Things I’ve Learned – Bikepacking 101

Thought I’d get a headstart on documenting my trip to Iceland next week by sharing some lessons I learned last weekend on a test ride into the Swiss Alps.

Let me start with a little disclosure; I took everything I thought I would need for 2 week trip to Iceland on my bike to get a feel for the weight and how to pack it all. Its not like I would need this much kit in Switzerland on a weekend when the temperatures were averaging 25 deg. I had a rain jacket, down jacket, changes of clothes and a 3-season sleeping bag.

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  1. Pack everything you think you need, then remove 1/4 of the items cause you won’t actually need them 

My loaded bike was heavy…VERY HEAVY (for me at least). I have witnesses. They think it weighed about 25-30kg. Although we wont be riding over Col de Pillon like I did on Saturday, Iceland is bumpy! I dont want to lug any extra weight around – especially since Im riding with guys, who usually manage to survive on less bits of kits than girls.

I thought I would need more changes of clothes, but I didn’t. I know Iceland temperatures will be very different to those of Switzerland in August, so I’ll need to take warmer kit (gloves, hats etc) and waterproof bits and pieces. However, I believe I will just put up with being stinky for a few days and re-wear some of my kit. After all, we will be on the bike for a lot of the time and smell doesnt travel at the speed we do!

I am planning on using the Apidura handlebar pack you can see here to carry all of my clothes.

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2. Get VERY Critical with Weight

I have a fabulous headlamp, super strong, its like a lightsaber on your head: when you turn, it makes a noise in the dark as the light cuts through it. It takes 4 AA batteries to run. I have another Petzl headlight that only takes 2 AA batteries – its not as fabulous as the lightsaber one, but it is much lighter and does the job.

I will take the lighter option.

I have an iPad. I like my iPad. I can read books on it, browse the internet, read maps. The iPad is heavy. I have a kindle, its waterproof, its light.

I will take the Kindle and a sealed paper map – they are lighter.

3. Camping in the Wild is much Nicer than in a Campsite

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Campsites are a necessary evil. Its nice to have clean water and a hot shower and somewhere sheltered to cook food when the weather is bad. But you have a share a space with some other people in tents who might make noise and stay up till all hours drinking and getting up to high jinks when you have to wake up early. You are lucky when you find a nice clean campsite, but the majority of those I have stayed at, are stinky and not very clean with spiders everywhere. On Friday night, I found a sweet spot by a glacial river. Sleeping to the sound of the water in my ears was heaven…and even washing in that the next morning was pretty cool and refreshing. There was no-one around.

I hope we find spots like that on our trip.

4. Be happy when it Rains on your Test Weekend

I borrowed a friend’s tent for my trip to find out at 3am on Sunday morning that it was no longer waterproof. A Sierra Designs one person two sheeter, it had been in storage for what obviously, was too long and the waterproof layer on the inside had become sticky. This was something we noticed when we took it out of the bag before I went on my trip, but…I didn’t have time to check it at home. On Sunday morning we had thunder and lightning and torrential rain in the alps. I woke up to drips on my face. My sleeping bag was already wet.

I bailed out of my tent and found a narrow ledge covered by the edge of the roof of the campsite cabin and tried to sleep there, unsuccessfully. I got bitten by some sort of insect on my face.

Im just happy I found this out a week before travelling to Iceland so I have the time to get a new, waterproof tent.

5. Enjoy the Views, Stop Lots – its not a Race

Although I was anxious to get to Sierre and the valleys between Aigle and Martigny and Martigny and Sierre were a bit of a drag, there were plenty of good reasons to stop and enjoy the view on the way. Here is just a cute photo from Gstaad:

 

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5. Don’t make it Harder than it Needs to Be

I set out at 7pm on a Friday evening after work, from Solothurn. I made it to Thun, Bern, at about 21.30 – feeling fairly tired. I could have kept going of course, but I knew then I wouldnt reach Zweisimmen (my final destination that evening) until about 12:30 am at that rate, and the next day was going to be big. So…I decided to hop on a train, and get out before Zweisimmen and camp there for the night.

If you are someone who is used to a challenge, its easy to drift into that mode of pushing yourself towards the finish line. Bike packing or bike touring is about the journey, and not the destination. I don’t care if I feel like hopping on a train (in Iceland, probably a bus) to cut out ugly roads, or get somewhere when the weather is bad. Thats ok. ‘Hardcore’ is a word that doesn’t need to be associated with ‘holiday’ in my opinion!

It was hardcore enough when I dragged myself over Col de Pillon anyway then next day and rode the 136km to Sierre to meet up with my friends 🙂

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