Book Review: The Bikepacker’s Guide

Aug 9th, 2023

The Bikepacker’s Guide, originally published in 2015, was the first guide of its kind. It was co-authored for Salsa Cycles by bikepackers Kait Boyle and Kurt Refsnider. Two years later, Kait and Kurt created Bikepacking Roots, a non-profit which “supports and advances bikepacking, the growth of a diverse bikepacking community, and access to and the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride.”

The second edition of The Bikepacker’s Guide was published in 2023, and is available in print or digital. This edition expands on the original, and its proceeds support the mission of Bikepacking Roots.

What’s in The Bikepacker’s Guide?

bikepacker's guide book cover
2023 updated version of The Bikepacker’s Guide
Laura Killingbeck

The Bikepacker’s Guide is an 87-page, grassroots guide explaining what bikepacking is and how to do it. It includes sections on route planning, gear, food and water, packing, and navigating, as well as sections on camping skills, field reports, and useful checklists.

The guide also includes beautiful photography and short essays that give you a feel for what bikepacking looks like in a range of environments. It includes all the information you would need to plan a bikepacking trip from scratch.

The primary author, Kait Boyle, is backcountry mountain biker, adventure educator, and record-holding endurance athlete. Kurt Refsnider, who co-authored the first version of the guide, is also a bikepacker, educator, endurance athlete, and coach. The narrative of the book reflects both authors’ extensive experience in the field both recreationally and professionally.

Other contributing authors include Annijke Wade, Jim Blount, Brooke Goudy, Crystal Kovaks, and Patrick Farnsworth — each of whom offers additional experience and perspective.

The language of the book is clear and easy to follow. It combines direct, authoritative statements with open-ended questions that the reader can think through on their own. This style allows the reader to take in objective information, while also practicing the subjective problem solving inherent to any independent adventure.

One of the highlights of this book are the useful gear lists and charts. I particularly appreciated the “bike style” chart, which allows the reader to match the bike they have with a route that’s right for their bike. Bikepacking does involve a certain amount of gear, and this guide makes it easy for people to assess the gear they have and how to apply it to their next adventure.

Who is the Bikepacker’s Guide For?

an open book showing text and image of cycling
Laura Killingbeck

This guide is for everyone. Someone who’s never been bikepacking could pick it up and use it to plan their first trip. Folks who already have some bikepacking experience could also learn a lot.

I’ve been bikepacking, touring, and backpacking for 20 years, and there were tons of things that I learned from this guide. My own gear setup and philosophy don’t exactly mirror the authors’, but there was plenty of overlap as well as new ideas to think through.

How I Read the Bikepacker’s Guide

I received print and digital copies of The Bikepacker’s Guide and read them while I was bikepacking the Adventure Cycling Association’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

The digital guide came as a PDF (it’s also available as EPUB), and I stored it on my phone and e-reader. This meant it was “virtually weightless” and easy to access.

I also appreciated the paper copy because I’m old school and I liked flipping through it in real life! The paper copy is five inches by 8.5 inches, and fit inside my pannier pocket. One advantage of the print version is its beautiful color photography. If I’d been traveling with a coffee table, I’d have stored it on top.

My Hot Take on the Bikepacker’s Guide

open book pages showing cycling photos and text
Laura Killingbeck

Different people define bikepacking in different ways. The Bikepacker’s Guide defines bikepacking as “riding your bike, generally off-road, for more than one day.”

It also assures riders that “any bike can go bikepacking” and “the best bikepacking bike is the one you have.”

How refreshing! I loved this perspective because it creates space for many types of riders and riding styles. There are lots of ways to go bikepacking, and I appreciated that this guide encourages the full spectrum.

The authors are world-class athletes who know what they’re doing and have the “trail cred” to prove it. But I still got the sense that they simply love being on their bikes in nature, and want to share that love with more people.

The Bikepacker’s Guide is a great entrance point for people who are planning their first adventure; it’s also a wonderful standby for folks who want to glean new perspectives, pro tips, ideas, and insights from a reliable source.

Looking for a Bikepacking Route?

a young woman sits in front of a tent reading a book
The author with her copy of The Bikepacker’s Guide
Laura Killingbeck

The Adventure Cycling Association and Bikepacking Roots are both non-profit advocacy groups that promote bicycle travel and route development.

In 1998, the Adventure Cycling Association pioneered the development of long-distance bikepacking routes with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. In recent years, Bikepacking Roots has also developed a number of long and short bikepacking routes, including the Western Wildlands Route, which runs parallel to the Great Divide.

In 2022, the Adventure Cycling Association and Bikepacking Roots collaborated to create the Intermountain Connectors, a network of seven dirt routes that connect the Adventure Cycling Association’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and Bikepacking Roots’ Western Wildlands Route.

The Intermountain Connectors make it easy for riders to access each route from major cities like Tucson, Denver, or Salt Lake City. The Intermountain Connectors also enable riders to come up with creative loops that combine parts of several routes into a full-circle expedition.

If you’re planning a bikepacking trip, get yourself a copy of The Bikepacker’s Guide, and plan your next adventure on one of these great routes!

Bikepacking Route Resources

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