There was a time in my bikepacking journey, right before I fell down the rabbit hole, when I actually thought bikepacking was a single style. Hah!
Now that I am neck-deep in this weird sub-sub-niche of a sport I feel like there’s an entire taxonomy. As bike and gear options proliferate, we have more freedom than ever to choose our riding style, packing style, and, well, style style.
So just for fun, and to get your imagination fired up for all the trips you’re dreaming of this year, here’s a selection of bikepacking setups broadly categorized by style. Which one looks and feels most like bikepacking to you?
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Let’s start simply with the all-arounder, the classic, the setup most of us picture when we think of bikepacking.
Imagine a rigid mountain bike or perhaps a hardtail. Drop bars or flat, doesn’t matter. It’s covered in soft bikepacking bags and a few cargo cages carrying dry bags or large bottles. It’s versatile, relatively light (there’s only so much stuff you can fit in those bags), and streamlined.
This setup is amazing for mixed-terrain routes. Think GDMBR, Western Wildlands, or probably at least 85% of the routes in bikepacking.com’s network. It can handle anything from gravel to 4×4 roads to singletrack. It’s where I started (once I got through the scrappy stage, see below) and it’s still my go-to for a typical trip.
Let’s be real: bikepacking can be an incredibly expensive sport. When I first got into it I was trading money for time (read: quit my job to travel) and my primary goal was to spend as little money as possible.
This resulted in some weird stuff, like riding singletrack on a road touring bike with bar end shifters. I initially used cheap dry bags and elastic bungees from Amazon, and later the cheapest bikepacking bags I could find. In the very beginning I rode a couple short trips with most of my gear in a backpack.
For me this was a transition phase and I did eventually move upmarket in my bikepacking tastes, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the scrappy ethos that prioritizes having the experience over buying the gear.
Whether you start here and work your way toward more specialized gear, or stay here and save your money for other purposes, there’s pride and freedom in choosing to “run what you brung” and get out there without all the expensive stuff you’re supposed to “need.”
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If you’re a mountain biker who lives for techy singletrack, this is your dream bikepacking persona. Wedge a few tiny bags into your full-suspension bike (hardtails are also acceptable), throw the rest in a roomy hydration pack, and off you go.
You can spot this species of bikepacking setup on routes like the Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail, and Bones to Blue. These are less accessible than a typical mixed-terrain route, and if you don’t have the riding skills you’ll find yourself on a long hike. But if you do have the skills, traffic-free singletrack solitude is the holy grail of bikepacking.
This setup is notoriously hard to outfit with much gear, but that’s ok because gear makes singletrack less fun. Carry the bare minimum on the bike, add a backpack or hip pack, and enjoy the ride!
This type of riding is above my current skill level and I don’t own a full-suspension bike (yet…), so here are a couple sweet examples from Rogue Panda and the Radavist:
There’s a good reason most round-the-world types use a pannier touring setup: they need a lot of stuff and most of the world’s roads, in general, are paved. Traditionally these folks tackle even the roughest gravel roads with their Marathon touring tires and Ortlieb panniers, but in recent years a few long-haul bike travelers have started borrowing ideas from the bikepacking world.
These folks have put together some epic hybrid setups and mastered the art of packing relatively light for a very long time. I’m impressed! A couple of my favorite examples of this style:
I have, unfortunately, not ridden my bike around the world. But when I bikepack abroad for “only” a month or two I still need a bit more space, so I have my own version of the long haul bikepacking setup:
On the far opposite end of the spectrum from the long-hauler, we have the ultra racer. This distinction is more about gear and speed than distance. They might be out for a few days or racing across the country, and their setup will look pretty much the same either way.
Is there even any camping gear on that bike? Are they just out for a day ride? It can be hard to tell. When you’re not sleeping, who needs camping gear anyway?
For some excellent examples sure to challenge your idea of how much gear you “need” out there, check out this post from bikepacking.com’s Atlas Mountain Race coverage:
I have my own version of this style because I like to dabble in racing, but I am slow. Thus I need more stuff, thus I’m slower, thus I need more stuff… Here’s my typical back-of-pack racing setup, which is minimal by my standards:
Even if you’re not racing, you might still want to draw from this style to lighten your load for fast and light trips or shredpacking expeditions where every ounce counts.
In the early days of bikepacking’s mainstream rise, most of us thought the whole point was to avoid racks. Soft bags all the way, no matter how much we have to stuff, cinch, and strain to make them work.
But practicality wins eventually and racks are making a comeback, specifically those designed with bikepacking in mind. Now we have all kinds of racks, including some that mount to bikes without eyelets, work with full-suspension mountain bikes, and carry cargo cages instead of panniers.
Racks give us nicely organized packing, a bit more capacity, and a setup that isn’t limited by suspension, a dropper seatpost, or a small bike frame. They can also offer aesthetic options that are harder to achieve with the typical bikepacking bag look. Sure they might add a little weight, but for many bikepackers the benefits outweigh the actual ounces.
Ok, what did I miss? Fat biking, kidpacking, dogpacking, trailers… I know there’s a lot more out there and I don’t mean to exclude anyone!
Let me know in the comments below what style you’re currently most excited about and why you love it.
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