There are plenty of areas where one can enjoy the winter landscape in all its glory — but the best are all far above sea level. The easiest way to get to those places is to bike there. The pristine winter wonderland above the clouds is a sight to behold. Those who have ventured so far will often describe it as whimsical, peaceful or, sometimes, creepy. No matter what your experience, it’s likely you’ll find solitude.
But you can’t just get up and go if you’ve never gone before.
Bikepacking requires using every square inch of space on your bicycle for storing gear, a task which becomes monumentally more difficult in winter. Why? Because you need warmer gear, and warmer gear is heavier and takes up more space.
Almost always, you’ll need a sleeping bag rated down to zero degrees. Whereas lower rated bags can weigh two or three pounds, these warmer bags will probably weigh at least six.
And then you need a fourth-season tent. These tents are sturdier and will hold up to harsh mountain winds in winter — or even under a bit of snow. They’re better insulated, but not by much. They’ll add another few pounds.
Heat lost to the ground is the most important problem to consider, which means you need a sleeping pad with a high “r” value. The higher the value, the thicker and heavier the pad. We recommend a foam pad coupled with an air mat. The latter can be placed directly in your sleeping bag. For added comfort, you can purchase a lightweight sleeping bag liner or two to increase the sleeping bag temperature rating another five or ten degrees.
Then you need to consider clothes. You won’t want to bring too many. Usually a daytime pair and a nighttime pair is enough. Insulated boots and a pair of wool socks will do well. Save the thicker socks for bed, because they can cut off circulation and make you colder while you ride.
Wear a polyester thermal set as your base layer if you need it. If you don’t need it, store it in your nighttime bag with your dedicated nighttime pair. Doubling up always helps. You’ll want a thick pair of wind-resistant pants, a cotton shirt, and a merino wool hoodie as your mid-layer. You may or may not need another layer for your legs, but it’s up to you.
A thin pair of gloves can be doubled up with a thicker pair of weather-resistant gloves.
You need two more things: a puffy coat (how much you spend matters) and a rain shell for when it gets wet. We recommend wearing a balaclava and ski goggles to protect your face from frostbite.