How to pack your tent for bikepacking

Cyclist on a causeway over the sea.

Bikepacking is all the rage just now, with people excited to explore the outdoors and nature on two wheels.

Most people will be familiar with bike touring (or cycle touring), but bikepacking has surged to prominence in recent years with the creation of specific bikepacking bags instead of traditional pannier bags and racks.

While bikepacking bags are lighter, able to be used on almost any bike and more aerodynamic, they do present a challenge of space, especially for bulkier items like tent, sleeping bag and your stove. Here’s how best to pack your sleeping system for bikepacking.

Do you need a tent?

This might sound mad, but often you might not need a tent. This depends on how you like to travel: Do you prefer lightweight or comfort? It also depends on the weather.

If you prefer to travel lightweight and forsake a little comfort, why not try a bivvy bag? Bivvy bags are lightweight bags that you, your sleeping bag and sleeping mat go inside. They are usually waterproof and provide a basic shelter you can put down anywhere without worrying about pitching a tent.

Bivvy bags are usually lighter and smaller than a tent, so make a great bikepacking companion. I use a North Face Assault for when I am on shorter trips, but I recommend checking out Alpkit’s range, too. They have a model called the Elan, which is a bivvy bag-tent crossover.

However, if it is a long trip or you are worried about getting wet and you don’t have options to stay indoors, you might want a tent to save you from the elements.

Think about packability

Choosing lightweight kit is helpful for any long-distance adventure – the less weight you carry, the less hard you have to work! However, it’s worth considering how packable your kit is first; essentially, how small can it be squashed down?

My Terra Nova pitched on the Isle of Skye

Tents with solid features, extra zips or doors will make them bulkier and take up more space in your pack. Similarly, long tent poles and pegs – which are not supposed to be bent – restrict your space.

Do your research and find tents where the design is fairly minimalist and the poles can be folded down into a smaller size. I have used a Nordisk Telemark 2.0 and a Terra Nova Laser Compact 1 when bikepacking. Neither of these are “freestanding” – this means they rely on tension from the pegs and guy ropes to stand up, but does mean they have no rigid structure making them lighter and more packable.

Split it out

It’s quite normal for tents to come in a bag containing the tent, poles and pegs. Poles and begs are solid, so they will hinder your attempts to squish the tent down.

I normally squash my tent into my saddle bag and will put my poles and pegs into my frame bag. This is because the frame bag is where I want stiffer, heavier items to protect them and lower my centre of gravity, so I also place tools, battery packs and toiletries in there.

If you are with a friend – even better! Share the load and that way you have more space to carry a stove and other items. On my recent trip in the Outer Hebrides, my partner and I shared the carrying of items to make things more comfortable for us both.

My setup for the Hebridean Way: Saddle bag with tent body, roll mat, down jacket, spare layers; frame bag with tent poles, pegs, tools, toiletries, batteries; front with sleeping bag, dinner, breakfast, extra bits.

Bigger bags

If you are struggling to fit things into your bikepacking bags, it might mean you need more space. Of course, pannier racks are great but they do require the right mounting points to be bolted on to.

If you need to carry tent, stove, sleeping bag, mat, that’s a lot to fit into a small set of bikepacking bags. I normally have a 9L saddle bag, but on my longer bikepacking trips I will swap to 12L. You will find a setup that works best for you. You might find a full frame bag is better than a half, or a different model of saddle pack is better for you.

It’s all trial and error.

The old setup with a larger saddle pack

A word on sleeping bags

Sleeping bags are like down jackets – they are fantastic at filling gaps. Once I have packed those items that are maybe a little more solid like sleeping mat, tent (often a cylinder, too) and stove, I have a lot of gaps inbetween them.

That’s where sleeping bags are great, especially if you have waterproof bikepacking bags as they mean you don’t need to keep your sleeping bag in a drybag.

I have a very cheap Vango summer sleeping bag and a winter Rab Ascent. While comfortable, the Ascent is not as packable as something like the Mythic, which has a better warmth-to-weight ratio – but it is far more expensive!

Good kit costs money, but hopefully you can find items second-hand or during sales which can help take the sting out of it. I hope you found this useful in learning how to pack your tent.

If you want to find out more about my adventures, follow me on Instagram. If you want more content about packing for a bikepacking trip, just drop me a message there or email me.

Have fun!

Published by Ross Brannigan

“It is worth ascending unexiting heights if for nothing else than to see the big ones from nearer their own level.” - Nan Shepherd

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