42 Bikepacking Tips from the Wilderness (Part 2): Go Light & Stay Soft
Bikepacking tips from the backcountry, part 2 … biscuits and cheesecake.
In part 1 (tips 1-21) there are tidbits about how to survive and maintain. The second part is divided in two segments. First, a few ideas on how to save some grams to make your bike ride like… a bike. And the second part outlines a few ways to add that weight back in the name of comfort.
To much weight and bulk can take away from why you’re out there in the first place. Here are a few ideas on how to purge what you don’t need and minimize what you do:
22. Fast Fly or Hammock
Overdoing it on a shelter is one of the easiest ways to fill up your bags and pack on pounds. To shave a little weight, try a hammock or use the ‘fast fly’ variation of your tent. ENO makes solid hammocks and the Big Agnes Fly Creek series are ultralight and have the option for a fast fly setup, which eliminates the tent body and shaves nearly a pound off the trail weight. Of course, now that it’s winter, neither of these options can be recommended, but Spring will be here before we know it.
23. Bring a single wool jersey.
On our trip through Africa I used a single Icebreaker Tech T Lite merino wool shirt as my riding jersey. The beauty of wool is that it doesn’t smell, unlike a lot of other performance polyester based jerseys that can actually harbor funk even after a wash. Wool Ts can be rinsed periodically or easily hand-washed. Wool typically wicks moisture well, although during hot and humid days, it has a tendency to saturate with sweat. Icebreaker Tech Ts are very well made, but once they start to develop holes, they are pretty much doomed. I expect one to last about 4 months on a long tour.
24. Use a can stove.
I alternate between a can stove and a Trangia. They both work well, but a typical can stove weighs about 10 grams (100 grams more than the Trangia). Here’s how to make one (I recommend the side burner).
25. Camping 101: Layer with wool.
Layering is the unwritten rule #1 for hiking and backpacking, but wool takes it to another level. A wardrobe of one longsleve wool T (Icebreaker 150 merino) and one shortsleeve T (Icebreaker 150), paired with a heavier lightweight fleece (or puff) and an optional rain jacket makes for a complete 3 1/2 season kit.
26. Set limits, bring less.
The bigger bags you have, the more stuff you seem to need; it must be a formal law of physics or biology. Bring fewer smaller bags; and make yourself use less. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Try a rackless combo from Revelate Designs, Porcelain Rocket, or Apidura. I recommend the Revelate Harness and pocket up front.
27. Lightweight Filtration: Sawyer Squeeze Mini
For most longer trips, water purification is a must. To shave a little weight and space, try the Sawyer Squeeze Mini. We used the larger Squeeze in Africa, and it served us well. They since released the Mini. It it the size of two bottles of aspirin, weighs 57 grams, and retails for $25.
28. Layered sleeping
Look for sleeping bags with 800 fill down; they are lightweight, highly compressible, and surprisingly warm. Typically these fall in the 30-45 degree rating range, but paired with a wool base layer they can perform in temperatures down into the 20s. I have been using the Big Agnes Pitchpine 45 degree bag for the last two years. With a wool base layer and wool socks I have slept comfortably in temperatures dipping below 25F.
29. Invest in titanium.
This is a pretty straightforward tip. Replace your heavier aluminum pots; it requires a chunk of change, but it’s worth it. Titanium is twice as strong as aluminum, so it takes much less material to make a pan. Check out some of the innovative offerings from Vargo. My pure Vargo kitchen (shown below), weighs 319 grams. It’s worth the investment.
30. Packable puff
For weight, compression, and insulation properties, down is bar-none. Compressible down jackets have come a long way in the last couple of years; you can find great 800 fill weight jackets in the 8-12 ounce range that compress to the size of a Nalgene bottle. Gin is stoked on her new Big Agnes Sunshine jacket that stuffs into its own chest pocket (review soon).
Look for gear that can be used for multiple tasks. The Vargo Bot doubles as a water bottle. Gin used her Revelate pocket as a carry around purse. My pump doubles a tape roll. You get the idea…
32. Count calories… per gram.
This goes back to the ‘nuts’ tip in the last post. Read labels and try to get foods with high a calorie per gram ratio. It’s easy to suddenly find yourself with 20 pounds of food while preparing. Nuts, jerky, Pro-bars, pasta, etc.
33. Minimal tool kit
This might not be a good tip for everyone, but I try and keep my toolkit fairly lean on smaller trips. A nice multitool with a built in chain tool; a small Leatherman (specifically for the pliers); zip ties; patch kit; tire lever; spare chain links; and a tire boot.
Stay Comfortable and Embrace your Soft Side
Before setting out in the woods for a big bikepacking trip, especially if it’s been a while since your last outing, you may convince yourself that you are ready to sleep in the dirt, brush your teeth with tree bark, and bathe with icicles. But most of the time after a few days in the wild, it feels pretty good to treat yourself a little, especially after a 60 mile day. Here are a few things that have kept me going.
34. Hot chocolate (and whiskey)
A flask of whiskey is pretty much a given, and it had to make the list. Try hot chocolate and whiskey around the fire… it’s actually pretty good.
35. Keep the ‘taint working properly.
This stuff is mandatory for long rides. I can honestly say that it has saved my ass many times.
36. Freeze dried cheesecake
My riding partner, Dustin, brought Dark Chocolate Cheescake for a one night treat on our Appalachian [Beer] Trail trip. It was surprisingly delicious. On my last trip I packed the Creme Brûlée and it was even better! Backpacker’s Pantry definitely has the corner on the deserts.
37. Camp shoes
Having a spare set of dry and comfortable shoes is a must; definitely if you ride with SPDs. I usually bring along the soft and easy packing Teva Mush Frios. They are super comfortable, weigh under 200 grams, and smash flat for easy packing.
38. Have a beer in the backcountry.
Most bikepackers will agree on the one thing we collectively crave after a long day pedaling through the woods… a cold beer. Unfortunately carrying a six-pack on a multi day trip is just a little too cumbersome, until now. Read the full review.
39. A two-legged chair
The Alite Monarch is the perfect camp chair for bikepacking and dirt-road touring. It kind of goes against the ultralight mentality and adds an additional pound, but if you want that extra comfort, strap one to an anything cage or stow it in the frame bag. The Monarch is quite comfortable and extremely durable (although I broke mine by sitting on it while one of the pole connections wasn’t fully engaged).
40. A little help with the fire
After six or eight hours of riding, it is no fun to sit and shiver while trying to turn damp tinder into flame. Use half of an Esbit tab, or break a chunk off a Zippo Cedar Fire Stater.
41. Tilt your saddle.
This might not be for everyone, but slightly pivoting the saddle downward can help align the spine and relieve pressure for extended rides.
42. X marks the biscuit
If the route permits, set a place on the map where you can pitstop or pop out and visit a store, restaurant, or taproom. Having a nice intermission from the woods is a good way to refuel.
Have a bikepacking tip to share? Leave a comment below…
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.