My first bikepacking trip

Bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping, It evokes the freedom of multi day backcountry hiking, but with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike, It’s about exploring places less travelled, both near and far, via single tracks trails, gravel, and abandoned dirt roads.” – Wikipedia 

Doesn’t this definition sound lovely and appealing? I had a feeling I would love a bikepacking adventure. As an introduction I would pick some fairly easy terrain and enjoy the quiet but adventurous vibes of being off road, more or less remotely. This promised some challenges, wild landscapes and the rewarding feeling of independence. 

I started a packing list and quickly realized that carrying a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes, cooking gear, water and food on a bike on trails seemed…hmm, nuts?  I pictured a heavily-loaded bike, with cooking pans still to fit in. How could I handle the load and still have an enjoyable trip? 

I have to admit to having a huge asset: a partner who is motivated to go off-road, can fix bikes, and is strong enough to handle a heavy bike while laughing, taking pictures and navigating the route. He is not for rent, but we at Humdinger are offering a guided trip and a guided women’s trip  –  check them out!

We were relieved to learn that with frame bags and paniers that efficiently fit our bikes, lightweight camping gear, clever clothes and careful planning of food, the load wasn’t crazy at all. We still had plenty of extra space even when carrying 8 litres of water.

Our trip

We found a 228K route on Ride With GPS called “Haliburton Highlands bikepacking loop”. It was documented with camping, swimming, food, brewery options and even viewpoints. Thom Lambert, who created this route, had posted many other Haliburton area cycling options.  We took advantage of this great resource as a base. We later discovered that Thom does much more for the cycling community than developing routes, including being behind the Haliburton Highlands Instagram account

We set up a 170k loop over two days, with pavement to start and end, old logging roads in the Haliburton Forest, and some quiet and fun gravel roads in between.

Our luxury was to book a camping site on Macdonald Lake in the Haliburton Forest, 2km away from drinking water and a restaurant from which we bought some yummy fried chicken, burger, soda and beers  – all enjoyed on our very private site after a wonderful swim. 

We challenged ourselves by including 2500m of positive elevation over the two days, because we love hills!  If you do not, there are many options to avoid them. The Haliburton Highlands was a perfect first bikepacking adventure for us and may be for you too. Its route options are very versatile and the mix of forests and lakes is dreamy. Contact us about a custom trip if this is of interest to you! 

We were conscious of being on an adventure, with things nearly going bad a few times: we missed a turn but the worsening riding conditions made us check the route and turn around; we both had a slight skin rash that looked like poison ivy; we ran out of water on day 1 even with the 8 litres we were carrying; and we had to climb over a massive fallen tree. But we were equipped and in the right mindset to handle everything, and in the end, everything was perfect. 

The feeling of having all that we needed on our own two wheels was very unique. The freedom of being able to make some coffee anytime, grab our swimsuits at any dreamy spot, our camping mat when feeling sleepy, food and water when needed or even the option to put up our tent if it was buggy was  hugely satisfying … Anywhere, anytime we chose… 

How to plan

The more off-road you plan to be, the more effort your bikepacking trip will take. Choose your route depending on your ability to repair your bike, your comfort with no cell reception, and your knowledge of wilderness safety and first aid. There might be no general store, taxi, drinkable water or other needed items. Your navigational skills must also be considered, including how those skills hold up without reception or if your devices run out of power. Plan some back up for water filters, battery banks, directions/navigation systems. has an extensive list of how to get ready.

Humdinger Bicycle Tours has a 3-day guided introductory bikepacking clinic  that teaches the skills you need to get started. Our trip provides the comfort of working with a professional guide who is a wilderness first aid responder – try this combined workshop/tour this fall and be ready for independence in 2023! Oh, and there is a women’s only option as well 🙂

Luxury bikepacking is an option!

If you want to call it bikepacking, you need to carry your stuff and go off-roading but there are many ways to make it smooth: 

  • Hire a guide and follow their leadership through navigation, safety and practical tips.
  • Prebook your camping sites so you know what to expect in terms of a peaceful environment, have access to a fire pit, food box, thunder box or even showers.
  • Who said you cannot eat at a restaurant? Some campgrounds have convenience stores and sometimes even yummy restaurants. You have earned it – enjoy it when available, it will lighten the weight of your bike. 
  • Get transferred and go one-way! At Humdinger Bicycle Tours we can arrange shuttles for you and your bike.

If you are interested in a new type of challenge and sense of even more freedom on your bike, give bikepacking a try. Contact us to help you get started!