Some bikepackers put great effort into reducing the total weight of their gear and bikes for many good reasons. I’ll share a couple of ways abut how you can reduce weight when you bikepack. You may be surprised to find out how little shedding weight enhances your bikepacking experience when you don’t do it for the right reasons.
How much weight you need to carry depends on the duration of your trip, the weather conditions, the environment, and your bike’s carrying capacity. In order to find out, it’s best to do a shakedown ride and gradually reduce the items you don’t need. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to carry the weight yourself.
The first thing to consider is your own weight. The lighter you are, then the more any small addition in gear and bike weight might burden you. This is due to a simple matter of ratio—the less you weigh, the larger in proportion any additional mass will be. No that isn’t something you fix overnight, but a bikepacking trip sure helps.
Does Extra Weight Increase Time?
Depending on where you ride, often some extra weight won’t significantly increase your time but scaping off some weight sure makes the ride more comfortable. The image above shows the gear I take on a 3-day trip. I gradually reduced the stuff I bring to this. I do like a good tent and a great cooking setup.
Another thing to consider is how flat your route is. This may be a no-brainer, but basically, if the road is as flat as a board, you can add a ton of more weight and it’ll only cost a few more minutes. But if you aim to cross great distances, your weight will matter more.
Make sure that you’re bringing the things you’ll absolutely need. Don’t bring a thick sleeping bag in the tropics or an induction heater where there are many food stops (unless you like cooking in the wild, like me).
Maximize multi-use items. You don’t really need cycling jerseys when you have normal t-shirts, and your phone can roll your communication, navigation, research, and photography needs all in one. Another is that you don’t want to spend more money than you have to.
With that, let’s dive into how to lighten your load. We’ll begin where you can lose the most weight, then work our way down.
Begin with the heaviest, ignoring your own weight. Depending on how you customize your bike and how much you’re willing to spend to shed weight, you could drop loads. Full suspensions are heavier than rigid bikes for example. Here’s more information about what type of bike to consider when bikepacking.
This is the best location to start. Tires come either with a non-folding bead made of wire or a folding bead made of Kevlar. Most bikes come with wire-beaded tires and they wind up heavy. Folding Kevlar tires are more costly can be worth the weight saved. Plus, they have less rolling resistance, so you can ride more comfortable.
Lightweight or Tubeless
Tubes can go a long way in reducing mass. A thin, light tube is not much pricier than the usual tube yet it saves half the mass. And if your tires are more than 2 inches, you can go tubeless. Anyway, the sealant saves you from any small holes. Tubeless is a bit risky when bikepacking though if you’re unable to fix a tire that’s ripped you might need to abort your trip. I would advise against it.
This one can save you more than half a kilogram without requiring you to spend top dollar. Carbon wheels have the added benefit of increasing wheel stiffness, but aluminum rims get the job of reducing weight done. You can find them in the < 1.5 kg or < 1.6 kg range. Rims are expensive though, better get some quality gear instead.
A typical suspension fork weighs 1.5–2.5 kg. You can save a lot of weight by switching to aluminum (0.6–1 kg) or carbon (0.5–0.6 kg, but more expensive).
Again, the default that comes with stock bikes tend to be heavier. You can switch the usual aluminum post with a carbon one to save 0.1–0.2 kg. Even better, it cuts down on turbulence because of its additional built-in flex.
Chances are that the rack that came with your bike, if any, is heavy. Switch it with a lighter rack if you want to pack minimally.
To give you a rough estimate, a budget of USD 1000 can buy you a:
- < 10 kg road bike system
- < 11 kg cyclocross bike system
- < 12 kg mountain bike system
If you’re aiming for an ultralight (UL) kit, try to ensure that everything (bike inclusive) weighs less than 20 kg.
Shelters and Sleeping
I combined shelters and sleeping because they should be considered together. The main elements that come into play here are climate and weight. If you expect a chilly climate, you’ll want a robust tent setup, a sleeping mat that conserves heat, and a thick sleeping bag. The warmer it gets, the more you can shed until you can even bring just a hammock.
In essence, shelters and sleeping are a great place to lose weight but don’t go overboard. How much comfort you lose with every gram lost may not be worth it. A good night’s sleep isn’t something that should be sacrificed.
Double-walled tents offer peak comfort for less than 1 kg. The fly keeps the rain out and a tent inner wards off insects. Next come pyramid tarps, which are light yet still reliable in all four seasons. They’re usually modular, meaning you can pick if you want a mesh inner or a groundsheet. The stakes, groundsheet, and pole are 0.5 kg while the tarp is another 0.5 kg.
The perennial UL choice is a tarp–bivy setup. Tarps with carbon poles weigh only around 70 g and afford more comfort. Pair it alongside a tub groundsheet and you have a great shelter for warm weather for less than 300 g. In addition, bivys are waterproof covers for sleeping bags that are great in cooler climes. Emergency ones are around 120 g while weatherproofed ones weigh 350 g to 600 g.
Last come hammock–tarp setups. They offer plenty of weight savings because you won’t require a sleeping bag or mat. They also act as chairs. But note that they’re better suited for warmer climates, and if you insist on bringing them to < 0 °C temperatures, you ought to insulate from below.
You can’t forego a topnotch sleeping mat if you want to sleep well. Modern mats that are blow-up are well-insulated, compact, and comfortable. Meanwhile, closed-cell ones are even lighter.
For cold weather, choose a mat that has a high ratio of warmth to weight. A mat’s R-value is a measure of its resistance to losing heat. Pads with R-value 5 are five times as warm as those with R-value 1. Remember that because the warmer the mat, the less fill you need in your sleeping bag.
Sleeping Quilts and Bags
There’s a great potential that you can lose mass in these two items. Here, most people overcompensate, meaning that they choose equipment that is warmer (and heavier) than they really need. It makes sense because they can utilize one bag or quilt over a broad range of conditions, but that leads to a setup that isn’t weight-optimized. Instead, choose a bag whose temperature rating is higher than your anticipated overnight lows.
Another alternative you could consider are sleeping quilts. With them, you skip using a bag altogether and sleep right on a mat. This makes sense because the bottoms of sleeping bags offer little additional warmth, to begin with. A downside to this, though, is that quilts are more open and allow more draft to come in, especially if you’re a restless sleeper. And sleeping right on a mat can be gross.
Whichever you choose, I implore you to use synthetic fills instead of down. Down fills are less effective at keeping you warm when damp, anyway, and they perpetuate an industry that harms geese and ducks.
Additionally, if you want to bring a bag or a quilt with you but worry about how to pack them, don’t fret. A waterproof handlebar bag is a great way to bring them along. As a rule of thumb, pack lightweight but bulk items in your handlebar and seat bags. Heavy items go in the frame bag. Choose these kinds of bags over panniers because they’re more aerodynamic.
Cooking Gear and Utensils
Most UL bikepackers skip this completely, but you may find that too much of a sacrifice. If so, you can still save on unnecessary load by eliminating redundancies. You don’t really need a separate cup, plate, and bowl when one pot can act as all three.
Also, if you’re confident with using natural fire than you can miss bringing a stove and fuel too.
Regarding utensils, some UL folks go for plastic ones. But I say that aluminum or titanium utensils aren’t that much heavier and go a long way in making clean cuts. In fact, if paring fruits and veggies are important to you, invest in a great knife-like Victorinox.
While an alcohol stove is light and compact, a canister stove packs a lot of power that makes it worth the investment. Alcohol stoves can boil 0.5 L in around 9 minutes using only 15 g of alcohol. By contrast, canister stoves will use only 7 g of fuel while being four times as quick. So overall, while canisters are heavier even without fuel, they consume less fuel per liter boiled. I strongly suggest using canisters if your trips will last from four to eight days.