Bikepacking is simply a blend of biking and backpacking, where you load up your bike with gear instead of carrying it on your back. Think of it as a way to go on longer adventures, exploring new trails and camping out for a few days without lugging around a heavy backpack. People have been doing versions of bikepacking for ages, but it's become more popular recently because it lets cyclists go off-road for days at a time without feeling weighed down by their gear. It's a way to make your bike rides last longer and take you farther into the wild. The length of trip, location, type of bike, route choice and speed at which you want to ride will all determine your own particular brand of bikepacking. 

And you’ll probably spend every trip after that trying to maximise your experience…

We recently spoke with endurance cyclist and seasoned bikepacker, Nathan Ansell, delving into his wealth of bikepacking experiences and gathering invaluable tips and tricks tailored for both novices and seasoned adventurers alike. Check out the essential tips for bikepacking summarised below, but for the complete bikepacking experience, dive into the full interview!

  1. Invest in a quality sleep system - sleeping bag, mat, pillow.
  2. A reliable multitool for bike repairs is indispensable.
  3. Emergency tools and repair kits are non-negotiables.
  4. Mental resilience comes with experience, but starting small and gradually pushing your limits helps.
  5. Train to raise your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and anaerobic threshold, and get your bum used to a saddle.
  6. Fuel up with as much food as you can consume.
  7. Always wear your helmet.
  8. Let others know of your whereabouts, and take a power bank for your phone.
  9. Choose secluded spots to wild camp and leave no trace behind.
  10. If unsure whether bikepacking is for you, start with inexpensive secondhand gear or simply use a backpack for shorter rides close to home.
  11. For longer trips, consider freeze dried meals to keep weight and pack size down.
  12. Ensure you have at least 2 full water bottles on your bike as much as possible.
  13. Consider a Down sleeping bag for dry trips and a Synthetic sleeping bag for wet winter trips.
  14. Lay out all your gear before packing and assess what you truly need.
  15. Fruit flapjacks are a great energy source.
  16. Take protein balls with you as they stay frozen all day if kept inside your pack away from the sun.
  17. Use apps like Komoot for longer trips and sites like Pitchup or Google Maps to scout campsites.
  18. Always keep a waterproof dry bag with fresh dry clothes to change into once in your tent.
  19. While GPS is handy, rely on basic navigation skills.
  20. Always keep the drivetrain clean.
  21. Go with someone experienced to learn before setting off solo.
  22. Enjoy Cycling UK for well-designed routes and resources. Start with shorter trips and consider joining more experienced bikers initially to learn.

 

 

 

Hey Nathan, your biking adventures are pretty noteworthy. Do any stand out to you in particular?

Absolutely. I've had the privilege of embarking on some incredible journeys. My tour along the Normandy coastline, covering 230 miles of wild camping over 4.5 days, was pretty epic. I flew to Geneva and pedalled 650 miles back to Bournemouth over 5 days. In fact, this was during the Covid pandemic, and I got caught in the French lockdown - I had to rush back to make the border crossing before they closed!

 

Cycling from Geneva to Bournemouth

 

One epic adventure saw me completing the 3 peaks challenge and raising money for The Pace Centre in Aylesbury. I was hit by a car when cycling back in 2015 and didn't know if I would ever walk again, but in 2021 I managed to cycle between each peak and I’ll never forget that.

I’ve also been bikepacking in Wales over the years, all down the south coast as far as Cornwall.

What sparked your interest in bikepacking, and how long have you been doing it for? 

My love for bikepacking stems from the pure freedom it offers. I've been at it for quite a while, even as a child I used to cycle and just sleep under the stars occasionally. There's something pretty freeing about setting your own pace, exploring wherever you please - I prefer to wild camp when I can. 

Reflecting on your solo bikepacking trips, could you share one particularly memorable experience that stands out to you?

Waking up atop the cliff near Worbarrow Bay on the Jurassic coastline, I watched the sunrise emerge from the sea. Despite the winter chill, the sun and my trusty Patagonia jacket warmed me up quickly. I have a great photo of myself sitting there, perfectly encapsulating that peaceful moment. 

 

atop the cliff near Worbarrow Bay on the Jurassic coastline

 

Essential gear plays a crucial role in ensuring a smooth bikepacking adventure. What are some must-have items you'd recommend, especially for beginners venturing into bikepacking, particularly in the UK?

Above all, invest in a quality sleep system - sleeping bag, mat, pillow. Without being warm and comfortable, the experience can be ruined. I would try not to focus too much on the lightest gear here - rather go for comfort and sacrifice weight elsewhere. A reliable multitool for bike repairs is indispensable - you never know when things fail and it's usually in the middle of nowhere, along with essential safety gear like a helmet. 

 

Bikepacking Gear

 

How do you approach the minimalist ethos often associated with bikepacking?

Over the years, you learn to discern between essential and non-essential gear. It's about finding the balance between preparedness and travelling light. Emergency tools and repair kits are non-negotiables as the day you need them, it will be the best weight you have ever taken. 

Endurance, both physical and mental, is key for long bikepacking journeys - can you offer some tips for maintaining both during extended trips?

Mental resilience comes with experience, but starting small and gradually pushing your limits helps. You will be shattered - you may even want to sell your bike! But you just have to keep going. As for physical endurance, training to raise your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and anaerobic threshold will help with fitness but there is no accounting for riding a bike for 12+ hours. Your bum needs to get used to a saddle, your mind must fortify itself, and your legs will faithfully get you where you want. Oh, and fuel up with as much food as you can consume - you will never eat more calories than is needed on multi-day bikepacking trips! 

 

Cycling Trip in Wales, up Pen Y Fan

 

Safety is paramount, especially for beginners. What precautions do you advise before embarking on a bikepacking trip?

Making sure you always wear your helmet as even the slightest off can cause serious injury - I know firsthand as I was hit by a car travelling at speed and got very lucky to live to tell the tale - albeit with serious injuries still to this day. Let others know of your whereabouts, and take a power bank for your phone - a flat phone battery is not great, especially in the middle of nowhere. 

What are some common challenges that beginner bikepackers might face, and how can they overcome them?

Worrying about camping is common, considering wild-camping isn’t allowed in most places. However, it's possible to be strategic by choosing secluded spots where you're unlikely to be disturbed and as long as you leave no trace behind, I see no harm. You just have to be respectful. I also think storing gear on the bike can be tough and choosing the right mounting equipment to use. But to be honest, if you're unsure whether bikepacking is for you, opt for inexpensive secondhand gear or simply use a backpack. Start with a short ride close to home, and camp nearby to gauge your comfort level. The first few nights spent outdoors can be restless as unfamiliar sounds fill the air, but persevere, as the sense of freedom and relaxation that camping brings is truly amazing.

 

Camp out in Normandy

 

Efficient food and water planning are vital for sustained energy during multi-day trips. How do you approach this aspect of preparation?

Food would depend on the trip. For an overnighter, I might take fresh food to cook on my gas bottle stove. For longer trips, either take freeze dried meals to keep weight and packsize down, or buy food along the way - whatever sits right with your feeling on that trip. With water, I always make sure I have at least 2 full bottles on my bike as much as possible so top up whenever you can. If really remote, I take a bladder that holds 3-4 litres, depending on the bladder I use.

Any advice on packing efficiently and keeping gear weight manageable?

Keeping weight down usually means you are spending a lot of money on high quality gear. Once you know bikepacking is for you, then go for it, it's worth the investment for countless enjoyable adventures. I recommend opting for a Down sleeping bag for dry trips as they pack small and are lightweight. However, for wet winter trips, a Synthetic sleeping bag might be better since a wet down bag doesn't perform as well. Lay out all your gear before packing and carefully assess what you truly need. Avoid overpacking luxuries that you won't actually use!

 

 

Most importantly, how about snacks?

I like sweet treats, so things like fruit flapjacks are a great energy source. I stay away from sweets like Haribo unless I need an emergency sugar hit from crashing. I prefer to eat real food in all honesty.

Here is a great homemade breakfast recipe that you can bag up and take with you:

  • 50g oats
  • 50g greek yoghurt
  • 125ml apple juice
  • 1 tbsp dried fruits
  • handful of berries of choice
  • a whole grated apple
  • chia/flax seeds

I freeze and take protein balls with me as they stay frozen all day if kept inside your pack away from the sun:

  • 100g dates - medjool dates preferably
  • 50g choc nibs
  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • chia/flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • finely chopped walnuts

Can you share your approach to planning routes and finding suitable campsites during solo trips?

I tend to just pick a location and ride a rough route there. I actually prefer not planning too much, as that way you end up coming across trails you may not have planned if following an app. However, apps like Komoot are handy for longer trips (good for both off and on road), while sites like Pitchup or even Google Maps help in scouting campsites along the way.

How do you navigate inclement weather conditions while bikepacking in the UK? 

Embracing the elements and staying adaptable is key - sometimes everyone needs a good reminder that their skin is also waterproof! As long as it isn’t in the depths of a cold winter, I tend to just put on a rain jacket and keep riding. Always keep a waterproof dry bag with fresh dry clothes to change into once in your tent though. 

How do you manage navigation and route finding without relying solely on GPS devices?

I follow the sun! I have a general sense of direction, so I continue until I spot a sign or landmark. While GPS is handy, relying on basic navigation skills and the natural environment helps keep the adventure alive.

Any tips on bike maintenance and repair skills for solo bikepackers?

Always keep the drivetrain clean - the rest is all fine. If your bike looks awful, it doesn’t matter. The drivetrain and brakes are the only 2 things that have to be working well. I use Smoove chain wax, as it lasts forever and there is no need to re-apply daily like with lubes.

What lessons have you learned from bikepacking that you wish you knew when you were starting out? 

Embrace spontaneity and plan less. Just ride your bike and enjoy the journey. While it's good to have a rough plan, the beauty of bikepacking is the freedom to stop wherever you like -  whether it’s a campsite, a field or even a bus stop. Some of my most memorable trips were unplanned, and there have been many moments when I could've kept riding, but the breathtaking views compelled me to pause and soak it all in.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering embarking on their first solo bikepacking adventure in the UK? 

I wouldn’t go solo on my first trip, instead I would go with someone experienced to learn from their insights before setting off solo. You'll pick up valuable tips and tricks from them, especially regarding gear packing—trust me, you'll almost always pack more than you need initially! Once you've gained confidence through these experiences, you'll be well-prepared to embark on solo adventures, ready to enjoy the journey without any unnecessary panic.

 

Normandy bikepacking trip

 

Are there any YouTubers in this space whose content you think others would enjoy? 

Josh from Keep Smiling Adventures is a great guy based quite locally to me. He is an endurance specialist and runs an excellent channel. Recently I also discovered Cycling366, a Yorkshire lad who goes on some great adventures around the world.

What is your go-to site for bikepacking information in the UK?

Bikepacking.com is good. I also enjoy Cycling UK, where Guy Kesteven designs many of the routes. They offer books, guides, and GPS routes that you can upload to your device. The routes are always well sign-posted and include some great options for beginners.

Anyone in this space who inspires you?

Chris Hall has been a huge inspiration for me, especially after my accident. I just think he is an all-round great human.

 

 

Lastly, for aspiring bikepackers, what advice would you give, and are there any routes you'd recommend, both locally and internationally?

Start with shorter trips to hone your skills and gear setup. Consider joining more experienced bikers initially to learn the ropes. As for routes, options like King Alfred Way, South West Coast Path, Highland Trail 550, Trans Cambrian Way or the Scottish Coast to Coast offer fantastic bikepacking experiences. Internationally, routes like the Camino de Santiago or the Rhine Trail (Switzerland to Holland) beckon for exploration. I would love to do the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route one day!

Can you share your kit list?

Bike Setup:
  • Bike: Planet X Tempest Titanium 
  • Rack System: Tailfin Rack
  • Rear Lights: Exposure TraceR
  • Front Lights: Sixpack for long adventures, Joystick for shorter summer trips
  • Suspension: Redshift suspension stem and seatpost (highly recommended for added comfort)

Storage and Maintenance:
  • Frame Bag: Restrap large (considering a more water-resistant option)
  • Hydration: Decathlon Rockrider hydration belt (4l capacity)
  • Spare Parts: 2 sets of quick links, 2 spare spokes + 2 inner tubes
 Tools:
  • Silca Tattico bike pump
  • Small bottle of Smoove chain wax lube
  • Zip ties for emergency repairs
  • Tyre boots
Emergency Care: Power + Navigation: Food + Cooking: Sleeping Gear:

    Valley + Peak offers a range of tents tailored specifically for bikepackers, prioritising minimal impact on handlebars and exceptional comfort. The Big Agnes Blacktail Hotel 2 features spacious sleeping areas, side-entry doors, and a shortened 12" Shortstik Poleset for handlebar, pannier, and saddlebag storage, with additional webbing for helmet storage and gear drying. The award-winning Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 provides a compact, lightweight design with shortened pole segments for storage. The MSR Hubba Hubba Bikepacking Tent, available in 2-person and 1-person options, offers ample space, tech-friendly features, and a waterproof handlebar storage bag with reflective logos and loops for additional gear.

    Miscellaneous:

    • Topeak multitool (ensure 10mm crank arm option)
    • Opinel No7
    • Electrical tape roll
    • Black Diamond ski straps
    • Electrolyte tablets

    Clothing

    Cheers Nathan! If you're planning an exciting adventure, embarking on an expedition, or championing a charity or cause, we'd love to hear from you! Reach out to jessie@valleyandpeak.co.uk to share your story on our blog.

     

     

    Subscribe to Nathan’s YouTube channel ‘The Bikepacking Adventurer’ or follow his adventures on Instagram.  

     

     

    The Pace Centre is a UK charity that provides education and therapy support for children aged 0-18 with a wide range of neurodisabilities. Their traditional specialism is in supporting children and young people with cerebral palsy and other similar sensory motor disorders, however, their therapy services increasingly cater for children with a much wider variety of needs, including autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), social emotional and mental health challenges (SEMH), behavioural challenges, school refusal and motor coordination challenges.

    May 10, 2024 — Jessica Soo-Banham