There are few things more freeing, in my opinion, than bikepacking. Pedaling off toward the horizon with just some camping gear, a few meals, and a thirst for adventure is a surefire way to reset a scattered mind and reconnect with the natural world.
But when you’re first starting out, preparing for a bikepacking trip can feel impossibly complicated. Yes, I’ve been there! I promise, the gear lists and to-do’s will seem intuitive once you get into it. And consider yourself warned: you probably will get into it once you try it.
In an attempt to demystify the prep process and help you get out the door, I’ve condensed thousands of miles of experience into this bikepacking checklist with three sections:
- Gear and Packing List
- Logistics and Planning Checklist
- Bike Maintenance Checklist
Of course it’s impossible to craft a single bikepacking checklist that’s perfect for every trip in any place and any style. You’ll need to apply some common sense and modify as you go, but this list will get you started.
Use this bikepacking checklist to get a feel for what bikepacking entails, figure out what key gear you’re missing, or do a final check as you pack your bags. There’s nothing worse than pedaling all the way to a gorgeous remote campsite and realizing you forgot your _______ (sleeping pad, water filter, food…)
New to bikepacking? Visit my Complete Guide to Bikepacking for all you need to get started.
The terms bikepacking and bike touring get used in different ways by different people, so let’s clarify.
When I say “bikepacking” I mean multi-day bike rides with a focus on off-pavement exploration: gravel roads, dirt trails, and the like. Usually this type of riding requires even more self-reliance than “bike touring,” which is how I refer to pavement-focused riding in more populated areas.
There’s almost certainly camping involved in a bikepacking trip, and maybe some inclement weather, and at least a little dust or mud. You’re probably carrying your food, refilling water from natural sources, and enjoying some peace and quiet out in nature.
There’s still a lot of latitude within this definition. Some folks like long mileage with minimal gear and other people want to pedal a few hours and then chill in comfort at camp. Deserts require a slightly different set of gear than mountains, and rugged trails are a different situation than suburban rail trails when it comes to availability of a “plan B” if something goes wrong.
The bikepacking checklist and packing list below provide a basic starting point for most trips, but you should think about whether you want to modify them based on weather, frequency of resupply, and remoteness of your route.
Essential Bikepacking Gear
When most people think about a bikepacking checklist, they’re probably thinking about gear, so let’s start there.
The bikepacking essentials list below might seem like a lot to deal with, but after a few trips you’ll realize most of your gear can be intuitively grouped into systems: your clothing system, sleep and shelter system, bike and bag system, food and water systems, etc. Everything you carry is designed to support a part of the simple bikepacking life: ride, eat, drink, sleep, and repeat.
* Optional: In the list below I’ve used * to mark items that should be considered in the context of your particular trip (weather, traffic, remoteness, etc.) or that are often a matter of personal preference.
Tent, tarp, bivy, or other shelter
Sleeping bag or quilt
Pillow (could be a stuff sack of clothes)
Base layer shirt
Shorts or pants
Mid-layer warm shirt
Mid-layer warm tights
Down or fleece jacket
Rain jacket or windbreaker
Buff or bandana
Food and Water:
Stove and fuel*
Pot and/or mug
Animal-resistant food storage bag*
Water bladders and bottles
Water filter or purifier (suggestions here)
Navigation device: phone or GPS
SPOT or Garmin satellite communicator*
Spare batteries, as needed
Details: Electronics for Bikepacking
Toilet paper and plastic baggie for used TP
Other personal items
Details: What’s in my lightweight toiletries kit
Odds and Ends:
First aid kit
Wallet and ID
Cash for campgrounds, permits, etc.
Paper maps or backup navigation
Ziplock baggies and trash bag liners for waterproofing gear*
Wondering how on earth to fit all this stuff on your bike? See Packing for Bikepacking: What Goes Where.
For an example of a more detailed packing list for a long-distance bikepacking trip, see my Great Divide Gear List. You’ll notice that the packing list for a two month trip isn’t actually much different than for a two day trip!
Importance of Packing Light
Even when limited to the list above, bikepackers have a wide range of preferences when it comes to packing less or packing more.
A roomy 3-pound tent checks the “shelter” box, but so does an ultralight 8 ounce bivy. Which would you rather spend the night in, and which would you rather carry on your bike up a steep hill?
In my opinion the golden rule is this: everything you’re carrying should be something that is worth it to you to carry. Love to read? Bring a book or Kindle, by all means. But if you find that you didn’t read it on your first trip, maybe don’t bring it on your second. Better yet, leave it at home on your first trip and see if you miss it.
Bikepacking can include rough terrain and steep hills, so the cost of carrying extra weight can be higher than road touring. During a tough hike-a-bike up a steep, slippery, rutted dirt road, you’ll want to know that everything on your bike is there to either keep you safe or bring you joy.
If you want to jump into the rabbit hole of lightweight outdoor gear, my guide to lightweight backpacking is a good place to start. Almost all the camping gear recommendations apply to bikepacking too.
Logistics and Planning
Getting your gear nailed down and packed up is just one step – albeit an important one – of preparing for your bikepacking trip. This section of the bikepacking checklist is all about all the logistical tasks that can be easy to forget on your first trip (or even your tenth!).
You won’t need to do all these things for every trip, so don’t feel overwhelmed and don’t forget to apply some common sense.
- Get familiar with your route and its difficulty (elevation profile, terrain, surfaces, etc.)
- Identify water resupply points
- Identify food resupply points (and confirm store hours if needed)
- Identify potential campsites and/or lodging options
- Plan your itinerary and food schedule (approximate is ok)
- Make camping or lodging reservations if needed
- Acquire any necessary permits
- Identify possible bailout plans (shortcuts, reroutes, emergency contacts)
- Identify safe spot to leave your vehicle overnight
- Plan transportation to and from the ride
- Research expected weather
Bike and Gear
- Gather gear and review packing list
- Prepare and check bike (see next section)
- Test pack all gear on your bike
- Go for loaded ride (even a short day ride if nothing else) to confirm your setup works
- Pack your bike for transport, if needed (here’s how to fly with a bike)
- Download offline maps and other essential info (try RideWithGPS or Gaia for navigation, and offline Google Maps for business locations and main roads)
- Charge electronics
- Update and configure satellite messenger (SPOT or Garmin) if bringing
- Pack food and fill water
- Check weather forecast
- Send someone a copy of your route, when you expect to be back, and what they should do if you’re not.
Considering an international trip? That’s a whole other can of worms.
No checklist for bikepacking would be complete without considering your bike itself. Our loyal steeds need care and feeding too!
The thoroughness of your pre-trip bike preparation might depend on a few factors: how remote your trip is, how confident you are with field repairs, whether you’re riding solo or with others, and how much you dislike changes in plans.
These checklists aren’t intended to cover every possible thing that could ever go wrong (consider yourself warned) but they’re a good place to start.
Bike Repair Skills
Before heading out on a short trip, make sure you can do these things at a bare minimum (or are riding with someone who is willing and able to do them for you):
- Clean and lube chain
- Air up tires
- Remove and reinstall both wheels
- Replace or patch a punctured tube, or repair a tubeless tire if applicable
For a longer and/or more remote trip, or ideally even for a short trip, add these skills to the list:
- Adjust and align brakes
- Replace or repair a damaged chain
- Adjust derailleurs for smooth shifting
- Replace brake pads
- Replace a broken shift or brake cable
Fair warning: this doesn’t cover everything. I’ve dealt with a mangled derailleur, broken chainring, and malfunctioning shifter while out on the road / trail, among other issues. Some things you can figure out as you go, but a good foundation helps a lot.
If your bike repair skills and confidence could use a boost, see my post on bike repair skills you can learn at home.
Pre-Trip Bike Inspection
As with repair skills, your checklist here will be shorter for a brief and not-too-remote trip. At a bare minimum, check the following before heading out:
- Pump up tires to correct pressure, and top up sealant if tubeless
- Chain: clean and lube
- Align brake pads and check for wear
- Align derailluers for smooth shifting
For a longer trip or if your bike hasn’t been used much lately (or conversely has been used a LOT lately), visit a bike shop for a more thorough inspection and tune-up.
Interactive Trip Planning Workbook
If you’d like more help diving into the nitty gritty details, I offer an interactive bikepacking trip planner in the form of a Google Sheet. For a small fee you’ll get ten interactive worksheets full of guided questions, checklists, calculations, and recommendations, plus priority help from me directly by email.
Learn more here: Bikepacking Trip Planner Workbook.
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More Bikepacking Resources
If you’ve caught the bikepacking bug and want to explore further, these other posts can help:
- Affordable Gear for Bikepacking on a Budget
- Panniers vs. Bikepacking Bags?
- Bikepacking the Great Divide: Lessons From 2700+ Miles
- Drop Bar Mountain Bikes: What’s the big deal?
Or, visit the bikepacking resource center for even more pedal-powered fun.
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