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What to take on your next bikepacking or cycle touring adventure

Don’t pedal off into the wilderness without being properly prepared. Cyclist shows you how

Efficient bikepacking isn't so much about taking what you need, as it is about leaving behind what you don’t. The ethos is to travel light. A lighter bike handles better and you can ride further and faster. You don’t need to snap your toothbrush in half, but you do need to consider what your priorities are.

When it comes to bikepacking and cycle touring, there’s no set formula. If you’re intending on staying overnight in hotels and eating in cafes, you won’t need much at all: just a few essentials, some tools and a set of off-bike clothes.

If you want to be a bit more self-sufficient, you’ll find the kit list for a local overnighter is not really that different to what you’ll require for a long-haul continent crossing.

How much comfort you want will have a big bearing on what you carry. A tent, sleep mat, sleeping bag and cooking gear can provide a welcome end to the day and a fresh coffee in the morning, but a good down jacket combined with some legwarmers and a bivvy bag, and a meal of bread and tinned goods, will see you through with a lot less gear.

If you’re in the former camp, it probably means you’re happy to ride slow and take in the scenery along the way. Your time off the bike is an enjoyable part of the experience.

If you’re in the latter, you’re probably more about the ride. With a wide range of bikepacking bags everything is possible but, if you’re adding more gear, be aware of how the weight is distributed around the bike.

Store heavier items as low down as possible, either at the base of a saddle pack or bottom of a frame pack. This will reduce the sway effect and keep the bike handling true.

Pack lightweight, compressible items in your handlebar pack to reduce the impact on steering. Then keep items you need to access regularly in a top tube pack, so you can get to them even when riding.

And lastly, don’t forget to put contents inside dry bags before packing them, even if packs claim to be waterproof. It’s an extra safety measure and really helps with organisation.

Tips for perfect packing

1. Buy a bivvy bag or get a lightweight tent

A bivvy bag is a thin, waterproof sack that you slip over your sleeping bag allowing you to snooze under the stars. If sleeping out sounds a bit extreme, you’ll need to invest in a compact and lightweight tent.

Two to three-person models weighing under 2kg can now be had for under £200. If you’re going as a group its component parts can be divided between riders, making it more space-efficient.

Buy Rab Storm Bivvy Bag from Ellis Brigham for £134.99

2. Invest in an inflatable mattress and light sleeping bag

This will save bulk and weight over a basic foam mattress. Inflatable options offer decent comfort, while insulated models can also provide four-season warmth.

They also pack down to about the size of a one-litre bottle. Just like the tent and mattress, investing in a high-spec sleeping bag will save you space and weight.

Down-filled models will be the most compact. Just don’t let them get wet, as unlike synthetic material, this will destroy any insulating qualities.

Buy Forclaz Trek 700 Inflatable Mattress from Decathlon for £34.99 

3. Back up your navigation options

Losing yourself on a bike is fun, but getting lost really isn’t. Most of us these days rely on some sort of GPS whether it be on our bike computer or our phone to find out where we are and where we’re going.

But batteries pack up, signals get lost and rainwater can frazzle circuit boards, so pack a map and a compass, too. A solar charger can be a good option for charging low-drain devices.

Buy Anker SolarPort Charger from Anker for $70

4. Load up your cages

Yes, we know they’re called water bottles, but that doesn’t mean you can only carry water in them. They also make awesome containers for dried food such as oats, or even your tool kit if you’re pushed for space in your packs.

Many bikepacking bikes will now have mounts on the fork or downtube too. These can make an ideal spot to store liquid fuel for your stove.

Buy Blackburn Outpost Cargo Cage from Tredz for £16.99

5. Dress appropriately

Bikepacking is a world away from the Sunday club ride, so you’ll need to dress more like Ray Mears than David Millar.

That often means a pair of padded cycling shorts or trousers as opposed to bibs, mountain bike shoes and a bandana instead of a cycling cap under your helmet, as it can be used to double up for everything from a dishrag, to a bandage, to a coronavirus face covering if you need to go in a shop.

A merino wool base layer is versatile on and off the bike, and won’t smell even after multi-day wearing. A shell jacket should complete your look. And don’t forget your gloves!

Buy Dhb Merino Baselayer from Wiggle for £40

6. Think about your tools

With weight being an issue, try to pare down your tool kit as much as possible. Bringing things like a replacement derailleur hanger that’s specific to your bike, as well as quick links, gaffer tape and cable ties take up little space, weigh next to nothing and are good for emergency repairs.

A tyre boot is always a good idea, too, although you can improvise and use an energy bar wrapper if necessary.

Buy Topeak Mini 20 Multitool from Wiggle for £24.99

7. Be safe

If you get lost or injure yourself and need to draw attract attention to yourself, having a simple plastic whistle with you could be a lifesaver.

Equally, a bike light is also good for getting yourself noticed. A first aid kit and some knowledge of what do in case of an accident are also essential.

A space blanket will keep a casualty warm, although so will a bivvy or sleeping bag. Sunscreen, electrolytes, anti-diarrhoea pills, chamois cream and alcohol hand gel are also worth packing.

Buy Lifesystems Light and Dry Micro First Aid Kit from Wiggle for £14.99 

8. Design your menu and know how to cook

Whether you go gourmet or stick to boil-in-the-bag, bring the correct amount of calorie-dense food to see you through the trip, plus some morale-boosting items to snack on.

For hot meals, a small stove is popular with most riders, although some will use wood fires if it’s safe and permissible to do so. Ensure you have enough gas or liquid fuel to last the trip.

It’s also worth taking a spare lighter or some waterproof matches. Even a metal striker is a better option than trying to start a fire by relying on caveman tech!

Buy Vango Compact Camping Stove from Alloutdoor for £13.29

9. Plan for having a poop

If you’re not going to be within range of modern plumbing during your trip, you’ll need to make arrangements. This means taking a trowel to dig a cat hole in which to poop.

These should be at least 15-20cm deep. This can be difficult in hard soil. A Japanese Hori Hori trowel is the perfect shape for cutting one. Relatively compact, they can also be used for splitting wood – and planting bulbs once back home.

Dig catholes far from water sources and likely campsites. Never bury wet wipes. Also, leave soap and shampoo for plumbed-in campsites, as they don’t belong in natural watercourses.

Buy Niwaki Hori Hori Trowel from Niwaki for £24

10. Take a luxury

Bring one nice thing – even if it eats into valuable pack space. Practical options could be a comfy inflatable pillow or eye mask to help you lie-in.

Bottle of whiskey, mini chess set, paperback book or bottle of Tabasco sauce are also all solid options.

Buy Travel Chess and Draughts Set from John Lewis for £8

A bikepacking and cycle touring sample pack list

Flip-flops £14 
Alpinestars shorts £68  
Evoc Blackline T-shirt £29.99  
Rapha Explore Down jacket £220  
Altura Vortex 2 Waterproof seatpack £45.99  
Altura Vortex 2 Waterproof Top Tube Pack £27.99  
Specialized Handlebar Stabiliser harness £105  
Shimano Gear inner cable £4.99 
Endura Pro SL legwarmer £49.99  
Cyclist bidon £12  
Knog PWR Rider Duo light/powerbank £64  
Alpkit Candy Cane tent pegs £7.50, Rig 7 Lightweight Tarp £100, Fredd 4 utility cord £5.50, Cloud Base sleep mat £45  
Blackburn Core mini pump £28.99 Blackburn Big Switch multi tool £40  
Continental Race 28 inner tube £4  
Topeak Micro Airbooster canister £15.49  
Swiss Stop Organic disc brake pads £18.49 per pair  
Wolf Tooth Components Master Link Combo pliers £36  
Muc-Off Bio Wet lube £5.99  
Lezyne Mega XL computer £144  
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  
Rema Tip Top patch kit £4.49  
Park Tool tyre levers £2.99  
Gorilla Duct tape £1.89  
Assorted cable ties £1 each  
Torq Hypotonic Electrolyte Plus sachets £5.99, energy gel £1.85, Torq Snaq 2:1 Any Time Pasta meal £3.95  
Alpkit SnapWire Foon fork/spoon combo £7, Mytimug 650 mug £29, Kraku Micro stove £24  
Travel folding toothbrush £1.50  
Toothy Tabs chewable toothpaste £6.50 Premax Weather Protection facial cream £21  
Evoc Phone case £18.99  
Waterproof Safe Pouch bag set £39.99
Apidura Expedition Full Frame pack £142
Alpkit Pipedream 200 Hydrophobic sleeping bag £165, Hunka bivvy bag £47