Bikepacking on the rise to get out in the Routt County backcountry |

Bikepacking on the rise to get out in the Routt County backcountry

Bikepacking is a unique approach to backpacking, where you let the bike carry camping equipment for you as you pedal to your destination. Pictured is a display at Ski Haus of bikepacking equipment, complete with a bag that goes on the handlebars, a special tent and set of chairs that fold easily for storage.
Leah Vann

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Bikes are taking the weight off your shoulders.

Backpackers eager for a new kind of adventure are bikepacking to their next overnight trip, carrying their equipment on the handlebars.

“It’s so much better than backpacking,” Ski Haus sales representative Matthew Alford said. “It puts 20 to 30 pounds on bike, but it’s not on your back.”

Alford said bike touring has been around for years, where people carried the weight of their supplies on a pannier, a bag that fastens to the back wheel. This was more for a long-term road biking journey across the country. Panniers aren’t ideal for a camping trip in the mountains.

“Instead of going with wide panniers, the [bikepacking] bags are all streamlined, so nothing hangs off the sides of your bike,” Alford said. “The emphasis is bringing less stuff. Packing minimal gear and you can get out on anything.”

Tips for beginners

Bikepacking is for the outdoors enthusiast who already has a handle on camping and backpacking. While designed for mountain biking, bikepacking can be for any cyclist: road, gravel or mountain.

The first essential piece for a bikepacker is to get a bikepacking bag that rolls and fastens over the handlebars. If trying out for the first time, Alford said anyone can make do with a stuff sack from a tent or sleeping bag as long as it’s fastened tightly to the handlebars and doesn’t impede the wheel.

Bikepacking sacks are strapped to the handlebars. These have become more popular than the bike panniers, which hang over the back wheel and aren’t ideal for rugged terrain.
Leah Vann

Like most trips, bringing a backpack that holds a bladder for water is also important. There’s no need to invest in new camping equipment for your first run. The key to bikepacking is learning how to navigate terrain with the weight on your handlebars.

“Get all your gear together packed on your bike and take it on a shakedown ride,” Alford said. “Make sure you aren’t going to rub on a tire, and that the straps are in the right place to hold everything. You don’t want to be coming downhill and hit some rocks and have sleeping bag shooting into the bushes.”

Alford said that for mountain bikers, lifting the front wheel to hop over a root or edge won’t be as easy. Spring Creek or Mad Creek trails are less-technical for mountain bikepackers looking for their first trip.

“Once you get up to Dry Lake, there is a campground up there or wilderness camping,” Alford said. “Same thing at the top of Mad Creek, once you get past the bridge, it’s pretty short. You can shake things out and are not committed to a 25-mile ride.”

Road bikers can travel to up the road to the back side of Steamboat Lake. North of Columbine Road, there’s a big red park for a longer ride and Clark has a nearby general store for any additional needs.

More seasoned bikepackers might look for more specialty gear, like a bikepacking tent, which has poles broken up into smaller segments. Alford believes it can be done with most of the same gear, especially if trying for the first time.

“I think bikepacking is not as intimidating if you’re already a hiker or backpacker,” Alford said. “A lot of the same gear works just fine. Let the bike carry the weight. It’s a lot of fun.”

To reach Leah Vann, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @lvann_sports.

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