first time intro to bikepacking guide

Beginner Bikepacking Gear: Pedal to Camp With This Kit

On my first bikepacking trip, I spent 3 days in the saddle exploring the Marin Headlands in California. This is the gear I used.

On Friday I left work early, signing off email just after 2 p.m. With a holiday weekend ahead, I was hoping to avoid traffic getting out of San Francisco. Like hundreds of cyclists every day, I rode the bike path along Embarcadero and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I then gradually made my way up Hawk Hill, where I diverged from the crowd.

first time intro to bikepacking guide

For the next 70-odd miles, I rode exclusively dirt and gravel. For the better part of the 3 days, I pedaled a loop through the Marin Headlands, up to Pt. Reyes, and back to the city. On my return trip, I climbed up Mt. Tam, the highest peak in the area, and down into Mill Valley. That put me back on a paved bike path through Sausalito and across the bridge.

Admittedly a novice, I got lost once and mistakenly added 8 miles to the loop. And I had other small mishaps on my fully loaded, 42-pound bike. I had a couple of minor falls, zero flats, 9,000 feet of climbing (often walking my bike), and countless puddles of mud. Using Trailforks to navigate and camping both nights in state parks, the trip cost me under $100, including a large ice cream cone at the end.

Along the way, I learned a lot about physics. A high center of gravity is detrimental on big descents and, despite wheel efficiency, carrying a lot of weight uphill is brutal. There were a few lessons on hydration as well, chiefly that it’s really important. And I had some revelations about the right gear for bikepacking, explained below.

Gear List: What You Need for First Bikepack

Bike: Specialized Diverge Comp

Specialized Diverge Comp bikepacking bike

Just 21 pounds including pedals and water bottles, the Diverge Comp is a carbon fiber gravel grinder ideal for this type of bikepacking. I wasn’t out to set course records or drop into gnarly singletrack. My goal was simply to have a little fun exploring in a new way.

The headset on the Diverge offers 20 mm of travel with a new technology called Future Shock, smoothing out a lot of the bumps and roots. With disc brakes and knobby trail tires, I felt stable on mud, loose dirt, and wet rock. With a lot of slogging uphill, I was thankful for the lightweight frame and fork, helping me move a little bit faster.

Bike Bags: Specialized Top Tube Pack, Burra Burra Framepack, Burra Burra Stabilizer Seatpack

specialized bikepacking bike

I opted to go with a streamlined bag system that fits nicely with the bike itself. Thus, I picked bags made by Specialized. I was impressed with all three bags, using the Specialized Top Tube Pack for snacks and accessories, the Burra Burra Framepack for heavier food and camping gear, and the Burra Burra Stabilizer Seatpack for clothing.

Together, they offered only 19 L of storage, forcing me to pack like a minimalist. If I were to do it again, I would add a handlebar pack to store some of the bulkier things. And I’d possibly place a few small bags on the fork to keep weight low.

Bike Accessories: CatEye 1600 Headlight, CamelBak Peak Chill Bottles, Boomslang Pedals

intro to bikepacking guide

Wanting more light in case I had to travel at night, I upgraded to CatEye’s premium headlight model. The CatEye 1600 Headlight gave me confidence in day and night. Not knowing how often I would be able to fill up water, I bought two CamelBak Peak Chill Bottles and a hydration pack, providing at least a half day’s worth of liquid. I always use clipless pedals when commuting. But I assumed I would be on and off my bike a lot, so I swapped my standard pedals out for a pair of Boomslang flats.

Bike Clothing: Backcountry Empire Bike Shorts, Canyonlands Wind Jacket, Armstrong Jersey

first time intro to bikepacking guide

Wanting to pack light, I only brought one outfit. Because it was a solo trip, no one was around to tell me I smelled bad. I kept my kit simple and comfortable, using a suite of new products from Backcountry. I was most impressed with the stretch of the Empire Bike Shorts and the versatility of the Canyonlands Wind Jacket, keeping me warm and dry as needed.

Helmet, Eyewear, Shoes: Specialized Ambush Helmet, ROKA CP-1X Glasses, Specialized 2FO Shoes

first time intro to bikepacking guide

The Ambush helmet breathes well, offers a high level of safety, and has visors to keep a little rain out of my face. The ROKA sunglasses kept bugs out of my eyes and helped me see more of the trail in front of me — it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made this year. And last, the Specialized 2FO Shoes are waterproof and sturdy, keeping me dry through puddles and securely hooking with the pedals for a better riding feel, especially on the downhill portions.

Pack, Tent, Stove: CamelBak Protector 20 Pack, MSR Carbon Reflex Tent, WindBurner Stove

first time intro to bikepacking guide

I’ve used a variety of hydration packs over the years. CamelBak is my favorite due to the brand’s intuitive design and snug fit. The CamelBak Protector 20 Pack does this and more, offering a back protection plate, 3L water reservoir, rain cover, and 17 L of space for gear, which became crucial for me to make this trip happen. I slept in a Carbon Reflex — one of the lightest tents I’ve ever used — and was impressed with how well it held up to the rain. And I carried a WindBurner stove to heat up water for meals and coffee.

Food: Good To-Go Dehydrated Meals, GU Energy Gels, Bobo’s Oat Bars, Alpine Start Instant Coffee

first time intro to bikepacking guide

Speaking of food, I feasted on a wide variety of snacks like gels, blocks, bars, and almond butter, with most of my daytime calories coming from GU Energy gels and Bobo’s bars. At morning and night, I ate Good To-Go dehydrated meals, which are delicious and filling even after long days in the saddle.