Going the Distance: Bikepacking in the PacNW
Saturday, November 14, 2015
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.
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.
Related Slideshow: 17 Ways to Experience Portland on Bike
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