Making the Switch from Bicycle Touring to Bike Packing

My introduction to bicycle touring was straight forward and unconventional. I loaded up what I thought I would need, and peddled away. I didn’t plan anything, I carried a survival camp axe and Mylar sheets, a large water pouch and one man tent with poles. I pushed my bicycle to its limits and developed a habit of bending axles. With four panniers, two racks and a large assortment of nicknacks; I continued off for 9 months. 

I was comfortable traveling as I did, for I didn’t think there was any other way. As the days ticked off, I started to leave behind the heaviest, most redundant, and least used items. I ditched some interlocking pans for a 4 cup pot. I left behind a collapsible fishing rod and tackle box. I gave away my butane burner with a half used tank. Finally, and regrettably so, I left my camp axe behind. The axe is heavy, but it was the most enjoyable part of setting up my campsite. Burning firewood though the night was what I would look forward to almost every night. 

Near the end of 9 month trip, I had figured out what I needed. Mind you, I did carry two sleeping bags and a wool blanket. Trailing my way down back to Texas from Colorado, I found myself waking up to frost. Winter was at my heels and I knew little of what a high end sleeping bag could offer. I made due with what was available. 
Recently, about 5 months ago, I went on another loaded bicycle tour to California from Texas. However, this time I made it a point to travel lighter. I reduced my nicknacks, I didn’t carry “survival equipment.” I ditched the front rack and invested in a well insulated sleeping bag. I was out on the road for a good 4 months. 

Even then I began to build a habit of what I would and wouldn’t use. A sleeping bag, ground sheet, and mat were of the main pieces of equipment. I rarely used my cooking system, and my backpack became just as useful as my panniers. The temperatures were down in the low 40’s during this trip, and many of the protective layers I wore were very puffy. The load was light, but also extremely voluminous. In hindsight, I now realize how to pack according to the area. If its cold, pack layers, and have space for it all. Duh. 
I am back in Texas, its been 5 months since my last trip, and I am gearing up for my next adventure. I have been dabbling in bikepacking, and will soon invest into a set of frame bags. Until then, I’ll be testing out some handmade bags I stitched myself. The idea is, before I lay down any amount of cash, I should know exactly what is it I need. After two extended bicycle tours, I have now weened out what I absolutely need. Should I need any more comforts, I can always look to bushcrafting to pick up the slack. 

My first prototype frame bag has been created out of a heavy duty tarp. The seams have been stuck together with duct tape, and the straps have been stitched into the sides. I doubt this model will be waterproof, resistant yes, but a heavy and consistent strom will most likely leave this bag useless. I will have to adjust my diet to accommodate the fact that I will not be carrying a cook system. But with the amount of weight I will be leaving behind, I should be able to cover the lengths between towns fairly well. Dry foods and snacks should tie me over. Coffee, water, and peanut butter will be my sub-source of energy. 

I have taken a few short trips to the grocery store so far, nothing to long. The bag hasn’t been able to keep up, there are still some tweaks I need to add, but I am very optimistic. I just wish I had a sewing machine, hand stitching isn’t very fun. 


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