Bikepacking For Beginners With Laura Heiner

Have you ever thought bikepacking sounded like something you’d like to try but didn’t know where to start? Well this podcast episode is for you!

Laura Heiner, founder of Idaho Women’s Bikepacking, shares everything you need to know about bikepacking as a beginner. This includes what gear you need (and don’t need), where to sleep, how to find routes and navigate, how to find people to ride with, and more.

Laura is the absolute best at teaching this stuff (she taught me!), and you’ll finish listening to this interview feeling prepared to give it a shot.

Listen To The Interview

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About The Host

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @femme_cyclist

Full Interview Transcript

Kristen  

Laura Heiner, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Today we are going to talk a bunch about how ladies can get started bikepacking. But before we do that, can you just introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about who Laura Heiner is and how you got started bikepacking.

Laura  

Okay, hi. Um, yeah, thank you for having me. I have been biking about five years. I think it’s actually about six now. I used to bike a long time ago.  We lived in Iowa. I biked for a few years, maybe about five years while we lived there. But that was a that was in my 20s and early 30s. I’m, I’m in my mid 40s now. 

Laura  

And so I took at least a good decade off from biking.  And I had never mountain biked or bikepacked or, you know, to be honest, it’s really different biking in Idaho where the mountains are real than in Iowa where everything’s just kind of rolling hills. And so my husband has always been an avid biker, he’s always tried to get me to do it. I really didn’t have the interest. I thought it would just be too difficult. I didn’t consider myself an athlete I didn’t want to get hurt all of those things that everybody thinks about. 

Laura  

And so he did a race  that is local here in Idaho, called the smoke and fire 400. And I had watched him mountain biking bikepack casually with his friends but just watching his dot race this race was like the thing that clicked in my brain and I really wanted to try and do that race. 

Laura  

I think I like having goals. I think I like having a reason to get out on the bike with a with intention and purpose. And so I didn’t have a bike. My husband had an extra. I took his bike and started to learn how to mountain bike first. So that was the first goal is can I you know learn to ride clipped in. Can I learn to ride on trails, can I get up on the mountain fire roads and gravel roads. And I took a year just kind of learning how to do that. My husband taught me everything I know. 

Laura  

And then we started doing overnighters together and he taught me how to load my bike and sleep outside and get back on your bike and you know how to camp and how to load efficiently and all of those things that go with bike packing. And we raced the smoke and fire that next September. 

Laura  

So my interest kind of happened in October. I didn’t really ride in the winter, I never really do and then I picked up my training pretty seriously from March to September, and I rode side by side with my husband that year and was successful actually finished the smoker fire 400. Which was kind of shocking. 

Laura  

I was really really scared to do it and I wasn’t sure I was gonna finish so I didn’t tell anybody I was training for it or anything. I just kind of did it all secretly. And I think that was in 2017 and I’ve done it every year since so I think I’m addicted now. And I do bikepacking for fun, I do it with my husband, I do it with friends and kind of accidentally started a group where I teach it to women. 

Kristen  

Can you tell us a little bit more about that? What is Idaho women’s bikepacking?

Laura  

Well, okay, so yes, I started a group originally called the women of the smoke n fire 400 with the goal to just get more women out on the route. So I think it was my fourth year I started to be really frustrated that the in the disparity between men and women who are signing up for the race. So there would be you know, like 60 men and five women, and the year that I really got frustrated, there were only four women. 

Laura  

And you know, now that I look back, I think it was partly because of COVID. But also, that wasn’t a number that was really that far off from the norm. And so that just really frustrated me, I felt like I wasn’t a longtime mountain biker, I wasn’t a really outdoorsy female, and I lived in the state of Idaho. And I just couldn’t figure out where all the women are that that just not at me. 

Laura  

And so when I got back, I got on the Facebook page for the race and just said, if you’re a woman, and you want to do this race, I’ll show you how. I’ll even ride with you. Like, let’s do this next year, and I was thinking I might double the numbers, I might go from like four to eight or, or 12, or something. 

Laura  

And what ended up happening is, there was such an interest almost overnight that I formed a group of about 100 women pretty much immediately. So I didn’t, I didn’t really mean to do that. So we just took the group and made a Facebook page. And that’s where we exist, is on Facebook, basically, just because I took that post that comment and moved it from the one Facebook page over to the other I started the group there. 

Laura  

And you know, we’re over, I think 400 women now. And we have lots of local women that go out with us. And I pretty much teach women how to how to bikepack, basically what my husband did for me. I now turn around and do that for women. I host a once a month overnight ride, and I teach women how to load their bikes and how to ride and basically they just ride with me. It’s not like I give major workshops or anything. 

Laura  

But you know, just riding side by side with someone, I think that’s how I learned. And I think that’s how you learn best is just knowing that you can go out there with somebody who is going to help you if something goes wrong with your bike, who isn’t going to leave you behind if you’re going slow or having a problem. And you know, you learn best by by watching someone else. So that’s what we do. And we’re now called Idaho women’s bike packing. And pretty much anyone who wants to give it a go is welcome. As long as you’re female.

Kristen  

Why do you think that there are so few women in bikepack racing? And is it just racing? Or do you think it’s bike packing in general?

Laura  

Hmm. That’s a good question. Well, so the self supported bikepacking race arena. I mean, I don’t even know what to call it. Because it’s not an arena. It’s kind of an underground sport. And these races, a lot of them are not official, you don’t pay money. There’s no prize, when you cross the finish line. Many times there’s nobody there to even notice that you did it. And so just the fact that it’s not well known in the public is one issue, but even then, you know, I just kept thinking, you know, I didn’t even have a bike and I started mountain biking, but and I know there’s all these mountain biking women, why don’t they bikepack? Why do none of the women make that transition over from mountain biking into bikepacking. 

Laura  

And then just kind of started to think about it. You know, I didn’t know any women who bikepacked, I kind of knew of a few who had done the smoke and fire but I just knew their names. I didn’t know where they lived, I wouldn’t know how to connect with them. One thing that bikepackers love to do is not have social media. So they love to live off the grid. It’s kind of the bikePacker way. And so you can’t connect with them through social media that there’s no way to meet them. 

Laura  

And and so I learned that that is one of the big obstacles, like if you’re a woman looking for another woman to pair up with, where are they? And how are you going to find them? Yeah. And so I think that’s I think it’s actually kind of specific to bikepacking. And I think the racing aspect is terrifying. You show up and you’re, you know, four women against 60 men. That’s very scary. And you are racing against the men equally. It isn’t like they divided into male and female fields. And so just a very intimidating sport, I guess.

Kristen  

You’ve created this amazing resource for women in Idaho. Are you aware of anything else like this anywhere else in the country?

Laura  

 I’m not sure I know of a group that will actually physically take you out.  I’m in a lot of Facebook groups that are helpful this way. Sharing information and you know, there’s there’s a lot of social media out there even female specific and bikepacking specific but I don’t think I’m aware of it. You know, I feel like I want to say there’s one in Arkansas but not that I know of and I wasn’t aware of it before I started.

Kristen  

Are there any other Facebook group resources?  Where can women go online to find more information?

Laura  

Oh, yeah, I mean, I think Facebook is the is the best choice. And just typing in women’s bikepacking will pull up those groups. There’s worldwide ones. And there’s nationwide ones. I don’t know of a lot of state specific ones. 

Laura  

But yeah, as far as like social media, and even YouTube videos, because there are some really amazing bikepacking women who put out that information on YouTube. I just think that when you really get when the rubber hits the road, and you go to get on your bike, and you’re like, I’m really gonna go out, you know, in the mountains by myself. There’s just nothing like being able to actually be with somebody, just in case.

Kristen  

So for a woman who is listening to this who bikes, but has never maybe been bike packing, what would you recommend for her like, very first outing?  If she just wants to find out if this is even for you.  What kind of gear you need to get started, and what could you probably just wait on getting?

Laura  

Well, so my favorite thing is to get a frame bag, and they are kind of expensive, and, and not totally necessary, but I leave my frame bag on my bike all the time, and I pack it full of just even snacks or whatever, when I’m gonna go out and ride the trails if I’m not going overnight. But if you can get, you know, some type of a frame bag into your triangle. So this would be a fat bag that either fills up the entirety of your triangle or part of your triangle. You can put all of your tools and some food and some gear in there, strap some water bottles onto your bike, or put them in your water bottle holders and put a backpack on your back. 

Laura  

And I would say don’t go farther than maybe 20 miles. And if there isn’t something cool, you know, from your house, if 20 miles from your house isn’t very cool. Then drive your car to somewhere cool and plan a route where you you know, you bike maybe 10 miles and then come right back that next day. 10 miles and just test it out. 

Laura  

Because you know, it is one thing to ride your bike from your home. There’s another thing to sleep on the ground, you don’t always necessarily get really great sleep, you’re not always warm. You wake up, you’re eating the food that whatever you had on your bike, and then you gotta get back on your bike and ride the next day. And that really is a completely different experience than leaving straight from your house. 

Laura  

So I would keep it super simple. I wouldn’t do anything too gnarly. But if there’s a cool campsite or mountaintop or river close by, that’s kind of what will make you fall in love with it.

Kristen  

Yeah, agreed. And I would just say, you can go out with anything. On my very first backpacking trip, we had my two year old son.  We put him in one trailer on my husband’s bike, and then I pulled the trailer with like our sleeping bags and our tent, and we just made it work. So I think for your first time you just use what you have. Strap on a backpack, do whatever you need to do to try it.

Laura  

Yeah, and a lot of us we don’t even have tents. So if you don’t even have a tent, we sleep in bivy’s many times by choice which is kind of a body tent. But if it’s a warm summer night and the weather’s good, really all you need is a tarp and a sleeping bag. And you can you know make due with that. You don’t need super fancy gear and you don’t need fancy food. You can eat ramen, you can eat a you know, a hoagie sandwich. Like it doesn’t need to be really elaborate to have fun.

Kristen  

So once you have decided that this is for you, and you want to invest in some bikepacking bags, what kind of bags do you want to get?

Laura  

So I think the key thing is to get a frame bag that fits your bike well and there’s a lot of great brands that make them.  I love revelate and rogue panda and over Niagara and dispersed bikepacking. And there’s just so many. We even have a local company here that’s picking that up. They’ve been making bags for other adventure stuff and domata is picking up the bike packing arenas have started make frame bags.  

Laura  

And you can buy them that are you know, just a general generic size that hopefully fits in your triangle well, or you can get one custom made.  But starting there, that’s the best place to load things on your bike, you want it low, you want to you know low to your center of gravity. And usually if you you know have a decent triangle, you can fit quite a bit of stuff in there. 

Laura  

I think my second favorite, so hard to pick. But you know the next place you could strap stuff is on your handlebars. There’s lots of ways to do that. You can bungee stuff right to your handlebars, or they make all kinds of cradles, little cradles that will hold your gear. And I just use on the seat a summit dry bag and stuff, my sleeping bag and all my sleep system in that.  I actually really love my seat pack. So there are specific bags that will hook up under your saddle and allow you to carry stuff off the back. Some of them are tiny, and some of them can be really huge and like extend out past you tire quite a ways that they make, you know, really great seat packs that will that’s where I usually tend to put my clothes, my clothing, but you know, when it comes to the little bags that kind of go anywhere, you know, there’s there’s fuel tanks that go on the top of your top bar. 

Laura  

And there’s jerry cans that kind of go under the saddle in the front. And there’s feed bags, and I think feed bags are my one of my favorites, I tend to keep a feed bag on my bike, year round. And those kind of strap up on your handlebars. And they allow you to put water bottles in them or snacks or whatever. I mean, they’re just so handy. I tend to keep one on my bike, just like a frame bag almost all the time anyway. 

Laura  

But I mean, the possibilities are endless. I wear a hip pack, some girls wear a Camelback, some wear a backpack. I mean, I think that’s the one thing that’s really important about bikepacking. And one of the reasons I love that this sport is there aren’t rules, you just do what you want to do. And I always say if somebody’s telling you it has to be done a certain way, then you just tell them that, no, it doesn’t. You can do it however you want it like if it works, then it’s not wrong. And if you like it, then it’s not wrong. That’s that’s how you pack your body and pack your bike. If you like it, you’re doing it right.

Kristen  

Yeah. And if it’s if it’s not the right way, you’ll probably figure it out pretty fast. 

Laura  

You’ll know immediately. It’ll wear your body down, or it’ll give you a blister or it’ll rub on your tires constantly. I mean, some some girls, this is the thing, a lot of women tend to be shorter. And so seat packs are kind of a burden for females, because they rub on their back tires a lot. And you know, I’m tall. So that’s not a problem for me. But, you know, that seems to be like a constant problem. And some women just ditch the seat pack altogether, because it’s not worth it for them. And you’ll you’ll know that, you’ll figure it out immediately. 

Kristen  

Yeah. I recently was camping and there was this couple in the campsite next to me getting ready to go bikepacking, and it was their very first outing, and they were taking like two hours to pack their bikes with 100 pounds. Everything you can imagine on their bikes, and I kind of wanted to say something and then I was like, no. They’ll go out this one time, and they’ll figure it out. This is horrible. And next time, we’re gonna go out with a whole lot less.

Laura  

You do have to have those little suffer fests to learn, like, what works and what doesn’t, or you do have to eat a really bad meal to learn. Okay, I’m never eating that again. And it also kind of depends on the purpose too. Because, you know, when I race, I try and get my kit really, really light. But sometimes, if we’re going out for fun, I do want to have, you know, like extra drink stuff somewhere in my bag. And yeah, I suffer carrying them up the mountain, but then they’re worth it. So it also depends on like, where are you going? And how far and what type of terrain? And are you trying to have fun? Or are you trying to be serious? So yeah, I packed different bikes and different purposes to so there really is no right way. No wrong way. It’s your way.

Kristen  

So speaking of where to go, you mentioned your very first outing, just go from home, or maybe go drive somewhere and bike to a campground you’re already familiar with. But once you’re ready to it venture out a little bit more, where can you go to find bikepacking routes? How do you know where to go?

Laura  

Oh, well, bikepacking.com. And people actually submit routes. And we’ve done that.  We have looked at routes that people have submitted and tried those out. I mean, and some have been great. And some have surprised us, we’re like, well, this person totally gave a false description to what this is actually like. 

Laura  

Same thing, like you might notice your local or your Facebook community groups, people will offer suggestions. I think that’s probably the number one question I get asked, though, because there aren’t a lot of resources. Where it’s just like, you could point you know, open up a map or an app and say, you know, here’s all the really great bikepacking routes in your area. And this kind of goes back to how bikepackers like to be off of social media and they kind of like to keep the routes to themselves. If something’s really great. It’s sort of like their own little secret they don’t tend to share. And so there isn’t like a one place where you could go and actually find all of that stuff. And so you know, if you don’t have that and there aren’t people in your local area sharing. Sometimes we just test it out. Sometimes we just look at an overhead map and say, this looks like it could work, let’s go bike it. 

Laura  

And we’ve gotten ourselves into trouble that way. And definitely my husband, Cody has gone out with some of his friends to test routes like that, and has had to call me at two in the morning and say, Okay, we’re hiking our bikes, and we don’t know where we are, and like, we’re gonna meet you, we’re gonna hike down to this junction and drive out to this road and meet us there. I mean, sometimes it fails. So you have to be prepared for that if you’re kind of going rogue. But sometimes you discover, like, the coolest route, but nobody knew about at the same time. So I mean, bikepacking is adventure. So that’s part of the adventure is like, can I discover a new route? Can I make one up on my own? Yeah.

Kristen  

So for navigation, what would you recommend?

Laura  

Um, so we tend to build routes, and my husband is really the the route guy in my house, I am lucky and he does the routes for my group, poor guy, he gets rigged into everything, I kind of drag him along. He’s really good at it. And he tends to open up Strava. So he’ll make a plan he might make a plan on we love Gaia, and we love MTB project. And he might toggle between those two and look around. And if he’s questioning like, can we get through this area or not, he’ll probably put on the heat layer on Gaia and see if people actually ride through there that might not necessarily tell you bikers do it could be hiker. So you might end up walking your bike, it could be ATVs. But kind of gives you a general idea of where people tend to travel. And then he’ll build a route in Strava. And then when we go out, if we’re following for the first time, he might, he might make a file that we would follow on our Garmin. We love our garmins, they never fail. They they’re super reliable and easy to follow. Or we might just follow that Strava route using Gaia as a backup when we go. So we tend to use those for apps, a lot of people love ride with GPS, and I have nothing against ride with GPS, I just tend to you know, we we’ve just never used it. So we just don’t use it, you know, when you’re not familiar with it, and we love the other apps. I know people that use a wahoo. And I know people that love a bolt element, too. And those are devices I’ve never used, but also ones bikepackers Love.

Kristen  

Yeah, lots of options. I’ve really liked Gaia GPS. For anybody who has a cell phone and doesn’t want to add anything else, there is a free version of the app, you can start with that. And it’s a really easy, cheap way to get started.

Laura  

I think I might be our very favorite. And part of the reason is it never fails us. We’ve had Strava fail, I’m sure you have too. And but if you’ve downloaded your area that you’re traveling into it, it always it always navigates it never shuts down and never fails us or you know, won’t open or won’t pick up service. I mean, it’s just a super, super reliable app. And we have the paid version. I don’t know if it’s different if you have the free version, but it’s worth every penny. We love that app.

Kristen  

Initially you had mentioned it’s certainly easier to get started if you have someone to go with. But say this is something you’re interested in. You don’t have any friends doing it. You don’t have a local group doing it. What tips would you have if somebody wanted to go out alone?

Laura  

Oh, going alone is fun, too. Well, I would say just do it. Pick somewhere that’s safe and safe doesn’t necessarily mean in a town it sometimes when you’re really remote you’re actually more safe because there aren’t people around and nobody knows you’re there. But you know I would pick somewhere that is common. So common roads, I wouldn’t go anywhere really terribly remote or untraveled. 

Laura  

I would make sure somebody knows where you are and if you can to carry some type of tracking device with you or some type of way to communicate. Should something go wrong. I always recommend females be very stealthy and sneaky when they’re sleeping. So even if you’re in the middle of a city, but even if you’re out in the middle of nowhere you want to you know tuck yourself away where nobody knows you are so you know you you literally are going to get behind that bush or under that tree. You’re going to hide your bike with you and get off of the road so don’t sleep just right off the side of the road where somebody might drive by and see you get where you can be a little bit stealthy and a little bit hidden but mostly just do it. 

Laura  

It might surprise you Um, it’s a little terrifying to bike alone and be alone at night. And then the more you do it, it’s surprising how you just get numb to it. It. It doesn’t bother you after a while. Yeah,

Kristen  

I think  if you’re new to it, and you are scared of the sleeping situation to maybe just find a developed campground.  You would probably feel safe going to a developed campground to go on a camping trip so you would feel safe staying there bikepacking also.

Laura  

Totally, and even the hotel. I mean, yeah, that’s the breaking point for you. And you’re like, really want to go to this cool place. I mean, here in Idaho, you can be in Ketchum or Stanley, which are like incredible areas, and they have hotels, or they have Airbnb s. So like, there’s nothing wrong with renting an Airbnb and sleeping there. If you’re, you know, if that’s where your comfort zone is. Yeah,

Kristen  

That’s a great point. You would also mentioned a tracking device, what do you mean by a tracking device?

Laura  

So we use a spot tracker, and SPOT, I’m not totally sure what satellite, probably sound stands for something, there’s different versions, you can get an inreach, you can get an inreach Mini, and we just have a generation three spot tracker, which doesn’t communicate, it just tracks your GPS location. And they use satellite to tell where you are. 

Laura  

But you can push buttons on that device to send messages. They’re pre programmed on our device, they’re pre programmed, but on the inreach, and the inreach. Mini, you can actually text in real time, just communicate with friends or family back home. So if something goes wrong, you know, you can let them know you’re okay. Or you can let them know, you need help and you need a pickup or they will actually summon emergency services if you even need that. 

Laura  

So we tend to never backpack without our spot tracker, even if it’s just so everyone doesn’t worry that we’re you know, we’re lost or that, you know, sometimes the weather turns bad back at home and they’re wondering, oh, no, are these guys stuck out in a really bad rainstorm, we can send a message back that says we’re fine. But it’s a safety device, I totally recommend them, you have to purchase the device itself. And then you have to have a subscription on top of that. But if you’re trying to save money, you can do monthly subscriptions. So you know, maybe don’t pay for your subscription all winter, when you’re not biking and then pick it up in the months that you are bike packing to save a little bit of cash that way.

Kristen  

Water obviously is a really important thing when you’re biking. What do you recommend in terms of finding water carrying water, filtering water?

Laura  

So this is where you’re going to need to really try and get into your bike packing community or your hiking community. So I’m in our local hiking group too. And that tends to be really helpful, because you don’t have a lot of bikepackers you can almost, you know, bike pack, anywhere that people are going to hike. And that includes trails, as long as bikes are allowed on them. But hikers tend to know to where all the water sources are. So that’s when you’re going to want to try and, you know, get on your community pages. 

Laura  

And I guess if you, you know, don’t have that as a resource, you could contact the Forest Service and try and ask them, okay, where are the local springs? Or where are the ranger stations, but you know, basically any natural water source you can filter from so we do a lot of drinking from, you know, just rivers and creeks and lakes. And, you know, if we aren’t, we try to plan water really well, that’s again, something that can go wrong, that you got to really be careful depending on the temperature and, and how remote you are. 

Laura  

But um, you know, if we’re not totally sure about water, we always have a water filter with us. And we might, if we come across a water source that surprises us, we’ll load up our bikes and it might be really heavy and who knows that water was five miles down the road anyway, but we’ll, you know, we’ll load up and carry it anyway just so we don’t ever get kind of stuck in a situation where we’re in trouble.

Kristen  

In terms of sleep systems, you had mentioned you could just start out with a tarp, that that’s a good option if it’s warm. What other sleep systems do you recommend?

Laura  

The good old, you know, $10 tarp from the hardware store is how a lot of people get started. So I recommend a 20 degree if you can fork over the dough and you know I started with a sleeping bag from the company climate out of Utah and I think my bag was about $100 It wasn’t like super fancy or super light. But it was a 20 degree bag and I use that for years and still have it and still love it. It’s a comfy bag. I now have a marmot 20 degree bag that only weighs I think it only weighs a pound and it’s stuffed super tiny. So Oh, I’m not always as comfortable in that bag. But I love that I don’t have to carry a big heavy bag. But I would recommend that you try and get a quilt. Or and I’ve heard of people getting these from Costco and loving them even. 

Laura  

But 20 degree, some type of sleeping bag or quilt, you’re definitely going to want to have some type of waterproof barrier. And if you if you don’t have that, and it’s not really good, you want to try and find places where you can sleep, you know, the the pavilion in a park or the log cabin that with the, you know, covered porch, something like that ranger station that will kind of get you out of the weather just in case of rain. But yeah, either a tent. So sometimes we do attend, sometimes we do a bivy, which is basically just a body tent and a pad and I always recommend to pad people think I bring it for comfort, but you don’t use the pad for comfort, you use the pad for warmth. So it gets you up off the ground off of that cold surface and you’ll stay much warmer with a pad I don’t have an insulated pad. There’s no reason you couldn’t use one but just getting up off the ground makes a big difference. 

Laura  

That is basically my sleep system. Now if I’m going out, sometimes I’ll bring a footprint and you know I have a fancy footprint, but I also just use Tyvek like the housing material, as that’s my favorite footprint is just a piece of Tyvek.

Kristen  

In terms of like tents or bivy’s, what brands have you used that you really like?

Laura  

Oh we have the Big Agnes from REI I’m not sure we have any other brand besides that. And we only have two tents I have a two person tent and a one person tent. So just depending, it’s pretty rare use the one person because if we’re going to go out and not share the tent, my husband and I together, then we’ll just sleep on our babies. I recently I have tried a couple different bivies. I switched my bivy to Sierra Designs this year and I’m tall I’m almost six feet tall. So I switched to their tall length and it’s really boxy. And that is like night and day for me I’m such a happier person in that I was sleeping in a sol bivy when I wanted to be really liked the sol escape which is basically just like a paper bivy and it’s about the exact size of my body. So I was really compressed and cold and uncomfortable in that one. 

Laura  

I have an Outdoor Research molecule Bivy that I tend to take out when the weather is colder because it’s just a thicker, more waterproof fabric. But yeah, I’ve been really happy with my Ciara designs bivy because it’s lightweight stuffs up super small. That’s my new that’s my new favorite thing. And yeah, we just have the Big Agnes tents from REI. And those are those are great. But, you know, again, it’s whatever you like, whatever works for you. Yeah,

Kristen  

I think probably a lot of people tend to just gravitate towards a tent, because that’s more familiar. Most people have slept in a tent before. But Laura got me sleeping in a bivy. And I would have thought you know,  like only mountaineers only really, really crazy people would ever sleep in a bivy. But most people are just fine sleeping in a bivy. And it takes maybe a time or two to get used to. But it’s, it’s not as scary as it might seem. I’d recommend trying it out if you haven’t.

Laura  

Yeah, there. I mean, there’s definitely some disadvantages to the bivy. You know, you can’t really change your clothes very well in them. So you either kind of just have to change your clothes in the wild or, you know, point I tend to hyperventilate a little bit in my bivy. And it just depends on the material it’s made of and how cold the weather is whether I’m able to stick my head out of it or not. And that’s the thing I like about my new one, it has a screen, some of them have screens for your face, and some of them don’t. 

Laura  

But they’re actually I mean, if you get a well fitted bivy there, they’re not so bad to sleep in. And then the advantages of just being able to unravel it and be laying in your bed in you know, two minutes, versus having to set up the polls and put the stakes and you can sleep in anywhere. So you know if it’s a rainy night and you’re sleeping under a pavilion at a park, you can put that right on the cement and you don’t have to think well how am I going to prop up these poles and how am I going to you know, put the stakes in the ground and you can be super stealthy so when it comes to being a female that’s kind of trying to hide I guess if you’re if you have a tent put up nobody really knows who’s in it. But if you have a Bibi you can be really sneaky. You can you know get down in some tall grass or Get under a tree and people don’t evenrealize you’re there. And it’s also really tiny to carry, which is nice. Very lightweight. I mean, there’s a million advantages to them. So I’ve gotten really used to it over the years it took me a while and, and some people feel a little claustrophobic in a minute. If you feel super claustrophobic I think you just need to get a bigger bivy and you’ll and you’ll be happy.

Kristen  

What about bikes? I’d say if you’re just getting started, you want to go out for your first time, just use the bike you have. The bike you have is a great bikepacking bike. But when you’re finally ready to maybe invest in something else: what makes a good bikepacking bike?

Laura  

Well, oh, man, that’s a that’s a tough question. Because you’re gonna get 1000 different answers to that right. Some people really love a rigid drop bar bike, which is what you rode on smoke n fire. And then I don’t know what you thought about that?

Kristen  

I did not love it. It’s not what I would have used if I’d done it again. I think it was great for a lot of like the flat road sections. It was lightweight. That was really great. But I got so tired descending with that bike.

Laura  

Oh, I bet. Did you like it when we did our overnighters? Did you like it when you’re doing more casual rides?

Kristen  

Yes. But I still never loved descending on it. I think I’m just so accustomed to a mountain bike. And I would have been happier on a bike with a suspension fork and a more upright descending position.

Laura  

And you were on a cutthroat, which people bikepackers tend to really love and that some people just swear by their cutthroats. And so for me, I would really struggle as well, because I don’t have very good technical skills, I’m pretty new to biking. And so things like that single doing technical single track, on a rigid drop are would just be, I think, almost impossible for me, descending would scare me a lot. 

Laura  

So it’s really like where your comfort zone is. But in in general, you do want to take away some of your suspension. Partly because when you’re going out into more remote areas, you want to just have a bike that is going to have less things that can go wrong. So where a dropper post is a major advantage on trails, that might not be when your bike packing, because if your dropper post fails, now you have major problems out in the middle of nowhere, right, it’s just one more thing that can go wrong. 

Laura  

Same thing with your suspension, and you know, any other fancy stuff that you might have on your bike. And when you’re carrying a lot of suspension, you’re losing some of that pedal power with, you know, the squish of each pedal stroke if you’re not able to lock that suspension out. And you’re carrying the extra weight right of having a fork on your bike, whereas compared to a rigid bike, you’re not going to so, you know, a lot of bikers will ride a rigid bike with all different kinds of variety of handlebars, I have h Jones H bars on my ACR and I have you know, flat bars on my scalpel and my husband loves his drop bars on his Fargo. 

Laura  

But you know, usually if you can take away some of the suspension, if you can get your bike to be a little bit lighter, if you can have a smoother rolling tire, you still want to have, you know, some nice grip and you want to have a little bit wider tire because chances are you’re gonna get off of gravel at some point and get off on some dirt and maybe even some technical single track. And so you know, you want to tend to have a little bit wider tire I don’t think we’ve ever I don’t think there’s a big difference in you know, the tire size, whether you’re going with 27, five or 29 That doesn’t really tend to make a huge difference. But you want to be able to lighten your wheels, you have to spin those wheels and and carry a loaded bike as well. 

Laura  

So it tends to be about how can you take away the extra frills, so bikepacking bikes, and this is the beautiful thing too. If you don’t have a lot of money or a fancy bike, then bikepackers Don’t care. And they totally appreciate that. They’re like, cool, you built up this old 90s frame and it’s super simple. And, you know, we just tend to love that we appreciate that maybe more than your, you know, total enduro bros out on the trails. But yeah, it tends to be about maybe taking away the extra weight in whatever way that you can shave that off your bike, take away the extra suspension and then make yourself comfortable because you know, when you’re backpacking, you tend to go long miles. So it’s all about, you know, getting those comfortable grips on your bar, getting a good saddle that fits really well and making yourself happy because otherwise it doesn’t it doesn’t matter where you’re going or how beautiful it is. If you’re miserable on your bike. 

Kristen  

That’s such a good point. And I think that those touch points, right, you got three touch points, your hands, your butt, your feet.  You can kind of put up with those things being uncomfortable on a two or three hour ride. But once you start going on these longer distances, it becomes more and more important to address those touch points.

Laura  

Yeah, and with a loaded bike, it really makes a huge difference to be on a bike that weighs, you know, 50 60 70 pounds, pushing that up the hill makes a huge difference, you know, on I don’t know, your feet, whatever. 

Kristen  

What have I missed?  What tips do you still have for women who are just looking to get started bikepacking?

Laura  

Hmm, I would say, Just do it. And, you know, just jump in. And don’t be afraid. And if you, it is a little scary to do it totally alone. Find somebody that will do it with you. And I don’t think that person necessarily needs to be female, I biked for many years with just other males. And you know, that’s also a scary proposition too, because you think, Oh, I’m gonna go out with all these guys, and they’re not going to be able to keep up and I’m gonna make a fool of myself. And, you know, if you find the right group of guys, they will actually teach you a lot take good care of you. 

Laura  

But, um, I would just say, little baby steps, just start with, you know, putting a backpack on your back, and just going to the edge of town, and sleeping overnight, you know, build a little fire, and then come back. Yeah. And then next time, go a little bit further, with maybe another little bag or some other small addition to your kit that makes you more comfortable. And then just keep slowly adding on to that. But there, it’s a growing field, there are lots of good resources, there are starting to be some more female specific resources out there, the town bicycle just got up and running, that is all about females by packing with some of the most amazing women in bikepacking, who started that. And so I would say, you know, just baby steps and keep growing it and growing it. And I think that a lot of women, if you’ll kind of put yourself out there, you’re gonna find what I found, which is you feel super alone. And like, there are no other women who want to do it with you. 

Laura  

And then if you’ll put yourself out there, all of a sudden, women are there, you just didn’t realize they’re there. So if you can find ways to find those women, you’re going to find somebody who wants to go out and ride with you. We just continue to grow I just continue to have interest in this group. And I had no idea that there were that many women even though I live in, you know, Idaho, I had no idea there were that many who really want to do this. So baby steps.

Kristen  

Yes. Three final questions for you. But first, where can women wanting to connect with Idaho women’s bikepacking learn more? Where can they go do that?

Laura  

You can find us on Instagram and Facebook.  So our Instagram is kind of fun for you to look and see what we do. And then our Facebook Group is a private group for women only so we keep that kind of a female safe space where you can actually you know make a post and ask a question or put your bike up there a picture of your bike and say everybody helped me you know if you had this bike, what would you do? What would you change? Or how would you load it? You can get gear recommendations, you can meet other women and we don’t we don’t have women just from Idaho in our group so you might find that there is someone that you live close by who’s looking to ride with another female and you can meet up that way. But you know, you’ve got a request to get in and I try to keep it female only in that space. Either one of those you can meet up with us.

Kristen  

First question for you is what bike or bikes do you ride?

Laura  

Oh, okay. I started on a surly ECR. Love surly brand bikes, and it’s a steel bike. It was rigid with plus tires and Jones bars on it. And I call it the tank. It’s just a beast. And I love that bike. And actually, that’s one I just wrote when we did our Silver City overnight or recently because I’ve kind of put a different setup on it now and I can load it with so much gear, I can load it with panniers and load it super, super heavy and it’s it’s really fun. But I did my first three smokin fires trying to go as light as I could with that bike and then I switched over to Cannondale scalpel. And that one kind of forces me to be ultralight. So I like that one now for racing. It’s just a super nimble bike, it’s carbon, and it has lefty forks, so I can’t really load it in cuz it’s kind of a small triangle and a lefty fork, I can’t put very much on that bike and which is perfect for smoking, I tend to pack my fears. And I want to bring my entire house with me and I just, I just physically cannot fit stuff on that bike. And so it forces me to be closer to a racing weight, which I kind of have a love hate relationship with. And that’s the bike if I was just gonna go out and ride the trails. That’s what I would, you know, it’s kind of my jack of all trades bikes. And then I have a surly long haul trucker, which is more of a road setup. And he’s got dropped bars on a mechanical brakes. And that one’s fun for just going out. Usually, if I’m on that one, I’m commuting or I’m doing asphalt or something like that. And then my husband pulls shaloo of bikes, and we ride the same size. So every once in a while, I’ll hop on one of his other bikes, but those are my three. Yeah.

Kristen  

Second question is: What is your favorite place you’ve ever biked?

Laura  

Oh, so I’m from kind of southeast Utah, not really far south, kind of the middle of the state, and really close to the eastern border. And that’s where I grew up. I grew up in a little mining town there called Huntington, Utah. And the town itself is kind of gray. And it’s a rugged little town. But if you, if you go to the west, you’re in this gorgeous pine forest Canyon. And if you go to the east, you’re in the Red Rock Desert, kind of similar to Moab. But the area that’s close to where I’m from Emery County, is called the San Rafael swell. And we’ve done two, couple multi day trips down there. And that still continues to be one of my favorites ever. I really love the thunder in paradise route up here in Idaho, but the center fell swell is it feels like home, it feels like going home to me. And it’s gorgeous. And if you can ever ride down in that area, I really super recommend the behind the reef trail. So the first year we did not do that part the second year we did and it was just stunning. That whole area is stunning. There’s wild horses, and oh my gosh, it’s just gorgeous. But you have to do it in the spring. Otherwise, there’s no water. And no spring right.

Kristen  

I assume that one’s on bikepacking.com?

Laura  

don’t know. I could give you a link.  I don’t know if I don’t know if the San Rafael swell is on that. But the Utah mixed epic, which is another self supported by packing race, Utah mix epic kind of changes its route from year to year. And they just went right through that whole area, like where we did our second trip, and including the behind the reef trail. So you could probably find part of the portions of the route from there. Or you could get the route for me. And we’re hoping actually to take the group down there in the spring for some of the gals who’ve been biking with us for a while and are really prepared to drive somewhere and do something pretty outstanding. That one I’m trying to see if I can fit it on in the calendar for the spring because it would just be so fun.

Kristen  

Yeah, I would go on that one. Final question for you is, what is your favorite thing about riding your bike?

Laura  

Oh, I don’t know. It’s like, it’s like a meditation. So I really enjoy riding with the group. And I enjoy riding with my husband. But I’ve done a lot of riding alone, partly just because of my schedule and the training that I need to do for smoke and fire requires me to go out by myself. And I don’t know what it is just having really good music in your ear or just having this beautiful day and being out where nobody else is just totally alone. And it’s it’s this weird euphoria of it’s just you and nature, I feel like you kind of get a chance to forget about the rest of your life and your day and the things you have to do. And I feel like that’s where I get answers to my questions and the things that really bother me or the things that really bother me seem to tend to melt away to, you know, upon Ridge Road in the pine trees with the most fabulous song playing in your ears. I’d never expected that. I didn’t think biking would do that for me. So that was something that kind of surprised me. I just thought biking would be hard and dirty and rugged. And it is a lot of the time but sometimes you just get away from everything. And it’s so meditative and glorious. So I love that. Love it.

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