How to Use a Backpack for Bikepacking

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Bikepacking combines the unique challenges of lightweight camping and backpacking with the thrill of mountain biking. The activity has become popular recently by the advent of extremely lightweight gear, allowing up to several days worth of camping gear to be stowed in specialized frame bags on the bicycle. It's possible to begin bikepacking with a traditional backpack, although special accommodations need to be made. Biking with a backpack is inherently dangerous, and an unbalanced load can cause an accident by shifting your weight around a turn. By loading the backpack to lower your center of gravity and reducing your overall weight, you can reduce your risk of a crash and get into bikepacking with the gear you already have.

Things You'll Need

  • 15- to 35-liter backpack with hip belt
  • Scissors
  • Stitch remover
  • Matches or lighter
  • 15 pounds or less of camping gear
  • Reduce the overall weight of your camping gear. By bringing only the essentials and reducing the weight of individual items, you should be able to reduce the weight of your total camping gear, minus food and water, to less than 15 pounds. Carrying more than 15 pounds in a backpack while mountain biking greatly increases your risk of an accident. Be sure to bring all the necessary camping gear for the conditions you expect to face, including a warm sleeping bag and a shelter.

  • Remove weight from your backpack by trimming excess features. Start by shortening the nylon webbing on the shoulder straps and compression straps by cutting down unnecessary length with the scissors. Once a clean cut has been made, use matches or a lighter to carefully melt the cut edge of the nylon webbing for a few seconds to prevent fraying. Additional pockets on the inside and the outside of the pack can be removed using a stitch remover by placing the sharp end underneath a stitch and pulling up sharply. Additionally, extra features like an internal frame or lid can be removed to save more weight.

  • Pack your backpack to lower your center of gravity. By placing the heaviest items in the bottom of your pack, up against your hips, you'll keep your center of gravity as low as possible on the bike and reduce your risk of losing your balance on the trail. Place items like water, food and your tent in the bottom of the pack, and stack lighter items like clothing and your sleeping bag in the upper part of the pack.

  • Test your backpack for balance and stability. Before riding, loosen the shoulder straps so the base of the pack is level with your hips in your riding position, with your back bent forward. Next, tighten the hip belt so the base of the pack is completely secured to your body. Test the stability of the pack on moderate trails or traditional bike paths by carefully swaying your hips back and forth. Any sliding, sways in balance or loose gear should be tightened down before your next bikepacking trip.

Tips & Warnings

  • Reduce your carried weight by trimming the excess material from your camping gear as well. Shirt tags, extra pockets, metal snaps and fasteners, and unnecessary clips on your tent, clothing and sleeping bag can be carefully removed using the same techniques you used on your backpack.
  • Mountain biking is an inherently dangerous sport, and the additional weight of the backpack can exacerbate the risk. Reduce the difficulty of your trails when you bike with a backpack on, and always wear all applicable safety gear including a helmet and padding.

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  • Photo Credit John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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