Multi-Day Mountain Biking
Multi-day mountain biking is bikepacking at its core: carrying only the bare necessities on a bike that’s light enough to explore the trails you’d seek out on a day ride. Routes may vary in length, from a 40-mile, sub-24-hour overnighter (S24O) to a multi-week jaunt spanning several hundred miles. They may begin close to home and be logistically straightforward to organize, utilizing both favorite rides and unknown trails. Or, they may require planning and travel to destinations to ride established bikepacking trails.
Almost all mountain bikes can be made into capable bikepacking rigs. This said, your bike of choice may well impact the type of route you’ll enjoy most. On the dirt roads of The White Rim, for instance, almost any rigid bike will do. But on the technical singletrack of The Appalachian Beer Trail or The Colorado Trail, full-suspension bikes make more sense. In snowy, coastal, or sandy conditions, such as the Camino Diablo, fat tires may well be a necessity.
ALL-MOUNTAIN BIKEPACKING: THE SALSA PONY RUSTLER
The Pony Rustler can tackle a variety of surfaces with confidence. Similar in design to the Horsethief, its plus-sized tires raise the bar for how hard it can be pushed through corners and monster truck down chunky descents.
Read Our Review
Michael’s Karate Monkey
It’s hard to beat a hardtail mountain bike for bikepacking. Check out Michael Dammer’s Surly Karate Monkey in this Rider and Rig, as used on the Colorado Trail, plus its awesome farm-made leather framebag.
Read the Rider and Rig
JACK OF TRADES: THE SURLY KRAMPUS
Surly’s Krampus innovated the 29+ platform. Its 3″ tires on 50mm rims provide massive amounts of traction and comfort, without the complexities and cost of active suspension. A chromoly frame and slack geometry ensures it rides like a beast, too!
- Surly Krampus Bikepacking Build
- Surly Krampus vs. The ECR
Just like other outdoor sports, there’s a direct correlation between the cost of gear and how much it weighs. A lightweight setup is certainly the goal to aspire to. The lighter the load, the more you’ll enjoy the ride. A lighter rig is also easier to handle on technical singletrack and to carry across sections of trail that may prove unrideable. Ultimately, a considered packlist will help ensure your mountain bike feels like a mountain bike – and not like a truck!
All that said, there’s no need to go out and buy everything at once. Start with what you own, and then prioritize what you really need. We recommend investing first in a lightweight, modern shelter, as older models are often bulky and heavy. Big Agnes offers a range of featherweight options, as does Tarptent, with their minimal, single-wall designs. If you really want to save weight – and cash – consider a simple tarp, or even a bivy bag or hammock when conditions allow.
A quality down sleeping bag or quilt will also make a significant difference to both the weight and packability of your setup. Save the fancy, lightweight air mattress for last. Foam sleeping pads are bulky but light, cheap, and hardwearing. They’re particularly well suited to desert touring.
- Sleeping Bag vs. Quilt
- Solo: The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1
- Sleeping Pads for Bikepacking and Touring
- To Tarp or Not to Tarp
Kitchen & Food
There are various compact stoves on the market to suit all price points. We’re fans of those that burn denatured alcohol, like the Clickstand/Trangia combination, or even a homemade Coke Can Cooker. Simple aluminum pots are cheap and light. We prefer designs that are wide enough that allow “proper” cooking, like frying vegetables. Need some inspiration in the camp kitchen? Here’s some ideas of what to pack:
- Dig Into Our Recipes and Reviews
- An Ultralight Bikepacking Cook Kit
- DIY Hop Can Stove
Another thing to consider is water. Longer desert routes may require extra capacity for carrying water. To save your back from doing all the heavy lifting, fit water bottle cages to the fork and downtube using electrical tape or hose clamps. Or, swap your fork out for one fitted with Anything Cage mounts. And as for filtration, check out the Sawyer Squeeze Mini. It’s economical and lightweight.
- Cages we Recommend
- Electrical Tape Bottle Cages!
- The MSR Trailshot Filter
- King Cage Manything
Your First Bikepacking Bike
The best bike to use is the one you already have. If you currently ride a mountain bike that works for you on the trail, chances are it will make a very capable bikepacking rig with few modifications. After all, bikepacking doesn’t rely on a frame having eyelets for racks and panniers, as with other styles of bike touring. Alternatively, scour the classifieds for a second hand, modern cross country hardtail, as they’re affordable, fun to ride, and offer maximum frame space for carrying gear.
Here are a few other aspects to consider when choosing and setting up your bikepacking rig:
Comfort and Gearing
Bikepacking lends itself to long hours in the saddle, so having a comfortable bike and saddle is key. Make sure you have a proper fit, and if you have a new bike, try it out a few times before setting out on a trip. In addition, having the right gearing is key. Ergon grips can help relieve stress on the wrists and hands, as can handlebars with a bit of extra sweep. And make sure your saddle is a comfy one!
- The Right Granny Gear
- Virginia’s Musings on Finding Comfort
- Browse Riders and Rigs
- Comfort MTB Handlebars
Types of Bikes
In part two of Bikepacking 101, you’ll learn much more about different types of bikes typically used for bikepacking. Generally speaking, you can take almost any bike bikepacking. However, the nature of bikepacking usually involves gravel, dirt roads, and/or singletrack trails. Make sure you use a bike that can handle whatever terrain you set out to explore.
- Gravel and All-Road
- Hardtail and Rigid
- Plus tire Bikes
- Fat Bikes
Repair Kit and Safety
There are a few essentials that should be carefully considered before setting out on a multi-day trip. A good tool and repair kit is required for addressing any mechanical issues that may arise. And don’t leave home without a first aid kit. Bikepacking often involves riding through remote and rugged terrain that can be hard to reach by emergency services. Be prepared, and don’t take unnecessary risks. Always have a cell phone with you, and carry a spare battery. Consider carrying a Spot Tracker, especially if traveling alone:
- Leave No Trace
- Bikepacking Tool and Repair Kit
- Tubeless Preparation
- Pre-Trip Maintenance
- A Proper First Aid Kit
Ultralight, Race, & Gravel
Self-supported ultra racing was popularized by the The Tour Divide, a 2,745-mile bikepacking race from Banff, Canada, to the Mexican border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Since then, races have sprung up all over the US, and increasingly, around the world. This style of bikepacking typically involves the use of a lightweight mountain bike – be it full suspension or hardtail – complemented with an efficient, ultralight gear kit. Race routes are typically 200+ miles over a mixture of surfaces and terrain, often including gravel and some pavement.
So, what makes the perfect bike for ultralight bikepacking and racing? Terrain and surface conditions vary greatly between routes, which changes the requirements of a bikepacking rig. For example, the GDMBR is known for its long stretches of gravel, while the Huracan 300 has plenty of sand and singletrack. Here are three different, versatile examples. Each has its own niche:
GRAVEL & SPEED: SALSA CUTTHROAT
A fast, efficient bikepacking steed designed for racing the Tour Divide and other doubletrack epics. This dirt speedster is as light as they come, yet simple, tough, and reliable, too. Ideal ingredients for long-distance events.
Post Tour Divide Impressions by Jay Petervary
CHUMBA Stella Ti: Speed and Toughness
At a time when the bicycle industry thinks everyone needs to be pedaling a hot rod with super slack geometry, the CHUMBA Stella Ti delivers a breath of fresh air. With a stable, fast, and light platform, the Stella designed to rip singletrack and quickly get you to Antelope Wells on the Tour Divide.
Read the Review
Norco Search XR Carbon
Norco’s Search XR Carbon gets the latest “all-road” standards, meaty 27.5 x 2.1” tires, and mounts to carry up to five water bottles. We tested the Force 1 model and took it on some rugged desert tracks (and beyond) to see what a top-of-the-line “adventure road” bike can do.
Read the Review
Start Your Journey Here
Simply put, bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping. It evokes the freedom of multi-day backcountry hiking, but with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike. It’s about exploring places less traveled, both near and far, via singletrack trails, gravel, and abandoned dirt roads, carrying only essential gear. Ride, eat, sleep, repeat, enjoy!
A common misconception is that bikepacking requires a small fortune to fully appreciate: the perfect bike, custom bags, and all the latest ultralight camping gear. While investing in quality gear is never a bad idea, it’s certainly not a necessity to get you up and running. Start by using what you own and picking a short (20-50 miles) overnight route near home. Discover what you really need through experience. Check out this Advice for New Bikepackers from five experienced riders.
Bikepacking Bags & Packs
The most significant gear innovation that has helped popularize bikepacking is the commercial availability of bike-specific soft bags. Replacing traditional racks and panniers, these consist of a framebag, a handlebar bag or harness, a seat pack, and peripheral bags. Light, rattle free and tailored to modern mountain bikes, they’ll optimize your bike’s carrying capacity without significantly adding to its weight or affecting the way it handles. Most are made by small-scale cottage industries – some are custom made on a piece by piece basis, and others are available pre-designed to fit certain frame brands and sizes. Consider investing in a seat pack and roll bag first, then a framebag when you’ve settled on a bike you’re happy with. Alternatively, check out our ideas below on how to get by with what you might already have.
Seat Pack Dry Bag
For a seat pack, use a 5-7 liter dry bag clipped around the seatpost and cinched to the saddle rails with a webbing strap. Store a change of clothes and a few other odds and ends in it. To help stabilize the load, add something stiff within the bag, such as tightly rolled clothes.
On The Handlebars
On the handlebars, use a larger 14-20 liter dry bag cinched to the handlebars with two webbing or Voile straps. Include a small tent (the poles will help keep a straight shape to the bag) and a lightweight down sleeping bag. Long and slender bags work better than short fat ones. Sea to Summit Big River bags work well.
Although we generally aspire to riding without a backpack, they can be useful for more technical rides—especially those that require their fair share of hike-a-biking—or for carrying a camera, or if you don’t yet have bikepacking bags. For such purposes, a 14+ liter hydration pack will do. Or, just use a day pack you have lying around. This can carry extras like sleeping gear, rain gear, or food and cooking supplies. Here are a few.
Find out a little more about how that kit works in An Impromptu Overnighter.
If you’re interested in investing in purpose-built bikepacking bags, here are a few pointers and resources. Or, if you have access to a sewing machine, make your own! In addition, make sure to check out our Complete Guide to Bikepacking Bags.
Grab a basic seat pack. They essentially strap onto your seat rails and around your seatpost. There are several readily available options for under $100. One easy and available offering worth noting is the Revelate Designs Viscacha Seat Pack.
- Our Seat Pack Reviews
- Revelate Terrapin Review
- Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion
On the Frame
There are also frame packs designed to work within the bike’s frame triangle, available in variations for both full-suspension and hardtail frames. The most obvious and universal type is a half frame pack. These are especially usable on a hardtail or rigid bike.
- Make Your Own Frame Bag
- Oveja Negra Super Wedgie
- Full-Suspension Frame Bag Guide
As mentioned, it’s pretty easy to strap a dry bag to you handlebars, but you can also get a purpose-built bag or harness. Additionally, there are various accessory bags that can add peripheral packing space to your kit.
- Handlebar Bag Reviews and News
- Stem Bags / Top Tube Bags / Accessories
- Revelate’s Waterproof Pockets
Expedition & Dirt Touring
Traveling overseas by bicycle has always been an incredible way to connect with people and experience cultures, unfiltered… even more so when your itinerary explores low traffic, unpaved roads, and involves unearthing rugged and remote places seldom seen by other travelers. And that’s exactly where a bikepacking-inspired setup excels, rather than the more cumbersome, traditional four-pannier setup that has long been favored by cycle tourists.
The list of three bikes below is a little one-sided, as each has the ability to run larger volume tires than would be considered typical for long-distance touring. But there is rationale behind it. Fat tires add comfort and suspension without requiring the usual maintenance of an air shock or fork. They also facilitate floatation, which opens up more terrain like sand and snow. The frames we’ve listed are also all chromoly, which is both repairable and better suited to being slung on the roof of a bus, or boxed up for a flight.
Note that these bikes may not be for everyone. If your intended path leans more toward pavement and gravel roads, there are other options. In many situations, a standard mountain bike with a 2″ or larger tire will certainly suffice. And, given recent technological developments, wide rims and 2.4″ tires are also a great option that won’t necessarily require dedicated frames. Additionally, give mid-fat and fat bikes a chance. From experience, we’ve found that larger volume tires encourage explorations along the road less traveled, opening up horizons previously unconsidered. Teamed with a lightweight packing mentality, the world will really become your oyster.
The New Trek 1120
The Trek 1120 follows in the same 29+ tracks that many bikepacking-specific rigs forged ahead of it, but this bike cuts its own trail with an innovative front rack, a thoughtfully designed rear harness system, and surprising trail prowess, all at a lighter weight than we expected.
Trek 1120 Review: Footsteps of Giants
ESCAPE COMMON ROUTINE: SURLY ECR
The ECR is Surly’s long-distance workhorse that thrives on unpaved tours. Its long-haul friendly geometry, coupled with more braze-ons than you can shake a stick at, make it a great option for cross-continental odysseys. And it’s Rohloff-friendly, too.
- Surly ECR: 1,000 KM Impressions
- Surly ECR Build and Photos
EXPEDITION FAT: The Tumbleweed Prospector
The Prospector is the Tumbleweed’s flagship fat/plus/Rohloff do-it-all expedition bike. With a well thought out design, remarkable attention to detail, and infinite options, the Prospector is a bike that instills confidence to go just about anywhere.
Meet the Tumbleweed Prospector