Bicycle camping, or bikepacking, combines so many great things; it’s like a s’more. The graham crackery goodness of exercise and fun on a bicycle, the chocolatey solitude and natural beauty of camping, and the marshmallowy softness of waking up to bird calls and camp coffee as opposed to your neighbor’s car alarm at 5:30AM.
Let’s take a look at some of the essential components necessary for bikepacking.
The Bike. Almost any bike with mounts for a rack will work to get you started bikepacking. Older rigid mountain bikes are a popular choice because of their sturdy frames and easy gearing but newer adventure bikes like the Specialized AWOL are becoming more popular for their combination of rugged frames and road comfort.
The not-yet-released Raleigh Stuntman also looks to be a great contender for some epic bikepacking trips given the large tire clearance and steel frame. The Stuntman is a chimera of a mountain bike and an adventure bike so in addition to the large tire clearance Raleigh is also including is a dropper seat post giving you the option to rock the Stuntman like a monster cross bike and increase your maneuverability off the saddle by getting it out of the way.
The Bags. The bike is just one variable of the bikepacking equation – you also need the ‘packing’ part. A good setup of bags allows you to fit all of your camping and cycling needs on your bike and person.
Panniers are a great option to get started – they’re typically waterproof and easily attach and detach from racks. Plus they’re generally large enough to fit most of what you’ll need. One thing to consider; if you’re headed way out into the wilderness you may find the increased width that panniers add to your bike make them cumbersome on narrow trails.
Riders looking for a more streamlined approach may consider using a combination of handlebar, top tube and saddle bag to spread the weight out more. Using several smaller bags also has the benefit of allowing you to pack each bag purposefully and prevent digging all the way through one large bag to find what you need.
Bag options like the Revelate Viscacha seat bag are expandable, holding between 6 and 14L depending on configuration. While something like the Banjo Brothers Barrel Bag mounts on your handlebars and is perfect for holding all your small needs like nutrition, phones, multitool and maps!
The Destination. Now that you’ve got your bike and bags all squared away it’s time for the real fun – picking a destination. If you’re lucky enough to live in Wisconsin or Minnesota than you’ve got plenty of options. In Madison in particular, you can get to several great campgrounds; Blue Mounds State Park and Brigham County park from the Military Ridge Trail which is accessible from the main Madison trails. The 400 State Trail and the Elroy-Sparta trail are both great as well. The Elroy-Sparta trail has an old train tunnel that is almost a mile long! Both of those trails have numerous places to camp near them, like the town of Wilton campground.
Don’t feel like you need to be Lewis and Clark on your first trip; sub-24 hour/overnight trips are a great way to start exploring. Leave Friday after work or Saturday morning and you’re still back home in time for Sunday supper with the family!
If you’re looking to be a part of a larger community bikepacking is a great way to meet a group of people who love cycling and camping. Many places in the Midwest have clubs and events around bikepacking, so swing by your local ERIK’S and get geared up and we’ll see you out there!