Do you own a bike? Nothing fancy – an old mountain bike or even a steel-frame road bike will do. Have you got a sleeping bag, a hiking tent, some lightweight cooking gear and a headlamp? Great, you can go bikepacking!
Bikepacking is a trend that’s growing in popularity worldwide, as people look for alternative ways to enjoy the outdoors without having to sit behind the wheel of a car. It’s like hiking, but in a way it’s better than hiking because you can leave from your front door. You don’t have to go for a week either; try it for one or two nights. You’ll come back refreshed and excited for more.
We chatted to three avid bikepackers about why they love what they do, the mistakes people make and the things they don’t leave home without.
David is the man behind Everyday Cycle Supply Company. He imports bikes and other gear, aimed at people who aren’t so keen on the competitive, race-focussed side of cycling. People who use their bike for commuting, for touring, for adventures, or just for the joy of riding.
David rides a Soma Wolverine – a modern, steel-frame touring bike that can handle everything from tar to rutted mountain passes. It’s comfortable, it has good tyre clearance and it has rack mounts: perfect ingredients for an adventure bike.
In South Africa we are really spoilt for choice with places to go bikepacking. I love the remote gravel roads in the Karoo for a few days of bike packing and wild camping. It’s the most fun I have with my bike.
I wouldn’t survive a trip without my espresso pot, because what’s a campout without an early morning coffee? I also never leave home without my sleeveless down puffer jacket, which doubles as my pillow.
The biggest mistake you can make as a beginner is not to go. If you end up taking too much or too little on an overnight trip, it’s no big deal because it will all be over the next day. Long trips over multiple days need more careful planning and good gear choices. If you’re going in a group, it works to share the load. Not everyone needs to carry cooking pots, coffee makers, bike locks etc. Discuss who will bring what beforehand, just as you would on a long hike.
Do a S24o with some friends. It stands for “sub-24-hour overnight” and it involves riding to a campsite close to home for a mini break. There are plenty of options in the vicinity of South Africa’s main city centres – do some searching. Make it easy and fun, and don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Sometimes, the campouts where things go wrong are the most memorable. Before you know it, you’ll be planning more ambitious and bold adventures – like cycling through Africa!
If you are looking to connect with fellow adventurers and find out about upcoming campouts, join our S24o Bicycle Microadventures group on Facebook.
Las swapped his career as a banker in London for a sunnier life in Cape Town, where he uses every opportunity to explore back roads and mountain passes on two wheels.
He uses an old mountain bike for his bikepacking trips: a steel-frame Marin San Rafael from the 1990s. It’s as basic as a bike can get, but it’s sturdy, it has good cantilever brakes and lots of clearance for wide tyres. His panniers are an inexpensive UK brand called Boardman, and his rack is a standard affair that you should be able to find at any decent bike shop.
Being on a bike is always a great feeling, and it’s somehow even better when you know that you have everything you need with you. It gives you a real sense of freedom and adventure, even if you’re only going away for a night or two.
Good company and good wine are two things I can’t do without on a trip.
Don’t forget to pack a warm jacket. Nights outdoors can get cold, even in summer. And don’t forget your swimmers for that obligatory morning swim.
If you want to try bikepacking for the first time, find a group and join in. You’ll have all the expertise and backup you might need, but you’ll still get time to yourself – on the ride, and when you wake up to watch the sunrise.
Leonie is the curator of this wonderful website and campaign director at Bicycle South. Like David, she also rides a Soma Wolverine (nicknamed Lupa – a female wolf) but she’s taken hers to the next level. She installed a small front hub motor from Chilled Squirrel, powered by a battery that she keeps at the bottom of the triangle frame bag. The motor allows Leonie to travel further and faster – keeping up with the strongest of riders, even when fully loaded! Finished off with cushy 650B, 2.1 WTB Nano all-road tyres, comfy Jones Loop H-Bars and quality Ortlieb and Revelate panniers and bags, Lupa is ready for any adventure.
Bikepacking is exhilarating and enriching at the same time. It enables me to break my routine, spend time outdoors and reconnect with the simple pleasures in life: the warmth of a campfire and laughter shared with friends.
I love bikepacking in the Cederberg. There are plenty of great campsites, majestic scenery, endless gravel roads, star-filled night skies and rivers to swim in. For overnight campouts, there are a few campsites close to Cape Town, my favourite being the campsite at Miller’s Point near Simon’s town. Nothing can beat going to sleep to the sounds of the ocean and waking up for an icy dip.
I never go on a winter campout without my hot water bottle. I have a mini one and always find room to squeeze it in. Having a cosy shelter and sleeping area to retreat to after a long day’s ride makes all the difference.
Fear is the biggest obstacle to adventure. Stuart Phillips, a friend of mine, once said when reminiscing about his year-long family cycle tour through Africa: “The hardest part of the trip was to make the decision to do it. Once the decision was made, all the other obstacles were easy to overcome.”
If you’re starting out, keep it simple. Keep distances short and gear minimal. The best bike to use is the one you already have. Think like MacGyver: If purchasing bike bags is out of your budget, carry a daypack and strap a dry bag to your handlebars. Once you get into it, you’ll refine your kit and your gear. I’ve built my bike up slowly over time, as budget and needs evolved. If you are a newbie bikepacker looking for advice, pop over to Bike Camping 101 for my top tips to help you get geared up and ready to roll on your first adventure!
GEAR THAT WORKS
David, Las and Leonie share some of their favourite tried and tested, bikepacking gear and tips. For full packlists and even more tips on getting started bike camping check out Bike Camping 101.
Braai grid and fire starter
To make a lightweight and compact braai grid, cut the legs off a cooling rack that you’d normally use for baking. Genius!
A flint works well if you need to start a fire and your matches are lost or wet. This is a Swedish FireSteel by Light My Fire, which was bought in the UK. Locally, get the Coghlan’s flint striker (R115).
Size is the most important consideration when it comes to your tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. 1 and 2 person bikepacking tents and shelters range from around R2000 to the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person (R9 500). This top-of-the-range hiking tent is a real winner, super compact when packed and weighing only 1,72kg, it will keep you dry in a deluge, warm in a raging gale, and it’s easy to set up and take down. The First Ascent Amplify Down Light (R2 200) is a super compact sleeping bag for summer camping. It’s comfort-rated to 9°C; get a liner for extra warmth if you plan on camping in spring or autumn. You can’t go wrong with the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Xlite sleeping pad (R3 565). It weighs only 350g and it’s designed to retain as much warmth as possible. Suitable for three-season camping.
Sleeveless down jacket
You’ll likely be carrying a windbreaker for the cycling part of your adventure. With this jacket over the windbreaker, you’ll be warm enough in the campsite even if the temperature plummets. Bonus: You can bundle it up and use it as a pillow in your tent.
This one is made by US-based Mountain Hardwear. Locally, check out the First Ascent Transit Body Warmer Vest (R1 500).
Coffee maker and stove
Crucial! The coffee because, well, it’s coffee, and the stove so that you can make coffee and cook dinner if you don’t feel like braaiing. The coffee maker pictured is a replica of a two-cup Bialetti Express Espresso Maker (R600 at for the original). Add grounds and water to their respective chambers and put the pot on the stove. The water boils through the grounds at pressure and into the top chamber, delivering two hits of deliciously strong coffee, which you can dilute if you want to fill a mug.
The stove top is an MSR Pocket Rocket (R790 at for the latest version). It folds up small and it works with any propane cannister. If you are planning to travel somewhere more remote, look at getting a multi-fuel stove like MSR Whisperlite Universal which will give you the ability to use different fuel sources like canister fuel, white gas, kerosene and unleaded gasoline.
Flip flops and mug
Give your feet a break at the end of a long day of pedalling. Flip-flops are lightweight and easy to attach to the outside of a bag. These Havaianas need no introduction.
An enamel mug is another camping must-have that also enjoys dangling from a strap or a carabiner. Use it for coffee in the campsite, wine around the fire, your morning oats…
Cleats are efficient when you’re pedalling long distances, but it’s overkill if you have to wear cycling shoes to ride to the shop at the campsite gate, or to a nearby restaurant.
These Shimano XT pedals have one flat side that you can use with any kind of shoes, and one cleated side for cycling shoes. This exact model is no longer in production; Ryder MTB Dual Pedals (R500) are a good alternative or if overseas, you can get the latest Shimano Double-sided pedal.
A good bikepacking tyre rolls easily on tar and it should be able to handle dirt roads and occasional off-track riding. It should also be tubeless and filled with sealant for better puncture protection.
The tyre pictured is a WTB Riddler – a narrower version of a mountain bike tyre, for all kinds of surfaces. We can also recommend a set of Panaracer Gravel King SK tyres or the SOMA Cazadero (available through Everyday Cycle Supply Co.). which have a fast-rolling centre tread and durable sidewalls. They’re available in a variety of widths depending on what you can fit in your frame.
Bikepacking specific bags. Ortlieb have recently released their gravel specific pannier bags made from waterproof, rip-proof material. These can be fitted to the rear or front rack and have an extra clip to keep them secure even on the roughest roads. When combined with a seat post bag, handlebar bags and frame bag, this makes for the perfect rig for carrying tents, food and gear. There is a huge range of touring and bike packing bags available in SA – see suppliers here.
Bikepacking Handle bars. Whether you go for Jones Loop H- bars (as seen on Leonie’s bike) or Soma’s Condor bars (on David’s bike), you won’t be disappointed. Both are designed to allow for multiple hand positions, which reduces fatigue for long days of riding, and enables you to switch between riding in the drops for speed or sitting more upright to enjoy the view (which is also great for commuting in traffic). The Jones bars have the added advantage of lots of extra attachment points for bags and devices.
Don’t bumble around when night falls. You’ll need a headlamp for cooking and finding your way to the ablution block. This LED Lenser SEO 3 (R495) is lightweight and bright. On low mode, you’ll get up to 40 hours of use before you have to replace the three AAA batteries.
Cutlery and crockery
With a stackable pot set like this Fire Maple Fire Fanatic 2-pot cookset (R400), you can make pasta or rice in one pot and a sauce in the other. The small pot also makes a mean coffee mug. The two pots fit together with one on top of the other, leaving space inside for a stainless steel tumbler (R20) and a set of camping cutlery. For an even more compact and non-stick setup check out GSI Pinnacle Soloist Cook System.
Brooks saddles have been handmade in England from leather and metal since 1866. A leather saddle takes some wearing in, but it’s supremely comfortable once it has conformed to your bum. If you take care of it, your Brooks will last for life.
This is a Brooks Swift Chrome (R2 500), which is narrower and more modern-looking than the classic B17 on your grandpa’s bike. The rails are steel and the copper rivets have been hammered by hand so that they’re flush with that beautiful leather. If you plan to ride far and long, it’s worth saving up. They are available locally through SA distributor Everyday Cycle Supply Co.