I’ve always loved riding bikes and been into adventure and exploring new places. I’d describe myself as a ‘seasoned camper’ although in recent years, camping is more about longer, larger gatherings with the extended family, rather than roughing-it with much less gear with your mates.
But it has only been in the last few years that I’ve discovered that by combining activities I enjoy - backpacking, camping and biking - the fun and spirit of adventure can be multiplied! It’s fair to say I am hooked, and having completed many bike-packing adventures over the last few years around the UK and mostly in the South West, I thought I’d share some of it, in the hope that it might inspire others to give it a go and explore by bike.
3 birthdays ago I was asked for present ideas by one of my sisters. I’d recently seen a review of a book that looked like a decent intro to bikepacking - an activity that I had read a bit about and had grabbed my attention. Although I was unsurprised to unwrap this gift, I was surprised with the coincidence that it was written by someone from my home town of Frome, Somerset.
Bikepacking on the wild trails of Britain by Laurence McJannet
My recommended title to get you started
I’m absolutely recommending this title as a great starting point, as for me it served as a great intro starting with the very basics with great photography, notes on what to pack and how to get going. There’s bags of info online too, but to have a book that was aimed at the beginner bike-packer felt right and if you’re a map lover like me, it worked well as the diagrams helped to map each route out.
Packed up and ready to go for an overnighter
The basic rule of thumb is take as little as possible, include the essentials, don’t worry about gaffer-taping something to your bike to get started. There’s no right or wrong, as long as you’re happy to keep learning and tweaking your set up so it makes the ride more fun. The first bikepacking adventure I had was very local, not too long and full of learning. I had bought a couple of bike-packing bags from Alpkit, who often have good savings on bundles (especially after the season) and I have since tweaked my set-up so it works better for me.
A typical bikepacking shelter set up
Things not to forget are your shelter, including a lightweight tarp, a sleeping bag and mat, water, puncture repair kit, patches, spare inner and tools. Although with clear weather there’s nothing that beats sleeping out under the stars in a bivvy bag to keep the dew off. Hammocks are lovely, but I learnt the hard way that suspended in one when it’s cold at night is a good few degrees less warm than sleeping on the ground! And in more remote places the temperature can really drop off at night time - very different to being in a built up area.
Planning the food bit is fun and we have always cooked on an open fire, but we have a bit of a ritual that’s easy and resourceful. Tins of beans as part of the evening meal double up brilliantly as porridge pots for breakfast when placed directly in the embers of the morning fire. Also as a vessel for heating water for tea or much needed coffee after a good but probably short night’s sleep! Often trips involve restocking, and finding supplies can be part of the adventure. Leaving no trace is common sense and part of an unwritten code for bikepacking and wild camping generally. With a tiny footprint this type of travel is about as environmentally friendly as it gets.
Always feels great to reach the top after a climb
Bikepacking is an increasingly popular leisure activity and ranges from overnight local short jaunts to massive competitive races across countries carrying as little weight as possible. But in its purest form, as a way to just get away, to find new places, feel connected to the nature we’re a part of and have fun whilst exploring by bike - it’s hard to beat it. In some ways it’s a perfect activity for the current times, as it’s naturally physically-distancing (not seeing many people at all is common) and it’s a great activity to involve children in. Just expect to be carrying some of their gear too so having your own gear as light as possible really helps.
A proper adventure beckons - fun activity for all ages!
There’s something very energising about winding down a bridleway after a ridge ride or sweaty uphill section or trying out some trickier sections to challenge your bike handling skills. Take it at your pace, plan your route ahead, but don’t be afraid to use some basic landmark navigating skills too. There are so many little used tracks and ancient paths to be discovered - you’ll be amazed at the beauty of the UK wilderness.
So, what’s stopping you? Why not throw some caution to the wind and give it a go. And remember, you don’t have to cover huge distances to have fun and keeping things local initially allows you to test your setup whilst not being too far from home. You’ll soon be hooked and wanting to expand your trips a bit into unknown territory. Go on - Explore by Bike!
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