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Bikepacking vs Bike Touring: What’s the Difference?

Bikepacking and Bike Touring are not the same.

The terms bikepacking and touring may have been thrown around in place of each other, especially since bikepacking is a relatively new activity. Those who have been in the cycling community when bikepacking surfaced may argue the strict exclusivity of the two activities, but bikepacking and touring are not necessarily black-and-white. Some elements of each sport intersect each other because of one simple reason: biking is a personal activity.

Two-wheeled traveling “devices” have been in use since the 1800’s, but it was in July 1896 that the first long-distance journey on a bicycle was achieved. John Foster Fraser and two friends rode around the world, covering nineteen thousand miles (19 237, to be exact!) and traversing seventeen countries on three continents.

This expedition of sorts started in Britain, and soon after, America and the rest of Europe followed suit. Thus began the bicycle touring movement. For almost two centuries, people adopted the pursuit to their needs and liking, until different types of bicycle touring were born: lightweight touring, fully loaded touring, expedition touring, S240 (Sub-24hour-Overnight, and it is exactly what its name suggests), day touring, and bikepacking.

By Definition

Is bikepacking a type of touring? People will have varying ideas. Simply put, touring is a long-distance cycling trip designed as a form of leisure rather than exercise or commute. Well, so is bikepacking. But the distinguishing factor is the level of adventure that comes with bikepacking, which is sometimes regarded as “rough riding,” and the amount of stuff that you are willing to carry.

The Philosophy

People go on bikepacking and touring trips with different states of mind. The average bikepacker expects a round of challenging, unlikely terrain with high ascents and singletrack carved out from closed-off passages. They traverse these distances with bursting speed – after all, there are limited supplies available until the finish line. They like to revel in new environments every now and then, so they put in extra effort to discover or create new trails. It’s less about the comfort and more about the hardiness of the experience.

Cyclists who go on touring trips feel less urgency. Their itineraries are spread out to last for months. They don’t tackle as much singletrack as bikepackers do, and most of the time they stick to established trails. For the average tour cyclist, a trip means basking in the sun and taking in the scenery for as long as possible.

Then again, cyclists may very well identify with both philosophies. You can be one or the other, depending on your mood and your resources.

bikepacking bikes

The Destination

How far can you go on two wheels, really? The traditional touring racks and panniers can help you carry food and supplies that can last you for weeks, unlike bikepacking gear. Naturally, touring brings you to farther places and maybe even a trip around the world. Bikepackers usually stick to just one trail.

As emphasized earlier, bikepacking trails have more features than those used for touring, like river crossings, uprooted trees, swampy regions, and even stairs. Touring trails consist mainly of doubletrack, obsolete (but safe) rails, and even city roads.

The Gear

Since bikepacking is more physically demanding and is completed at smaller distances, cyclists carry less weight. The racks and panniers used in touring are not very stable against the bike so bikepacking bags are designed to fit well into the frame by being narrow and are attached to a higher point in the tubes. Manufacturers use lighter, more rugged materials to accommodate these demands, but this also means that bikepacking gear is more expensive.

Packing things requires more strategy in bikepacking, so most people just stick with the essentials, neatly folded and arranged into the humble pockets of their bags.

Check out some cool biking bags here!

Food is rationed smartly, but bikepackers usually include shops in their itineraries so they can worry less about how to get a meal. You can bring the same type of food on both trips, but touring allows for more sophisticated camping setups where you can enjoy putting together simple meals and some small-scale grilling while bikepacking only allows for single-range cooking or instant meals.

Summary

Bikepacking   Bicycle Touring
Shorter Distances Longer distances and can be an around-the-globe trip
Light burden, packs only the essentials Packs more belongings and tools
More stopovers in convenience stores or restaurants The trip is spent mostly on the trail
Trails are more technical Trails are not as physically demanding
Fast-paced Laidback

Here at BikeHint, we give you tips on how to get started and how to establish your track on the soft grounds of bikepacking, but as you go on more trips you will realize that there is no one right formula for it. Sure, there are technical pointers that you can never overlook, but a life on two wheels is no routine experience. You come home from each trip a wiser cyclist… and eventually, you grow to be the best cyclist version of yourself.

Happy biking!

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