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Most Common Mistakes Bikepackers Make

During my time both on the trail and off, I have learned that most of us can’t decide what is the best gear choices for bikepacking but most of us do make a lot of the same mistakes.

I’ve see this both in the bikepacking and hiking worlds. We all start out as novices who need both time to make mistakes and learn before we become good at anything. If you spend any amount of time in online forums you see people asking the same kind of questions you probably asked when you were preparing for your first bikepacking adventure.

There’s two key things here to consider. The first is that most people in th0se forums your searching are probably in the same boat as you. The second, I already made above. Most of them can’t agree on what gear is the best.

The point is, if you’re a new bikepacker you’re better off not asking others for gear or nutrition, but instead ask veteran bikepackers what mistakes they made when they started.

If you take the time to test different gear and do multiple shakedown rides then you’ll learned what works for you. As you learn what works for you, you’ll be gaining what I like to call Trail Confidence. The more confident you are, the better your chances you’ll have a safer, more enjoyable, and success adventure. I can stress how important gaining Trail Confidence and learning about what works for you is.

I surveyed fellow bikepackers to confirm my theory and the results of said survey are below. It’s my hope new bikepackers can learn from our mistakes and gain both some knowledge and confidence from this article.

Top 5 Most Common Bikerpacker Mistakes

  1. Poor Gear Choices
  2. Over Packing
  3. Poor Planning
  4. Navigation Issues
  5. Time Management

Scroll down for more mistakes and tips on how to avoid them.

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Arizona Trail

Colorado Trail

Tour Divide

Tour Divide / GDMBR

Craig Fowler

Not Enough Research – 

My mistake wasn’t because of being naive but more based on hubris. I figured with all my thru-hiking knowledge I didn’t need to plan much. The result was I didn’t know all the options available to me along the route.

Tip –

Make a point to research the ACA maps or the Tour Divide Guides on this site. The more knowledge you have the more options you have. It also gives you the power to make better, more informed decisions, which could greatly effect the outcome of your ride.

Stopping Too Much –

As the TD was my first long distance bikepacking trip I stopped a lot in the beginning. This resulted in a lot of wasted time.

Tip –

If you’re going to stop, don’t just stop to take a picture. Stop, take the picture, go the bathroom, oil the chain, eat or whatever else you might stop for. I take more about efficiency in my post How to Save Time When Bikepacking.

Water Bladder –

I started the TD with a Platypus Big Zip LP. This bladder has a large plastic clip to make a seal. It didn’t fit well in my frame bag and as a result I had to not fill it completely to ensure it fit.

Tip –

On the CTR I switched to the Platypus Hoser which was the same size but without the plastic clip. It worked better but both the Big Zip and the Hoser are long and wide. For the AZTR I finally switch out to a MSR Dromelite 4L which was not only bigger but when full the shape was flatter and more pliable. This meant it fit better in my frame bag.

Lael Wilcox

Unrealistic Mileage Goals – 

I’d say a common beginner mistake is to have high mileage goals. When setting out for a trip, folks often plan on 100-150KM for gravel or 60-100K on single-track. They don’t account for late departures or last minute gear changes or mechanicals along the way. 

Tip –

A tip would be to budget in an extra day– kind of a free day. If everything goes smoothly on the trip, this could just be extra time to rest or spend time in a cool place. I think having extra time takes a little of the pressure off. I always want extra time :).

Chase Medina

Tire Pressure – 

Messing with tire pressure; DON’T. In a fatigued state, late one night, I thought it’d be a really good idea to inflate my tires to 30lbs to help climb a series of passes I was dreading. Forgot to deflate for the descent and crashed pretty hard due to no-traction.

Tip –

What I do now is: I’ve found my exact tire pressure front/back that works for me and the road surface conditions I expect, and I leave it there. Through trial and error on the 2018 TD, for the last 1,800 miles after the crash, I found my exact front and rear tire pressure that works for me and I don’t mess with it.
For me; it’s ~19lbs up front and ~26 in the rear. I ride full rigid. And you really want to learn to gauge your ideal pressure “by feel” not by a gauge. Carrying a gauge is not practical, so give it a squeeze. In the beginning I used to have to use a gauge for this, but after a lot of squeezing and checking during the training period, you’ll be able to do this in the field by “feel”.
It also helps to know your exact desired tire pressure because when you stop in a bike shop to tune your rig, they’ll ask you “what would you like your tire pressure at?” And you’ll know.

Timon Fish

Overpacking – 

Probably overpacked food….carried a 1lb jar of peanut butter from Waterton to Buena Vista, unopened.

Tip

In terms of food, I probably could have done a better job breaking down exactly how many calories I needed to consume on each leg. At the time I was most worried about coming up short and ending up in a huge bonk, and I thought it’d take me more hours than it actually did to go the first ~250 miles. So overall just better planning of calories/hour, and predicting how many hours it’d take.

Jefe Branham

Timing – 

My biggest mistake was waiting so long to do it. I was scared and hesitant to try it for fear of dropping out, I didn’t want to drop. So I did other races and honed my skills, but even still I waited out of fear. All that time and money built up the pressure on myself and I wanted to finish very badly. 

Tip

I did get to the start in 2011 and it was one of the best 16 days of my life. It was like a huge cathartic release and it was an amazing trip. Just like the rest of life, you can’t wait to live your dreams, go get em, no one else is gonna make that happen for you. One reason I regret waiting so long to do the TD, if I wish I could have raced it a couple times more and starting earlier would have made that more possible.

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Colorado Trail

Craig Fowler

Gear Testing –

I installed a bottle under my down tube with a strap. It broke less than half way through Day 1.

Tip –

Never add anything to your race/ride set up without thoroughly testing whether or not it’s going to work or no fail on you. It’s better to have something fail on a shake down ride then on your trip.

Navigation –

I knew that at the time the Guthook app didn’t have the exact race route but I got lazy when I went over Stony Pass and proceeded to go downhill 3 miles the wrong way. The result was a ton of extra climbing and I also got soaked by a thunderstorm and almost went hypothermic.

Tip –

Always, always check your map of GPS when you get to a turn or intersection. Don’t ever assume you know which way is the correct way. The amount of time it takes to double check will always be less than if you don’t and go the wrong way.

Shelter Option –

This isn’t really a mistake but if I did the CTR again I would probably just bring a bivy sack, rather than a tent as I did the first time.

Tip –

A bivy is much easier to set up, has much less bulk and weight and finding a spot to camp is much easier.

Toby Gadd

Chain Lube –  

Running out of chain lube. I thought that a little bottle of dry lube would be fine. It was a pretty wet year, so that a little bottle didn’t last very long — and I ended up need to use lip balm for lube on the last day.

Tip –

Next time, I took a little larger bottle of traditional wet lube — and used on 1/2 of it.

David Meban

Over Packing –  

I Carried way to much stuff on the Colorado Trail I kind of knew it

Tip – 

Doing the Colorado trail was my first extended bikepacking trip, and I was doing it solo, so I wanted to be prepared for every possible emergency. So for bike problems I brought an extra chain, two tubes, lots of tools etc.
Looking back I should have just carried a tube and extra links etc.
I also brought quite a few first aid items – here too I wouldn’t bring as much. I brought things like cord/rope, which some people do, again I’d ditch that.
I have a pretty lightweight tent, but in the future I think I would just go with a tarp.
I did ok with clothing – but definitely go with wool – socks, shirts etc. Will be good in cool and warmer temperatures – and even if you wear it days on end, it doesn’t really smell.
Only carry the bare minimum of food – I never came close to running out. Hope this helps a bit. I

Timon Fish

Allergies –  

I found out on the trail I was really allergic to my sleeping bag. It kinda helped, cause I couldn’t sleep much without waking up in a coughing fit and needing to keep moving

Tip – 

I would have done at least a night out with my full gear setup to make sure everything worked right. That was the first time I had ever used that sleeping bag, and everyone knows it’s never a good idea to first-time something on race day.

Will Scheel

Misconceptions –  

I thought the CTR was going to be easier than the Divide because it was shorter. I was wrong.

Tip –

You’ll want good hiking shoes for the CTR and expect to hike.

Poor Gear Choices – 
I thought a dynamo wheel would be a sufficient form of power generation on the CTR. I was wrong.
I thought a 45* bag and a REI SOL bivy would be enough to keep me warm at night on the Divide and CTR. I was wrong. I spent a lot of time shivering instead of sleeping.

Tip – 

A large battery bank for Garmin and phone is definitely more effective on the CTR and kept me going for 8 days.
Doing the CTR or Divide again, I’d go with at least a 30°F bag or maybe even a 20° and a bivy or tent.

Richard Rothwell

Poor Gear Choices –

I carried a 12,000mah usb battery for CTR to charge my Garmin 1000. Previously, this has got me through 4 day races with LOADS of power to spare. For some bizarre reason, my pack ran low within two days!  So I then had to start being very prudent with its use. Why did it run low so quickly? I am sure I charged it fully. Perhaps it behaved differently in the high temps of Colorado, in comparison to the Scottish Borders?!

Tip –

Anyways, lesson learned; for the sake of the weight, I would also recommend using an Etrex / having one as spare (I know many use the Etrex as their main GPS but I personally like the 1000 for the excellent nav features / big screen). As I did not know what to expect in Colorado, and as a Rookie, I went for the nav features of the 1000 but nav was very simple on CTR. It’s a different ball game on Highland Trail 550, where the nav can be very challenging! I will also carry a spare usb battery from now on – perhaps a 6,000mah. But you know how it is; power to weight! Both the 1000 and the Etrex have their advantages and disadvantages so it’s horses for courses!

Extra Tip –

A good tip on shoes / socks. This is something I picked up from Chris Plesko and on his recommendation, I carried spare socks – it was a good call and something I will continue to do for long haul races. Some Defeet Woolie Boolies are ideal for cold times and for sleeping.

Kristen  Tonsager

Fueling –

Eat when you’re hungry: One of the first bikepacking trips we did, I kept waiting for the “right time” to stop and grab a snack. We were riding from Kenosha Pass over Georgia Pass into Breckenridge. We were planning on grabbing dinner in Breck before heading to camp at the base of French Pass. By the time we got to the bike path in Breck to head into town, I had totally bonked. There was a lady barely jogging going faster than me. I chowed down some peanut butter crackers, but it took what little energy I had left to make it to dinner. At that point, the dinner calories disappeared quickly as we rode the remaining distance to camp and I struggled to eat enough calories to feel back to normal in the morning.

Tip –

Don’t wait for the “right time” or the people you are with to stop for a snack. If you start thinking about food, you should eat something! For the long adventure ahead, a few minutes to fuel the fire will save you in the long run. And, don’t be afraid to bring more snacks than you need…your bike is already heavy!

Beware of Your Gear –

Be aware of your gear: I did a solo bikepack on segments 1-3 of the Colorado Trail and it was the first time I was carrying my SPOT tracking device. Usually, Joe, my husband and riding partner extraordinaire, takes the responsibility, so I was pretty excited to be on my own adventure with him watching my dot.

I thought it would be a good idea to strap the SPOT to my SeatPak so it got the best signal possible and wouldn’t be blocked by my body. I made it well into Segment 2, had stopped for lunch, kept my promise to hit the “OK” button whenever I stopped for a minute, and felt pretty awesome. I arrived at the Fire Station in Buffalo Creek and realized the SPOT was nowhere.to.be.found. Crap. I remembered having it at my lunch stop, and luckily I could get cell service at the station, so I did the thing I didn’t want to do…I called Joe. I tried in vain to bring up the tracking website on my phone to get my bearings and see where it was pinging, but that website is the least friendly mobile site on the face of the planet, so I had to call in the big guns and have Joe go on our home computer and send me some intel.

After backtracking 5 miles, going painfully slow and looking off all around the trail, I finally got a screenshot from Joe that started to help. After 2 more miles of slow backtracking, there it was. Strapped to a tree. As I lifted it from the branches, I remembered vividly not securing the Velcro wrap on the device after my lunch break and it must have flown out through the downhill corner into the brush. Thank goodness for whoever found it and left it!

Tip –

Always remember to secure your gear after you stop for a break. Take the extra 10
seconds to double-check the ground, double-check your zippers, Velcro, shockcord, whatever you’ve got so that you don’t end up panicked and backtracking, burning precious hours and daylight. Side note: I recently lost a water filter due to a hurried packing situation, so don’t be in too much of a hurry to get on the bike without making sure everything you came with (that you clearly need!) is packed away safely!

Jefe Branham

Speed Training – 

I’ve made very mistake in the book and I learned how to be tough and persistent by not giving up, except once in 2011….post TD. That being said my biggest mistake was not doing enough speed work leading up and then taking too much time off the bike before the race. I would go out hard and end up with cramps, oh god those cramps. I’d fight the cramps for the first day and end up feeling ok, but it was ridiculous torture. 

Tip –

I learned that just doing long slow stuff isn’t enough and taking 3 days completely off the bike and drinking lots of beer was not the best taper! If I’m really focused on the CTR I do more interval type stuff, do a few easy spin rides in the days leading up to the race start, or I take it easy the first day and let myself warm up and then crush it later in the race. On top of that, I’d also say that I learned that if you don’t give up, keep suffering and moving and you can make it.

Arizona Trail

Craig Fowler

Under Estimating the Weather –

I made the mistake of thinking that since it was October when I started it wouldn’t be both too hot or too cold for me. I was wrong on both accounts. I got heat stroke on Day 1 and was forced to take two days off.

Then north of the Mogollon Rim I froze my ass off (I also didn’t bring a sleeping bag but instead brought puffy pants and jacket). I didn’t sleep much as a result and this made the long days on the bike even harder.

Tip –

Be sure to research the average temperatures of the area you’re going to. Talk to others who have done the ride/race or that live in the area, they’ll know best. Assume the worst and prepare for that and you’ll be fine.

Bob Horn

Time Management  –

Wasted too much time wondering around store during resupply stops.

I felt rushed prior to the start of the race.

Tip –

Know exactly what you are getting beforehand.

Next time I would try to get there a couple days early if scheduling permitted.

Staring Cold  –

Going from the car to the bike with no real transition made for a tough start to what would already be a tough race.

Tip –

Working off my first mistake, try getting there early and getting a couple rides in leading up to race start so transition isn’t as drastic.

Making Decisions When Tired/Mentally Down –

I decided to scratch too soon, while I was on the ropes.

Tip –

If possible, sleep on it. If you feel bad in the morning, then make the call, but don’t do it when you aren’t thinking clearly.

Pacing –

I overexerted myself on climbs.

Tip –

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t let your pride get in the way. Walk hills you’d otherwise power through on a normal ride. Conserve precious energy.

Grand Loop

Jefe Branham

Navigation and Gear – 

2006 Grand Loop, my first bike packing race. Holy hell I learned so much. My big mistakes in that ride were navigation and taking a comfy sleeping bag. Navigation was just crude back then, map and compass style, there was no GPS tracks and I didn’t own a GPS, so I got lost a lot and stopped at every intersection and got so damn confused. I also over slept that year up in the La Sals cause my sleeping system was too good. I ended up crossing the low desert in the heat of the day, which was not the plan!
Tip –
I went back to the route in 2009 and it was the best. No sleeping bag, but with a GPS and GPS Track. I didn’t get lost, I slept lightly and crushed the miles. It’s an often overlooked route, and for good reasons as its hot and snowy, long and crappy in places, but also very remote and gorgeous.

Summary

Let’s face it mistakes happen, but there are things we can do to minimize them from happening. Luckily for you most of the mistakes you’ll make as a new bikepacker have been already been made by others. This post’s goal is to share them with you so you can avoid them and learn from other’s mistakes.

The best thing anyone can do is to truly know themselves. Knowing what you want, how you deal with situations and how your effected by conditions is key to bikepacking. Not knowing oneself can lead to poor decisions that are based on bad information, leading to mistakes.  The more you know about the trail you’re riding and yourself, the better your decisions will be.

MORE RESOURCES

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MY PROVEN GEAR LISTS FROM THE TRIPLE CROWN

Gear lists from the AZT, TD and CTR; Pros & Cons; Things I’d do different; and Tips.

IF I RODE… SERIES

In depth look at what I would bring for gear and why, if I rode the Tour Divide, CTR, and AZTR again.

Checkout our bikepacking resource page for more planning help.

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