Bicycle touring and bikepacking are both wonderful ways to see the world by bike. Both involve covering longer distances with all the gear you need to overnight, and tend to minor repairs as you go. If you aren’t an avid cyclist, however, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.
What Is Bicycle Touring
A form of self-supported road biking, bicycle touring is a lovely way to travel between destinations. The gear a cyclist needs for the journey is usually stored in saddlebags called panniers. Panniers hang from racks attached near the front and back tires of the bike. They usually come in pairs to help the rider stay balanced.
It has a much longer history in Europe than in the United States. However, bicycle touring has become popular worldwide. It didn’t take long after the invention of the bicycle for several adventurers set off on long distance and around-the-world bike tours.
By the late 19th century, bicycle touring clubs started to crop up in European cities. Nowadays, bicycle touring has never been more popular. Thousands of people go on touring adventures every year. You can easily go bike touring solo, with friends, or with a destination travel group. Bicycle touring can be easy or challenging. You can try anything from supported touring to full-on adventure cycling.
What is Bikepacking
Bikepacking is the off-road version of bicycle touring. Think of bikepacking as the adventure cycling version of thru-hiking or overlanding. Bikepackers tend to use mountain bikes or special bikepacking bikes and cover a variety of terrain from dirt roads to rocky trails. Cycle touring, however, is often attempted with road bikes and special touring bikes.
That means carrying your gear differently, too. Rather than relying on panniers, bikepackers use different styles of frame bags. A bike packer’s kit sits under the bike seat or hang from the handlebars. That helps the rider manage sway and drag even over challenging terrain. It also helps your gear stay clear of the mountain bike’s suspension, and obstacles on the trail. Minimalism is key in bikepacking.
How to Pack For Bicycle Touring
The difference between bicycle touring and bikepacking is similar to the difference between car camping and backpacking. Bicycle touring often allows the cyclist to be more flexible in what they bring. Meanwhile, bikepacking requires a more minimalist setup.
Generally speaking, touring cyclists might pack anywhere from 15 to 45 pounds of gear. A bikepacker, however, might bring ten pounds or less in gear. Of course, how much you bring depends on several factors. Consider the time of year, distance covered, terrain, and your riding style.
How to Pack for Bikepacking
Bikepacking gear tends to be much lighter. An ultra-light bikepacking trip would be ideal for a tough route like conquering the Great Divide by mountain bike. Meanwhile, touring cyclists can carry more over flatter routes. Traveling in small groups can also impact what you pack if you can share some gear.
Another way to travel light is by credit card touring. That’s a style of bicycle touring that involves paying for meals and hostels or hotels as you go. The equivalent of credit card touring for hikers is called slackpacking. You won’t need to pack nearly as much as you would for self-supported bicycle touring or bikepacking.
Choosing Between Bicycle Touring and Bikepacking
So how do you decide if bikepacking or bicycle touring is right for you? It honestly depends on what your adventure style is. Bicycle touring can certainly feel less intimidating for newbies. That’s especially true if you stick close to small towns. Bikepacking can be more challenging, and not just physically. If you don’t like camping, for example, bikepacking probably isn’t your thing.
If you aren’t sure, try both. There are plenty of groups, clubs, and touring companies who can help you get started. Cyclists love to introduce other to bicycle touring and bikepacking. It means more people to ride with!
So go ahead and load up your bicycle carrier and select your bikepacking routes or bike travel plan. Whether you’re attempting a route in your own backyard or in an exciting foreign country, adventure cycling could be the new hobby you’ve been looking for.