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Pack Like a Pro: How to Bikepack Light Without Compromising on Necessities

By Martin Atanasov

Usually, when we go out for a ride, we do it on a whim. You really don’t have to plan that much ahead. All you need is your trusted bike, some water, and food, and knowing the weather conditions, and that’s it. Bikepacking, however, is the obvious exception. You can’t really improvise this type of riding journey, as there are quite a few things to consider along with the weather. How long will this trip be; what is the terrain; where will you sleep; what are the route specifics? All of these are relevant questions, and naturally, you need to plan ahead. This will help you not only with the biking part but also with the packing.

Packing light without compromising on necessities is a delicate art. Usually, it’s based on trial and error. So, to spare you the latter, let me share some essential tips on packing like a pro so you won’t break the camel’s back… or yours.

What to consider before you start packing

Unsurprisingly, what you will be packing depends entirely on what your journey’s going to be. For example, my next bikepacking journey will take me about 700 km through the mountains and will last about 10-12 days (depending on the weather). Since most of the ride is above 1500 m altitude along the ridge of the mountain and goes through various mountain tops, sleeping in a tent is absurd. Thankfully, there are more than enough huts along the way. So, this will take about 4 kg. of my overall load.

For this kind of journey, your goal should be to have a maximum of 20kg, including your bike. In my case, this means I have 7 kg free. Yes, I know, math sucks, but you really don’t want to be climbing a 13% gradient with 40 kg of additional weight. So you must be careful what you take and what you don’t.

If you add a tent, you must consider your luggage even more carefully. Taking a regular tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag will raise your overall luggage weight by 4-5 kilograms. Furthermore, you must consider the overall terrain. If you are going through gravel roads, tarmac, or asphalt, a lighter gravel bike will help you significantly. However, if you plan a mountain trip, you’d need an MTB.

Things to consider:

  • How long will be the trip
  • What will be the weather
  • Where will you sleep
  • Is there enough food and water on the way
  • What is the terrain
  • What will be the average altitude
  • How many people will you be

The bike

Let’s start with the most heavy thing you will take with you – your bike. Now, there are some bikepacking-specific bikes, but let’s be honest: you won’t buy one specifically for this trip. So, you will use whatever you have. Still, it’s best to go with a hardtail, as it will have more space to stuff your belongings. The suspension will only get in your way and has little to no application during bikepacking trips. You will mostly use established routes, and going down a DH track with all this luggage hanging from your bike is, let’s say, not wise.

Bikepacking friends
Whether you’re a seasoned bikepacking enthusiast or a newcomer to the scene, preparation for your adventure begins with ensuring you have the essential gear in tow. © Profimedia

Along with the bike, you will need some storage space. Now, depending on your answers in the “things to consider” section, you will need different packs. One thing is sure, though: you will need a handlebar pack and a seat pack. Both will carry your most essential luggage – clothing, sleeping accessories, and electronics.

Next, depending on your terrain, access to food and water, and trip length, you can choose a frame pack or a top tube pack. Both will carry your luggage’s heaviest parts— bike tools, spares, stoves, fuel, and food. So, depending on the volume, you will decide whether to go for the massive frame pack or for the much smaller top tube packs.

Depending on your needs, you can also add stem bags, frock packs, seatpost packs, and even a backpack. Many bikepackers will argue that wearing a backpack on your back is the worst thing that could happen, but sometimes the circumstances insist on having one anyway.

Once your configuration is ready, it’s time to prepare your actual luggage.

Gear and spares

Of course, you will always have to wear a helmet, so you won’t have to worry about packing it anywhere. However, you will also have to bring some repair kits and spares so you won’t have to end your trip abruptly. Get at least two spare inner tubes, even if you are tubeless. Get a tire repair kit and a small pump for your tires. I also get at least three CO2 inflators for faster inflation. Otherwise, you will waste at least 20 minutes pumping your tire from the flat. A multitool is a must, as are some levers for the tires and chainlinks.

You will also need robust tape and at least half a dozen zip ties. Finally, remember to take enough lube for your entire trip.

Where to pack them

If you carry a frame pack, all these spares and gear will go there. If you are going lighter, however, you should stick them either in your top tube pack or in your seatpost pack.

Sleeping accessories

Bring a light tent not to carry excess weight. © Profimedia

The sleeping accessories will be your most oversized luggage. Make sure to get a relatively light tent. If you don’t want to go for an ultra-light tent for approximately 600 euros, at least go for something around 2kg max. Your sleeping bag, depending on how warm it is, will also be between 1.5 and 3.5 kilos. Your sleep pad will be around 500 grams. So, if you can keep your sleeping accessories up to 5 kg, it would be perfect.

Where to pack them

The tent and sleeping pad should go in the handlebar pack. The sleeping bag can be stored outside the bag, so you have some extra space. I usually pack it under the top tube when I don’t bring a frame pack, but you can also stuff your sleeping bag in the frame pack.

When packing, make sure you place your tent last, as this will be the first thing you will need once you reach your destination.


Keep the electronics to a minimum. I usually carry only my phone, navigation, power bank, headlight, bike light, and chargers, which weigh approximately 700 grams. You can also take some light earbuds, an action camera, and, of course, an SD card. Still, try to keep your electronics weight up to 1 kg.

Where to pack them

The navigation and bike lights will be on your bike. Your phone should be easily reachable, so I’d keep it in my jersey’s pocket or the top tube pack. The rest will go in the handlebar pack. If you are planning to use a headlight that day, make sure to pack it in an easily accessible place.


Once again, what clothes you will be wearing depends on where you’ll be going. Still, you will need at least two sets of shorts and jerseys, a thermo blouse, waterproof pants, a wind jacket, and a waterproof jacket. You will also need at least three sets of underwear and socks and two sets of short cycling bibs.

Remember to add some flip flops, a towel, and—if you can spare the weight—some more comfortable shoes for the evening.

Where to pack them

The clothes will go in your seat pack, and if there is space, your handlebar pack. You should also ensure your wind jacket and thermo blouse are easily reachable. While you are moving, chances are you won’t need to warm up. But once you stop, you will have to cover up quickly.

Also, make sure to have some clean clothes for when you take a bath and go to sleep.


Of course, you will notice that most of these accessories are not mandatory. Still, they will make your entire journey much more comfortable. First and foremost, you will need some utensils. A fork, spoon, and knife will go a long way if you are going to eat on the go. You should also get a camp mug. This way, you can boil some water for yourself and make some tea or coffee.

Also, make sure to get a hat, earplugs for the night, wet wipes, toilet paper, a lighter, and possibly an anti-dog spray. This is essential if you are going to ride in the mountains, where you might find some predators or other aggressive animals. Keep the spray in an easily reachable place where you can get it at a moment’s notice. I, personally, keep it on top of my frame bag, strapped to my frame, or place it in my jersey pocket.

Where to pack them

All of these items will go in your frame pack or top tube pack. If you are using a top tube pack instead of a frame pack, you can put some of them in the handlebar bag or the seatpost pack.

Food and water

How much food you will bring depends on how hard it would be to get some. If you are going through villages where you can always get fresh food, packing too much of it is pointless. It’s much better to eat freshly cooked food and fresh vegetables rather than canned foods and dried-up fruits. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t bring any food at all. Pack some energy bars, gels, and other sources of carbohydrates. You must always have at least 3000 calories worth of food with you. A great pro tip is to get some astronaut food. This is a highly caloric food that you can make by adding some water. The taste could be better, but it weighs significantly less than any alternative.

Water is an entirely separate issue. Make sure to mark all the water sources along your route and be sure to fill your bottles on every occasion. During such trips, you will need at least 3 liters of water a day. Depending on how hot and hard the ride is, you can even go for as much as 5 liters. So, if you have enough water on your route, you don’t need to worry. However, you will need a more cardinal solution if water sources are scarce. A camel pack or water bladder will save the situation. Unfortunately, this will force you to bring a backpack with you. Still, being left without water is much worse than carrying a backpack.

Where to pack them

These will go mainly in your frame pack and jersey pockets. Having easy access to your water and food is essential. You can carry a water bottle in your middle jersey pocket and some food in the left one. This way, you will have easy access to both. If you are with a camel pack, a bottle on your back will be uncomfortable, so make sure to place it somewhere on the frame. This way, you can have an electrolyte mix ready for when you need some boost.

Medicine and first aid

Finally, we must address your safety. Along with you, you will be carrying some essential drugs and first aid kits. You will need bandages, some ethanol, magnesium, painkillers, and antihistamines. If you are highly allergic to bees or other insects, you must bring along an EpiPen.

Furthermore, make sure to bring a tick-removal kit, anti-inflammatory gels, and, most importantly, an emergency blanket. All of these weigh approximately 200 grams combined, so despite being quite a few, they won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Next, you will need some soap and shampoo. The soap will be used to wash your clothes and your body, so take something nice.

If there is one thing you should never forget, though, that’s the sunscreen lotion. I can’t stress enough how important this is, especially in the mountains.

Where to pack them

The EpiPen must be in an accessible and secure place where you can reach and grab it, even if you are panicking. The rest can be placed in a dry place, preferably on top of your frame pack. They can also go in your seat pack if you have some spare space. Still, the best place for the emergency blanket is the frame pack, as there will be enough space for it.

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