What Is Bikepacking: Bikepacking vs Bike Touring

Many people don’t know what bikepacking is, and that’s a real shame! Bikepacking is a great way to get out and away from your boring 9-5 job, and appreciate all that biking has to offer. As a keen bikepacker and cyclist, I wanted to take the time to explain what bikepacking is.

Bikepacking is very similar to backpacking, but instead of hiking, you use a bike. It involves going on multi-day trips, carrying you, your gear, and everything you need to survive on your bike. Bikepacking trips involve a lot of off-road riding and typically last between two days and a week.

So, we’ve established what bikepacking is, but what is the difference between bikepacking and bicycle touring? And what about adventure touring? I take a look at this, as well as what credit card bikepacking is in the rest of the article.

What is bikepacking?

A picture of a man eating his breakfast while sitting in his tent. He is on a bikepacking trip.

Bikepacking has evolved from traditional bike touring (we’ll take a look at the differences later), and as we said before, it can be helpful to think of bikepacking as backpacking, just with a bike. It involves going on multi-day trips with you and your gear (tent, sleeping bag, food, etc.) being carried on your bike.

Traditionally, bikepacking has been seen as a minimalist hobby, with its main aim being to ” get away” from the normal world for a few days, appreciate the joy of riding your bike, and get away from all your stresses. It also allows you to pack light, with small bags that will enable you to enjoy the ride more.

Where do you go bikepacking?

Bikepacking trips tend to follow off-road trails, either on mountain bike trails or fire roads. Part of the fun and challenge of bikepacking is getting off the main road and experiencing the feeling of exploration as you set out. These types of paths also help you to feel like you’ve really “left the city behind”.

However, in reality, any overnight trip with you and your bike can be a bikepacking trip.

What type of bikes do you use for bikepacking?

Typically bikepackers will ride on mountain or gravel bikes as these are best suited to the mountain bike trails and fire roads that trips will take you on. These bikes can also be a more comfortable way to ride long distances as they have more of an “upright” position as you pedal, and have large fat tires that can absorb the vibrations of the road.

In reality, while some bikes are better than others for bikepacking, any bike can be used for a bikepacking trip. All you will need to do is adjust your planned route for the bike you have at hand.

What types of bags do you use for bikepacking?

As mountain and gravel bikes tend not to have many attachment points for racks and panniers, bikepackers tend to strap their gear onto the bike itself, usually inside specifically-designed bikepacking bags.

These bags are very useful as they can attach to any bike using velcro straps. Not only this, but they allow you to take on rougher terrain than you would be able to with a pannier rack or large fork bags, being higher up on the bike and so having less chance of hitting into a rock or tree stump as you ride.

If you want to take a look at the types of bags people use for bikepacking, take a look at my article here.

What is the difference between bikepacking and bike touring?

A picture of a bike on a bike touring trip.

Bikepacking and bicycle touring are very closely linked, with some people will use the terms interchangeably. While there is no formal definition to distinguish the two, there are a few elements of bicycle touring that are different from bikepacking.

The first main difference is the aim of the trip itself. A bikepackers main aim is to enjoy the process of riding the bike (the fun of off-road cycling, the challenge of a long and hard route, to get away from their normal lives etc.) however, the main aim of a bicycle tour is to “enjoy the journey”. When bike touring, the bike is simply a tool to experience new places. This means that bicycle tours end up lasting much longer than bikepacking trips, with some even lasting years.

Because the main aim of a bicycle touring trip is to get from A to B, the types of routes taken by bicycle tours tend to be less focused on technical mountain bike trails, and more on established long-distance routes. These trips normally take you on more formal roads between cities or even different countries and continents.

Because of the type of terrain you are cycling on while bicycle touring, the bicycle that bike tourers use is also different. Touring bicycles (the types of bike mainly used for bike touring), tend to be more akin to road bikes than mountain bikes, being good for long distances, but also very comfortable. This makes them better suited to handle long days in the saddle, and also helps them to carry lots of heavy gear in pannier racks.

What is the difference between bikepacking and adventure touring?

A picture of a bike on an adventure touring trip.

Adventure touring is the other main category of long-distance bike cycling. Adventure touring is harder to categorize than the other two types that we have already looked at, mostly because it is a combination of the two.

Adventure touring involves many of the aspects of bikepacking, for example getting away from the monotony of day-to-day life, and choosing a fun technical route to take your bike on. However, it also takes some elements of bicycle touring, for example choosing to take longer and easier routes during some sections of the ride, or choosing to ride a more comfortable bike and taking more gear with you.

Bikepacking vs Bicycle Touring vs Adventure Touring

In reality, while there is a difference between bikepacking, bicycle touring, and adventure touring, getting caught up in definitions isn’t really that important. At the end of the day, all of these different hobbies involve cycling long distances on a bike, carrying yourself and your gear, and seeing new places.

Interestingly, some bikepackers have noticed that European riders put less focus on differentiating the different types of long-distance riding, whereas American riders have a much bigger distinction between the three terms.

BikepackingBike TouringAdventure Touring
Short tripsLonger tripsLong or short trips
Off-roadOn-roadCombination of on and off-road
Less gearMore gearDependant on the trip
The focus is on “the ride”The focus is on “the journey”The focus is on practicality
Use bikepacking bagsUse panniersDependant on the trip

What is credit card bikepacking?

Credit card bikepacking comes from the term credit card touring. Credit card bikepacking involves paying for all your accommodation and food while out on a bikepacking trip (hence the name).

Instead of sleeping in a tent overnight, you book yourself into a hotel, hostel or AirBnB.

You also do not need to carry food with you as again, you can buy meals out or get food from local shops as you travel.

This way of bikepacking can be much easier as you do not need to carry as much gear with you (saving you a lot of weight), and so means you can travel a lot further each day. On the other hand, it is obviously much more expensive and some bikepackers will tell you that you are not truly experiencing bikepacking.


As you can see, bikepacking really is as simple as backpacking with a bike. At the end of the day, both hobbies are very similar. If you like backpacking and cycling I’d really suggest giving it a go. If you are thinking about going on your first bikepacking trip, take a look at my ultimate trip planning guide here.

Joe Dalloz

Hi! I'm Joe a 30-year-old doctor, cyclist, and bikepacker who's spent thousands of hours in the saddle and written hundreds of articles about riding bikes!

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