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All You Need When Planning for a Multi-Day Off-Road Bike Trip in One Checklist

By Charlotte Murray

Planning for a multi-day off-road cycling trip, aka bikepacking, is a challenge in itself. While for some the appeal of the great unknown might be a lure of the adventure, as the saying goes: fail to plan and you will plan to fail. If you want to enjoy a successful bikepacking trip, you’ll want to plan a few things ahead of time and make sure you pack the essentials. In this short and simple guide, we’ll cover some of the fundamental basics around route-finding and kit.

Ultimately, this will only get you started. If you’ve some backpacking experience already, then similar skills will apply, just at a slightly different pace. This pace will inevitably be different to your long days in the saddle, as your bike will be fully loaded and terrain can vary wildly. Whatever trip you undertake will become completely your own with the overall goal of enjoyment, however that looks to you.

If you don’t have much time or are not particularly interested in designing a specific bikepacking route, you can use some of the already created ones. © Profimedia

1) Route

One of the best things about bikepacking is the freedom to explore. Sure, cycle touring is great but you’ll be fairly limited with sticking to the road and staying in a built-up area. Of course, depending on your bike and your desire to endure rougher terrain, you may be slightly limited but much less so. If you’re off in the woods somewhere on your bike, you can pitch up wherever you like (within reason, of course). And just like any trip, you could fly to the other side of the world or you could set off from your front door. The possibilities are endless.

However, all of that is fairly useless here when looking for guidance. So, how does one choose a route? You may already have your preferred mapping tool, whether that’s a good old fashioned paper map and pencil or an online platform such as the UK-based Ordnance Survey route plotter. Komoot conveniently allows you to plot a route according to your type of riding, whether that’s road, mountain or gravel. Using satellite imagery (such as in Google maps) to try and gauge a terrain may help to avoid surprises on your journey, and highlight rideable tracks. You can always check our detailed tips on planning the route.

2) Accommodation and water supplies

An important element of your route planning will be figuring out where to sleep. This could be something you plan in advance or you could just ride until you’re tired. You may decide to book campsites in advance, wild camp as you go or a combination of the two. You may not yet know how far you can comfortably ride in a day with a fully-loaded bike and that’s OK too.

Wild camping is an adventure on its own, so if you’ve never done it before, it’s worth doing a bit of research. Find out about the law in the country you plan to sleep in because, in many places, it’s technically illegal without the landowner’s permission. You’ll also have to consider things such as how you’ll find and filter water, and where you’ll go to the bathroom. Water filtration is usually a necessary step if you’re collecting water from rivers and streams, especially if there’s livestock present. There are a variety of systems available whether it’s in tablet form or a physical filter, and often comes down to personal preference.

Whatever you decide, good sleep is key to enjoying your adventure so it helps to research the basics.

Friends bikepacking
When packing, it is important to be careful with the weight distribution because a wrong one can make bike handling a nightmare. © Profimedia

3) Kit

The need to invest in a good kit is a myth. The best kit you can use to have a good time on your bike is the stuff you already have. Of course, there are some things you may need to purchase to get started and, over time, you may want to refine your choices to be more comfortable but there’s no point spending hundreds of pounds to find out it doesn’t work for you. Your first test ride shouldn’t cost you a fortune, and you’ll figure out what you really need.

Custom-fit bags are lovely but we can’t all fork out for them or have any desire to. So, a decent dry bag strapped to your handlebars will do the job. It’s recommended to take your bike for a little test spin once it’s loaded as the bag will need to leave enough room for your gears (on a drop-bar bike at least) and not move around too much. Voile straps in this instance are your friend. They can also be used to fashion a seat-post bag. Finally, if you need to carry a rucksack, then that’s fine, just keep it fairly light up to ~20 litres. If you’re feeling extra creative and have the time, creating your own bike bags can be a really rewarding endeavour.

The only downside to cheaper gear is it can often be slightly bulkier than the lightweight alternatives. It helps if you’re travelling with another person and can share the load between you where one may carry the tent and the other carries cooking gear. Of course, the lighter the better but if you’re not planning to spend a lot, it pays to be careful about what you pack. The ride will generally be slightly easier and more enjoyable but there’s a balance to be struck between having enough food and clothing to be comfortable versus a lightweight bike. With some variations depending on climate/time of year, you will likely carry the same kit whether it’s 3-4 days or weeks on end, the simplicity of which is an enjoyable aspect of a multi-day trip!

4) Food

Another crucial element to human survival alongside water and sleep is food. It can also be a great bribe for travelling long distances, whether that’s the melted chocolate bar in your back pocket or grilled cheese sandwich waiting in the cafe at the top of a climb. Depending on where you’re travelling and if you’ll be travelling through towns will, of course, greatly affect how much you travel so it can help to plan for this.

If you plan to stop in towns for food, then plenty of snacks is key to maintaining your energy levels throughout the day. How many calories you’ll burn is difficult to estimate for an off-road ride but a good rule of thumb is to eat every hour. Don’t just wait until you’re hungry – little and often is better for stability.

If you’re planning on disappearing off into the wilderness for a few days, you will, of course, need to carry all your meals, plus the odd emergency meal. There are myriad ways to deal with this, whether you buy meal sachets, carry packets of pasta and sauce or dehydrate your own meals. The more you spend, the lighter it’ll be. But high calories is the goal.

Forget the plan

At the end of the day, you can only plan so much. Don’t overthink it, just get out there and do it. Your first trip should probably be close to home so that if you forget something or decide you hate it, you can pack up and leave – there’s absolutely no shame in that. Riding back-to-back days can be hard work so if you’re willing to be flexible with your plans, then you’re sure to have a great adventure.