Heading off with a tent and a stove strapped to your bike is very much in fashion at the moment. Some people insist on calling it ‘bikepacking’ if any of your ride is off-road but really it’s just cycling and you don’t need any fancy kit or a special bike. Nor do you have to go to the Alps or Patagonia. Most of us have a canal or a riverbank or a stretch of coastline near us just crying out to be explored and camped on. Here are some things to take into account before you set off:
1. If it’s your first time, go in summer. The idea is to have fun and there are no prizes for suffering or survival. In fact there are no prizes
2. You can use any bike, but do get it serviced. Nobody wants to be fixing their bike in the middle of nowhere or worse, pushing it home in the middle of nowhere.
3. The one thing you might want to think about changing on your bike is a set of chunky tyres. Road tyres can struggle with a loaded bike on loose ground. If chunky tyres don’t fit on your bike it’s maybe not the best for bikepacking.
4. Pick a destination and route you like. There are no rules – you don’t have to ride a hundred miles or break any speed records.
5. Make sure you’re allowed to ride and camp where you plan to go. That’s easy in Scotland because you can go on pretty much any open ground and track but in the rest of the UK you’ll want to check the rights of way and the attitude of land owners.
6. Take a map. Maps aren’t just for navigation they’re for browsing before and during your trip to give you ideas and to understand the place you’re in.
7. Take your time. The joy of bikepacking is to spin along in a low gear and to stop whenever the fancy takes you. Smell the flowers and hug the trees. Chat to everyone you meet.
8. Eat. Eat plenty and eat well. You are burning calories quicker than you think. If you’re only out for one night you don’t need to just survive on NATO ration packs you can do some proper cooking in advance and take it with you to heat up on a stove. Wilderness gastronomy is the next big thing and you heard it here first.
9. Take your time pitching your tent. Good sleep is invaluable so have a lie down on the ground first to find any lumps and bumps hidden in the grass. Think about where the sun will be in the morning and what view you want when you open the tent flap in the morning.
10. Unless you’re into the whole sobriety thing take a couple of beers or some wine or whatever mood enhancer works for you. There are few things more satisfying than being slightly tipsy while you watch the moon come up with a wee campfire on the go somewhere wild.
And there we have it. Cycling on rough paths is for everyone. You don’t need body armour or a hipster beard. And don’t worry about how old you are: this is for folks from eight to eighty eight (apart from the not being sober thing, obviously). It’s cheap, it’s fun and it can transform your life. Just respect the land you’re riding and camping on and don’t worry about getting lost or doing it ‘wrong’.
Have fun out there.
Overlander: Bikepacking coast to coast across the heart of the Highlands by Alan Brown is available to buy now for £9.99.