How to Plan a Bikepacking Route
Your craving for adventure can be overwhelming. And a bike packing trip, if for a weekend or a month, will help quell your needs.
But before grab your bike and head out, you’ll enjoy the trip a little more with some up front planning. Of course you can skip this step, but your trip will probably include more stress than you were hoping for. So if you want to make the most of your time, and avoid the pain of an unenjoyable trip, you’ll love this guide.
Decide the Where and When
If you’ve started looking into rides already, you know how many routes and route options there are. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
To make sure you avoid this, do yourself a favor and limit your options. Decide when and where, or where and when, you’d like to ride. Where you want to ride will often dictate when you can ride somewhere (think Pisgah Maine in the winter… burr). And if your schedule is limited, that will likely dicate where you ride (only a weekend to go, where can you get nearby?).
From there, keep in mind that you’ll be riding with a lot more gear and weight than your used to. That’s going to be a direct impact on how far you can ride. And if you’re going to be venturing off into trails and roads unknown, there’s a good chance you’ll be riding slower than you would normally.
A good rule of thumb, for your first bike packing trip, a daily mileage of 20-40 miles is a good place to start. And if you’re feeling froggy at the end of the day, keep riding!
Design the Route
Now that you’ve got the when and where figured out, it’s onto picking the roads and trails. This is where it gets fun!
Keep it Easy with a Pre-Planned Route
Sometimes you can find a route that has already been developed for bikepacking. This can take a lot of the hard work out of planning a trip since you’ll likely be able to find info about trail conditions, distance, elevation gain/loss, camping, water sources and more.
Want a cool resource? Check out Bikepacking.com
Create Your Own Route
If no established bikepacking route exists in your area or your up to the challenge of riding something new, see if you can come up with your own route.
Here’s are some ways to do it:
Check out the maps, guidebooks and websites. These are all great resources for planning a bikepacking trip. You can use any one or all of them to find paved roads, forest roads, singletrack trails and double-track trails than can possibly be linked together to create a route.
Keep in mind that not all trails and roads allow bikes. For instance, you’re not allowed to bike in federally protected wilderness areas.
If you’re planning to hit the trails, guidebooks and websites specific to mountain biking are particularly helpful for gathering the stats you’ll likely need. They’ll usually give you trail difficulty, distance, elevation gain, directions, water resources and trail features.
For more information, here are some sites we find particularly helpful when planning bikepacking routes:
- MTB Project is great for discovering current singletrack and doubletrack trails.
- Bikepacking.com has a ton of great route info that can provide inspiration for your next adventure.
- Google Maps and Google Earth are helpful for finding roads, calculating distances and viewing satellite images of the terrain you plan to ride.
- The National Forest Service Interactive Travel Map can help you find forest roads to ride on.
Talk to locals and other bikepackers: Talking to people familiar with the area or other folks who bikepack can be a good way to get route suggestions.
Also, try contacting local ranger districts in the area where you want to travel. Rangers will have the most up-to-date information about trail/road conditions and closures.
The Logistics of Eating, Drinking and Sleeping
While you’re doing your research, it’s a good call to spend some time figuring out logistics for sleeping, eating and drinking.
Having a plan in place, even just a rough one, for where you’re going to sleep each night is a good idea.
This can be as simple as spotting a flat area on a map near a creek or as formal as making reservations at a campground, hostel or hotel. If you plan to camp somewhere other than a designated campground, know the land-use rules before pitching your tent and starting a fire.
You may have heard bikepackers talk about stealth camping; this typically means finding an out-of-view spot and being hush-hush about your presence. If you choose to do this, don’t do anything illegal and ask for permission before camping on someone’s private property (such as in a farmer’s field).
Wherever you end up camping, pack out EVERYTHING you pack in, and leave no trace.
Eating & Drinking
If you’re heading out for a couple days, you can probably pack all the food and water you need on your bike. But, once a trip reaches three or more days, you’ll need to consider how you can refill your bottles and get more food.
You may have to plan your route so that every few days you travel through a town with a convenience store, supermarket or restaurant.
If you’ll be out in the boonies, take note of streams, rivers and lakes on your map and pack a water filter. You can plan to carry lightweight, compact freeze-dried meals or possibly coordinate with a friend to meet you with more food.
No matter what you do, having a plan for where you’re going to eat, drink, and sleep will give you peace of mind while you’re on the trail.
After that, there’s only one thing left for you to do.
Have fun. Take lots of pictures.
When you get back, spend some time thinking about your trip. Ask yourself: What did you like? What did you dislike? Did you plan your daily mileage and/or elevation gain appropriately? Did you pack appropriately? What would you do differently next time?
I like to look at all the gear I packed, and sort it by gear I used or didn’t use. For the next trip, I try to leave what didn’t use at home. Always refining and shrinking the weight I’m carrying.
No matter what you do, thinking about your trip can help you when it comes time to planning your next bike-packing adventure. With each trip, you’ll get better and better and planning routes that cater to your interests and desires.