There's no greater sense of freedom than winding your way through forgotten bridleways, knowing your only plan for the day is to keep pedalling, eat endlessly, and enjoy the views! Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of highs and lows. They'll be moments you don't think you can do it, but it'll be worth it! And if you can't? Not to worry, this is supposed to be fun! There shouldn't be any shame in resting or changing plans.
Essential Bikepacking Gear
If you have a bike, technically you can bikepack with whatever you may find in your house! Most people have a sleeping bag kicking around, maybe an old tent if you're lucky, or something you could borrow from a friend. The first time I ever tried, I met my former partner after they'd been cycling all day and I just joined for the final hour and wore a backpack with a sleeping bag in and borrowed a bivvy! I'd say it's definitely worth trying something like that first to see if you will actually like it or not, as it's certainly not for everyone.
On a recent bikepacking trip in Australia (see the photo above), I rented a touring bike and it came with a barrel bag (the one that attaches to the handlebars) and a top tube bag (on the top there). However, it also had a pannier rack, without pannier bags. As I didn't bring any of my stuff with me, and wanted to keep things cheap, I simply bought an £8 supermarket tent, a £6 sleeping bag, and some bungees and I had a fantastic time (pictured above)!
But moving on, let's assume you've perhaps tested it slightly, and concluded you'd like to buy some of the basics, here's what I recommend, based on what I bought/ different set-ups I've tried:
Bikepacking Frame Storage Bags
There are a lot of options when it comes to bags! It's very overwhelming and some are very very expensive. You've probably heard of Restrap, Wizard Works, Ortlieb, Alpkit, Apidura etc. but as I wasn't sure how much I would actually use them, I went for the cheapest options I could find at Planet X.
Despite their cheap price, I've found Planet X bags to be excellent - in fact, on the weekend my friend's expensive Ortlieb bag got a mini tear in it on its second outing, whereas my cheap Planet X bags are still in perfect shape after some adventures. I did have to do some DIY on the straps though as I found a lot of excess velcro as perhaps they were made with chunkier bikes in mind but it caught on my bib shorts and made them go fuzzy, eek. So I just cut them shorter and re-sewed it, which was less daunting as they didn't cost £160 for one!
I also love my cheap decathlon bags for the handlebar, I use them in everyday life too while commuting as I love just shoving all the stuff that should be in my pockets into them, or snacks to fuel along the way.
Bikepacking Sleeping Set-up
There are lots to consider when deciding on your sleeping set-up, whether you prioritise weight, comfort, or price - I tried to find a balance between them. Below though is an example of the cheapest set-up I've done. Honestly, I'd recommend a large Bivvy bag though, because it turns out I missed the small print that says if you want to put a roll mat inside they recommend the larger one! Mine is pretty darn tight so definitely not recommended for anyone bigger than me (5'8, 68kg). This is also a summer non-rain set-up given the cheap sleeping bag, and lack of a waterproof bag for it!
Regular Hunka Bivvy Bag, Alpkit (£44) - N.B. Sale price on 11/07/22
Large Inflatable Trekking Mattress, Decathalon (£40) - Optional: Small Karrirmor dry bag, Sports Direct (£6) - enables you to fold it up/ store it much smaller than bag provided!
Sleeping bag - available cheap from most supermarkets, e.g. this £6 one from Tesco. Obviously depends on how cold the area you are planning to attend is!
2 Adjustable straps to attach the sleeping bag to your handlebar - I had some lying around, but you can make 10 straps for £8 from Amazon if you don't have any! Or use the more expensive option of Voile Straps which are popular among bikepackers.
Misc. Items for Bikepacking
Obviously, this entirely depends on what your interests are and where you're going! For example, if you're going wild swimming you may want to have a swimsuit and towel added here.
Basic first aid kit & emergency blanket
Small pack of tissues/ wet wipes
Small chamois cream decanted into travel pot to prevent saddle sores
Bike repair kit (pump, spare quick link, chain breaker, multi-tool, 3 tyre levers)
Retractable Cable Lock, Decathalon (£10) - makes you feel ever so slightly safer leaving your bike outside a shop for a couple of minutes while you pop in to get snacks if solo!
Additional Bikepacking Gear
Once you've got the bug, here are a few other things to consider.
Bikepacking Cooking Set-up
I really went in loops around this, I was SO indecisive, but I'm pleased with my choices in the end! You can see it unpacked above on the left, then it all fits inside the pot minus the gas support stand as seen on the right. However, I recommend a gas support stand because my friend knocked over their stove by accident and badly burnt their foot, putting a swift end to their trip which is not ideal! I got this cookset as it included a sleeve for you to hold it easily, a pot gripper, and a spork thing.
Kraku Stove, Alpkit (£29) - N.B. Sale price on 11/07/22
Handlebar Barrell bag, Planet X (£10) - If you want to waterproof your sleeping bag, this is an essential purchase! I found on my most recent trip though, when I knew the weather was going to be good, it was a lot easier/ lighter to just strap a sleeping bag directly to the handlebar. However, this is essential if you don't know how the weather might be.
Soloist Tent, Alpkit (£109) - N.B. Sale price on 11/07/22 - I love this tent, and it is lightweight, however, I prefer my Bivvy as it's much easier to be discrete while wild camping than a tent so I tend to take that instead, and it's lighter too obviously.
Universal bottle cage mount, Decathlon (£4) - if your bike doesn't have fork attachment to allow you to store a bottle there.
Front & rear lights!
Future upgrades/ purchases?
Concertina Wind Shield, Alpkit (£13) - Just to keep the wind off while cooking.
Elan Hooped Bivvy, Alpkit (£88) - I'd like to have something more protective over my face. It's a perfect medium between tent and bivvy. Light than a tent but more protection than a bivvy if raining or bugs.
Dynamo & Bright Lights so I can charge my items on the go without worrying when my battery pack will die!
I'd like larger handlebar bottle bags that store more in - I like my Decathalon ones as they're cheap but I'd like webbing on the outside too so I can shove empty wrappers in etc. But also it would be ideal if I found one that fit my cookset in... so I could ride along easily with food still in it!
I'd like a top tube bag, like the Restrap one, but the price does put me off.
I have just one last thing to mention - think about your tire size! If you're planning on going off-road, you will need a larger tyre and to run it at a lower pressure to make the journey more comfortable. Personally, I've found the 700x38mm Specialized Pathfinder Pro good for everything I'd like to do from the New Forest to Essex countryside, however, I'm now upgrading with a new bike to smaller wheels/ even fatter tyres (50mm) so I can visit places like the Lake District and South Downs Way and actually enjoy them instead of feeling every impact brutally.
If there's anything else you'd like to know, leave a comment below! Obviously, I'm by no means an expert but this is what I've found helpful as a beginner myself so hopefully, I can share something I've learnt along the way. And remember, there's no such thing as a silly question.