Since you have found this post, I am assuming you already own a bicycle and would like to use it for multi-day tours. I am also guessing you know the difference between general bike touring and bikepacking – and have your mind set on the latter. And I am even presupposing that you already own or can borrow light camping gear (if not, that is another issue for another day). So the big question right now is one of attaching your gear to the bike.
Commercial vendors are apt to rush to your side with ready-made solutions – nicely conforming with trendy stereotypes that have emerged in recent years. They will tell you that bikepacking is all about owning the respective bags: handlebar roll, frame bag, seatpost bag, bottle-cage adapters… anything, that is, except panniers (which apparently weigh you down and reduce your mobility to that of a cathedral in Normandy).
They are wrong!
Firstly, bikepacking has become a very heterogeneous pastime. Your final configuration will depend on the type of bikepacking you come to prefer (and might even include small panniers). And secondly, we improvised all those fancy bags for years before the ‘innovators’ came up with ready-made products. We did, we still can… and so can you. So keep a tight grip on your money for the time being!
Yes, it is generally said that you will buy twice if you buy cheap. But that motto can fall over backwards if a) you are on a tight budget anyway, or b) you don’t actually know (and how can you?) whether you are going to enjoy the experience you’re gearing up for. So my first recommendation to novice bikepackers would be to read one very fine article about how to assemble a bikepacking setup for under $100 – and then to take it from there slowly.
Take your first short trips with that improvised gear. Ride, enjoy and suffer to find out what you need. By all means study any number of equipment reviews, such as the very well presented ones in bikepacking.com’s gear archives… but wait until the concepts really start to click and harmonise with your real-world experiences. You may even find that ‘gear’ isn’t stunningly high on your list of priorities, because your main craving is for a different bike – one better suited to the tours you are starting to envison.
As I noted earlier, bikepacking is a hobby that has rapidly grown several rather distinct branches: from fast tours on a gravel bike or even a road-racer to long-haul expeditions with a fat bike. The rough attempts at categorisation you might find on the internet don’t even begin to describe the diversity – usually because they ignore terrain as a major variable. In reality, there are dozens of genres, and to achieve ‘gear sanity,’ the one closest to your heart will eventually demand a suitable and specific configuration, especially with regard to bags and baggage distribution. For instance, capacity that will totally overburden a light cyclocrosser could be less than the bare minimum for a six-week wilderness slog on huge tyres.
Which brings me to my own style of bikepacking, the one I have been pursuing for many years – and the one we might possibly regard as the original template: touring on a mountain bike with a fairly heavy emphasis on technically demanding single track, commonly mountainous. A quest for new trails! If you are interested in this type of bikepacking, neither fast nor expedition-like – you may wish to read my recent and lengthy Facebook post on the issue of agility – and why to go against all the recent trends by carrying much of your baggage in a simple backpack!