Words and text by Kona Ambassador Sandra Beaubien.
When I mention to my riding friends that I like bikepacking, many of them respond with “It’s too hardcore for me”, especially the women. I’m perplexed by this. I see my friends riding steep, technical terrain on mountain bikes or doing long, hard gravel races during early season conditions which tend to be muddy and snowy. This seems way more hardcore than a weekend bike packing trip!
As a smaller rider, one thing I’m always trying to figure out with my next bike packing trip is how to make my gear even lighter. These are a few things I have learned over the years, both from bikepacking experience and extensive backpacking trips in New Zealand and Nepal. Doing a 15-day trek will certainly teach you a few things about keeping your gear as light as possible!
Tent Versus Hammock
Switching over to a hammock has been a huge space and weight saver for me and was a relatively inexpensive way to achieve the lightness. I would have had to either buy a very expensive, light bivy bag or an even lighter 2 person tent. Light tents = expensive tents. With more hammocks coming on the market, it made my decision easier. I’ve only bike packed in Ontario so far and there is no shortage of trees! Having a built-in mosquito net is super important too. I’ve spent many evenings reading my book, swaying in my hammock safe from the bugs. It is a convenient way to dry your riding clothes too!
Even if we only do a 2-night trip, a substantial amount of weight can be saved on lighter food. It also means you can bring more! Riding a fully loaded bike in either the spring or fall (bugs are overwhelming in the summer) burns A LOT of calories. I’ve been known to get hangry before…
By borrowing a friend’s dehydrator and his mom’s food sealer we could make enough food to last for the season in just one weekend. It is a fraction of the cost of store-bought dehydrated food and also really tasty! We just mark on the outside of the packaging how to prepare it (usually, just add hot water).
With the food being so light, we bring an extra day’s worth. Or, it’s good to have extra in case a friend you are with doesn’t attach his food bag well enough to his bike 😊 Yes, that can happen!
This may seem crazy, but this is my favorite piece of light bike packing gear. I sleep better with the support of a pillow (I know, I can roll up some clothes and use that but I often wear everything I brought to bed because the weather is so sporadic!). This Klymit pillow only weighs a few grams and works great! If you do any travelling, I put it in my purse and use it to sleep on airplanes or catch a few winks in an airport. My old pillow wasn’t THAT heavy, but this is a simple and inexpensive way to maximize comfort and keep it crazy light weight and small! This pillow only weighs 54 grams.
Ok, so the fact I’m even bringing a chair might seem luxurious to some more serious bike packers, but in terms of comfort, this is phenomenal. For the majority of trips, we are using rustic campsites (i.e. a clearing in the forest near a lake or river) so there is nowhere to sit. The Helinox chairs are lightweight and very easy to strap onto the front of your sweet roll. To put it in perspective on our first group trip with 6 people only 1 person brought this chair. On the second trip, 4 people brought a chair and on the 3rd trip, all 6 of us had a chair. It makes the campfire so much more enjoyable. A great gift for someone who bikepacks.
Bike: Honzo versus Fatbike
The biggest way I’m saving weight this season is upgrading from an aluminum fatbike to a carbon Honzo! Even just decreasing the tire width will be huge weight savings in rubber, and the carbon frame will be lighter too. With the lighter bike, all of my bags will transfer over easily, so I’ll have the same capacity but it will make the climbs or long days that much more enjoyable.
Packing Strategy – Weight Distribution
From my backpacking experience, I learned that you want to keep your heaviest items centered as much as possible. When I’m packing my bike, I put my heaviest items (typically food and tools) in my frame bag, and also on my fork cages (stove/fuel and spare water). My front roll carries a fair load of weight with my hammock, sleeping pad and sleeping bag. Of course, my chair is strapped on too! My lightest items go in my hydration pack to compensate for the weight of the water (shell, first aid kit, phone, ID) and most of my clothing goes in my seat bag. As I eat down my food, I transfer things out of my backpack and into my frame bag to lighten it up even more.