What is bikepacking?

We love bikepacking! The freedom of getting out and riding your bike and seeing the world. But we often get asked what exactly bikepacking is.

Is it just touring with a different name?

Are panniers allowed? 

Is it bikepacking, or bike packing, or bike-packing? 

Well when we sat down to it, we realised that we didn’t have much of an answer to these questions. Generally, we try not to burden ourselves with rules when it comes to riding bikes. Get out, ride often and ride far. That being said, we get asked these questions often enough that we thought we should consult an expert. So we did. 

Tom Allen in his own words is a self-unemployed creative explorer, and has been on cycling adventures all across the world. Here are his thoughts on the question; what is bikepacking?

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Over the last few years we have seen the rise of a new sub-discipline of bicycle travel. It’s called ‘bikepacking’.

Some context.

I’m a mountain biker first and foremost. Back in 2006, when I was 22, me and my mates bought 1-berth ultralight tents from Lidl, threw them in army-surplus backpacks and set off on full-suspension mountain bikes to ride across the Scottish Highlands.

After a couple of days we strapped our luggage to the bike frames to lighten the load. So we were mountain biking with stuff strapped to our bikes. But we weren’t bikepacking. That hadn’t been invented yet.

It’s funny how similar the photos from 12 years ago looks to what bikepackers are doing today.

Today, my social media feeds are awash with images of happy, tired, mud-splattered faces astride lightly-loaded off-road bikes with big, knobbly tyres, with yearning mountain vistas or forest singletrack in the (slightly out of focus) distance..

The running theme I have seen over more than a decade of being involved in all this stuff is that people who choose the bicycle as a means of seeing the world tend to do so because of the many advantages it confers upon the traveller. It is a tool, and a very good one at that. It is a mode of transport. And the world these people imagine travelling through tends to be that of people and the roads that connect them and the cultures that spring forth when they meet, settle and grow into that thing we call human civilisation.

Bikepacking is for bikers – bikers who want to get away from busy roads and the man-made world and ride their bikes in nature, or something approximating it. They always have wanted this. Now they can ride further, for longer and with less fuss. The community’s prime obsessions are bikes, gear to attach to bikes, and riding bikes.

And there is a point to all this obsessiveness. It is to tailor and to optimise the ‘rig’ to deliver the best possible ride under conditions often far more challenging than those encountered on a regular cycle tour. Off-road biking requires skill, and just as in other specialist discipline requiring skill, the tools involved must be designed and honed to allow those skills to be maximised.

I love bikepacking. I was a mountain biker long before I was a traveller. I spent years hucking bikes off-road through woods and muddy fields before I did anything more interesting on a bike.

I think at least some of the recent interest in bikepacking – at least in the UK – can be attributed to the rise of the microadventure in combination with that of cycling in general. Bikepacking neatly merges both.

These two trends express the yearning of an overworked, overstressed society (with plenty of cash) not to think, say or post on Facebook but to do something to disconnect from so-called ‘reality’ and rediscover what had always been there: a world we can see, hear, taste and smell, and a body that can sweat and strain in order to change its environment from one of dull, nagging discomfort to one which at least satisfies our romantic vision of being at one with nature.

The focus on gear makes bikepacking a hobby that can be practiced online during lunch breaks and through tinkering in the garage after work. This can be fun.

And the extremely active community – not just discussing gear ad infinitum but proactively developing and sharing new routes – imparts the sense of tribal belonging that so often underscores people’s life choices.

I think the bikepacking obsession with whittling the experience ever closer back towards ‘pure’ biking is also what pushes cyclists over to bikepacking. Bikepacking is a natural step forward from what cyclists already do into something slightly more adventure-tinged.

So there you are, bikepacking as considered by Tom Allen. Hopefully, that answers some of your questions when it comes to what bikepacking is. And if it doesn’t, then that’s ok! The best way to define it is just to get out there and try it for yourself.

For more bikepacking inspiration, be sure to check out Tom’s website tomsbiketrip.com

PS. It’s definitely bikepacking, not bike-packing or bike packing. We’re putting our foot down on that.