Cycling sales shot through the roof in April, topping $1 billion in the US and marking the first time ever the nine-figure digit has been reached in a single month. The good news is that more people are riding bikes. The bad news is that your favorite local trails and routes are likely jammed with riders. That’s why there’s no better time than now use your two wheels to get out of Dodge.
Delve into online forums about bikepacking and you’ll quickly learn there are numerous opinions on how to do it right. Some cyclists prefer credit card dining and bivvying in the nearest ditch for sleep. Others add extra ounces for the luxury of a hot meal in the morning and a nylon roof over their head at night. No matter the style, there are certain things to consider, especially this summer, before safely cycling into the hinterlands.
“Start with an overnight,” advises Lael Wilcox, the ultra-endurance cycling legend who has raced everywhere from Kyrgyzstan to Kansas and is currently cycling every road in her home state of Alaska. “If you know the terrain before you go, that takes one element out of the puzzle-solving.”
For a full gear list we tapped Jeremy Kershaw, a registered nurse and founder of Heck of the North Productions who has been organizing events like the Heck Epic, a three-day bikepacking race in northern Minnesota, for more than a decade. A veteran of tough events like the Arrowhead 135 and Tour Divide, Kershaw has pedaled thousands of miles to hone his systems. “Bikepacking is a tinkerers’ dream,” says Kershaw. “The pros and cons of each piece of equipment can be dramatic, but that’s part of the fun.”
As for choosing a ride, “It’s not the sexiest aspect of a bike, but comfort is number one to consider when bikepacking,” says Kershaw. “Make sure your bike feels good for several hours loaded. Test runs are really, really important.”
Lael Wilcox is riding the new Specialized Diverge through Alaska, but she recommends that, if you can’t find or afford a fancy new bike, find a sturdy, used 1990s-era mountain bike with 26-inch wheels and two-inch tires like a used Rockhopper or Stumpjumper. “Those old bikes are amazing,” she says. If you aren’t having any luck digging up an old dinosaur, the online bike store The Pro’s Closet sells gently used newer models at a steep discount. The shop has roughly 900 bikes in stock at all times and ensures all are certified pre-owned; have through a 141-point inspection and servicing; and come with a 30 day no-questions-asked return policy.
Here’s what Kershaw recommends you pack for your first—and every—long-distance adventure.
A Bike Computer