Mountain Bike Camping And Bikepacking Guide
Bikepacking and mountain bike camping are some of the funnest trips on two wheels. It feels amazing to go out into the wilderness, self supported riding trails over much farther distances than a typical day ride. You get to see more of the countryside and experience areas that aren’t as traveled as the local trails.
On the other hand all of the majesty of nature can come crashing down on you if you’re not prepared. Those of us that have made trips without the right equipment or knowledge know how miserable a trip can be. Fortunately, there are a lot of ‘packers out there that are willing to share their experiences to help others have an enjoyable trip.
With this guide I hope to be able to share with you my own picks of the gear needed for a successful trip and inspire you to go out on your own trip. I’ve included the gear needed for your mountain bike and yourself, locations to mountain bike camp, videos for inspiration, forums to talk with like minded bikepackers, and much more.
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There shouldn’t be anything to elaborate here. These are the essential riding components that everyone should already have for any mountain biking ride.
- Riding Clothes
Bikepacking and Camping Gear List
This list is getting into the “nitty gritty” of mountain bike camping and bikepacking. I’ve listed below the most common items needed for a successful trip. I’ve put the items in categories based on function. This is the way I think when I pack and makes the most sense so you don’t forget anything.
Bike Related Items
Bikepacking Bags – There are a ton of different bikepacking bag options available. I’ve gathered a list of some of the best bikepacking bag makers in the United States.
- Bedrock Bags – Colorado
- Bolder Bikepacking – Colorado
- Cleaveland Mountaineering – Colorado
- Jandd – California
- J.Paks Adventure Cycling – Colorado
- Lone Mountain Innovations – Idaho
- Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks – Texas
- Oveja Negra Threadworks – Colorado
- Porcelain Rocket – Made in Canada by an American
- Revelate Designs – Alaska
If you’re looking for a retailer that specializes in bikepacking bags, check out The Bike Bag Shop.
Manufacturers have designed bags to fit in many different locations on the bike. Many manufacturers will also create custom designed bags to fit your needs. Below I’ll show you examples of the pack locations:
Bike Light (if riding at night) – A good bike light is necessary for riding in dark conditions. There are too many details to get into when covering bike lights but you can check out quality offerings from JensonUSA, Competitive Cyclist, and Amazon.
Nite Rider Pro 3600 LED light
Brake Pads – Brake pads can get worn easily in muddy conditions. It’s always a good idea to have a spare set or two available.
Chain Lube – Quality chain lube is needed if you’ve been riding in wet or dusty conditions.
I prefer Tri-Flow chain lube
Derailleur Hanger – There is nothing worse than being way out on a trail and snapping a derailleur hanger. There are some on the trail fixes available but the best bet is to have spare hanger ready.
Quick Link / Power Link / Master link – Makes chain fixes quick and easy affair.
Repair Multi-tool – A small multi-tool often has all of the tools needed for a repair. They make larger models with more tools or you can go with a more minimal tool.
I prefer a multi-tool with a lot of tools. One of my favorites is the Topeak Alien DX Deluxe. The tool itself can be split into two halves and stored more easily. It has a knife, pliers, and chain tool included, which is super convenient.
Spare bolts – Having a few spare bolts on hand in case things break can be a life saver on the trail.
spare bolts of various types are handy to have for trail fixes
Spare tubes / Patch kit / Tubeless goo – Never know when you’re going to get a flat.
Tire Pump / Shock Pump / CO2 – This goes hand in hand with the tube / patch kit to get you inflated. Some may find that out on the trail they’d like to adjust their pressures along the way for stiffer or softer suspension and tire pressure.
I’m a big fan of having a CO2 canister for inflation and then using the bleeder on the Topeak Pocket Shock Pump to air my tires down to the right PSI. You can also inflate tires with the shock pump but it takes forever.
Compass – Any simple compass will work for orientating yourself.
The Silva Polaris Type 7 is a great small compass
Cookset – Often times when you pick up a camp stove it comes with it’s own cookset. If your stove didn’t come with a good cookset that packs down small, I suggest looking at some lightweight titanium options like the Snow Peak Mini Solo.
Duct Tape – No serious adventurer can be without their duct tape.
You can buy small rolls of duct tape or you can roll your own
Food – For a camping trip you will definitely want to make sure you have plenty of food. You’ll be burning a lot of calories out on the trail, so you should keep your body well fueled. My favorite trail foods are suggested below:
There are tons of great freeze dried meals at REI
- Banana / Dried fruits
- Beef Jerky
- Clif Bars
- Freeze dried meal / MRE
- Humus / Whole grain pita
- Instant Oatmeal
- Peanut Butter / Almond Butter
- Trail mix
GPS / Maps – To track your route and guide yourself over long distances it is always a good idea to have GPS and maps of the trail system / terrain available.
There are a lot of GPS options available for trail riders. My favorite at the moment is the Garmin Edge 800.
Headlamp / Flashlight – Headlamps pack up very small and are needed when getting around your camp in the dark. Make sure you get one with a “red light” mode. Don’t be the guy blinding everyone with your 1000 lumen spotlight.
An inexpensive and high performing headlamp I’ve come to really like is the Energizer 7 LED Trail Finder. It has adjustable beam patterns, tiltable light, and red LED.
Knife – Having a good knife on hand is very useful out on the trail and when camping. I prefer to pack a Leatherman type tool or Swiss Army knife to pack as many tools as possible to be prepared for any issues.
Lighter / Waterproof matches – Self explanatory
I like waterproof matches like this kit from UCO that come with their own sealable case and extra strikers
Sleeping Bag / Pad / Pillow – Sleeping bags and pads are going to be a very personal choice. The type of weather you will be camping in has a large factor in your choice here. Down filled sleeping bags are the lightest weight and smallest package. Synthetic filled bags are the cheapest price but don’t pack down nearly as small. If you are camping where your bag might get wet, synthetic bags still insulate pretty well (just not quite as well as when dry).
*Key Specification: Look for a sleeping bag with a rating near 10 degrees to the coldest temperature you expect to use the bag.
Top Brands That Many People Have Had Success With:
- Feathered Friends – Made In The USA
- Mountain Hardware
- Sierra Designs
- Suisse Sport
- Western Mountaineering – Made In The USA
What is this thing called a “bivy”? – A go to product for most people in a possible moisture situation is to get a bivy. Bivy is short for “bivouac sack”. They were originally designed for mountain climbers. A bivy has a waterproof bottom and top that you slip your sleeping bag into for protection against moisture (especially important for down filled sleeping bags). There are lots of variations on the bivy these days. Do some shopping to see what features are most important to you. For bikepacking many just use a bivy instead of a tent.
Model shown is an Outdoor Research bivy with the top open showing the mesh and then fully closed to keep out the elements. I suggest checking out bivy sack models for sale at REI, BackCountry, or Amazon. They have the best selection and prices.
What if I want a sleeping pad or pillow? If you want to use a sleeping pad and/or pillow I suggest getting a inflatable model. To me they are more comfortable, pack up nicely, and keep your warmer.
Big Agnes and Thermarest are popular brands for inflatable sleeping bags and pillows.
Spare batteries – Spare batteries for phones, flashlights, headlamps, and GPS are essential. Make sure they are in a waterproof bag to prevent damage.
Spoon / Fork – Necessary eating utensils
Stove – A camp stove is going to be another highly personal decision when bikepacking. There are several different fuel types available to campers, each with their pro’s and con’s. Often temperature, ease of use, fuel availability, and size come into play here.
*Information Overload – To understand all of the different fuel types and their advantages/disadvantages, I suggest reading ZenStoves.net. There is a ton of information on this site to make your decision much easier.
Suggested Camp Stove Options For Bikepackers:
Alcohol Stove – Alcohol stoves burn clean and aren’t toxic. Fuel can be found easily in the form of Everclear grain alcohol, denatured alcohol, or HEET methyl alcohol. Simply light the liquid and start cooking. There are also lots of DIY options for this type of stove.
A good small lightweight alcohol stove kit is the Trangia Mini.
Isobutane-propane – These types of stoves are easy to pack and burn hot but the fuel is a bit more expensive and the canister is not usable when the fuel is gone.
The Optimus Crux Lite cook system is a great lightweight isobutane setup
Universal Liquid Fuel Stove – The WhisperLite from MSR has been a favorite stove for a long time and it’s made in the USA. They offer a “universal” model that can run on white gas, kerosene, unleaded gasoline and isobutane-propane canisters.
What is really trick is the inverted canister stand for better cold weather performance.
Windscreen / Heatshield – Some camp stoves come with a windscreen with them and some do not. Look into getting one so that you can easily light your stove and keep the fire going. A heat shield is also a good piece to have to reflect the head up towards the pot and not catch anything on the ground on fire. You can buy one for your specific stove or easily make one yourself.
heat shield and reflector
Tent / Shelter / Tarp – Once again this is another highly personal selection based on the criteria of weather, terrain, environment, and personal preference. There are a myriad of shelter options available for bikepackers. You will have to decide what best fits your needs and will make sleeping the easiest for you.
Most Popular Shelter Options:
- Tent (normal set up) – This is the way most of us grew up camping. However, a full size tent setup can be a bit bulky depending on the model you choose.
- Tent (fast fly mode) – In “fast fly” mode you only bring your rain fly from your tent to set up. You usually sleep on a tarp on the ground or in your bivy sack.
- Tarp Shelter – With a tarp shelter you are often covered from the elements but more exposed to the weather than some other methods. There are a ton of ways to set up a tarp system using trees, your bike, or stakes.
- Bivy Sack – I’ve already shown you the bivy sack which when fully closed is a nice one person shelter
- Hammock / Tarp shelter – Another popular shelter setup is to camp in a hammock with a tarp over top or mesh bug screen.
My Favorite Shelter Selections:
Terra Nova Voyager 2 person tent gives you more room and doesn’t weigh a lot at 4lbs
Kelty’s Noah tarp is large at 12ft square and is easy to set up.
Hammock Bliss offers a really nice hammock with bug screen that is a super fine mesh to keep all of the bugs out. Weighs only 28oz too.
Another hammock option is this complete system from Hennessy called the Asym Expedition. With this hammock you get rain cover and bug netting. The big benefit from this hammock is its asymmetrical design that allows you to lay in the hammock diagonally, which relieves many of the issues that hammock campers face.
If the weather is in your favor a simple screen hut like the REI Bug Hut will work for 2 people easily.
Water Purifier – Water purification is important if you’re out on the trail for a while without a source of clean water. Thankfully there are a few options available for bikepackers.
The MSR MiniWorks EX can filter a liter a minute making fast work of water purification
- Chlorine Dioxide tablets or drops by Aquamira
- Water purifying bottles like ones from Katadyn
- Pump systems like the MSR Miniworks EX water filter
Extra Socks – Keeping your feet dry can make a long trip a lot more comfortable. Flipping out the insoles of your shoes when you’re not on the bike also helps eliminate moisture.
My favorite brand of socks is Sock Guy. Tons of great designs and they perform well.
Off Bike Clothing – When at camp it’s a good time to change into some dry clothes. You may need to pack some possibly warmer attire if it gets chilly at night, especially a hat to keep your head warm.
Rain Gear – If there is a possibility for rain during your travel, quality rain gear is important to have with you.
Small Towel – You can bring a small terry cloth towel or a synthetic version.
I like synthetic reusable towels because they pack down small and can be easily wrung out and used over again like this Tyr model.
These are all pretty personal items. You probably already have your favorites so I won’t go into details here.
- Bug Spray – the more Deet the better
- Camera – small size is the key here
- First Aid Kit – find a small travel size kit with the essentials
- Hydration Bag – keep hydrated
- Lip Balm – find some with sunscreen to protect your lips
- Pain Meds – Advil, Tylenol, Aleve to ward off those aches and pains from the trail
- Sunscreen – anything over 50 SPF isn’t worth it
- Toilet Paper – No description needed
- Toothbrush / toothpaste – travel size versions work best
- Wet wipes – easy way to feel a bit cleaner after a hard day on the trail
My Favorite Online Retailers For Bikepacking And Camping Gear
Places To Go Mountain Bike Camping and Bikepacking
- SingleTracks has a nice list of places to go mountain bike camping: 10 Great Places To Go Camping and Mountain Biking
- Choose from the extensive map database provided by the Adventure Cycling Route Network
- More long distance routes can be found at BikePacking.net
Forum For Mountain Bike Campers and Bikepackers
- MTBR Bikepacking and Bike Expeditions
- BikePacking.net Forums
- BackPackingLight.com BikePacking Forums
- PracticalBacking.com BikePacking Forums
Bikepacking and Camping Video Inspiration
Four-day loop out of McCall, Idaho with stops at Buckhorn Hot Springs, Secesh Hot Springs, and Burgdorf Hot Springs.
I hope you enjoyed this guide. Hopefully your next bikepacking trip will be success thanks to the knowledge you’ve learned from this article. Let me know your thoughts about what gear you like to use and trips you’ve taken in the comments.