The time has finally arrived for your first bikepacking trip. You’ve honed your fitness, assembled all of the necessary gear, and as they say in the movies, “the only thing left is but the leaving of it all.” Before you roll out, it might be wise to take with you a few tips, many learned the hard way. The very hard way.
Happy Seat and Happy Feet
There are two surefire ways to make your bikepacking trip an excruciating suffer-fest: Adorn your feet with blisters and invite grimace inducing discomfort to your sitter. Fail to take care of these two aspects of your anatomy and you will be miserable beyond words. Seat comfort will inevitably deteriorate the longer you ride. The idea is to not have it deteriorate so quickly that by noon your saddle becomes your nemesis. The best way to stay comfortable on your saddle is to have a nice one to begin with and pair it to high quality shorts. The pack you wear also greatly impacts seat comfort as that added weight compounds saddle pressure, so packing as little on your back as possible is a smart idea. Bikepacking also demands you manage your nethers by keeping them clean and dry. Failure to do so will guarantee discomfort. Have you ever witnessed a toddler wail and fret due to a soggy bottom? Ya, it’s just like that, but with more tears and screaming. For longer multi-day rides, bring a second pair of shorts, but one with a different pad shape. That change in pad shape can help sooth trouble spots caused by the first pair. Lastly, and this is critical information, never sleep in your bike shorts––You’re welcome for that one.
As for your feet, the key is to stay ahead of foot discomfort. If you think you’re getting a blister, you just did. Because bikepacking involves so much pushing, you have to take care of your feet. If you need to use shoes which best facilitate walking, that’s not a bad way to go. Pearlizumi makes a line of shoes perfect for bikepacking called the X-Alp series. They offer superb walking comfort without sacrificing too much pedaling proficiency.
Balance the Load
How you affix all of your stuff to your bike and body is a delicate science requiring a great deal of experimentation. Too much weight on your back and your sit bones will suffer. Too much on the bars, and popping the front wheel over trail obstacles becomes difficult. Test rides on your home turf will be critical to help you dial in that balance. Many riders like to split the load between rider and bike just so the bike isn’t unusually heavy. This is more important on trails with lots of technical pushing where lifting the bike repeatedly is common. Once you get the load displacement figured out, don’t deviate. I once moved a bunch of weight from my pack to my bars and proceeded to ram a water bar because I couldn’t lift my front wheel over it.
A couple pounds on the bars feels just about perfect. Too much up front is no bueno.
A well balanced load makes riding even rugged terrain enjoyable. This Salsa Ti Fargo fitted with Revelate bags and Salsa Anything Cages on the fork is very well balanced.
A Good Night Makes for a Good Day
As fun as it is, riding your bike all day is serious work. Doing it for multiple days doesn’t make it any easier. Being able to ride day after day is only made possible by a full recovery from those efforts. Proper hydration and fueling are essential to recovery, but so too is a good night’s sleep. If your camping equipment can’t deliver you to REM sleep you’ll wake up tired, grumpy, and ill-prepared for the riggers of another tough day. For me, a good sleeping pad is a must. (Insert shameless plug for the NeoAir XLite here.) For others it’s their ability to fabricate a comfy pillow with what they have available. If you can’t rest, you can’t recover. If you can’t recover, you can’t enjoy the riding, and that’s what it’s all about.
Slow Your Roll and Know Your Limits
I am by nature not a very excitable dude. However, when I see singletrack laid out before me I can’t help but charge at it like a puppy after a bunny. By lunchtime I start to feel the onset of my exuberance and have to reel in my efforts. There’s a lot of time in a day of bikepacking, so pace yourself. Along those same lines, be cognizant of your limits. Sure, you could probably launch over that log in the trail, but do you really want to risk stacking yourself in a pile in the middle of nowhere? Slow and steady is the way to go. Take in the views, enjoy the flow of the trail, and don’t think about Monday when playtime ends.