The comparison between bikepacking and cycle touring has long been one of the hottest topics on cycle travelling forums. Everyone is ready to defend its design, some with a hint of enthusiasm, but as is often the case, there is no clear winner in the battle between cyclists and bike-packers.
The trip’s duration, the cyclist’s individual preferences, the type of roads to be taken, the length of the journey, and the amount of equipment needed are just some of the characteristics to consider when choosing between bike-packing, travel or cycle touring.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be black or white; hybrid systems are also possible.
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What are the differences between cycle touring and bikepacking?
In standard bicycle touring, luggage is mainly kept in side bags called panniers. These need a rack to hold on to, making the touring device much wider.
Bigger gear means less agility, which makes the bike harder to manage, especially on rough terrain. The panniers also hang pretty low, making them susceptible to getting snagged by obstacles, which can damage our panniers or possibly cause high-risk falls.
The Bikepacking style is, on the contrary, very modular; it uses a combination of specific types of bags mainly developed not to increase the weight of the equipment.
By utilizing all possible space in the bike’s structure, bike-packing bags allow the rider to take on the tightest trails without worrying about balance and scrambling.
Advantages and disadvantages of Bikepacking and Cycle Touring
A bike-packing bike is easier to handle than a touring bike, it is suitable for off-road use, and the most extreme routes can be taken with the proper equipment organization.
In addition, the bicycle bags do not need support, which saves considerable weight (up to 1.5 kg for a front and rear rack). Bicycle “luggage” is attached to the frame or other essential bicycle parts (such as the seat post or handlebars).
It means a bike does not need to be equipped with a luggage rack to be a travel bike! It’s pretty innovative if you think about it; now, you can take your full-suspension mountain bike and even your road bike along for a multi-day experience of self-driving cycling and bike-packing!
The advantages of weight conservation improved travel capacity, and better aerodynamics are apparent. Still, there are also some disadvantages to the practice of bike-packing, the first being the storage capacity and the ease of access.
Storage capacity: Bikepacking VS cycle touring bags
Storage capacity is probably the first factor to consider when choosing between these two modes of bicycle travel.
The storage capacity of a complete bike-packing set will never equal the 110 litres of 4 MSX panniers.
Long-distance bike trips typically involve traversing all sorts of weather conditions, from hot tropical environments to freezing desert winters. If this is your case, you most likely need a lot more gear (unless you organize effectively to deliver your gear ahead of time).
When planning a year-long cycling trip, we’re hitting the road – meaning the basics won’t always be enough to live a satisfying life unless you’re a minimalist, pure and complex.
You may need a giant tent, a warmer sleeping bag, cooking gear, a laptop and more.
Much shorter but much more extreme routes are usually best tackled with a bike-packing device; if your trip is simply a few weeks to a month, giving up luxury is less of a hassle for a short time. If you load them correctly, it is still possible to store essential bivouac gear in bike-packing bags.
Although I am not a fan, many cyclists improve their storage capacity by using the best mountain backpacks.
How much gear can you carry with a touring pannier configuration?
It’s possible to add top tube bags, frame bags and the like, and even a trailer to a pannier setup if you need to take the whole house with you. A timeless crawler setup usually has no storage limits – your legs will decide that.
How to pack your equipment?
Bikepacking bags are narrow and structured to minimize their impact on aerodynamics. The problem is that some pieces of equipment are not aerodynamic at all!
Think about food preparation equipment and especially your food stock! Finding canned chickpeas, pasta packets, food prep oil, and oranges in a bike bag setup can be a real challenge.
At the same time, all the rest of your gear should be loaded as minimally as possible and have its place, so you don’t go crazy repacking each morning.
Saddlebags are more like dumpsters, which is the exact opposite. You can include your equipment in it without having to worry about clutter. Beneath this, however, it’s the balance of weight that’s key (picture our beginner’s cycle touring guide for even more on that).
With a frame bag taking up all the room in your frame ruby, water storage must be something you think of when it comes to bike-packing. Bottle holders are usually attached to the handlebars, or racks are used as bottle holders on the front or rear fork.
Water storage space is much simpler in a touring model; a large structure can easily carry 3.5 litres.
Both setups allow for the addition of a bottle holder on the lower portion of the downtube (the only place no one has tried to fit a bag yet).
Cycle tourism vs Bikepacking: Dealing with bad weather
The wind is unavoidable in bicycle travel; headwind and sidewind problems are usually severe and frustrating obstacles to overcome.
A classic exploration device with panniers certainly has a larger loading surface, is much less aerodynamic and offers much more wind resistance. A strong headwind can be a headache in cycle touring with large panniers, and crosswinds can destabilize the rider and cause harmful accidents.
A minimalist backpack offers much less surface area for the wind and generally resists crosswinds and headwinds better. However, if you’re carrying a lot of stuff, your gear might not be that structured.
Frame bags, in particular, can be a headache in crosswinds, developing a “sail result” that can knock you off the road if a strong gust hits you.
Hybrid configurations: The best choice?
Mixing panniers and backpacks aren’t blasphemy; it’s possible with pretty good results – the key is to try and test.
In long-distance touring, the trend is to shift the weight to the front wheel using front panniers and large handlebar bags, leaving only a (usually huge) saddle bag on the back.
The use of small panniers on a rear rack, a backpack, a vast handlebar bag and front load cages are also becoming quite common.