What is… Bikepacking?

posted in: Opinion | 0

I recently watched a YouTube video by Dustin Klein called Top 10 Bikepacking Gear to Enhance Your Ride which made me wonder what bikepacking actually is. In the video he asserted:

‘bikepacking is like backpacking, it’s off road and it’s camping. It’s not staying in a hotel, it’s not a lot of highway miles. That [he] would considern is bike touring’

Whereas the rest of the video is great, this statement just doesn’t hold water. Firstly backpacking doesn’t necessarily involve being off-road. Traditional backpacking around Europe or South East Asia is just as likely to involve trains, buses, hotels and hostels as it would hiking and sleeping out under the stars. So then, why would bikepacking need to be off road, or require you to camp.

Backpacking is just a means of transporting yourself from one place to another with all the stuff you need. This is exactly what people have been doing on bicycles for over 100 years. But language naturally evolves and bikepacking is a new, clever play on words, which has come to replace the cycle touring as the umbrella term. There are however different flavours united by being outside and free, even if for just a short while.


Touring, in my mind, seems to be on the more relaxed side of the bikepacking spectrum. It is as much about the destination or intermediate stops as it is about the ride. Thinking back to our Length of England trip in 2020, a touring version of this ride would have taken longer, seen shorter distances per day, and would have allowed us to spend more time in some of the towns (breweries) along the way.

Adventure cycling

Going on an adventure is a term used far too often these days, but disappearing in to the wilderness with your bike for a few days certainly seems to fit the bill. This for me is closer to what Dustin Klein calls bikepacking. When you have to take everything you need, including food, for as long as you are away from a suitable resupply point, this is definitely adventure bikepacking.

Ultra cycling races

Ultras are definitely more about the ride than the destination. From bus shelters to toilets as accommodation, these rides are all about getting from one place to the next within a time limit. Covering huge distances, racers will need to carry everything they need for the environment they are in. They will not necessarily be going off road though, and, with time being of the essence, they may not even be stopping long enough to bother with camping equipment. These multi-day events, however, still fit the bikepacking mould.

Define your own adventure

This list isn’t exhaustive, and isn’t meant to be. Our 2022 trip to France is a bit of a mix between all those above. An enforced time limit, no resupply points in between vast distances (possibly a slight exaggeration), unexpected gnarly off road sections before ending in a couple of touristy days in Paris.

So, although bikepacking should be more adventurous than just packing a toothbrush and a spare pair of pants for a trip to your mate’s house for the night, if you are taking on a multiday trip and carrying all your stuff: call it bikepacking. If you have dedicated bikepacking bags, that’s great. If you want to use panniers, use panniers. But if all you have is a rucksack, then take that and enjoy it.