your wheels wet in the world of bikepacking.

Once you gain more experience, start planning your own routes.  Use resources like GIS mapping systems for planning your own loops or through-rides.  A quick trip to your state’s or county’s website can yield a lot of mapping information.

The Tech

You’re going to be out in no-man’s land when you’re bikepacking.  Your new Nexus isn’t going to cut it in the backcountry, and buying a satellite phone for a bikepacking trip is a bit cost prohibitive.  You’d be better off spending that money on lighter gear or upgrading protection for your melon.

Instead of buying that expensive satellite phone or worrying if your cellphone will work on the trails, invest in a GPS unit.  There many to choose from; every rider has his or her preference.  However, the consensus is that any unit you purchase should be able to take a variety of battery options, from rechargeables to lithiums.  It may even be wise to find one you can charge with a solar USB charger.

Investing in a more sophisticated GPS unit will get you one that sends emergency signals.  Garmin produces a unit that integrates with your smartphone and allows specific contacts to track your progress when you’re on-route.

During the Smoke’n’Fire 400, racers were able to rent a SPOT Tracker which allowed their friends and family to watch their progress.  I knew someone competing for the first time in the race, and it was fun to see the distances he rode each day as well as reassuring to know he was safe in Idaho’s forbidding Sawtooth Wilderness.

Fun and Games

Don’t forget that bikepacking involves more than just seeing how far you can get in a day’s worth of riding a heavily-laden bicycle.  You get to camp, too!  And camping means relaxing.  Some bikepackers ride ultralight, carrying only the essentials: a little food, maybe some water, and minimal clothing and shelter.  Others are willing to pack on some extra weight for creature comforts like a hot meal.

My friend who competed in the Smoke’n’Fire, his first bikepacking race ever, carried his JetBoil stove with him, a little over one pound extra that many of his fellow riders did without.  Yet he stated many were jealous in the mornings when he made himself coffee.  I bought one for myself for camping.  Mine is huge, and I would not carry it on a bikepacking trip on which I rode mountain peaks as high as 40,000 feet.

I would, however, want some tunes in the evening, so I would invest in a portable Bluetooth speaker for my phone, as well as one of those solar USB chargers.  Alex Roberts of Bikepackers Magazine recommends the Braven BRV-1 speaker for bikepacking adventures, though you can likely find even smaller ones on the market today.

Bikepacking has been around for a long time, but as a phenomenon, it’s really picking up steam here in the Pacific Northwest.  There are seminars, races, Facebook groups and industries growing around it.  Technical gear, both hi and low, is really helping refine the sport.  

If you have a bike, like to camp, and want to combine the two, bikepacking might be the new pursuit for you.  Those of us in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho have plenty of space to utilize.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: 17 Ways to Experience Portland on Bike

Check out these 17 businesses for bike rentals and tours, that allow you to enjoy the Portland bike scene without owning a bike:  

Prev Next

Pedal Bike Tours

Bike rentals and guided tours, including a pub and Columbia River Gorge ride

Bike Rentals: $35-$60 a day

Tours: $89-$109

133 SW 2nd Ave 

Prev Next


Peer-to-peer bike sharing 

Search online or with an app for avaiable bikes of all sizes and prices to loan from local bike owners 

Bike owners list their own rental prices, anything above $1

Prev Next

Go By Bike Shop

Bike rentals  and valet partner with OHSU at the Portland Aerial Tram

$40 a day, $20 a day for OSHU employees

SW Moody and Gibbs  

Prev Next

Waterfront Bikes  

A wide range of city, cruiser, road, mountain, tandem, child, and hybrid bike rentals

10 SW Ash Street #100 

Prev Next

Clever Cycles

Brompton folding bike rentals, with optional child seats and mandatory bells

$30-$45 a day

900 SE Hawthorne Boulevard
(503) 334-1560

Photo credit: Number 10 on Flickr

Prev Next

Portland State University Bike Hub

Bike rental for PSU students and visitors, and a bike sharing program

$35 a day

1818 SW 6th Ave
(503) 725-9006

Prev Next

Splendid Cycles

Bullitt cargo bike rentals

$24 a day

407 SE Ivon St  

Photo credit: wittco.gmbh on Flickr

Prev Next

Wheel Fun Rentals

Specialty bike rentals, including tandems, quad sports, choppers, slingshots, and surreys. 

$20-$45 a day

1020 SW Naito Parkway  

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Mountain Shop

Off-road bike rentals

$60-$75 a day

1510 NE 37th Avenue

Prev Next

Bike Commuter

8-speed, 1-speed, and racing bike rentals.

$35-$50 a day

8524 SE 17th Ave

Prev Next

The Bike Gallery

Bike rentals with locations in Downtown, Hollywood, Woodstock, Lack Oswego, Beaverton, and Clackamas

$75-$85 a day

Downtown Location:
1001 SW Salmon 

Prev Next

Everybody’s Bike Rentals

Vintage, road commuter and touring bike rentals

$25-$30 a day

305 NE Wygant 


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Fat Tire Farm

Road and mountain bike rentals

2714 NW Thurman 

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Sellwood Cycle Repair

Road and cruiser bike rentals

$40-$50 a day

7639 SE Milwaukie 


Prev Next

Cycle Portland Bicycle Tours

Single speed, road, and electric bike rentals, was well as number of city tours

Bike Rentals: $30-$70 a day

Tours: Start at $40

117 NW 2nd Ave


Prev Next

Athletes Lounge

Road bike rentals

$60 a day

2671 NW Vaughn


Prev Next

Veloce Bicycles

High-end road bike rentals

$40-$60 a day

3202 SE Hawthorne  


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