Bike packing – the what to pack, where to go and what to wear guide for 2022
By JRtB, October 2021

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Bike packing is not a new thing, but it is fast becoming the thing and it will only get bigger and better. So, it makes sense to be prepared, briefed and set to right with the some JRTB top tips

Lockdown restrictions and worries about travel means bike packing in the UK is going to be one of the best and simplest forms of combining the joy of cycling with a holiday. But what is it, where do you go and what do you pack? 

It is not the same as touring. For Ingeborg Oie, who completed the 2017 Transcontinental Race in 13 days, bike packing is about adventure. Going off road, exploring and packing light and moving fast.  

“There are two choices – credit card bike packing or roughing it. Either way, I take one seat post bag, nothing else,” she says. “More bags mean more gear you don’t need and extra weight you can do without. Just choose the necessities: clothes for all weather – base layer, jersey, shorts, leggings, gloves, rain top and definitely an extra merino base layer, lightweight trousers and maybe shoes that roll up small for the evening or if you want to explore.”

Bike packing includes at least one overnight stop, with many adventurers choosing to rough it. Nic, of VeloAdventures Cardiff, who plans regular bike packing adventures in South Wales says, “Having a list of places, en-route, where you can re-fuel is really important, especially before you venture into more remote areas.”

“Planning, it's all in the details'', says Nic, “the Strada Komoot 184km event in March is a good example. I spent about five hours planning time on Komoot: from the laying down of the initial route, to checking, tweaking and cross checking and then adding in refuelling points. I rarely choose the easy lines, the route less travelled is how I like to explore, and I try to create routes that emulate this attitude. Most people have access to a GPS device, and Komoot or Strava, but if you want to get a sense of terrain and the big picture, an OS map is hard to beat.” 

The planning is part of the fun, but Alec Seaman, a consultant at The Bicycle Association, and Nic and both suggest starting from home.

“You find all kinds of adventures on your doorstep. From plotting a route that takes in the highest and lowest point in the area to simply joining the off-road tracks and bridleways, or just riding in a 20-mile radius from the house and seeing where it takes you,” says Alec.

In the summer of 2020 Alec managed to connect the Pedder’s Way, Icknield Way and Ridgeway and military roads to ride from the Norfolk coast (30-minutes from his house) to Lyme Regis in Dorset. He took a bivvy bag, sleeping bag, compact jet boil stove, basic boil in the bag food, coffee and pre-prepared porridge oats. He had two nights in a bed and the other three in fields and beneath hedgerows. “The 600km took six days with one rest day and Komoot never missed a beat for second,” says Alec.

This diagonal trip across England takes in some stunning scenery and knits together ancient ways chosen by pilgrims and travellers for over 1,000 years. It’s the kind of ride where you feel the history through your wheels. The King Alfred Way does a similar thing. Launched last summer by Cycling UK it is a circuit combining elements of the South Downs, Thames Path and Ridgeway taking in Stonehenge and Avebury. 

If you can’t access routes like these from your home, then you could go all in and head for Scotland. You can choose from the North Coast 500, the Badger Divide or if you don’t mind hike a biking try the Highland Trail http://www.highlandtrail.net/ which forms the basis of the Highland 550 race.

Nic votes for Wales (he would, wouldn’t he?), “South Wales has an abundance of adventure bike riding opportunities, with endless kilometres of double track fire roads which criss-cross the valleys and forests. Many of these rough roads were initially laid for logging operations and more recently for wind turbine installation. In the midst of these, are a myriad of National Cycle Network routes, mostly laid on the old industrial train and tram tracks. Add to these the countless local tracks and trails, single track, bridleways and old drovers roads, and you’ll discover that South Wales is a great area for adventure.” 

If you can make the time and can get there then Ireland has the Wild Atlantic Way, https://www.thewildatlanticway.com/waw/downpatrick-head/, which means you get to see the stunning Downpatrick Head sea stack. The West of England has Dartmoor, and you could try The Lakes or even link up parts of the UK’s coastal path. There’s huge bike packing adventure options – some extreme – Ingeborg recommends keeping an eye on routes set up by https://frthr.co/ - others peaceful, historic and romantic. 

 

Check out Jack Thurston’s Lost Lanes series https://lostlanes.co.uk/shop/. He’s mapped a range of routes and gives sound advice about wild camping, which is for real adventures, but almost always requires the permission of the landowner. If you do it, then pick a discreet spot, clean up after yourself and leave early before farmers, dog walkers and horse rides appear. Check https://nearlywildcamping.org/ for advice. Another source of ideas is Alistair Humphrey and his MicroAdventures https://alastairhumphreys.com/microadventures-landing/ 

 

Camping means a tent, bivvy or dealing with the weather but it also means more gear to carry. Ingeborg will always pack light, no matter if she is roughing it or credit carding it. There’s an art to packing and it means learning as you go and everyone we spoke to admitted to taking more kit than they needed on many occasions! 

 

Adventure means different things to different people, so how you bike pack is up to you. We have listed ideas for you to consider but if in doubt choose reliability over refined high-end gear. Adjust your selected clothing and gear to account for the forecast weather and in particular the overnight temperature, this will help to ensure you are not under or over geared for any particular trip. Opt for wider tyres and eat whenever you can, especially on those long days in remote dramatic places we all dream of riding to. Remember, there’s no comparison website for your bike pack adventure, just lots of cycling friends to swap ideas with over a coffee. Enjoy.​

 

BIKE CHOICE

 

Is there a right or wrong bike? It depends on you. It’s a choice based on comfort, bike handling skills, the route terrain and weather. For example, the King Alfred Way in autumn is to be treated with respect on a mountain bike. In the summer, those drier tracks will still need a wide tyre on a drop handlebar adventure bike. You can almost always adapt what you’ve got. Alec Seaman rides a Bergamont Grand Endurance; for Nic it’s a Trek Checkpoint and other choices are Dolan GXT, Genesis Croix de Fer 20. Ride something robust, that will take at least 700x40 tyres, or 650bs and space for two, ideally three bottle cages and capable of taking bike packing bags – not panniers. 

 

 

BIKE PACK KIT

 

  • Ortlieb, Altura and Alpkit are all great choices, but Planet X Pod Sacs also do the job and Altura Vortex 2 Waterproof seatpack £45.99  Top Tube Pack £27.99  are a mid-price option

  • Topeak Bikecamper one person bike tent - https://www.leisurelakesbikes.com/accessories/bike-tents/topeak-bikamper-1-person-bike-tent__30815 

  • British Army https://forcesuniformandkit.co.uk/collections/bivvy-bags-bivi or Alpkit Hunka bivvy bag

  • Alpkit sleeping mat

  • Kraku Micro stove £24  or MSR pocket rocket or Alpkit brewkit £44 for all-in-one convenience

  • Alpkit Pipedream 200 Hydrophobic sleeping bag £165 synthetic is more bulky but less affected by damp, than a down bag

  • Alpkit Hunka bivvy bag £47

  • Basic clothing for riding – bib shorts, jersey, and a waterproof, spare socks, underwear, extra gloves 

  • Base layer and a spare base layer – merino

  • Flip-flops £14 

  • Rapha Explore Down jacket £220  

  • Knog PWR Rider Duo light/powerbank £64  

  • Base sleep mat £45  

  • Blackburn Core mini pump £28.99 Blackburn Big Switch multi tool £40  

  • Alpkit Viper head torch £19 

  • Lifesystems Pocket First Aid kit £19  

  • Alpkit Tau LED rear light £14  

  • Knog Blinder Mini Niner light set £47.99  

  • Gorilla Duct tape £1.89  

  • Assorted cable ties £1 each  

  • Alpkit SnapWire Foon fork/spoon combo £7, Mytimug 650 mug £29,

  • Evoc Phone case £18.99  

  • Credit card

  • Mobile Phone

 

EXTRAS, SPARES AND TOOLS

 

Alec, Nic and Ingeborg all agree on basic spares that you’d take for any ride. Extra tubes, a tube and tyre patch kit, a multi tool with chain breaker, spare chain links, zip ties, a tyre lever, with duct tape wrapped around it for emergency kit repairs, and a high-volume pump. Ingeborg likes the Lezyne Micro Floor Drive HP ABS Pump https://ride.lezyne.com/products/1

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TOP TIPS

 

  • Be flexible and creative. Things rarely go exactly to plan. Ingeborg planned to cycle the Northcoast500, “But with the "wrong" direction wind and three days of heavy rain forecast as I arrived in Inverness to start, I changed my plan and decided to cycle south towards better weather instead.”

  • Allowing for the weather forecast: pack light. Nic says: “Make sure you don’t over pack, making the bike heavy and more cumbersome on rough terrain. A heavy, laden bike is less fun to ride”

  • Choose reliable, trusted kit and equipment over new, ultra-refined high-end gear

  • Have dry warm clothes for overnight – including clean underwear

  • Enjoy it, don’t over think it

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Credits:,Alec Seaman 2021; & VeloAdventuresCardiff, 2021

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