Recently Bikepacking posted a video about defining bikepacking — the activity or culture, not the website and adjoining print publication — explaining that the complexity of their endeavor was daunting. Or maybe impossible, or possibly silly. The video was hosted on Bikepacking’s YouTube channel, both of which had their own discussion and string of comments.
This is my answer:
Bikepacking is everything in the video. I can compare bikepacking to Burning Man in that it’s easy to start defining it, but a sentence or two in you have to stop and admit defeat, adding something like “it’s difficult to define.” On the surface it’s easy to define based on the parameters of our own experience or exposure to media. The trick is to expand our point of view and see how others define it in their terms, or at least how they’re approaching bikepacking within their own means and abilities.
In my mind, bikepacking is on a single-speed bike with no suspension. Bikepacking is packing the minimal to be comfortable enough to have fun a majority of the time. Bikepacking trips don’t start with a car ride, they don’t involve alcohol or weed.
Bikepacking is travel by bicycle, it’s bike touring. It’s “how is this a road?” followed by the joy of rolling into a small town and seeing bikepacking rigs leaning against a wall of a diner or cafe. It’s following an established route like the GDMBR and getting to know the people and culture of the route. It’s riding a less-traveled route and learning the story of the land, the animals and people. Bikepacking is the smell of trees, it’s the view from the top of a brutal climb, it’s a weirdly perfect campsite, it’s the shitty rural highway, the rock garden descent that’s more difficult than the climb. It’s the campsite that has more bugs than air.
Bikepacking is talking to people; it’s listening to locals when they talk about history and their experiences; bikepacking is sharing your story up the point in the timeline where the curious person appears; bikepacking is sharing your plans about the rest of the trip while secretly taking pleasure in being told your intended route is crazy. Or beautiful. Or fun. Or all of the above. Or somewhere the person rode or hiked or launched a canoe just a few days ago.
It’s strapping shit to your bike and taking a trip. The distance doesn’t matter, the route doesn’t matter, the bicycle/unicycle/human-powered machine doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to check any boxes or have any transformative moments. Bikepacking is all of the answers in the video (Benedict’s answer was actually oddly funny and right on) and none of them, simultaneously. It’s something we can define right up to the point where we actually put pen to paper.
Perhaps bikepacking is more of an idea or better, it’s a philosophy in that it raises questions that are better suited to discussion and exploration than they are defining boundaries.