5 Things I Learned Bikepacking (For the First Time)

Updated: Sep 28

WORDS & PHOTOS | Nick Archer


Nick learned a lot when he took himself off for a solo bikepacking trip in the summer of 2021.



I am not a seasoned bikepacker by any stretch of the imagination, though I hope one day to hold the title of veteran. This was the first time I had done it and was doing it by myself rather than as part of a group or event, which was both a blessing and curse. I went out looking for adventure and I certainly got it. Now, I didn't get anything wrong, as such, but many things that I had been either advised about or thought about, were most certainly confirmed over my 24-hour experience.


Fruits Pastels tend to help me from descending into exhaustion-induced madness

1. Pack light, but pack well


Ensure that you take everything that you think you might need, perhaps even a few extra bits too, but don't overpack with items that you most certainly won't. Remember, if you're planning to camp or wild camp, you really won't need many, if any, changes of clothes; you're not going to a spa hotel.


The last thing you're going to do is spend time deciding what to wear to the pub that evening. If you're anything like me, you'll simply want to be in the dry and warm and put all the hot food inside you very quickly. Get your basics in place first; somewhere to sleep, something to cook on, something to cook with and food to cook, then any extra layers you can squeeze into the spare spaces. Then start adding your snacks and water supplies; in this case, take as much as you can to keep your body hydrated and fueled, and most importantly, your spirits up. I would say, however, the most important thing for me to pack is socks. Lots and lots of socks. Even if you're lucky enough to have waterproof socks, it can never hurt to have a couple of dry and cosy extra pairs squirrelled away in a dry bag.


There's nothing more frustrating than packing your bag beautifully and folding the opening shut to find that your bike is close to floating away like the house in Up!

2. Use every cubic inch of space in your bags


This is a technique that I am still perfecting and look upon those who are highly skilled in the art with child-like awe and delight. It's not just folding things tight and inserting them with the fine precision of a post-grad bumblebee in his first engineering job; it's about finding the space between spaces. I don't mean challenging the concepts of space and time, but working out where your voids are. Shoes are a perfect place to secret some small items that you don't need easy access to like toiletries, and you can slide packets of cuppa soups between your clothes. Of course, the biggest obstacle to packing my waterproof bags was air. I mean, it literally gets everywhere! There's nothing more frustrating than packing your bag beautifully and folding the opening shut to find that your bike is close to floating away like the house in Up! It is a practised hand that that creates a vacuum in your drybags that helps to keep every compact and tight and save space for more even more snacks.


The result was that I did come off not only once, but twice

3. Pick the right bike


I fall off a lot. As a cyclist, my confidence and my ability do not yet match up. Choosing the correct bike for the type of ride, the predominant surface and most importantly, the weather, can drastically reduce the likelihood of bike and rider becoming unexpectedly separated.


For example, I borrowed a lovely mountain bike that was beautifully light but hardy with a stunning group set that helped me get up those Derbyshire hills even with a fully loaded bike. But, and it's a big but, in retrospect, most of the route was not offroad, and not even trails, it was tarmac, in the rain. Tyres with lots of knobbles were perfect for those moments on the gravelly trails or bumping long rocky singletrack, but ideal not on rain-drenched asphalt. The result was, I did come off not only once, but twice. Knobbly tyres + Heavily loaded bike + rain + overconfidence = skinned knees and bruised elbows.


I believe it's universally known as Type-2 Fun

4. Know when to say 'Enough'


Bikepacking is not afternoon sat in your onesie in front of the Strictly results eating mint chocolate fingers and convincing your partner that making you yet another cup of tea is simply the right moral choice. Bikepacking can be challenging, adventure-filled and physically demanding, but that's all part of the fun of it (I believe it's universally known as Type-2 Fun). It is the almost primal thrill of setting you and your trusty bike against the world, eating up miles, witnessing glorious sights and creating experiences and memories with greater depth than any Instagram story can capture. The big but is when the going gets tough and the fun stops, how far should you push yourself? Is this just a setback, is it the 'the wall'? Will the fun come back once you have had a snack, or after the rain has stopped, or when the sun has risen, or the topography stops being so bloody vertical? Sometimes digging deep and persevering through the tough stuff means you'll come out the other side feeling like you've achieved something you perhaps didn't feel that you were capable of. There are times though where there is no other side; you're done, and you know it in your mind and your gut. At these moments I have learned, through getting it wrong, there is no shame in saying that enough is enough; changing your plans to take an easier route, break it off for the day or even sack off the whole thing can actually save your adventure. After I fell off my bike around 10 pm in the rain in the middle of the mountains, I decided that was far enough for the day, and the next morning took a far shorter, easier route home again, and was glad of it.


There are plenty of wonderful cyclists and groups out there who won't hoard resources

5. If you don't own it, borrow it


I could not have gone bikepacking without borrowing a great deal of kit and equipment. That's not true; I could have, but it would have been considerably less comfortable, and considering the wet weather I fought that weekend, frankly miserable. I had my own basha and compact cooking kit, and a bike, and a sleeping bag, that would have packed away in a rucksack, but I would have struggled.



I borrowed a lighter MTB, various bike bags, a compact sleeping bag and bivvy bag and lots of little bits and pieces like dry bags, lights and was gifted specialised glucose snacks to try. Sure, part of the fun of bikepacking is just loading up your bike and getting out in the world, but being prepared, and properly prepared, will turn your 200-kilometre nightmare into a joyous adventure. There are plenty of wonderful cyclists and groups out there who won't hoard resources and will lend you the things you need. So, my advice here would be to put your pride aside and ask, because when you, like I hope to, become a veteran bikepacker, I will happily loan to those who are just starting out.


@gravelphoxx

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