Best Bikepacking Bikes: Top 14 Models We Recommend [Buyer’s Guide]
If we said it’s possible to travel the world for under 60 a month while getting the experience of a lifetime, would you believe us? Well, you can, if you get one of the best bikepacking bikes below!
Bikepacking is one of the cheapest and most eco-friendly ways to travel the world and is gaining even more popularity with the global rise in inflation.
Many people will tell you that the best bike for bikepacking is whatever you currently have, but if you want to have a comfortable and successful trip, these few tips will save you from misery:
- The overall bike build should be sturdy, with easily serviceable parts that are interchangeable with other brands. The last thing you want is to be stranded in a remote jungle unable to replace a vital component!
- Keep in mind with all the heavy gear there is extra weight and stress on both you and the bike. The frame needs to be solid and the bike geometry needs to be ideal for long-distance travel, with a centered rider position and low center of gravity.
- Most riders usually travel with all their belongings and so require a bike with the provision to mount multiple luggage carriers on the saddle, frame, fork, and handlebars.
The 13 BEST Bikepacking Bikes For 2021!
To help you get started, we’ve investigated the best bikepacking bikes and compiled the Top 14 in 2023. Check them out!
Best Bikepacking Bikes in 2023
Best budget bikepacking bike
- Low-cost bike with parts readily available.
- 18 Gears for easier riding.
- Most parts are manufactured by specialist OEM – Shimano.
- Some components are inferior quality
- Limited range of sizes
- Aluminum frame may be difficult to repair.
The Journeyer by Salsa is one of the best bikepacking bikes under 2000, ideal for cyclists that want to get a feel for bikepacking on a budget.
The aluminum frame is light, weighing around 10.5kg, and available in 6 sizes – between 49cm and 60cm. Unlike most 11 or 12 speeds that are common these days, the Journeyer comes with a total of 18 gears, for the extra edge needed to conquer hills.
The frame design allows for extras to be mounted on the bike while making it easier for riders to push the extra miles they want to achieve. All cables are routed internally with the provision for a seat dropper post – an upgrade we highly recommend on every ride.
The green paint on this beast blends in with nature, allowing you to camouflage and be at one with the surrounding – especially if you are hitting forest-filled paths. This is one of the best bikepacking bikes in terms of the finished look.
The simplistic design and basic build make this one of the best options to go for in 2023. By purchasing the Journeyer Sora 650b, cyclists unlock the exciting world of bikepacking adventure.
Niner RLT 2-Star
Best beginner bikepacking bike
- MSRP: 2209.15
- Frame: Hydroformed Aluminum
- Suspension: No Suspension
- Tire Size: 700c x 50 or 650b x 2.0
- Budget bike – good for a first-time bikepacker.
- Light but strong aluminum frame with 26 mount points.
- Biocentric bottom bracket and interchangeable wheels give bikepackers the freedom to customize the bike.
- Lack of suspension can cause rider fatigue and discomfort on rough terrains.
- Not the best gearing when the bike is loaded on steep hills.
- Hydraulic braking systems require some level of technical expertise. A small air bubble or leak can cause a complete failure.
The Niner RLT 2-Star is one of the best bikepacking bikes to get on a budget, especially if you are new to bikepacking and long distances cycling.
The frame is made entirely out of rigid hydro-formed aluminum, making it light yet strong enough to tackle lengthy trails with a full load. Niner has included 26 threaded mounts across the frame to carry additional luggage racks with all cables internally routed, which helps to prevent damage and wear and tear from the elements.
For rider comfort, the RLT 2-Star has longer chainstays and a lower bottom bracket, with the option of adding fenders to keep the mud and grime away. Buyers can choose between a 700cx50 or a 650bx2.0 tire size, depending on what path lies ahead and get a fork made entirely out of RDO carbon with the option to extra fit bottle cages or racks.
The 11-speed drivetrain is paired with Niner’s highly versatile biocentric bottom bracket and includes an option to upgrade to an electronic shifter. The only problem some new riders might have with this bike is the lack of suspension, which makes for a bit of a bumpy ride when going along tough off-road dirt tracks.
So you want a bike. But what kind?
When I first got into riding as an adult, I found myself originally wanting a mountain bike. I liked the Trek Mamba that I found at my local Trek dealer, and loved the feeling I had when I went up and over a curb or on to some dirt patches in the parking lot. I had discovered some of this when I was living in Ohio for a few years. But when I went seriously looking for a bike, it was ultimately a decision I made based on social and convenience factors.
This is basically how I’ve found people to get started with when it comes to bikes. They’re typically presented with three main choices at the bike shop:
- Mountain Bikes: the badass ones you see on the Red Bull ads, the ones that you feel will take you anywhere, the big tires, the suspension, the seat posts that drop on their own, usually wide bars and an upright riding position.
- Road Bikes: the ones that will make your neighbors think you’re trying to be Lance Armstrong, drop bars, marketed to you as a way to achieve fitness goals, the ones that all your friends with a remote interest in bikes will want to pick up and remark at how light it feels.
- Hybrid Bikes: a combination of the two, usually with flat bars but resembling one of the two other options, sold to you as the “best of both worlds” when in reality it does neither very well.
This whole website is very much road bike centric, as that has been my speciality over the past few years, so my first-hand knowledge on mountain bikes is a bit limiting. So let’s just assume that you’re here looking at getting your first road bike.
Maybe it’s a way to get out of the house during pandemic times. Maybe it’s a way to lose some weight. Or perhaps it’s just a way to rekindle that joy you felt as a child. Either way, let’s chat about it around the water cooler.
First up, the Frame
This is, believe it or not, a bit of a hotly debated topic these days. Traditionally, road bikes were just…road bikes. They were pretty boxy, dimension wise, and were typically classified by the number of gears it had. Or perhaps by the brand.
These days, there are actually several “types” of road bike frames, each of which will do some things better than others and some things not as well as the others.
It’s a bit more nuanced than that, of course.
These are the thoroughbreds of the sport. When compared to other road bike frames, you’ll notice differences like so:
- Small / short headtube (the tube where the handlebars sit on top)
- They’re all about counting grams (how much the frame weighs)
- Carbon is the name of the game here, and the more of it, the “better it is”, as us cyclists tend to say
- They can get into distinguishing “blends” of carbon, even, believe it or not, talking about “layup” and “weave”
- Marketed as “stiff” because you don’t want any loss in power transfer
- Skinnier tires (although that is changing), less clearance, more FOCUS on aerodynamics in some cases
- Typically the most expensive in the line up
I’m a sucker for this stuff, to be open and honest about it. I love the feeling of speed, the wind whooshing through my deep profile, carbon wheels, the literal lurch forward of my entire body when really pressing down hard on the pedals and letting those bars pull against me. These bikes even get subdivided further, believe it or not, into frames that are marketed more towards more climbing or aerodynamics focused.
But technology is as technology is, and a lot of the tech that you find in these kinds of frames often find themselves rather quickly into lower lines of frames within the “race” genre as well as into other frame types.
A side point about these frames
Years ago, it was significantly more common for race bikes to look the way we have traditionally looked at bikes that the professionals rode. That meant a straight and nearly level top tube, which is the tube that people will often pick a bike up by. However, in the mid-1990’s, Giant came out with a bike called the TCR, meaning “Total Compact Road”, and it changed the name of the game.
The intention behind this radical departure of the frame was its “slack” top tube, meaning that it sloped down at a high angle, more like a mountain bike frame does. What this allowed for was the FOCUS for customization of parts to be on the parts like the handlebars, the stem, the seatpost instead of the frames themselves, which are significantly more complicated and expensive to make in multiple sizes. It’s why Giant still sells these frames today and why many manufacturers will sell frames by “small”, “medium”, or “large” sizes.
There’s a very complete history of this frame over at CyclingWeekly’s website. Give it a read if you’re curious, it’s fascinating.
Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what one would really notice between this and a race frame if you’re new to the sport, so this may be a great spot to get started. Especially if you’re more cost conscious and maybe aren’t as obsessed with speed as I am.
- slack in its fit, so a more upright riding position
- Built more for longer distance and comfortability as opposed to raw speed
- Typically room for larger tires, as that’s the source of a lot of comfort on the road and where the market is going
- Less FOCUS on weight, less carbon typically
- Better price point
A few good examples of “endurance” type frames are the Specialized Roubaix and the Canyon Endurace.
My dirt road bikepacking rig is based on the classic cromoly Kona Explosif 2007 frameset I used for my original round-the-world attempt. For full details, read:
All my bikepacking luggage is from UK direct retailer Alpkit – a Stingray custom frame bag, Big Papa seat pack, Fuel Pod top-tube bag, two Stem Cells, and a Kanga handlebar harness with a 20l Airlok Dual. (They don’t sponsor me – I just like their stuff.)
I also wear a Deuter 3‑litre hydration pack, and sometimes a LowePro all-weather hip pack for camera gear.
If I’m riding solo, I usually take a 2‑berth MSR Hubba Hubba (direct / Amazon / Go Outdoors / Alpine Trek / REI / MEC / eBay). Mine’s from 2014; note that the 2022 model has documented issues with splintering poles, so best to wait for the updated model.
If my wife is along for the ride, we’ll pack our 2010-series 3‑berth MSR Mutha Hubba HP. The 2023 equivalent is known as the MSR Hubba Hubba 3P (direct / Amazon / Alpine Trek / REI / MEC / eBay).
For minimalist bikepacking I’ve been using the British-designed Terra Nova Starlite 2 (my review / use TOMA20 for 20% off when bought direct / Amazon UK / eBay).
I don’t actually like tents. So if it’s practical I’ll sleep in a standard-issue British Army Paratex bivvy bag (eBay) or, better, a Hennessy Deep Jungle Hammock (my review), depending on mood and likelihood of trees.
In 3‑season conditions, I curl up in an Alpkit Pipedream 250 (discontinued; try the slightly lighter Pipedream 200 or heavier 400) plus a Scottish Silkworm liner (Amazon UK / eBay).
For winterlike conditions I use an older down-filled Big Agnes Storm King rated to ‑25ºC.
For regular touring and camping, an Alpkit Airo 180 (direct) has replaced a series of Exped mats, none of which lasted more than a few years. In winter, however, there’s still little better than the Exped DownMat series (my review of the DownMat 7 / direct / REI / MEC / Amazon / eBay). Also read:
Alpkit Drift inflatable pillow cover (direct), Alpkit Qark headtorch (direct), McNett (aka: Gear Aid) Tenacious Tape (Go Outdoors / REI / MEC / Amazon / eBay) for gear repairs (duct tape also works), the toothbrush from my bathroom.
Cooking isn’t always essential, but if I’m away for long enough to want to cook my own food or make a brew, here’s what I use:
If I’m solo, the Vango Compact canister stove (direct / Amazon / eBay) or a homemade alcohol stove (how-to video) usually do the job. In pairs/groups or on longer trips, the Alpkit Koro (direct) is lightweight and good for canister gas alone, whereas the MSR WhisperLite Universal (my review / direct / REI / MEC / Amazon / eBay) also allows us to use many liquid fuels.
If on my own, I take an older version of the MSR Trail Lite Solo kit (direct / Amazon / eBay) when touring, or Alpkit MyTiMug (direct) to save weight when bikepacking. In pairs/groups, the Alpkit AliPots (direct) usually do the trick.
If I need one (rarely), my filter of choice is the Sawyer Squeeze (REI / Amazon / eBay).
Spoon, Opinel N o 8 stainless steel folding knife (REI / MEC / Amazon / eBay), a couple of tupperware containers, canister of sea salt, British teabags, scouring pad, hotel bathroom shampoo bottle filled with washing-up liquid, ziploc bag of laundry detergent.
On long trips I usually wear a combination of items from the backpacking and hiking departments, rather than cycling-specific clothing. This means bamboo or merino wool baselayers, currently a Patagonia merino ¾‑sleeved jersey (men’s/women’s); long MTB shorts with padded riding shorts underneath; and flexible, quick-drying hiking or climbing trousers for sun protection.
I then throw in whichever of the following items are relevant:
Alpkit Balance waterproof jacket (direct), sometimes supplemented with a bin bag, and a pair of very expensive but very waterproof Patagonia overtrousers (men’s/women’s).
For 3‑season riding I pack a Patagonia Nano Puff recycled synthetic jacket (men’s/women’s). For serious winter camping I hide inside an Alpkit Fantom (men’s/women’s).
My feet get on well with Salomon’s low-profile Gore-Tex hiking shoes. I love Darn Tough socks and bring whatever thickness suits the climate. I always pack flip-flops or Crocs.
Various Buffs, depending on circumstances – UV protective, high-vis, visor, fleece, etc. They’re really useful. Helmet, obvs.
How to Shop
Once you’ve narrowed down your “ideal” bike to two or three styles, it’s time to do some online research. Start with manufacturers’ websites to understand sizing and spec. (Read Similar Stories). Compare features like frame material, gearing, and brakes on different brands in your price range. Check the sizing, which varies from brand to brand, and use the size finder to determine what works for you (If the Mfg doesnt have a size finder, consult youre local bike shop or look at the frame geometry). And yeah, think about color and graphics.
Use the manufacturer’s dealer finder to find a shop in your area that carries the brand. Call ahead and ask if they have the model you want (or something close to it) in the right size. Ask whether you need to schedule a test ride. You’ll want to test the bike in conditions as close as possible to what you’ll ride in real life. Scout the area around the shop for any bike paths where you can safely sort things out, and find a good hill to test the gearing range and brakes. Demo days and events are a good way to try bikes from several manufacturers on the appropriate terrain.
How to Test Ride
Dress the part: Wear whatever you plan to wear when riding. Bring your ID and a credit card even if you don’t plan to buy that day, as you’ll likely need to leave them with the shop during the test. Ask shop staff to set up the bike for you—adjusting the seat, adjusting your tire pressure, setting the suspension will give you the proper fit. If you’re unfamiliar with how any parts work, ask for a demonstration.
A good test ride takes around 15 to 20 minutes. Get comfortable in the parking lot first, and ask the shop to readjust anything that doesn’t feel right. Then, get out and ride! If you are unfamiliar with the area ask the shop staff to recommend a route, do you best to avoid busy streets so you can pay attention to the bike, its details and features.
23 Mind Blowing Touring & Bikepacking Bike Features!
Shift through all the gears, see how the bike handles around corners. Does the steering feel quick and responsive? Slow and stable? (There’s no wrong answer, just what feels best to you.) Are the gears low enough to let you climb steep hills at a comfortable pace? Do the brakes stop you quickly and safely? Is the bike comfortable to sit on?
Most shops aren’t located near trail and aren’t keen on letting riders get test bikes dirty. So if you’re looking for a mountain or gravel bike, demo events are a great bet. Ask the shop if one is scheduled, and check the manufacturer’s website for a calendar of demo tours. Finally, ask if the shop has the model you want in its rental fleet. Many shops will credit the price of one rental toward purchase.
Signs of a Good Bike Shop
Good bike shops have employees who are friendly and knowledgeable, but will work at your speed. They’ll show you how different parts work. They’ll allow test rides and take the time to properly set up the bike. And they’ll discuss maintenance, any service plan packages they offer, and what accessories you should think about.
If an employee is condescending or dismissive, find another employee to help you. If it happens again, find another shop.
Pressure sales tactics are rare, but if they try to sell you something that’s the wrong size or clearly not right for you, leave if they won’t listen to your concerns. Most shops are great, but if something feels out of place don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself.
Don’t forget to ask around, your friends are there for a reason and will help point you in the right direction of someone who knows or has had good experiences buying the bike you want.