Backpacking vs. Bikepacking: a complete rundown of highs and lows

Our writer uses personal experience to take us through the ups and downs of both Bikepacking and Backpacking

Anna Nix
21st November 2023
Image Credits: Pixabay
I do love a good adventure and having grown up on holidays spent under a tent you can bet that it left a permanent mark. Now in my twenties I can’t imagine a better vacation than trekking up a mountain or cycling along a river, carrying only essentials and leaving everything else behind.

Truth is I’ve done both backpacking and bikepacking and although the name rings of familiarity the activities could not be more different. To put it into context, bikepacking is something I’ve done more than once, but my biggest trip was two years ago, when I cycled the Donauradweg route with two of my friends. Backpacking is something I’ve only ever done once and it was last summer when I attempted to hike the West Highland Way.

When it comes to packing

Before you even head off for either adventure you will hate the packing part as I know I did. Compared to my excited packing when I am heading to a beach vacation, this seemed more like a task from hell than anything else. It comes down to the fact that you can pack so much more for a cycling trip, as I had bags on both my front and back wheel as well as handlebars. Whereas for my hiking trip I carried a 20kg backpack and was only able to pack necessities and still it was far too heavy.

The physical and mental strains

As with any sport activity different parts of your body take the hit based on what you do. From my bike – my thighs, butt, knees and shoulders hurt the most. However, the pain subsided after three or four days. Admittedly, second and third day were the worst, each for different reasons. Second day was pain upon pain, neither me nor my friends were able to properly sit down on our bike, which also seemed heavier than the day before. Third day was all about mentality – it just seemed like the road was never ending, but the pain was slowly going away.

Hiking, however, a completely different story. Knees took the biggest hit for me – the additional 20kg was too much for them. Then it was my feet, I was curing the blisters from my shoes for the following two months. And then of course my back and shoulders – putting the backpack on felt like torture and throwing it onto the ground (because putting it down calmly was too much effort) felt like I could finally breathe again. Mental side of things, I thought I was going to give up on my second day.

For the beginners

Truthfully, I think bikepacking is easier for beginners. Bike is easier because after you get off it you can still function – you can walk. As you are using different muscles when on a bike compared to walking, you feel less exhausted in the campsite after your day of cycling then compared to hiking all day. You don’t get much respite from hiking when you are in the campsite as you are still using the same muscles as you did during the day, albeit without extra weight.

Bike or the hike

I went hiking alone but cycled with my friends, which obviously has a huge impact on the way I view both experiences but putting that aside – hiking might be more rewarding. There is probably nothing better than climbing up a hill and then getting to enjoy the view. Enjoying immaculate views is easier when hiking – there is no way I would get my bike up any mountains as the terrain usually isn’t made for bikes and my legs would also give out very quickly. On the other hand, I love that with a bike I can cover more distance, see more places. So, in the end, it’s entirely about what each of us prefers.

The end of both

Funny thing is that both my trips ended earlier than planned, however each for different reasons. Biking trip was cut short because the route we wanted to take was hit by a landslide, so we altered our trip a little, biked somewhere else and ended up coming home a few days earlier. Still, the trip stretched for 10 days with about two or three days of sightseeing more than biking and at the end we had 555 kms on our tachometer.

My hiking trip was cut short because my shoes fell apart. Simple as that I kind of failed in the most important of preparation tasks and the shoes I brought were good and proper hiking shoes, but they were too old. And since I had no means to walk anymore, I had to hop on a bus and go back home without, unfortunately, finishing the planned hike.

All in all, though, I’d say they were both amazing trips because I have learned a whole list of valuable lessons, made unforgettable memories and added more fuel to the fire in my heart that just wants to pack my bags and run to the forest.

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