The Valles Caldera, a 13-mile wide volcanic depression in New Mexico, formed about 1.25 million years ago after a supervolcano eruption. Now a national preserve within the Jemez Mountains and native Pueblo lands, the Valles Caldera and surrounding area offer backcountry views, hot springs, trout fishing, and dirt roads, and trails.
The original 118 mile Valles Caldera Super Volcano Explorer Route accesses the preserve via St. Peter’s Dome Road beginning outside Kewa Pueblo. If St. Peter’s Dome Road is closed (check with the Santa Fe National Forest), you can also begin in Los Alamos and do a 104-mile loop.
Bikepacking is essentially backpacking with a bike. The Valles Caldera route is a great three-day trip if you’re new to the idea of bikepacking. The route is on predominantly unpaved, isolated roads and doesn’t have much single track (a trail that is only as wide as a bike). It does have a considerable amount of climbing (12,624 feet) but what bikepacking route doesn’t?
Bikepacking differs from full-on bike touring in that minimalism is key. As well as whatever bag combination you prefer, bikepacking staples for any destination include a method of carrying water — whether that be Nalgene bottles or a bladder of some kind — plastic ziplock bags and (my favorite that we use in film and television costume departments) string bags, zip ties, and some gaff tape. There are lots of bikepacking specific bags available. Revelate makes a good variety, as does Arkel. If you want to use a rack with lightweight panniers, check out Old Man Mountain Racks.
Below is a list of some of my essential bikepacking gear. While some hardcore bikepackers will wrap themselves up in a bivy sack and sleep wherever, you’ll notice my gear list has three items devoted to a good night's sleep. This does mean I'm not very "hardcore" when it comes to outdoor sleeping, but I’m okay with that.
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I’ve been partial to the Big Agnes Copper Spur tent line for quite some time; they’re durable, easy to set up, and extremely lightweight. The best thing about this bikepack specific tent (aside from the fact that Big Agnes actually figured out that the bikepacking market was worth targeting) is that it fits on your bicycle handlebars, even narrow drop bars like mine (38 centimeters.) The poles collapse to a packed size of 13.5 inches. The Copper Spur has a gear shelf above your feet and (albeit a bit gimmicky) helmet holder strap on top of the tent body.
Rab Neutrino sleeping bags are some of the lightest and warmest available. I slept in my Neutrino 200 (rated to 34F) across the steppes of Mongolia and into and over the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and was always warm and cozy. The 600 version is rated to temperatures as low as 28F if you want a little more warmth as you get further into the Santa Fe National Forest.
Many bikepackers probably consider a pillow a luxury and unnecessary item but, for me, the little space it takes up (“as small as a russet potato” according to the manufacturer) is worth a good night’s sleep. Easy to inflate and deflate, it packs down into its own stuff sack. And it only weighs 9 ounces.
Popular among trail runners for its reactive lighting technology that adjusts beam brightness by analyzing ambient light, the Nao+ headlamp is not specifically necessary for camping but pretty cool nonetheless. I like it because it’s comfortable and stable while on — and rechargeable.
UV-C purification destroys 99.9% of protozoa, bacteria, and viruses, allowing you to drink from most clear water sources like rivers and streams. While the Steripen doesn’t (obviously) filter out dirt or silt, four AA lithium batteries will purify up to 150 liters of water before needing to be replaced or charged. I’ve used my Steripen all across the world — from the Borneo Jungle to the Karakoram Mountains in Pakistan to the tap water in Albania and Morocco and it’s never let me — or my stomach — down.
While solar panels can be bulky, I like them better than battery packs (though on long trips I carry both.) The Biolite Solar Panel allows you to charge devices in real-time as well as store energy in the integrated 3,000 mAh battery. I strap mine to the outside of a pannier or the top of an extended seat bag to charge while riding.
The Elemnt Roam has a battery life of about 17 hours, much longer than other bike GPS computers. You can load any route you like onto it for turn by turn directions. It comes with preloaded maps for North America, Europe, South America, and Oceania (you can download more also) that allow you to navigate on the fly without a cellphone or Wi-Fi connection.
A good cold-weather base layer is essential whenever venturing into forests or mountains (at least I think so — but I hate to be cold.) Under Armour base layers are my favorite no matter if I’m hiking, biking, or skiing. They’re fast-drying, moisture-wicking, extremely comfortable, and the warmest I’ve found.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now bikepacking gear in most cases is all about how light and how small an item is. The Pocket Rocket is likely the tiniest stove you’ll find. It attaches to most fuel canisters (not included), is easy to ignite with an adjustable flame, and boils water (coffee!) in about three minutes.
GoPro Cameras are small, powerful, waterproof, and durable. Mine has accidentally catapulted more than once from my bike while careening down a rocky mountain and emerged unscathed. While that fact doesn’t necessarily provide a stellar review of the handlebar mount (it was always a mount failure that prompted the catapulting), I still think they’re worth it, especially since the newest version is much more stable and secure.
The best bike for bikepacking is the one that you feel the most comfortable on, fits you the best, and often the one you already have. People bikepack on all kinds of bicycles and everyone develops their own preferences the more trips they take. There is no one “perfect for everyone” bikepacking bike. If you’re in the market for a new bike that could be used for bikepacking though, Surly is a good place to begin.
Surly makes steel bike frames for “people who don’t take themselves too seriously." Two popular Surly bike models are the Long Haul Trucker with drop handlebars and the Karate Monkey, a hardtail mountain bike. Both are customizable to whatever your needs are and many have been used on bikepacking expeditions around the world. The best way to shop for a bike is by visiting your local bike shop so that you can test ride different sizes and models and get suggestions and guidance from a (hopefully) informed and knowledgeable bike mechanic.
Remember, though; anyone can bikepack with whatever gear they want. While there’s always new tech and fun gear to try, you don’t need anything fancy to begin. You can simply buy some Voile Straps and attach whatever you want to carry to your bike and start pedaling.