What Makes a Good Bikepacking Bike?

Discover what makes a great bikepacking bike with our complete guide. Learn about important features, adaptable designs, and necessary components for off-road adventures and long-distance cycling. Start exploring the world of bikepacking today!

There are many types of bikes, like gravel, mountain, cross, and hybrid bikes. People use different bikes for bikepacking trips, and these bikes can be light and elegant or more rugged and meant for off-road adventures.

So, which bike to use for bikepacking?

Is there a single answer? In theory, you can use any bike for bikepacking. Use the one you have and tailor your first adventure to suit it. If you own a road bike, pack a small handlebar bag, travel light, and stay on quiet roads. If you own a full-suspension mountain bike, try a rear rack and backpack and hit the woods!

That said, there are specs out there that suit your type of trip and make it more enjoyable. For example, you wouldn’t take a sports car off-road, and you wouldn’t run a marathon in high heels! You could do it, but you wouldn’t have the best time during and after the trip!

The complete guide to What Makes a Good Bikepacking Bike?

As with most of life’s big questions, there isn’t just one answer, and it’s all in the journey.
The bike that’s best suited for your bikepacking adventure isn’t necessarily the same as someone else’s.
It largely depends on two things:

  • The place you are going
  • The load you carry

If your bike trip takes you off the road for a few days, you need to pack light and have a bike that can handle the turns, bumps and climbs. You don’t want a heavy and sturdy touring bike that will be difficult to manoeuvre or an overly light road bike that will get stuck in the mud.
Bikepacking generally differs from cycle touring due to its off-road nature. You’ll use your bike on single-track and wilderness trails rather than gravel or asphalt.

What is a bikepacking bike?

Any bike can be a bikepacking bike. In fact, that’s one of the benefits of bikepacking. You can attach pannier bags to almost any bike before you go on an adventure.

However, there are certain features and choices that can help make a bike better suited for multi-day bikepacking, whether it’s fundamentals like geometry or tire and component choice.
Indeed, while it is true that some bikes are designed specifically for bikepacking, with many attachment points for luggage, for example, you can also adapt your current bike so that it is better prepared for your next excursion by making some fine adjustments.

The characteristics of a bikepacking bike

The characteristics of a bikepacking bike

In general, bikepacking adventures are shorter and lighter than cycle touring adventures.
This means that you will carry much less weight, and it will be distributed differently on the bike. Bikepacking bikes don’t need racks, as you’ll tend to carry your load in 3-5 smaller panniers on the frame.
By the way, bikepacking bikes tend to be very basic, so it’s easy to fix them if you get stuck in the back of nowhere!

If you are carrying a heavy load, you will need a rigid frame. Cyclists may have lighter frames than touring cyclists. Torsional forces between the front and rear loads of a touring bike require thicker tubing.

The weight of a bikepacking bike

Bikepacking bikes generally weigh between 10 and 14 kg, while a touring bike weighs more than 14 kg.
Bikepacking bikes are usually made of steel, titanium, or aluminum, unlike touring bikes which can afford to use carbon fiber.

They tend to have a bit softer frame as they are not designed to carry huge loads. Touring bikes are designed for off-roading rather than paved roads, which means they can be rigid or hard-tailed.

The suspension integration is a plus of the touring bike, but you can always attach a few extra water bottles to it if you need it! You can take yourself and your little load through tough terrain without getting roughed up. Touring bikes have to carry luggage on the front racks and are, therefore, not as well suited to front suspension forks. That doesn’t mean you can’t crank up your full suspension and tear up the trails!

As with mountain bikes, bikepacking bikes have shorter chainstays because they don’t need to clear the heel of the rear panniers and want to ride more dynamically.

Bikepacking bikes may not have racks and mudguards, whereas a touring bike certainly will. Likewise, touring bikes have mountings for several inner tube panniers. No one wants to go on a bike tour with luggage racks crushing your face!

The geometry of a bikepacking bike versus a touring bike

Geometry of a bikepacking bike versus a touring bike

Bikepacking bikes need a longer chainstay so that the center of gravity is more central, given the greater load, and so that the heels don’t hit the panniers. Touring bikers don’t have to worry about this issue as much and can afford to have snappier, shorter chainstays for more exciting terrain.

  • Shorter wheelbase – with shorter chainstays comes to a shorter wheelbase. A backpack bike requires less stability, and therefore the wheelbase can be shorter, allowing for more adventurous riding.
  • Similar stacking and reach – in both disciplines, a more relaxed and enduring posture is sought. For shorter, flatter and faster bikepacking adventures, you can opt for a more racy geometry, but you might sacrifice some control on off-trail and long rides.
  • 1x drivetrain – When thinking about building a mountain bike, these drivetrains typically offer more ground clearance and larger gear jumps than derailleurs. You’ll need to fine-tune gears less off-road than on-road. You can also afford to use higher climbing speeds since your weight is generally less than that of a touring bike.
  • Wider tires – we’ve all seen the rise of wide-tire bikes in the world of bikepacking. While they’re great for soaking up bumps, they add weight and slow you down, so choose them wisely. We can’t fault a 2-3 inch mountain bike tire for most biking adventures. The greater the load, the bigger the tire. Easy to use.

If you have a bike, you can find a way to bikepack! That’s the whole beauty of it. Just plan your routes with what you have. If you are looking to invest in bikepacking in particular, we hope this article will help you know what to look for.

Other features to consider when choosing a bike for bikepacking

What makes a good bikepacking bike-mountainbikegears

Cycling trips are as varied as the bikes and the people who ride them. Many of us only have time for a few short overnight or weekend rides a year, while others sit on our bikes for several weeks each summer and cross continents.

So the list of needs is long, and, as usual, we went in search of the holy grail, the only backpack bike. The diversity of potentially suitable bikes on the market can be both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, everyone should be able to find the perfect touring bike for their respective needs. On the other hand, it becomes almost impossible to see the forest for the trees and to decide on one of the many options or categories.

Adaptation to long distances

The ability to cover long distances is an essential parameter in the evaluation of a touring bike. Ideally, bikes are used for several days or even weeks. The number of kilometers traveled is less important than the number of hours spent in the saddle. Comfort determines whether you can keep riding pain-free after days on gravel roads or whether you have to slip carefully into your sleeping bag on the first night.

The contact points have the most immediate effect on comfort, but the frame, wheels, tires, and seat post also play an important role. As usual, we didn’t factor the saddle into our ratings, as comfort is highly dependent on rider preference. A backpack bike should have a balanced geometry for good handling and stay stable without being bulky.

In addition to self-confidence, which is highly dependent on the handling of the bike, comfort, grip, and tire rolling resistance are other important criteria to consider when assessing the rideability of bikes. Long distances, because efficiency, speed, and acceleration also play a crucial role here. How easily can you pick up speed, and how does the bike maintain momentum? Is it efficient enough to maintain its speed with moderate effort? As you can see, suitability for long distances is an important and complex equation. The ideal bike for long distances and long days in the saddle offers the perfect balance of flexibility and damping, with a natural and composed handling,

The versatility of the bike

Compared to bikes in other categories, such as time trial bikes or aero bikes, which were developed for very specific scenarios, a backpack bike should be much more versatile. Whether on dusty gravel roads, at the foot of the Alps with steep climbs and difficult descents or over winding asphalt miles, the ideal bikepacking bike should prove itself convincing in every situation. That’s why we put every bike through its paces and check what it can do and what it can’t. We’ve always kept versatility in mind, wondering if the bikes only work with a full charge or if they can also be used for commuting or a day trip without luggage.

The components

For us, technology encompasses two criteria: sensible components adapted to the application and characteristics that distinguish the frame and fork. To perform well on flat ground but also with a load on rough and steep gravel paths, the transmission ratios must be adapted.

In order to always stay in control even on long descents with the extra weight of your luggage, a bikepacking bike should be equipped with sufficiently large brake rotors; another essential aspect is vibration damping and frame geometry, as well as a good seatpost and ergonomic handlebars for sufficient compliance and a comfortable position. The ideal tire for bikepacking must offer a compromise between good grip in all weather and on all surfaces, low rolling resistance and sufficient protection against punctures. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that we did not suffer a single puncture during the entire test!

In addition to the frame itself, the fork must also have enough mounting points. In addition to panniers and bottle cages, this will allow you to attach racks and mudguards if required. Additional handles, where you can grab the frame, can be very useful if you have to carry your bike, which unfortunately cannot always be avoided even on a well-planned route. A clean and smart cable routing not only looks good but also makes it easier to attach a handlebar and a frame bag.

The bike should have generous clearance to be compatible with wide tires that generate plenty of grip and comfort, preferably 700 x 45C or larger. The best bike in the test should not only be well-equipped but also offer plenty of attachment points and clever frame details.

The answers to your questions about bikepacking bikes

What is the difference between a bikepacking bike and a travel bike?

Cycle tourism usually involves long distances and long periods of travel that can be taken on by adventure travel companies or done solo without support. On the other hand, “bikepacking” mainly refers to off-road adventure.

Can I use my road bike for bikepacking?

A road bike is a good choice as long as you have a way to attach luggage and don’t load it too heavily. 
Also, you will have to avoid too rough terrain.

What is the best frame material for bikepacking?

The ideal frame material should be lightweight, strong, and resilient. Though a perfect material may not exist, some options are better suited for bikepacking than others. The top contenders are steel, aluminium, and carbon fibre.

What is the best gear ratio for bikepacking?

The ideal gear ratio for bikepacking depends on various factors, such as the rider’s fitness level, terrain, and personal preferences. In general, a lower gear ratio, such as 1:1 or even lower, is recommended for bikepacking adventures, as it provides better climbing capabilities and makes it easier to pedal uphill with the added weight of gear. Riders should prioritize a wide gear range to accommodate the diverse conditions they may encounter, from steep inclines to fast descents. Ultimately, the best gear ratio is subjective and should be tailored to the individual’s needs and experiences, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable bikepacking journey.


Marcelline is a writer and covers several categories thanks to her multidisciplinary expertise.

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