You can read blogs and websites all day, but nothing truly replaces first-hand experience. That’s not going to deter me at all from trying to replace your first-hand experience with as many bikepacking lifehacks as possible. I learned a lot of these from simply making mistakes, but many other people had a hand in this list. Vik, the crazy European who cycles in Crocs, was my gateway into ultralight touring, and I honed my skills through the Backpacking Light community. I learned volumes through resources like Bikepacking.net, BikeForums.net, the MTBR forums, this magazine, and the people I’ve met on the road and the trail. This list is also heavily subject to my prejudices; I like to travel fast, and I like streamlining things to save time, so some tips may seem arbitrary or obnoxious (something, something, cut the handle off your toothbrush…) This list is not my list; it’s a working record of everything I’ve picked up so far, and full credit goes to the innovators.
  1. Reynolds Turkey-cooking “Oven Bags” are lighter than trash bags and more durable than regular zip-locks. They make perfect bag liners for waterproofing clothing.
  2. Baby wipes are excellent for bikepacking, and for every other day out of the year. Toilet paper is barbaric by comparison.
  3. Spare spokes (I don’t carry them, but some do) can be taped to the inside of a chainstay or inside your seat post. Make sure you mark your spoke length or mark what side and wheel they belong on.
  4. Laminate a photocopy of your passport, driver’s license, and social security card and slip it into your bike’s seat tube, or better yet, top tube. It can be used to identify your bike in case a thief steals it and files off the serial number. It can also get you out of an international jam if you lose your passport.
  5. If you’re bikepacking in an area with nearby bike shops, your emergency tube can be several sizes smaller than your tire size. It’ll inflate to make up the difference and, while it won’t last forever, it will last for a while until you can get a larger tube or re-seat a tubeless tire.
  6. A small pair of locking pliers like the Leatherman Crunch can replace all of your individual crescent wrenches. Since they lock to the bolt-head, the size can vary and you can still put down as much torque as you would with a regular wrench (grip strength alone is not enough most of the time, so normal pliers won’t work).
  7. Coat your tubes in baby powder (corn starch) before installing them to reduce the chance of a pinch flat.
  8. Cut down any excess straps and melt the ends with a lighter to prevent fraying to save a small amount of weight. Not much, but if you do this to ten straps you’re looking at more ounces than a titanium pot.Bikepacking Lifehacks
  9. If you’re out at night and you’re worried about encountering an animal, just sing while you set up camp. This tip doesn’t work if you’re Snow White.
  10. A 32mm or smaller cyclocross race tire with a folding bead, high TPI and thin, supple sidewalls will roll up to the size of an apple. Makes a much more efficient spare tire in areas that warrant a spare tire than having a big fat Marathon. You can strap two rolled tires, stacked, in a Salsa Anything Cage. Just replace with a burly tire at the next bike shop.
  11. If a bolt keeps vibrating out, loop a piece of string around the thread right where it meets the bolt-head and soak it in superglue. 
  12. A few zipties can replace pannier or framebag mounting hardware for at least 600 miles without fail, in my experience. They’re one of the most versatile pieces of repair kit in existence.
  13. Dryer lint mixed with petroleum jelly is an amazing firestarter. When was the last time you cleaned out the lint trap, anyways?
  14. Take a piece of dry birchbark and strip it with your fingers into very small strands. You can pack hundreds of small birchbark “hairs” in a film canister for firestarting. max2
  15. Pare down your first aid kit by thinking about the injuries you’re likely to sustain. I got rid of all insect sting reliever because I can just deal with a bee-sting. I don’t need more than a couple of small bandages because most small cuts and scrapes can just be left alone. Any large cut will need two things; wound closure strips and an ace bandage. Neosporin prevents infection. So, that’s basically my whole kit- just large-wound stuff, Neosporin, and painkillers. Maybe there’s a couple of antihistamines too…
  16. Body Wrappers Ripstop Pants are a fantastic wind and bug pant, weigh 4 ounces, and cost $20. I got a size large and it fits me great, and I’m a 32 waist. Great alternative to carrying regular 13+ ounce long pants in the summer for bugs and unexpectedly cold nights.
  17. A windshirt makes a great bug shirt, too. Tight nylon weaves make it harder for them to suck your blood.
  18. Merino Wool won’t develop a stink from body odor. The fibers are antibacterial. You can wear a wool t-shirt for day after day. Just rinse it out and let it dry on your body occasionally to get the salt out. I wear wool bike shorts and socks, too.
  19. Sea to Summit drybags are not waterproof. They’re very rainproof, but I went river rafting and my Ultra-sil bag leaked like a sieve. Don’t count on anything to be completely waterproof. If you really need to protect something, like a computer or camera, use a plastic bag inside your drybag for redundancy.
  20. Your local hardware store sells 3M ear plugs with a connecting wire that fit into an included carrying case. The whole package is the size of a tub of lip balm. Use them when you’re camping near traffic.
  21. Your canister stove can be used to quickly light a campfire, if you’re careful. Hold a dry stick over the flame instead of using the stove as a blowtorch. An Esbit tab also makes a killer firestarter.max3
  22. Any bolt can be replaced at a hardware store. Get stainless steel hardware to resist corrosion. Smaller hardware stores tend to have a better bolt selection than most big-box hardware stores.
  23. Place your sleeping pad on top of grass, sand, or pine needles for extra comfort. A foam pad can sit on top of flat Hemlock or Spruce branches for more warmth in winter and spring. Using good campsite selection makes just as much of a difference in comfort as getting a plush 1-inch pad. I carry a tiny X-small 3-4 length pad and nothing else, and spend an extra 5 minutes prepping the place I lay down in the first place.
  24. Fleece is worth its weight. I find a thin fleece half-zip and a pair of fleece mittens totaling less than 8oz together take me straight down into the low 30’s temperature-wise. Fleece is soft and fluffy, and I use it as a pillow every night. No extra pillow needed! Fleece provides plenty of emergency warmth, and keeps working when wet. ZPacks makes uber-light fleece mittens, made in the USA.max4
  25. Heat a sewing needle with a lighter to kill bacteria before using it to lance a blister. Put a single hole in the blister, then drain it, apply neosporin, and bandage it. Don’t rip the skin off, unless you want an infection.
  26. A curved needle makes sewing a torn sidewall without breaking the tire bead much easier. This will let you keep running tubeless after a tear.
  27. If your Achilles tendons or knees hurt, make sure you do frequent stretches. Go to a local yoga class and politely ask the instructor to show you a few stretches useful for those specific areas, and do them at every rest stop. Prevention is way more effective than kinesio tape, braces, or powering through pain.
  28. Don’t ride desperately for the next food/rest stop. Remind yourself to appreciate the empty stretches for all of their positive qualities.
  29. Stow spare cables in your handlebars. Just pop out the bar ends and thread them in there looped a couple of times. They stay put and are there when I need them.
  30. Ditch the racks. Full frame bags are easier to ride with, have a better capacity/weight ratio, and are safer (no load shifting or rack failure).
  31. A dollar bill works as a boot for a slashed tire. 
  32. Used cork bar tape protects the drive side chainstay for less weight than a heavy neoprene sleeve.
  33. Soft bottles in frame bags can’t fall out on rough terrain, are lighter than bottles, and stay cold longer. They’ll stay cold for almost a full day if wrapped in your sleep shirt. Bring a strip of tent repair tape to fix a punctured bottle (it won’t bunch and leak when folded, like duct tape will).
  34. Pizza has lots of calories, lots of salt, protein, veggies, and it’s inexpensive and widely available.
  35. Peanut butter is high in calories and fits in a bottle cage.
  36. A tennis ball canister fits in a bottle cage, too, and can be used to carry CLIF bars, a windshirt, spare tubes, trail mix, or anything else you’d like. Keep tools in an empty peanut butter container instead, since the plastic is burlier and won’t crack from a rattling multitool.
  37. Stickers make your bike look junkier and less prone to theft, and protect the frame from scratches and scuffs.max6 
  38. Use old Velcro scrap to cover any exposed Velcro so it doesn’t tear up your bike shorts over time.
  39. Shimano sells chain pins with an extra installation peg attached so you can use a chainbreaker to replace pins if you don’t have a quicklink, or if your quicklink breaks. After you install the pin, the installation part just snaps off. The pins weigh less than a pea, so bring five.
  40. Ditch your camp shoes.
  41. Ditch your camp chair.
  42. Ditch your clothesline.
  43. Ditch your groundsheet.
  44. Ditch your magnesium firestarter.
  45. Ditch your mini tripod. Stack rocks instead.
  46. Ditch your bowl, cup, mug, pan, and plate. A spork and pot is enough.
  47. Ditch your stuff sacks.
  48. Ditch your spare anything, except tubes. 
  49. Ditch your fear of not having something. You can buy almost anything, almost anywhere. If you can’t, you probably shouldn’t be wanting it. If your trip is an exception to this, you probably don’t need this list.max7
  50. Have your wheels trued by a good wheel builder before you leave and once in the middle of longer trips, or learn to true them yourself (I still need to). Ditch the spare spokes. A properly tensioned wheel will almost never fail, and if it does, it’ll likely fail beyond a spoke replacement (or something else will have failed, too, like a fork/frame)
  51. 3M Safety Glasses are lighter than sunglasses and protect from kicked up rocks and dust.
  52. T-shirts are lighter than bike jerseys. 
  53. Any numbness in any part of your body should be treated as a warning sign that something needs to change in your seat height, seat setback, handlebar height, or stem length. Numbness can lead to serious problems.
  54. A cut down 1/8″ thick foam pad or a small sheet of Tyvek is multi-use. It protects an air pad or bivy from granite or gravel, provides a sitting area for cooking, lets you fold clothes and sleeping stuff up without getting them dirty, lets you step out of a hammock in socks, and the list goes on and on…
  55. A light-colored, slightly transparent dry-bag will work as a lantern if you shine a bike light into it.
  56. Aerobars provide multiple hand positions beyond normal drop or flat bars with bar-ends. Being able to rest on your arms makes a big difference for efficiency across wide, empty spaces with headwinds, which can be a real confidence-breaker.
  57. Your front tire and back tire wear at different rates. But, switching them halfway through a trip isn’t a good idea because grip in your front tire is much more important than grip in the rear. Instead, get a heavy-duty tire for your rear and a lighter, more supple tire for the front. Both will wear at about the same time, and the lighter, more supple front tire will improve ride quality, improve grip, and decrease weight.max8
  58. Slide back an inch in your saddle on long climbs to engage slightly different muscles in your legs. 
  59. Stand up every 10 minutes all day long for just a moment to keep circulation flowing through your legs and rear. 
  60. Shake your habits. If your happiness and enjoyment is not dependent on coffee, hot food, sleep, warmth, being dry, being alone, being among others, moving fast, or knowing where you are, you open yourself up to a world of opportunities. “Type 2 fun” is knowing that at the end of a bad experience is a great story, and a stronger you. Embrace the suck!
  61. Wrap a CLIF bar in a tortilla, and add granola and nutella or peanut butter. Then wrap it up in a bandanna or tin foil. All these ingredients are easy to pack, there’s no prep, it won’t spoil, and the result is easy to eat while riding (and it’s delicious).
  62. Squirt lime juice into bottles, hydration bladders, and soft bottles. Lime juice is antibacterial, so it’ll keep your bottles clean. It will mask the taste of metallic tap water or a dirty bottle. It’s also good for preventing scurvy. A single lime is good for about four days of water, and you can buy limes in liquor stores, gas stations, and supermarkets.
  63. Stay awake and stay alert. An injury will end your ride or race much faster than a power nap. Practice power-napping at home before you leave for your trip. Bike Bag Dude
  64. Add longer zipper pulls to your raincoat, fleece, frame bags, and anything else. You’ll be able to open and close the zippers more easily while riding, or while wearing mittens or gloves.
  65. Learn to brush your teeth while riding to save time. Spray the toothpaste when you spit it, like someone told you something shocking while you were drinking wine. This prevents animals from licking up your toothpaste and getting sick. You also don’t need to rinse; after you spit, you’ll feel normal in just a few seconds. You can also spit on people’s windshields because cars are coffins. Just kidding… do not do that last part.
  66. Learn to sew a basic stitch so you can keep small tears from getting larger over time. Just a few loops of thread can permanently prevent a problem tear in your clothes or bike bags (or tires). Seal tears in your raincoat with a stitch and a little seam-grip.
  67. Pet stores and veterinary offices have lightweight, durable plastic cups with measuring for portioning out dog food. Use it to portion water into your oatmeal, Ramen, and coffee, or for measuring alcohol for a beer can stove. They’re also good for making sure you drink too much whiskey.
  68. If it’s warm, a wool shirt is better in the rain than a raincoat. You’ll heat up and sweat through even the most breathable raincoats in minutes. A wool shirt will wring 90% dry, and you can finish off the last 10% with the next tip.
  69. Wear wet clothes to bed. Your body heat will dry the clothes by moving most of the moisture out through your sleeping bag and onto the last barrier it comes in contact with (usually a bivy, tent, or tarp wall). I don’t know if this works as well with down sleeping bags, but it’s brilliant with synthetic. Andrew Skurka used this trick on his massive Alaska-Yukon expedition.max10
  70. Black clothing is cooler than white clothing while you’re exercising in the heat because the sun will dry your sweat faster, aiding evaporative cooling. Seriously, Google it!
  71. Wave and smile at cars even if they’re treating you with disrespect. A wave and a smile will dissolve most conflicts before they happen, and generally make cars more amicable to cyclists. If I wave every time I pass a vehicle, that’s thousands of waves per year!
  72. Nail polish works as touch-up paint and protects your steel frame from corrosion. You can always find your frame color, and it lasts forever.
  73. Use a reflective vest and bag details instead of reflective tape on your frame. Then, you can stealth camp better by hiding all your reflective bits in your tent/bivy.
  74. You can get mini-size plastic bags from a craft store. They’re usually used for holding jewelry or drugs, but you can use them for holding firestarters, painkillers, mini duct tape rolls, earbuds, stem-mounted cue cards, or just about anything else that’s small enough.
  75. A packable daypack fits neatly in the base of your handlebar drybag for unexpected loads like loaves of bread, roadkill, and found objects. 
  76. Gold Bond is amazing as a replacement for messy chamois cream. The foot powder especially is a real treat for a beat-up rear.
  77. Local honey exposes your immune system to local plant allergens, easing allergy symptoms like congestion and sore throat. It’s also a great glucose boost for an active cyclist. Nature’s energy gel.
  78. Take your seatpost out and apply a new coat of grease every time it rains, or once a week in the winter. Aluminum and steel can form a chemical weld if left in contact. Once the seatpost is in there, you’re looking at hours of effort to get it back out, if you can get it out at all.
  79. Wear cycling gloves even if you don’t need the padding. They make thin padding-free gloves. Every time I’ve crashed, I’ve scraped my hands on the ground, and I was only wearing gloves about half the time. max11
  80. Eat before you get hungry.
  81. Drink before you get thirsty.
  82. The hardware store sells little nylon washers. Put them between your frame and your racks to keep vibration from rattling bolts loose. Locking nuts also have a nylon ring inside. Also useful for Salsa Anything cages.
  83. The plastic syringe that comes with a Sawyer Squeeze is also useful for irrigating wounds with sand and dirt in them.
  84. You can refill a travel-size toothpaste by squeezing in your home toothpaste through the nozzle.
  85. Lithium batteries weigh less, last longer, and work better with electronics like your GPS and camera. You’ll also put less waste into landfills.
  86. If you really like something, don’t take it bikepacking. You are going to put holes in your shirts, dents and scratches on your bike, and tears in your bags. Buy used outdoors gear online to save money, and think of everything as ‘consumable.’
  87. Use your phone’s screenshot ability to save maps for offline use, which also saves battery. If you’re lost and out of battery/cell service, orient yourself using a compass or the sun and ride in the general direction of your next major checkpoint. You’ll figure it out.
  88. Eat lots of salty food to replace lost electrolytes, and make sure you have protein at every meal. Maximize fresh food whenever possible.
  89. Learn what to do when you interact with wildlife. Know what black bear predatory behavior looks like. Know how to hang your food. Use your phone to take a picture of the snake that bit you so they know what antivenom to use at the hospital — it might save your life. Once you learn how each animal interaction plays out, you don’t have to worry as much about the slim chance of ending up in a bad situation.
  90. Saddle sores happen to everyone sooner or later. Keep your rear clean with frequent washes and rinsed-out clothing. If you get a saddle sore, you can cut a piece of moleskin into a donut shape and surround the hotspot. Treat with neosporin before you go to bed and once during the day, and it should heal in 24-48 hrs. Don’t ignore it; it can get infected and end your trip.
  91. Use zip-ties on your rack to keep your pannier from sliding on the rail. You don’t have to zip-tie the pannier; just use them as spacers that keep the pannier mount from sliding in either direction. 
  92. If you’re stealth camping off the side of the road and you see a car coming, just freeze. Drivers are looking for motion (deer, etc) and won’t notice you even if you’re ten feet in from the road.
  93. If you’re getting chased by dogs, maintain a steady but slow course and shout “NO” in a booming voice. Almost every owner uses “no” as their standard command. If the dogs get close, spray them with your water bottle. Most dogs will chase you to their property line and then turn around. If you’re being attacked, kick!
  94. Don’t be afraid of people, but never tell anyone where you’re going. Be polite and tell inquirers that you’re passing through town and moving on, even if you’re planning to stay. That said, trust your instincts, especially with other cyclists. The people you meet can lead to awesome adventures.8665907022_a59680dd93_o_2 2
  95. A velcro strap between your front tire and your frame will keep your bike from rolling, turning, and falling over. It’ll also slow a would-be thief from carrying off your 45+ lb. bikepacking rig.
  96. You can remove a BB without a BB wrench. Wrap a spare tube around your outboard bottom bracket cup, then cinch it down with a strap. Insert a lever of some kind into the strap before you tighten down, like a piece of pipe. Even a strong stick might do. You should be able to get enough leverage on to unscrew the BB cup for maintenance without a BB wrench. It’ll take a while to get the leverage just right, but there are very few other options other than carrying the heavy wrench.
  97. You can take a cassette off without a chain whip. Brace your wheel between your legs, put a sturdy piece of wood like a 2×4 on your cassette’s left side, and hit it down with a rock to release the cassette. You’ll still need the little lockring tool, but an auto parts store will have an adjustable wrench to grab the lockring tool so you can loosen it.md026281
  98. Rub your disc rotors or rims down with rubbing alcohol to get rid of brake squeal. For disc brakes, if you unscrew both of the bolts holding the brake to the hanger and then hold the lever down while you re-tighten them, it should align the pads or at least get you close.
  99. Love every second of your trip. Love yourself when you make stupid mistakes. Love your riding companions when they annoy you. Don’t let negativity take over an otherwise great trip, because you won’t regret it until after the trip is over. Make every effort to maintain a constant level of semi-positivity.

Check out more from Max at MaxTheCyclist.com.

10 Comments

  1. Great stuff, thanks for compiling. Lots of new tips, but I especially like #95 to help prevent theft.

  2. I need somebody to explain 97 to me. What is a cassette’s “left side” and what does “release the cassette” mean? The cassette needs to be held still – not beaten – while the lock ring is unscrewed. help?

    • Hey Darell,

      Basically, you can’t hold it still except with a chain whip or vice, since the cassette teeth are sharp. A big piece of plywood will allow the teeth to “dig in” to the softer wood, giving you a firm hold on the cassette, firm enough to loosen the lockring with a lockring tool and an adjustable wrench. The situation where you might need to disengage a cassette in the field is pretty rare, but if you do need to, the plywood trick can make it happen without any bike-specific tools.

      If you were touring in a remote area and had a new cassette mailed to you, this is one way to install it if you can borrow a big wrench somewhere. The lockring tool can be carried with you.

  3. Awesome article. Totally agree with the comment – “Embrace the suck!”
    However, I’ve been conditioned, due to some of the “suck”, to slightly disagree with #48 & 50. If you have a rear derailleur, then carrying a spare hanger [and a B-link, don’t ask why] sure is better than toughing it out SS. Will the next shop down the road even have your specific hanger? There are only 198 different hangers out there…
    And if you’re lucky, your spoke length [there might be four different lengths between the front and rear wheels] will overlap enough that you can just get by with a couple spokes [and nipples] to carry as spares. IMHO, a broken spoke in the rear is just a ticking timebomb.
    I’m a hopeless weight-weenie, everything on my bike has been weighed and listed in a spreadsheet, and have no problem carrying a spare hanger and two spokes because of the great potential for those few items and grams to greatly minimize “the suck”.

  4. As an experienced guide (now retired) I’ve spent many, many, many days and nights out. I agree with most of the hacks, I think they’re pretty clever and not difficult to figure out.
    I’m not so sure about WEARING wet clothes to sleep in. I found putting on dry clothes to sleep in better and sleeping with damp socks laid flat against my thighs under long johns, and sports bras tucked just under my breasts under a dry lightweight wool shirt dries just as well. I’ve even put stuff flat under my sleeping bag. So much more comfortable.

  5. Printed this list for future use, thanks!

  6. This is solid gold. I’ll add – get a good, alloy frame pump and carry it in your camelback ninja-sword style. Good for waving at Asian village dogs if you’re too loaded or climbing to outrun them (and for pumping flats).

    Also, use one of those fundraising wrist bands as a handbrake FTW.

  7. You might want to reconsider Gold Bond powder recommendation. The use of talcum powder in the genital regions is associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer in women. While the science isn’t fully definitive, if you’re cautious consider either a powder w/o talc in the ingredients list or stay away entirely.

  8. #99 saved the best for last! Great list!

  9. Michael Lukach

    Thank you so much for this!

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