Lightweight bikepacking tips

Loaded bicycle for touring/bikepacking

The moment I hear the word lightweight - I imagine someone sawing off their toothbrush handles to save weight. As cyclists and bike packers, we are looking to reduce the weight on our bicycles for reasons I've listed in another post. But before we get into mutilating toothbrush handles and garment labels, here are 5 things that we bike packers/bicycle tourers need to look at first

  1. The bicycle
  2. The sleep system
  3. Food, water & cooking equipment
  4. Accessories including electronics
  5. Finally clothes

1. Bicycle

I prefer rigid bikes. Because adding suspension to a bicycle adds complexity but far more seriously adds weight. So unless your terrain screams suspension (and No! A road trip to Leh via the national highway doesn't need suspension), let it go.

MTB suspension is geared towards absorbing big hits, it doesn't work well with road chatter and gravel. 

Gravel bikes, flat bar road bikes, endurance road bikes and rigid hybrids all weigh around 11 kg and have clearance for wide tyres. Not only are these bikes lighter and faster on paved and unpaved surfaces but they require less maintenance. Tyres on these bikes act as pneumatic suspension and are much better at dealing with road chatter than an MTB suspension that is geared towards dealing with big hits.

Flat bar rigid bikes like the Marin DSX will do everything that you need of it on a bikepacking tour while being lighter and more reliable.

2. Sleep System

Ditch that tent. Do you need one? Realistically, dhabas in remote corners of the country double as overnight pit-stops. A well-planned route can string these dhabas together. This means that we can ditch the cooking equipment and the sleep system. That's a double-weight saving.

RAB alpine bivy sack in the field

Plus we don't have to set up a kitchen every evening after a hard day's ride. I know I don't enjoy it. If you're hung up about camping in wild spots then why not go old school and use a bivy?

A bivy also called a bivouac sack or bivy sack is a lightweight protection device commonly used when camping outdoors. It should be large enough to fit over a person's sleeping bag and offer extra protection from the weather. A bivy has no poles or shock cords that can break in the middle of nowhere. It is not just lighter it is orders of magnitude lighter. E.g. My RAB Alpine bicycle weighs in at 440g while the lightest single-person tent I own weighs 1220 grammes.

3. Food, water & cooking equipment

I hate cooking after a hard day of riding. For me, camping is not the aim of a bike tour. But if it is for you then you can skip this section. Everything I buy along my bicycle tour needs no cooking. Boiled eggs, bananas, parathas, roti with sabzi (veggies) and rice cooked with daal (lentils) can be all eaten cold without much fuss. This means I don't need to carry my multi-fuel Primus stove. Another kilogram or so is saved in stove and fuel, not to mention utensils. Water is the heaviest item you carry on your bike. This is where the hours spent on the internet researching your route pay off. A well-researched route will mark out spots of civilisation where water can be refilled and restocked. I carry a portable filter like a Lifestraw or Sawyer on all outlandish routes.

Lifestraw water filter in action

This gives me the flexibility to refill from any source irrespective of how turbid it looks. Muddy holes in the ground filled with rainwater to animal ponds are all fair game for the filter-carrying bikepacker. My water bottles are size small. More and small bottles mean I can plan my water usage better. It helps if you have a bike with 3 or more mount points like my United Gavriil.

4. Accessories including electronics

This is the "trip of a lifetime" and I must capture...everything.

This is where things start to go wrong. To document everything I need a camera, nay an interchangeable lens camera, 3 different prime lenses, a charger and a power bank. Oh yes, and I need a GPS to record my route and a GoPro for the videos and an Insta 360 and more.

Your camera definitely takes better photos, but you pay the price in weight, more things to go wrong and higher chances of theft.

My bare-bones electronic setup is an iPhone, an old-school 4g numeric keypad phone and a power bank. The iPhone is exclusively used as a recording device. It is in aeroplane mode and old school numeric keypad phone for calls and messages. I might carry a Garmin Etrex 20x GPS if the route requires it. That's it, one charger services it all. Sure it may not get me the 20x zoom that I may need to shoot an eagle on the mountain but I think a decent mobile does a good-enough job at both stills and video

5. Clothes and personal items

The only clothes you need on a bicycle tour are a) cycling clothes and b) off-the-bicycle clothes. 1 pair each. Do you need jeans, pyjamas and 12 different shirts and tees? If it's needed you can buy it from any village/small town along the way. Your cycling clothes need to work on alternate days. I always wash my cycling shorts, socks and jersey after a day of cycling and leave them to dry overnight. I slip into my other pair of cycling clothes the next day.

Researching your route and layering is the best way to keep clothes minimal

This is excluding clothes I'd need for layering in the winter or to protect me from the rain in the monsoon. But you get the drift - resist the urge to carry more clothes than you have to.

So there you have it, 5 aspects of your trip planning that needs a rethink before you start sawing toothbrushes in half to save weight. I have to warn you though - going lightweight is an addiction, once down this rabbit hole you will start to question everything you carry on a tour. Yet that's a good sign, a bike tourer/bike packer who is better prepared with less weight is a happier, less tired bikepacker. Right, am off to saw my toothbrush in half now...