Freewheelin’: A Guide to Bikepacking

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Thinking of taking your camping trip on two wheels? This cyclist packing 37,000 kilometres of experience will tell you how.

On wheels since she was young, Toronto‑born Tara Weir took her first solo bikepacking trip around China and Southeast Asia at the age of 25. She has now cycled in over 20 countries.

July 28, 2021

enRoute What do you love about bikepacking?

Tara Weir It’s the freedom of it. There’s nothing like having a nice day on the bike and then stopping at a beautiful campsite and starting a fire. You can really get away from the crowds and be on your own in beautiful nature.

ER How do you pack efficiently for a trip?

TW In my first years, I had four heavy panniers set up. Now I have a more minimalist approach: I’ve gotten rid of some of my larger bags and downsized my sleeping mat. I also have a [bikepacking] frame bag, which is a good choice because it centres the weight in the middle of your bike.

Related: 10 Iconic Bikepacking Routes Across Canada

Tara Weir biking in Tajikistan
Tara Weir in the mountains of Tajikistan, in 2015

ER Do you have an essential tool?

TW A down sleeping bag is key for warmth and packability. I have a zero‑Fahrenheit bag that I bring on all my bike trips and a lightweight MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent. 

ER Any new‑found essential? 

TW I’ve used some pretty funny kickstands over the years. For a large chunk of a trip through Asia, I just rushed to find an actual stick. Now I have a Click‑Stand. It’s a foldable kickstand meant for heavily loaded bikes. 

ER Any hacks for when you’re on the road?

TW Bring zip ties and duct tape, which are useful for a lot of things like tears in clothing. It’s good to have a fix‑it‑yourself attitude. 

Tara Weir biking in Utah
Pedaling in Utah, in 2019

ER Do you have a bikepacking bucket list?

TW I love high‑altitude deserts, like those in the southwestern United States. I’d love to ride in Namibia, because I’ve never been to Africa. And that’s a lot of desert! (I really hate cycling in rain.) I’m also interested in Georgia and Armenia for their beautiful landscapes, delicious food and kind people.

Related: No Ordinary Ride: Mountain Biking Through India

ER What’s your favourite Canadian route?

TW The Canadian section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route starts in Jasper and goes all the way to Roosville, Montana. It’s a spectacular dirt‑road ride. 

Tara Weir bikepacking through Canada
The bikepacker on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Canada, in 2019

Tips to level up your bikepacking game

  • Start Slow —

    Don’t obsess too much about bikepacking gear; simply talk to people with experience instead of looking at website after website. Go out for a weekend and get used to the routine of biking and camping. Take it slow and don't expect too much of yourself.  

  • Use the right resources —

    Start by looking at the solid resources out there, like bikepacking.com. They have all kinds of info for route planning – anything from an overnighter to an epic multi‑month ride. Make your own routes using Ride with GPS, and check out Komoot, where you can look at elevation profiles and differentiate between paved roads and off‑roads.

  • Use the proper bikepacking gear setup —

    If your trip is going to be on paved roads, don't really worry too much about your bikepacking setup. The pannier setup is versatile because you can balance the weight on your bike and it’s a little more comfortable than having tiny bikepacking frame bags – however, they also rattle and move around, so if you're going to do a rough off‑road trip, the bikepacking bags will serve you better.