Over my years of bikepacking trips, and through conversations with other cyclists, I’ve collected a range of habits I use to help keep myself safe while on a trip, especially if I’m traveling alone. Feeling nervous before your first tour or bikepacking trip is very common. Not only are you embarking on a large physical challenge, but you are putting yourself out into the unknown. I understand why that can be daunting. But, hopefully, by sharing these, I can give you some ways to feel safer on the road.
The best way to stay safe when bikepacking is to ensure someone knows where you are and to check in with them regularly. Picking a secluded camping spot is also important. Only 5% of bikepackers have experienced an issue with safety on a trip however 80% of women still preferred to travel with a partner.
Each of these steps are good practices to build into your bikepacking trips, especially if you are traveling alone. Below I go into them in a little more detail to help you understand which technique is best to implement and when.
What are the ways to keep yourself safe when bikepacking alone?
As those of us who have already been bikepacking will know, meeting up with people on a biking adventure will often bring out the best in everyone involved. In my experience, people are hospitable to travelers where they can be, especially when they are on their own. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions.
We spoke to a bikepacking community to ask them about their experiences of bikepacking and the safety of their trips, asking them if they had ever had experiences where they felt unsafe (or were in a dangerous situation), or if they have ever had a problem.
As you can see, the majority of riders will have a bikepacking experience where they get a “bad feeling”, that’s common and it’s the way you deal with it that matters.
Let people know your location
If you are planning a bikepacking trip, you should make sure to share the route with at least one other person in case something goes wrong, this way, people will know where to look if they don’t hear from you.
I’d suggest taking a Garmin inReach Mini 2 (or equivalent) with you. These are GPS devices that can track your location for you. They have a great battery life so you won’t have to worry about them on your trip, and can be set up with an SOS feature. You can even allow a friend to have access to the map.
Sharing this map with a friend and sending check-ins with them at least once a day is a good idea.
Trust your gut
Something I’ve learned throughout my life is to trust my gut. While bikepacking, this seems to be doubly true.
As we saw earlier, many bikepackers or those on a bike tour will find themselves in a situation where they get a bad feeling about something. If you don’t get a good feeling about someone, then trust yourself.
If possible, try to get yourself out of the situation. If however, you are in more of a secluded area where you can’t easily get away, then take a picture very obviously. Send this and any license plates/info to a friend (if you don’t have any signal you can fake it).
If you think that someone is trying to work out if you are alone, make sure to let them know the precautions you have taken (preferably subtly, but bluntly if you have to). Letting someone know you are being tracked, that people know your route, and that they are ready to call out the search parties if they don’t hear from you in a few hours is a good way to get someone to leave you alone.
If you’re in a situation where you feel a bit uneasy, make sure to note the location of your “valuable bags”, the ones with any ID or your phone. That way, if have to abandon your bike or other gear, you’ll have the most important bits.
Choose your campsites carefully
If you find that you are the only person at a campsite, consider finding a secluded spot, a bit further from the entrance. This can help you feel less exposed.
If you’re planning to stealth or wild camp, then it’s best to make sure people don’t see where you go. Start scoping out a spot just before it gets dark (about an hour or so) and keep an eye out for anyone else camping there.
Having worked so hard to keep your camping spot a secret, don’t give it all away by staying up all night with a fire and making lots of noise.
As with all wild camping, make sure to be up at sunrise and on the way quickly.
Plan the best time to travel
Avoid traveling at night if you can, even by bike. Traveling at these times leaves you more isolated.
If you need to travel at night, make sure to avoid the times when pubs or bars close (midnight or 2 am).
Take a buddy
Traveling alone has its advantages, if you’re an introvert, it’s a great way to recharge. But if you’re planning on traveling to a particularly dangerous place, or if it’s your first bikepacking trip, you might want to consider taking a friend.
It’s always good to have someone else with you. Even from a practical standpoint, if you fall, if you get lost, if you have a flat if you get sick…it just makes sense.
If you don’t have anyone to go with, you might be able to find a friend on the way. If you end up meeting a friendly group, say hello. They might want to be camp buddies, watch each other’s stuff, and part ways in the morning.
On popular bikepacking routes, you may well find other cyclists doing the same or similar routes. It is not uncommon to join a group of cyclists all riding the same part of a tour.
How to go bikepacking as a solo female?
I feel like I can’t write this section without specifying that I am a guy. I appreciate that as a result, I have a very different view of bikepacking.
But I have spoken extensively to the women I know who bikepack, and asked them about how safe it is, and for any tips, they would want to pass on.
Most of the women I asked seemed to have similar views on bikepacking as the general group I surveyed. Overall, they felt “pretty safe” but all appreciated it was a personal decision, and there’s no wrong answer to whether you should go alone as a woman.
Most women I surveyed preferred to go with a partner.
What I did find was that women were much more likely to use the tips above than some of the men I spoke to.
Apart from those general tips, women also suggested a couple of apps specifically designed for safety on your journey.
“One Scream” and “Shake2Safety” were both mentioned individually, but others also used their built-in phone safety features.
The only other advice they noted was that they avoided areas where you only see men/groups of men without women or families around.
While it isn’t always the case, they all felt it was somewhere you wouldn’t want to be.
Should you take pepper spray when bikepacking alone?
When most people think about the topic of personal safety while traveling, they will immediately think about pepper spray. It is lightweight, small, and may well be worth having.
The first thing to consider is if pepper spray is even legal in the country you are bikepacking in. I live in the UK and so have never used it! (It’s illegal to carry here).
|Europe||Dependant on the country and strength|
|Asia||Dependant on the country|
|Africa||Legal in South Africa but illegal elsewhere|
If you are planning to take pepper spray with you, make sure you know how to use it. You can buy practice pepper spray cans filled with water. And make sure not to spray it into the wind!
If you are in a country where pepper spray is illegal, consider taking a look at alternatives. These Kick Ass Key Rings come with a red spray you can use to ward off attackers.
If you will be traveling in bear territory, you might choose to carry bear spray and use it in either case. This can be useful for other predators you may encounter (bears, mountain lions, coyotes, etc).
Bikepacking is generally a safe hobby. Many people do it every year without issues, it is important though to ensure you are taking all the precautions you need to and most of all, trust your gut.