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Bike-packing on a budget Explore the great beyond without breaking the bank

Bike-packing on a budget Explore the great beyond without breaking the bank

Nico Deportago-Cabrera rides gravel from Flagstaff to Phoenix via Sedona and Black Canyon, Arizona on gravel road backcountry.

Riding easy on overnight adventures is simple when you’re a big spender, but can you comfortably explore by bike without eating a hole in your year’s bike budget?

When it comes to bike-packing there’s an overwhelming amount of gear available to lighten your load and keep you sleeping easy. The trouble is, the price tags can add up, and if you’re not sure you’ll fall in love with adventuring by bike, justifying the cost of entry can be a big ask. But there’s good news – you can get by with a pretty minimal set-up to dip your toes in the waters of bike-packing before dropping the big bucks, all you need is some of your basic camping gear and a positive attitude.

Here are the basics of what you’ll want to have for your first trip, and some low-cost solutions for making do without overspending.

Nico Deportago-Cabrera rides gravel from Flagstaff to Phoenix via Sedona and Black Canyon, Arizona on gravel road backcountry.

Dial-in your sleep set-up

It’s all sweet dreams from here.

1. Sleep easy

One of the most important aspects of bike-packing is the overnight factor, and sleeping well sets you up for better days of riding ahead. While ultra-light back-packing sleeping pads are nice for keeping the weight down, just about any sleeping pad will do for your first adventure. Use what you already have or pop into your local camping supply shop for a simple foam roll to provide some insulation and comfort overnight. Many camping supply shops also offer gear hire.

2. Sleep warm

Much like sleeping pads, a sleeping bag doesn’t have to be fancy. Use what you have, if necessary, bring a blanket you’re not too worried about getting dirty. As long as you can roll it up and strap it to your bike, it should get the job done – although we do recommend looking at the weather forecast to be sure that your bag or blanket of choice can provide adequate insulation when the temperatures dip down overnight.

3. Sleep dry

Sleeping al-fresco under starlight is always a treat, but if you think you might encounter inclement weather or anticipate a very buggy campsite, bringing along some shelter is really helpful. A small one-person tent or bivvy will do wonders, or a larger tent if you’re heading out with a friend who can help you share the load. You could even use a simple lightweight tarp tied to your bike and a tree as a shelter from the weather.

Nico Deportago-Cabrera rides gravel from Flagstaff to Phoenix via Sedona and Black Canyon, Arizona on gravel road backcountry.

Fuelled for the adventure

No matter where you ride, far or near, you’ll need sustenance, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Taking a little time to prep your food and water can save you money and keep you feeling good for days of riding.

1. Hydration is key

Plan properly by bringing a fully filled hydration pack, and any additional water bottles that can fit neatly on your bike. Map out your route and where you might find water along the way. If water sources are ample, you can reduce the water you carry. If you’ll be refilling in potable water stations, keeping hydrated is easy, but if you’re filling up in rivers and springs, a water purifier is a must. If you anticipate bike-packing more, or like to camp off the beaten track, investing in a purification device is worth it, but if you’re unsure how often you’ll go, you can keep it simple with iodine tablets – whatever you do, take the initiative to be sure your water is safe to drink. Your stomach will thank you.

2. Feed yourself well

Instant noodles and junk food may be tempting for their ease of access, but we think it’s best to fuel ourselves with wholesome ingredients that keep us feeling strong on the bike. A simple way to keep the cost down is to cook at home and bring foil-wrapped foods you can reheat on a camp-fire later. Keep snacks lightweight and healthy with dried fruit and nuts or nutrition bars, and bring along a simple titanium mug that you can heat directly in the fire with oats for a simple breakfast.

Need some inspiration? Here’s one of our go-to bike-packing dinners.

Simple make-ahead camp-fire burritos

Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:

4 large flour tortillas

1 400 g tin black beans

1 red or green pepper, diced 1 /2 white or yellow onion, diced

60 g grated cheese of choice

4 tbsp Greek yoghurt or sour cream

1/2 tsp cumin

1 tbsp cooking oil

Salt and pepper to taste

A few dashes of your favourite spicy sauce

Optional:

A squeeze of fresh lime juice

1 avocado, diced

Method:

  1. Heat the cooking oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat
  2. Add the onion, cumin and a pinch of salt, and sauté until slightly translucent (about 5-6 minutes)
  3. Add your diced peppers and sauté for an additional 4-5 minutes until they soften
  4. While your peppers and onions cook, drain your tin of black beans in a fine-mesh sieve
  5. When the peppers are softening and just beginning to char, remove your pot from the stove and put the onions and peppers in a bowl
  6. Return the pot to the stove, add the beans to the pot with a few dashes of your favourite spicy sauce, and season with salt and pepper to taste
  7. Warm the beans thoroughly over a medium heat until they reach a gentle simmer, then remove from the heat and allow to cool
  8. To assemble the burritos, spread 1 tablespoon of Greek yoghurt or sour cream on the tortilla, and fill with beans and your vegetable mix, topping with grated cheese. Add additional spicy sauce, diced avocado and a squeeze of lime if you’d like.
  9. Roll your burritos and wrap them in two layers of foil to prevent leaks and freeze until you’re ready to ride.

Allow your burritos to slowly thaw while you ride to your destination, and reheat them by placing them on a rock at the edge of your camp-fire for 5 to 10 minutes before carefully removing them, and enjoy! If your ride is particularly warm or long, store your burritos next to a frozen water bottle in your pack for additional refrigeration.

The Avert Mountain Bike Rain Jacket

The Bontrager Adventure Handlebar Bag

Bontrager Ion Pro RT/Flare RT Light Set

Gearing up your bike

Getting your gear set aside for the adventure is one thing, but getting it loaded on your bike is a whole new challenge. Backpacks are certainly handy for carrying a good bit of gear, but we recommend trying to keep the heavier part of the load secured to your bike to keep your body feeling fresh and strong for longer.

1. Strapped

Assorted gear straps are your best friend when you’re bike-packing on a budget. Whether you’re securing tent poles, a sleeping pad or extra layers to your bike, a few trusty gear straps will serve you well. You can keep things simple with bungees, hook-and-loop straps or even ski straps, just be sure to be aware of placement to avoid slipping into spokes, rubbing on disc brakes or pinching cables. Utilise your bike’s inner front triangle for tent poles and longer items, strap sleeping bags and layers to your bars and keep your centre of weight low for confident bike handling when fully loaded.

2. A good bag

A proper hydration pack or simple backpack will provide a perfect home for your lighter-weight items. Stash your rain shell, snacks and meals to keep them easy to access while keeping the load light and comfortable for long miles.

3. Shine bright

Bike lights or a torch will come in handy once you settle down for the night. Be sure you’ve got fully charged lights that are ready to illuminate a dim camping spot.

4. Light your fire

Bring along matches or a lighter to get a fire started at camp once you settle in. Respect local fire restrictions and only build fires in designated fire pits. If fires aren’t possible where you’re camping, plan around it with easy foods that don’t require cooking. While it can be tempting to build a large fire for all-night warmth, we recommend erring on the smaller side to allow enough time for it to fully and safely burn out, especially in drought and fire-prone areas. Be sure to fully extinguish any fire before going to bed or leaving in the morning.

Nico Deportago-Cabrera rides gravel from Flagstaff to Phoenix via Sedona and Black Canyon, Arizona on gravel road backcountry.

All that’s left now is picking your route and rolling out. Adventure is waiting.

Is there anything else you think is needed for testing the waters of bike-packing? Let us know in the comments!

Gravel bike equipment

When you’re riding a go-anywhere, do-anything bike, you need gear to match. Browse our selection of gravel bike equipment for everything from tyres to take you off the beaten path to backpacks and seat bags for your next bikepacking adventure.
SHOP GRAVEL GEAR

About the Author: Trek

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