How to plan a bikepacking route
Planning a bikepacking route involves a lot of maps, trail knowledge and more. We share our tips and tricks for a successful bikepacking adventure.
Planning an off-road or gravel bikepacking route can be tricky. Bikepacking can be done on the road or on any kind of trail or dirt path. If you’re new to bikepacking, planning a long route can be daunting. However, you’ll eventually find that planning is one of the best parts of an adventure.
Depending on where you’re riding, it can be hard to find information about the condition of trails and gravel roads. So, if you want to take yourself off-grid and explore nature far away from roads and cars, how do you plan a route?
Rider and bike check
First of all, it’s important to know what you and your bike are capable of. That’s not to say we’re encouraging you to stay well within your comfort zone, however it’s worth knowing the limits. Can your bike handle rocky single track? Are you confident on dusty trails?
Do a quick check.
The beauty of a bikepacking bike is it’s designed to carry all your gear for you with bikepacking bags. A bikepacking overnighter needs little more than a few spare layers and some tools. Once you’ve packed for one night, you can easily go for a few more without too much more weight.
Follow these three golden rules when you’re planning a bikepacking route:
- Start small and build up
- Have a plan B
- Know yourself and your bike
Where to start your bikepacking route
If this is your first bikepacking trip, our tip is to start in familiar territory or on known routes. Not only are you likely to feel safer, but existing bikepacking trails take a lot of the hard work out of planning.
Routes such as the King Alfred’s Way or the North Coast 500 enable you to ride a route that’s already mapped out for you.
Point-to-point or loop your route?
Riding from A to B has its benefits. You’re likely to discover new places a little further away than you would ordinarily ride. Every pedal stroke could hold an adventure, a new view or an interesting landscape. Point-to-point rides require a little extra commitment. You’ll spend your trip riding further away from home and that can be daunting for beginners.
Riding a circular route is a great option for bikepacking routes. You can start from your door, explore uncharted territory and your ultimate destination is right back where you started.
Places to ride when bikepacking
Whether it's mechanicals, food and water stops or camping for the night, bikepacking is very stop-start. Unless you're aiming for full self-sufficiency, these are all things to consider before your trip.
Look on the map for bike shops, cafes, water fountains, hotels/camp sites and other useful places even if they’re “just in case”. Note down useful numbers and opening hours if you think you might be without phone reception.
In line with rule number two, you never know whether you might need to veer off route for an emergency. Jot down key major roads and towns to watch out for in case you need to reach civilisation quickly.
Get started with route planning
Cycling navigation apps, maps and technology have never been better than it is today. User-generated routes and trail information make planning a bikepacking trip easier than ever. Many of the routes on these apps have been tried and tested by other riders, so you know you’re in for a great ride.
No longer must you pore over huge paper maps (unless you want to, of course) that can become outdated rather quickly.
A number of online tools are readily available to help with route planning. Some of our favourites are:
- Google Maps (especially street view)
- Strava (and the heatmaps data which highlights popular routes)
- Ride with GPS
- Ordnance Survey (detailed mapping of the UK’s rights of way)
As well as mapping out the route, these apps incorporate other data such as distance, elevation and terrain type, so that you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.
You’ll need a GPS device or a smartphone on which to load your route. Many apps now sync with GPS devices, so the choice is yours when it comes to specifics. Make sure you have an offline version in the event your batteries run out or you have no phone reception. This could be a downloaded version or a line on a waterproof map.
What to pack
Now that you have your route dialled, it’s time to pack your bags. As your trip gets closer, check the weather and consult our bikepacking kit list. Always be prepared for surprises and remember it’s better to have too many layers than too few.
If you’re riding with other people, consider items you can share such as puncture repair kits, pumps and snacks. There’s no point carrying around multiple tyre levers all day for no reason!
We also advise doing a “shakedown” ride to ensure you have a good setup. You don’t need to go out for hours but riding your loaded bike for an hour can help you get used to the extra weight. You will also know if there are any niggles both on you or your bike.
How you pack your bikepacking bags is up to you. Our tip is to keep everything you might need at a moment’s notice in a very obvious place. For example, stash your multitool and spare tubes in your frame back rather than at the bottom of your saddle bag.
Go on an adventure
Now you know how to plan a route, it’s time to ride your bike. Our top bikepacking route planning tips:
- Remember the three golden rules
- Try a few different online tools for route building
- Pack wisely and consider your route and the weather
- Have fun and enjoy the ride!
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