Laurence McJannet, author of Bikepacking: Mountain Bike Camping Adventures on the Wild Trails of Britain, gives an introduction to the thrilling form of outdoor adventure taking the UK by storm
This year more than ever mountain bikers are discovering a wonderfully exhilarating way of exploring the outdoors. Bikepacking – a fusion of off-road riding and minimalist wild camping – is fast becoming a hot topic in the cycling world as many riders begin to realise that by heading home before nightfall they are missing out on half the adventure. Sleeping beneath the stars, waking to birdsong and the lingering smell of woodsmoke, miles from anywhere, is a wonderful antidote to the stresses of modern life, a refreshing recalibration of our senses.
Wild camping on off-road rides means you can strike out further along ancient trackways and along lost river valleys, discover forgotten trails that stretch out through rolling moors, verdant forests and mountain plateaux. A bike is a uniquely liberating machine and, when coupled with a lightweight tarp, tent or hammock, opens up vast tracts of our landscape. You’ll be able to explore much more distance than can be covered on foot and even areas off limits to a 4WD.
To enjoy camping with a mountain bike you do need to get quite minimalist. Not being laden down with heavy panniers will help your bike handle more predictably on technical terrain but there is another benefit too – micro shelters bring you closer to the elements than a traditional tent, you can savour the stars and you might well awaken with a badger peering at you, or an owl swooping by. You really don’t need much equipment to enjoy wild cycle adventures, and what little you do need is cheap and can often be improvised (see boxout for more details).
The freedom of lightweight bikepacking is being able to stop for the night pretty much wherever you like. Perhaps the easiest option is to use a campsite but finding an appropriate place to wild camp, though sometimes challenging, is always rewarding – you just need to use a little commonsense and consideration. Always ask the landowner’s permission – failing that be unobtrusive, find somewhere remote, hidden from roads or dwellings, arrive late, leave early and leave no trace – your presence will usually pass unnoticed, though you must be prepared to move on if asked.
Scotland and much of Dartmoor are unfettered by wild camping restrictions, and the high hills of Snowdonia and the Lake District often allow mountain camping for one night. Some coastal areas (near the spring high tide mark) and some waterways also enjoy historic camping rights. Add to that the countless camping barns, hostels and bothies scattered across the land and you can go as wild, or not, as you like.
Each time you saddle up after your first bikepacking adventure you’ll feel you’re not just heading off on a ride, you’re embarking on a journey of discovery. And with little determination and an adventurous spirit, your adventures can know no bounds.
Bikepacking: Mountain Bike Camping Adventures on the Wild Trails of Britain by Laurence McJannet is available from all good bookshops (£16.99, Wild Things Publishing).