How Much Can You Carry Bikepacking? Beginners Guide

How Much Can You Carry Bikepacking? Beginners Guide

If you’re new to bikepacking, you might be wondering just how much stuff you can strap onto your bike before the whole thing collapses under the weight.

I totally get it – when I first started planning my bikepacking trips, I was shocked by how much gear I thought I “needed” to bring along.

Tents, sleeping bags, cook sets, tools – it adds up fast!

In this article, I’ll walk through the basics of bikepacking capacity – how much weight different bike types can handle, where you should put the weight on your bike, tips for cutting down your load, and how to choose the right bike for loaded touring and bikepacking.

Let’s get to it!

How Much Can You Carry Bikepacking?

The short answer is that most standard touring and bikepacking bikes can safely carry between 30-60 pounds of gear, depending on the bike’s construction and intended use.

But just because you can load up your bike like a pack mule doesn’t mean you should.

For comfortable bikepacking trips, most riders try to keep their load-outs around 25-35 pounds.

This allows you to bring necessary gear while keeping your bike handling nimble on both pavement and trails.

Much over 35 pounds and you start to feel that weight when climbing and maneuvering.

Of course, if you’re attempting ultra-endurance bikepacking routes like the Tour Divide, you may need to carry much more weight in food, water, and gear.

In that case, you’ll want to use a purpose-built bikepacking rig designed for heavy loads.

The takeaway is that while most touring/bikepacking bikes can carry a fair bit of weight, you’ll be happier if you trim your load to the essentials.

Pack light, ride far!

How Much Weight Can a Touring Bike Carry?

Touring bikes are designed to carry loads for self-supported travel.

With sturdier frames, wheels, and components than a typical road bike, touring bikes can generally handle 30-60 pounds of gear.

That said, the carrying capacity depends on the bike:

  • Entry-level touring bikes can reliably carry about 30-40 lbs.
  • Mid-range touring bikes can handle 40-50 lbs.
  • High-end expedition touring bikes are built for carrying 50+ pounds of camping gear, food, water, and other necessities for extended tours in remote areas.

Some critical factors in a touring bike’s carrying capacity are the fork, wheels, tires, and frame material.

Steel touring bikes can bear heavy loads.

But high-quality aluminum and carbon touring bikes can also safely carry plenty of weight when designed properly.

The wheel size also matters – 700c wheels are stronger than smaller wheels.

And wide, puncture-resistant tires can support more weight than narrow road tires.

So while your entry-level touring bike from Craigslist might creak under a 50 lb load, a Surly Long Haul Trucker or a Salsa Marrakesh with 36 spoke wheels and beefy tires could handle a 60 lb expedition loadout relatively smoothly.

Should Bike Packing Weight Be at Front or Rear?

This is a great question if you’re new to loading up a bike.

The general guideline is to carry more weight low and centered on the bike, rather than high up.

For bikepacking, you usually want to distribute more weight in the rear rather than front.

Having a front-heavy bike can make the steering unstable and sluggish.

The sweet spot is having about 60% of the load weight in the rear and 40% on the front.

This helps keep the weight centered and makes the bike handle predictable.

Some ways to add rear weight are using a rear rack and panniers, bikepacking seat bags, and handlebar bags.

For front weight, handlebar bags, front panniers, and frame bags work well.

You can fine-tune the weight distribution using these different bags and packs.

Just be careful not to go too far to the extremes or your bike’s handling will suffer.

How Do You Distribute Weight on a Touring Bike?

When loading up your touring bike, follow these tips for ideal weight distribution:

  • Pack heaviest items low on the bike – dense food, cooking gear, tools etc.
    Light items like sleeping bags can go on top.
  • Use rear panniers to put most weight over the back wheel. Double rear panniers distribute it nicely.
  • Front panniers and handlebar bags counterbalance the rear weight but keep them moderately light.
  • Use a frame bag or front bag for critters like snacks, maps, phone etc.
  • Keeping weight centered between wheels helps the bike track straight and not feel lop-sided.
  • Suspension and wide tires can help cushion and stabilize heavy loads.
  • Adjust pannier placement and strap tightness so the load doesn’t sway side to side as you ride.

Take some test rides with your packed bike to tweak the system.

The bike should handle stably and not feel too unbalanced when you lean or trackstand.

Dialing in that perfect load distribution takes some practice but really improves the ride quality.

How Do I Cut Weight on Bikepacking?

Trimming pounds off your bikepacking loadout can make a huge difference in how your bike handles and how far you can comfortably ride each day.

Here are some tips for cutting weight before a bikepacking trip:

  • Audit your gear – Be hypercritical about each item and ask if you really need it or not.
  • Choose lightweight versions of gear like tents, sleeping pads, cook sets etc.
  • Pack clothing layers efficiently and only bring what you need.
  • Use things like handlebar bags and frame packs instead of rear panniers.
  • Skip heavy items like camp chairs, spare shoes, and dehydrated gourmet food.
  • Use ultralight shelter systems like tarps, bivys, and hammocks if the weather permits.
  • Carry only the bike tools you’re likely to need based on experience – you probably don’t need that whole toolbox.
  • Use water reservoirs like bladders instead of heavy bottles.
    And carry only as much as you’ll need between sources.
  • Bring the minimal appropriate electronics – small battery packs, rechargeable headlamps etc.

With some thoughtful cuts, you can often drop 5-10 lbs from your initial pack list.

And believe me, you’ll feel the difference riding up those mountain passes!

Travel light and enjoy the ride.

How Much Storage Do You Need For Bikepacking?

When selecting bags and packs for bikepacking, it helps to have an idea of how much storage volume you need.

Here are some typical gear storage amounts for multi-day bikepacking trips:

  • Frame Bag: 5-15 liters. Holds essentials like tools, spare tubes, wallet, phone.
  • Handlebar Roll/Harness: 5-15 liters. Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, clothing layers.
  • Saddle/Seat Bag: 10-20 liters. Clothing, food, stove, cook set.
  • Rear Rack w/ Panniers: 2 x 10-15 liters. Heavier gear like food, water, tools.
  • Top Tube Bag: 1-3 liters. Snacks, sunscreen, chargers.
  • Accessory bags: 1-2 liters. Extra storage for overflow items.

So for a typical 1-3 night bikepacking trip, you’ll want around 40-60 liters total of gear storage on the bike.

This allows you to pack all your camping, food, accessories, and some spare clothing.

Ultralight bikepackers can get by with 25-30 liters.

For extended expeditions, plan on up to 80-100 liters of capacity to carry 5+ days of supplies.

With a rack, frame bag, handlebar roll, and seat bag you can dial in the right amount of storage for the length and style of your bikepacking adventure!

What Bike Can Hold the Most Weight?

If you’re bikepacking with mega loads or doing expedition-style tours, you’ll want a burly bikepacking rig designed specifically to carry a lot of weight.

Here are some top options:

Surly Long Haul Trucker – A legendary steel touring bike built to carry piles of gear.

It soaks up heavy loads with no fuss.

Salsa Marrakesh – A highly respected touring bike with a stiff chromoly frame and durable 36 spoke wheels.

It can bear huge loads over all terrain.

Co-Motion Pangea – A high-end custom-built touring machine handmade in Oregon with incredible carrying capacity.

Made to order for your needs.

Santos Travelmaster 3 – A premium aluminum bikepacking bike with a 3x drivetrain, 36 spoke wheels, and mounts everywhere.

Built to carry the kitchen sink.

Kona Sutra LTD – A beloved heavy hauler with a Cromoly frame, touring geometry, and quality components ready for rugged travel.

Trek 920 – Trek’s adventure touring bike features a steel frame, mounts aplenty, and a comfortable fit for taking on the miles fully loaded.

While suspension isn’t common on touring bikes, some models like the Cannondale Topstone can take loads off-road while smoothing out the bumps.

If you dream of disappearing over the horizon on epic bikepacking quests, bikes like these will get you there in comfort – and carry all that camping gear too!

Final Thoughts

Well, that covers the basics of carrying capacity for bikepacking and bike touring!

The main takeaways are that while standard touring bikes can carry 30-60 lbs, it’s ideal to keep loads under 35 lbs for handling and comfort.

Focus on compact, multipurpose gear to cut weight and distribute it evenly front-rear and low on the frame.

And for serious expeditions, get a purpose-built touring rig designed to haul a fully-loaded setup over any terrain.

I hope these tips help you plan bikepacking trips where your gear load matches your riding goals and style.

Traveling light will let you ride farther and have more fun out there.

Let me know if you have any other bikepacking weight questions!

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Joey B. Ramsey
Passionate cyclist, father, and blogger.
I've been riding bikes since childhood and enjoy sharing my knowledge with fellow cycling enthusiasts.
My diverse bike collection allows me to write reviews and advice based on personal experience with various bikes and accessories.
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