Consider a one week trip in nature, with bikes. Daily routes are to be about 60km with 2000m total elevation change per day (climb, then descend). The group is of 2-5 people. Weather is summer (maybe down to 5 centigrade at night, not sure about rain).

My question is how can we pack smart, so that we can sleep on the trail.

For the bike a multi-tool, tube patches, 1 extra tube, quicklink, pump and chain lube. Anything else?

For food: about 3.5kg of food per rider, or half of that if we pass through mountain huts. Options.

Now, the real question is about sleeping gear. Sleeping bags are bulky and heavy. Here probably the smart move is to get a summer down bag. But what about the sleeping mat? Those are light but very bulky. I am afraid that tying one of the standard foam ones to the backpack will not only create air drag on the descents, but will also catch on vegetation adjacent to the trail. Unfortunately, they are also quite essential.

Any ideas how can we pull this off? How do we carry functional sleeping equipment and still not be too encumbered to ride?

  • If you sleep in huts every night, you might get away without a mat and with just a silk sleeping bag inlet ("Huettenschlafsack" in german).
    – arne
    Apr 14, 2014 at 9:05
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    As the question about stuff for the bike only appears as a side question, here a side answer: I would take at least one spare tire (or more, depending on the group size and the terrain you ride). Your spare tube won't be of great use if you ripped the tire itself. Apr 14, 2014 at 9:52
  • How are you planning to carry the gear? Panniers? Backpacks? Both?
    – andy256
    Apr 14, 2014 at 14:25
  • For food, you can look at things like American military surplus MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) type things. The modern ones are actually pretty tasty, and many come with water activated heating packs to heat up the food.
    – JohnP
    Apr 14, 2014 at 19:59
  • @andy256, backpacks. We are all on suspension bikes.
    – Vorac
    Apr 15, 2014 at 8:29

5 Answers 5


You could consider a self-inflating mat (e.g. thermarest) though when I looked at them they were expensive and heavier than my alternative: A foam mat only needs to reach from you shoulders to your hips if it's not too cold.

You might then be able to wrap it round your top tube, because there would be a lot less to fit in there - and it would makes shouldering the bike more pleasant. You can also lash a sleeping mat vertically to the backpack reducing drag.

You need to plan your water more than anything though, especially if you're relying on dehydrated food.

You should also spread tools etc. across riders - you don't need n pumps and 2n tyre levers for n riders. However you have to balance this with the possibility of tools being broken or lost -- if they're essential and can't be improvised you need more than one in the group.

  • 4
    Re tools: You should still carry more than one of those tools that easily break and cannot be simply repaired or worked around, e.g. tyre levers, pumps, ...
    – arne
    Apr 14, 2014 at 9:03
  • @arne - edited in, a very good point.
    – Chris H
    Apr 14, 2014 at 9:10

The answer to your question depends heavily on the infrastructure that is available to you, and the highest level of mechanical ability in your party.

As another pointed out, you will want at least two pumps, multi-tools, etc. My wife and I do pretty challenging mtb tours with BOB trailers. We generally bring the following (subject to modification depending on how present bike shops might be).

  • for disk brakes, at least one set of extra brake pads for each type used (e.g. my wife as avid, I have deore xt, so we bring one pair each). When riding with extra weight, it's shocking how fast brakes can wear away.

  • two spare spokes for each size used. These can be taped to your bicycle frames, so they won't affect your packing at all. Breaking a spoke can end a trip if you don't have a spare. At least learn the theory of how to do a field repair. It doesn't have to be perfectly true, but you want to be able to at least roll into a repair.

  • at least one spare tube of each size in use (you want patches too, but you may need the spare for a big cut).

  • duct tape. You'd be amazed how this can help you. I've fixed panniers, packs, rain-gear, sleeping bags, and patched a ripped tire. This can save a trip. Make a small roll for yourself, you don't have to take a gigantic one.

  • Consider your water needs. Water purification can be a life saver. My wife and I use a steri-pen, which we love. What you need depends on where you are going. When we rode across Albania, my wife and I brought a ten litre sack of water with us, which may very well have saved our lives on a couple of occasions. In the alps we just brought 2 litre camel-backs and filled them up at the many opportunities.

  • bike lights are a good tip and will be useful at camp time.

  • Unless you are sleeping indoors, you must bring bed rolls. Depending on the weather you might be able to do without a sleeping bag, but an insulating layer between you and the ground is vital. I can't stress this enough. Therma-rest makes small, light and highly packable bedrolls. Cheap foam rolls are an alternative, and are light but bulky. On the plus side however they are virtually indestructible. You can roll them up and strap them to the outside of your backpack. At a bare minimum bring enough for your core (neck to thighs). You'll sleep for crap if you don't bring something to put between you and the ground.

  • A first aid kit. REI sells nice, small, packable, reasonably well fitted kits for a reasonable price. At the very least, bring some bandaids (for blisters), some sunscreen, some painkillers, and some antiseptic.

  • I highly recommend bringing some kind of emergency contact gear. If you are somewhere with cell reception, a cell phone is enough. If not you should consider bringing flares or some such.

  • Saddle cream. Unless you are routinely doing that kind of mileage now, you'll be really happy to have this.

  • 2
    Flares are virtually useless in most situations. They can't be seen well during the day and even at night many people don't know what to do if they spot a flare. Same goes for alpine acoustic signals. It's a nice-to-have, but a cell phone or small radio, tuned to the right frequencies, will do much, much better, especially if you can somehow get a GPS fix across for the helo.
    – arne
    Apr 15, 2014 at 14:46
  • Re saddle cream: Good idea, but you should try that before such a ride to get used to the somewhat "full diapers" feeling it gives before getting evenly spread and warm.
    – arne
    Apr 15, 2014 at 14:48
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    A cell phone is certainly the first choice if you are in an area where at least emergency service is available. I sometimes travel where this is not the case, and then a flare can help get vital asttention.
    – Spacemoose
    Apr 15, 2014 at 14:50
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    Some sort of tire "boot" is probably a good idea. And rather than/in addition to duct tape I recommend "hockey tape". Apr 16, 2014 at 2:05
  • Never tried hockey tape. I'll check that out next time.
    – Spacemoose
    Apr 16, 2014 at 7:50

I think first of all you should ready to adequate food and water, bring to a common repair tools, of course, a bicycle light is also very necessary, so you can ensure your driving safety at night, and finally you have to prepare a sleeping bag to sleep at night , there is an important point is that not to take things too much, otherwise you will be very hard on the road!

  • More concretely, what would be the minimalistic sleeping gear? Sleeping mats are bulky. And then what happens if it rains...
    – Vorac
    Apr 15, 2014 at 8:58
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    @Vorac, I think you need to decide up front: Huts or not? If there's a plan or a significant chance of sleeping out, you'll want some form of shelter. Assuming tents are too heavy, some form of bivouac ("bivvy") is probably the way to go. I've slept out in freezing temperatures with a sleeping bag and survival bag - warm enough but very damp from condensation. There are breathable bivvy bags available but they're not cheap. Otherwise string a tarpaulin between 2 trees for shelter - also useful for not losing bits on a repair.If no rain just a sleeping bag under the stars is comfortable.
    – Chris H
    Apr 15, 2014 at 10:28
  • So it was desided: 2 persons, 1 bivi bag, 1 sleeping bag, 1 full-size sleeping mat.
    – Vorac
    Apr 28, 2014 at 6:10

If you are camping in the forest, many folks are fans of a camping hammock, which is lightweight and doesn't require a sleeping pad in warm weather. http://www.rei.com/c/hammock-tents https://www.hammockforums.net/forum/showthread.php?45778-Bikepacking

Note, for the sake of Googling, that off-road lightweight bike touring is often referred to as 'bikepacking'.


Indeed foam sleeping mats are light but very bulky. Get an ultralight iflatable one. I've slept on a 250g one in the snow.

  • 2
    Isn’t this your own question? Sounds like you forgot you asked this haha.
    – MaplePanda
    Aug 6, 2020 at 6:58
  • 1
    @MaplePanda +42 my mind had slipped
    – Vorac
    Oct 13, 2020 at 10:08

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