City Paper is not for tourists
Gear Prudence: The cool people on Instagram have been telling me for years now that bikepacking (going camping, but by bike) is very trendy. I’m finally ready to take the plunge. The thing is that I haven’t been camping since that one year I was in the Boy Scouts, and to be honest, I don’t remember it all that fondly. But the lure of nature is strong and I love biking, so how do you suggest I make this inaugural trip a success? —Cycling Amid Mighty Pines Enraptures Rider
Dear CAMPER: By lowering your expectations! GP’s philosophy on all things bike is that you shouldn’t expect things to be anywhere close to ideal when you try something new. Aim for the middle. Try it, learn some things, and see if you feel like trying it again. Jumping in the deep end with an 18-day self-supported bike trip through the Atacama won’t be the best way to reacquaint yourself with the scouting skills you may or may not have learned in your youth. Setting a reasonable goal—both in terms of the length of your trip and the level of remoteness of your destination—will more likely see your first bikepacking experience lead to a second.
You’ll need to sort out a few things right from the start. Are you traveling solo, with a buddy, or with a group? Having others around will preclude things getting too Waldenesque, but could help stave off boredom. Moreover, embarking on your first journey with friends who know how to do things like pitch a tent, identify poison ivy, bellow campfire songs, swig brown liquor from flasks, etc., will compensate for your lack of pertinent experience. Even if your friends aren’t bikey, select a route and destination where they could travel by other means to meet you. You’ll be able to get your ride in, and also be greeted by bonhomie (and maybe an already cooked meal) at the end of the day.
Then there’s the matter of stuff—how much of it you already have and how much of it you plan to procure for this expedition. The recent explosion in popularity of bikepacking means that you can buy all sorts of bike-specific camping equipment. If money is no object, extremely light sleeping bags and tents can be nestled inside of durable waterproof framebags to kit out your bike with the latest and greatest gram-saving gear. If money is an object (and money is always an object), borrow whatever gear you can, jury-rig together a carrying system that works well enough, and if it’s heavier and jankier than you’d like, shave some miles off your expected total. The first trip is about proof of concept. If it goes well, then invest in the good stuff. —Gear Prudence
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsdc. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.