What is Bikepacking?

In recent years we have witnessed the birth of a “new” discipline within outdoor sports. The bikepacking came slowly, without making too much noise at first, but in a few years has managed to gain a foothold and add more and more followers. But is bikepacking really something new?

Bikepacking would become the practice of cyclotourism on mountain trails and roads, a kind of mixture between the MTB and the bicycle touring bike loaded to the brim with camping gear, kitchen, hygiene … and finally, everything you need for a journey of several days.

At first glance, therefore, any MTB enthusiast would say that, in general terms, there is nothing new about bikepacking. There are many enthusiasts who have the Trans-Pyrenees and other great mountain routes to their credit, who can attest that “goat-style” cycling has been practiced for decades. In fact, although bikepacking is a new term for us, in the United States it is simply the word that designates lifelong cyclotourism.

However, we would be making a big mistake if we thought that we were simply dealing with the umpteenth Anglicism that we have adopted to designate something that already exists. The truth is that along with the appearance of the term in Europe there has been a real revolution in equipment, a new conception of what and how a bicycle can be transported without sacrificing the experience. And this has been a change.

Lighter and much, much more fun.

Those who until recently embarked on a multi-day cycling adventure on off-road trails were forced to deal with a strange mix of disciplines and materials: the mountain bike; the touring gear. The pastiche soon became uncomfortable as soon as the road became a little rough. The classic cycle touring weight distribution (panniers on both sides and on both wheels) does not work when you have to constantly correct the trajectory; and the fact that all that weight is supported on a non-cushioned area (the axles of the wheels), makes all the contents of the panniers bounce uncontrollably.

How many times have mountain bikers, struggling with the unevenness of a great route, had to bite the bullet and pull the brakes on a descent that was screaming for an open-air descent, just to preserve the sensitive contents of their panniers, to prevent the anchors of both racks from falling to pieces in the middle of the descent?

The development of long-distance races like the Trans Am Bike Race made it obvious that other ways of carrying luggage on such rides needed to be developed; a way that didn’t affect the bike’s maneuverability and didn’t detract from the fun of the experience.

Thus, enthusiasts began to align loads on the longitudinal axis, which affected the balance less. Soon lighter bags also appeared, adaptable to the amount of things being transported at any given time, so that the contents were not dancing around inside. In addition, the appearance of bicycles with integral suspension (frame and fork) made it necessary to dispense with the classic panniers with anchorages to the frame and the wheel axle, which meant that the load had the same cushioning as the cyclist.

All this and some other innovations (Velcro fasteners instead of hardware, quick-release anchors, etc.) gave rise to what we now know as bikepacking, a discipline in its own right that has specific equipment and is giving rise to the emergence of new routes in which trails and trials are extended for days and days, and can be enjoyed “without brakes”.

Bikepacking equipment

As we have already said, the distribution of loads in bikepacking differs significantly from those of traditional cyclotourism. We can classify the bikepacking bags according to where they are placed on the bike:

Saddlebag: This is one of the bags that can hold the largest loads and is usually used to carry camping and overnight equipment; things that we will generally not need to have on hand during the day.

Frame bag (framebag): Another of the bags of great load of the bikepaking. In this case, however, there is a width limitation, as we must be able to pedal without the bag getting in the way between our legs.

Glovebox (top tube bag): These are small bags that are placed on the frame, near the handlebars, sometimes as mini saddlebags (such as the Framebag from Columbus). They are perfect for everything we want to have at hand during the ride.

Handlebar bag: A classic of cyclotourism, although in this case we can find them in larger sizes and with the characteristic that its capacity can be adjusted to the content.

In short, bikepacking opens the door to a new way of tackling multi-day routes without having to give up the spirit of MTB. Have you already tried this new discipline? Let us know your experience in the comments!