Setting off with loaded bikes

Family Bikepacking - What worked on our first attempt

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Aug 2020; updated Jun 2023.

At last, after all the preparation, we get to go bikepacking and learn what works and what doesn't.

We find a campsite near home for our first attempt at Family Bikepacking.

Why bikepacking?

Last year, we tried backpacking and learnt a lot of things. Especially, how to pack your bag correctly.

However, with cycling, you can travel further distances, and you can let the bike carry some of the load 🙂

As our lad is getting older, we want to do more of these sort of adventures. Though he's always liked the adventures, including wild-camping when much younger.

Bikepacking Vs Bike Touring

From what I understand, bikepacking and bike touring are very similar. However, bikepacking is available to more people, as you don't need a special touring bike that is rigged for panniers.

There are a range of bikepacking bags that mean you can take gear without needing to have pannier racks. Though there's nothing stopping from using panniers if you have them.

It's all about flexibility.

So, you can rig up your mountain bike, strap on some bags, and head over some rugged trails to a campsite.

The bikepacking bags we took

I've been buying bags from Amazon for the last year now, so I had a good collection of bikepacking bags to use.

Bikes loaded for bikepacking

The bikes are all ready to go. I should have put a pannier rack on Shell's bike.

The Panniers

Panniers loaded onto the bike

On my bike, these panniers took most of the gear.

I had these panniers already and had fitted a lightweight pannier rack to my bike.

My bike was going to carry most of the gear shared between the three of us, and so loading items in the panniers made the most sense.

Plus, the top of the pannier rack was a perfect place to put the tent, with cargo webbing to hold it in place.

It may have been possible to lay the tent sideways on, across the top of the panniers, making more room for something else on top of the pannier rack. However, that would make getting in and out of the panniers difficult.

These Basil Sports Panniers have plenty of pockets and also have built-in rain covers. If it was going to be very wet, I would have wrapped the tent too.

Bikepacking Saddle Bag

Bikepacking Saddle Bag

I was really impressed by how much we could stuff into this little bag. The webbing on the top was also useful for placing a raincoat.

This is your classic bikepacking saddle bag and simply attached to the frame and seat. No pannier rack required.

Our lad had this on his pike and I was surprised how much we could fit in it. The very small Robens Moraine I sleeping bag was a perfect fit for the bottom of this saddle bag.

It's only a 10L bag, so don't expect to fit everything in it, but it was enough so that our lad could carry some stuff without having a backpack on his back. I bought it from Amazon.

Top Tube Bag

Bags on the bike Frame

The frame is getting loaded up. I could have got a roll for the handlebars too.

At the other end of the bike is the bag I had on my top tube by my handlebars.

Phone in bike bag

The frame bag is handy for things you might need on the ride, and also useful for displaying the phone. The touch screen still works through the bag.

This is a useful storage bag and a great place to put your phone, especially if you need to use it for navigation.

This bag has plenty of room for a power bank plus other items, and you can operate your phone through the waterproof screen.

Again, this was another great purchase I made on Amazon.

Triangle Frame Bag

Frame Bag

This frame bag took a few more items but didn't hold too much stuff. I think I need to make better use of it next time.

This is another bikepacking bag I bought from Amazon, which simply sits within the bike's frame.

There wasn't too much space for this with my bottle cage though, but it proved useful to carry a few more items, though it wasn't that full, with most of the gear going in the panniers.

Repair Saddlebag

Saddle Repair Bag

The repair kit in the saddlebag has already proved useful. I've been really impressed with the little pump that comes with it.

A final bag that I had was underneath my saddle. This contained puncture repair kit, bike multi-tool, and a pump.

There are quite a few of these to choose from on Amazon. However, I've been quite impressed with the little pump that comes with this bag. Sometimes they're not that great, but so far, this has worked really well.

Other Gear

Of course, that was just the bags. We took a tent, sleeping mats, and sleeping bags of course.

The Trip - What worked well and what didn't

We found a campsite that's not too far from home for this first test. What we didn't want to do is a big epic trip to put our youngest off.

The Campsite

By The Wood Campsite. Not too far from home, but far enough for this first trip.

Setting up camp

Setting up camp

Evening sun

Nice to be setting up in the evening sunshine.

Bivvy Bag

Our lad wanted to bivvy bag it.

The Robens Pioneer 3EX tent went up easy enough. However, our lad wanted to sleep in his bivvy bag.

Of course, there would be less to take if we all had bivvy bags. However, it's sometimes nice to have a tent! 😉

Hexi Stove

Our gas stove failed. Good job I brought the hexi-stove.

Unfortunately, our main gas stove didn't work (read about it here). Fortunately, I had took a hexi-stove as a spare.

This was one of the items I nearly didn't bring as it adds a bit more weight, especially with a pack of paraffin tablets. Good job I did bring it though!

Curry in a mess tin

This is supposed to be curry.

We had bought some wayfarer meals that boil in the bag. However, that wasn't going to be an option with the little hexi-stove, so we just tipped them in the mess tin and heated them up.

First Light at the campsite

The sun is rising and someone's still asleep in their bivvy bag.

For breakfast, and it was another Amazon purchase: a Tent Meals porridge.


Tried this Tent Meals porridge. I thought it was OK. Lots of calories to help fuel the ride home!

First Brew

Coffee and breakfast

So, what worked well, and what would we change?

What went well

  • Despite the hills, it was great fun.
  • Apart from the incident with the stove, our lightweight gear worked well.
  • The saddle bag worked really well. I might get another slightly larger one.

What could be improved

  • I'm glad Shell came as I was very slow up hill, and very fast down hill, with all the additional weight. Keeping with our Tom was difficult.
  • I need to spend some more time planning the bags and reducing weight. Even taking things out of their bags and boxes might cut down a little.
  • I always say 'let the bike take the weight'. I should have put the spare pannier rack on Shell's bike. It would have been easier for her than a backpack.
  • As I found in a previous test, the tent had condensation issues. This added time to pack away as it took a while to dry out.
  • It was all roads this route. I think a gravel bike might have been better.

While that list might have a lot of things that need improving, it was still great fun, and the purpose of this trip was to find out what worked and what we could do better at next time.

And there will be a next time. Just need to plan somewhere new....

Heading off

Time to head home