February 11, 2022 11 min read
Over the past couple of years with various lockdowns, many of us have become cyclists. Whether this was out of choice or by obligation, cycling gained traction as many of us took up cycling as a COVID-friendly alternative for our daily commutes. Not only has cycling grown hugely in recent years, but bikepacking has picked up pace too.
Which begs the question – what is bikepacking? It isn’t quite cycle touring or long-distance cycling, as the attention is more on freedom and exploration. It typically involves less kit than what you’d need on a cycle tour and perhaps covering more ground. The idea is to strip away all but essential items, allowing you to turn your attention to covering distance. Simply put, bikepacking is essentially the combination of self-supported backpacking and all terrain cycling. It doesn’t require much to get started, and what better place to get going than on your home ground? With the right equipment and training, and hopefully some luck with the weather, you’ll no doubt be in for an unforgettable adventure, being able to glide through some of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with legendary bikepacker Markus Stitz. In 2016, Markus became the first person to cycle around the world on a single-speed bike and when he returned to Scotland, he had a newfound perspective and wanted to develop bikepacking and make it more accessible for everyone. He therefore founded Bikepacking Scotland,a comprehensive guide to all things bikepacking. Bikepacking Scotland work with tourism organisations to create new bikepacking and cycling routes across Scotland. Markus is also a filmmaker and book author. He co-authored ‘Big Rides’ and will publish his first book this year about gravel cycling in Britain. He gave us some insight into the world of bikepacking, including life-hacks, essential items for first-time bikepackers, his favourite bikepacking routes in the UK, and he tells us why he loves bikepacking.
First off, we asked Markus what he loves most about bikepacking;
“I simply love cycling, and bikepacking gives me the opportunity to combine my passion for cycling with adventure. On a bike you have no metal box around you, and the bike gets you to places quicker than walking, which offers a bit more flexibility. I have met some of the most wonderful people when bikepacking and seen stunning landscapes, most of those experiences were free too. The nice thing about bikepacking is that it gets me to places in a sustainable way. And for me the hobby has become my livelihood as well, which is an added bonus.”
According to Markus it’s best to not over-plan and embrace the unexpected:
“The beauty of bikepacking is that it can take you to very remote and otherwise inaccessible places. My top tip would be to really only take what you need. The lighter you pack, the more enjoyable is the adventure in my eyes. I would also suggest to really make the most of your trip by not over-planning your adventure. For me bikepacking is embracing the unexpected - this could be the random location off the beaten track, the people you meet along the way or the tricky weather conditions you might have to tackle. As with most things in life, I would suggest to buy stuff that is of good quality, and comes from companies you can trust. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive/top of the range kit, but I prefer good value and knowing the source of my gear.”
There is no right way to do bikepacking, you must do what works best for you. For example, if you’re an avid camper but have never camped by bike before, make your aim to be to trim down your camping equipment to the bare minimum, making it easier to pack onto your bike. Equally, if you’re new to bikepacking, plan an adventure that combines both unpaved and paved roads.
A common misconception is that bikepacking will cost you a fortune: the ideal bike, the newest ultralight camping gear, and custom bags. Investing in good quality equipment of course is not a bad idea, but it is certainly not necessary to get you started.
We asked Markus what essential items a first-time backpacker should bring on their adventure:
“This depends on the nature of the trip. If camping/sleeping under the stars, a sleeping bag that can cope with the temperatures you’d expect, a mattress for insulation and comfort, and either a bivvy bag or tent. Lightweight tents are my preferred choice, as they offer more privacy and shelter from bugs. Whether you use bags or a rack system is a personal choice, but make sure that your sleeping system, valuable and spare clothes are in waterproof bags. Take a shovel for those urgent moments in the wild, and I always take at least one comfort item - when the going gets rough, a wee treat goes a long way. Make sure your bike is ready for your distance - you don’t need to have a full service each time you go for a microadventure, but if you intend a longer trip, it’ll make a difference. Bring the basic tools you need and have an understanding of what could go wrong on your bike, that’ll give you peace of mind on the trip itself.”
Typically speaking, almost any bike will work for a bikepacking trip. However, as the nature of bikepacking generally involves dirt roads, gravel, and/or single-track roads, make sure your bike can handle whichever terrain you intend to explore. If you already have a mountain bike that works for you, chances are it’ll be the perfect bikepacking companion with a few adjustments. Since bikepacking involves long periods of time sitting in the saddle, having a comfortable saddle is key. Be sure to test your bike out before setting off to make sure you have a proper fit.
If you’d rather not buy bags, a good approach is to use some simple pieces of gear you probably already own. For example, dry bags attached to your seat post and handlebars, and a comfortable daypack will do for a short adventure. Remember - bikepacking is not about being overloaded with gear.
On the Handlebars
Use a long and slender larger (14-20 liter) dry bag. This is where your lightweight down sleeping bag and small tent can be. Attach the bag to your handlebars using Voile straps or two webbing straps.
Seat Pack Dry Bag
Attach a smaller (5-7 liter) dry bag to the seat post and saddle rails using a webbing strap. Put your change of clothes into this bag and a few other bits and bobs.
Ideally, we would ride without a backpack. However, they come in handy for more technical rides. Store extras like a camera, rain and sleeping gear, plenty of water and food and cooking supplies.
A comfortable night’s sleep is super important when it comes to bikepacking as it is your chance to rest properly and be at your full strength the following day. When choosing the type of camp, you have three alternative options to choose from: tent, bivvy or hammock. Each of these options have different characteristics, however the type of camp you will choose will heavily depend on the weather and the weight you want to carry on your trip. To make things more comfortable and insulate your body from the elements, it is recommended to pair each of these camps with a sleeping bag and possibly an inflatable mattress.
Tents are a great option when camping in cold and wet weather as they offer shelter from the elements, especially rain and wind, though this camping method can be heavier to carry than the other two.
If you would like to travel as light as possible, then a bivvy bag is recommended. This type of camp serves as a waterproof and windproof layer for your sleeping bag. In comparison to tents, bivvy bags are much smaller and lighter meaning they will be easier to carry.
Unlike the two other options, hammocks are a great camp solution when it comes to rocky grounds. They are also very light and are ideal if you want your camp to take as little space as possible.
During your bikepacking trip you’ll use a great amount of energy therefore it is essential to bring food with a high calorie intake. However, it is worth considering the weight of the food and how well the food will keep on your adventure. Choosing what food to bring will depend on your personal preference and can change according to the type of trip, but everyone should aim to bring food which contains these three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat. These three components will provide you with the right amount of energy for the remaining part of your trip.
The nature and length of the trip are also two important factors as they determine whether you’ll need to bring a stove to cook more substantial meals and determine the amount of food to bring. While for shorter trips you can manage to carry most of your food, for longer journeys you will need to stop along the way to stock-up for essentials. If you decide to go without a stove, you can always add a bit of luxury by stopping and treating yourself to a proper meal every so often.
As with the other equipment, you’ll want to make sure you have clothing for your trip. The weather will be an important factor here in how many layers you’ll need, but in any case, comfort is key. We’re particularly fond of wearing our super comfy Adventure Shorts and our anti-odour Weekender Tees on our cycling adventures, which have the performance needed for a long cycle, but are smart enough that we don’t look out of place when we stop for a relaxed coffee and lunch somewhere on route. It’s also always a good idea to pack a lightweight waterproof, such as our Meander Jacket as you can never rule out a bit of a shower (especially here in Scotland).
As important as it is to pack as light as possible and to have the right gear, choosing the right route is key. The eclectic landscapes and availability of routes make the UK a perfect place to go bikepacking. The countryside has a vast network of National Parks, bridleways, and towpaths. Not only this, but the diverse terrain across the UK offers radically different trips and experiences every time. From the dramatic Highlands in Scotland to the open, flat roads in the South of England, you are spoiled for choice.
Markus shared his favourite routes with us:
“I am biased, as I have developed a few of them myself. To pick a different route, I would suggest that the Highland Trail is hard to beat for scenery and remoteness, but it’s also a very tough route. I really enjoyed theCaledonia Way andJohn Muir Way as they are both routes that are less extreme, but in essence offer wonderful scenery. Further south, my favourite regions are Dorset and Devon, and I would love to have a go at Katherine Moore’sEast Devon Trail once it launches. If I would have to choose one of my routes, it would be theWild About Argyll Trail. For a full-on experience, I would try the GB Divide, the route that GBDURO takes, which was featured in my film 'Maiden Race’. And as a sneak preview, I am currently working on a new route across the Argyll islands, which is hopefully ready soon.”
These routes involve varying difficulties, so whether you’re a beginner or a mountain biker, there’s something for everyone.
The John Muir Way is one of the best bikepacking trails Scotland has to offer. It is a great option for first-time bikepackers, as there are plentiful accommodation options and great transport links. This route offers a unique coast to coast bikepacking journey through Scotland’s history and stunning landscapes, linking Helensburgh with Dunbar. Along the way you’ll discover Scotland’s ancient Roman history, engineering heritage, providing you with a perspective of Scotland like no other bikepacking route. In Scotland you can wild camp legally thanks to the Right To Roam act.
Bike:Mountain, Hybrid, or Gravel Bike
Although the Caledonian Way is one of Scotland's greatest challenge routes, this route is very accessible, making it simple to complete shorter sections of this iconic route if you want to. It runs the length of the Great Glen Fault, along Loch Linnhe and Loch Ness. It offers a variety of cycling, from lengthy sections of traffic-free path to challenging on-road hills through the breathtaking terrain of Scotland’s West coast. Starting from Campbeltown and finishing in Inverness, you’ll be taking in great Scottish towns such as Fort William, Oban, and Fort Augustus along the way. What’s great about bikepacking in this area is the abundance of bothies, which are available for you to use overnight or for a nice lunch spot! Find out more about bothies here.
Distance: 234 miles
Bike: Mountain Bike
This route curated by keen bikepacker Katherine Moore will officially be launched in Spring 2022, supporting FORCE cancer charity. The East Devon Trail captures the best of Devon and as you make your way down the Jurassic Coast, you’ll encounter chalky white cliffs and many gorgeous stone farmhouses and whitewashed cottages. You’ll will be pleased to hear that there are plentiful places to restock on delicious, locally produced food and drink. Stop by Ducky’s Beach Cafe in Beer for a delicious meal along the way, taking in the stunning views for miles. If you’re an animal lover, then there is even more reason to do this route as there will be many animal encounter opportunities, with cows, horses, sheep, pigs and donkeys along the route.
Distance: 115 miles
Time: 5 days
Bike: Mountain or Gravel Bike
Looking for a spectacular, yet accessible route through the heart of the Scottish borders, following in the footsteps of the border raiders from the 13th century? Then this shorter route is for you. From country estates, enchanting forests, and gleaming lochs, this route was also put together by Markus Stitz. If you’re short on time or this route seems a little daunting, you’ll be happy to know it is made up of three loops around Selkirk so you can cut off some of the route to suit you. What’s better is this route starts and finishes at Tweedbank Railway Station which is linked up to Edinburgh Waverley Station, making it super accessible for many of us.
Time: 2 days
Bike: Mountain or Gravel Bike
This brilliant long-distance route is one of Markus Stitz’s finest. It is a mixed terrain route, along gravel tracks, forest roads, singletrail, quiet roads and cycle paths to discover Scotland's Adventure Coast. The route travels though the dramatic landscape of the Ardgartan Peninsula, along Loch Eck and across steep coastal roads in East Kintyre, and is well-served by public transport along the route. When you’re taking a break from cycling, there’s plenty of opportunity to swim in crystal clear water, go island hopping, taste craft beers and whisky, and watch incredible sunsets and starry skies. You’ll also encounter magnificent wildlife along the way. It’s a very accessible route, as the trail starts and finishes in Helensburgh, which is easily accessible by train from Edinburgh Waverley station and Glasgow.
Distance: 407 miles
Time: Can be ridden in one go (50 hours) or split up into different sections.
Bike: Mountain or Gravel Bike
We hope we have inspired your next adventure. It’s never easy to begin, there are always excuses: I don’t have the right kit, I don’t have enough time, It’s too cold, I won’t be able to keep up with the others. We all have to start somewhere. When bikepacking, you’ll be both exhilarated and drained, yet excited to continue with the road ahead. That’s what makes bikepacking so rewarding! Let us know in the comments below if you have been on a bikepacking adventure and where your favourite routes are.
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