Bikepacking in Backcountry

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Elbow River valley in Kananaskis Country

In June and July, we took on two bike camping adventures. Despite a few hiccups, we had a lot of fun and decided bike camping was going to be our summer activity of choice. (We’re bike camping again in Banff National Park in August.) Then, BikeBike had a sale.

This was the mother of all sales. All bike gear 40% off (and all bikes at cost). I’d been looking for a way get my Surly Krampus (the most fun and dangerous bike I’ve ever ridden) into the camping mix. My Disc Trucker has been great for hauling camping gear on the roads, but if I want to take a path less pedalled to a campsite I need the krazy Krampus to get there. So, deeply discounted bikepacking gear was the perfect opportunity to get some kit for the Krampus. 

Now that I had the bikepacking gear, all I needed was a destination. To be honest, this was the hard part. Maps and guidebooks give you a general idea of what a trail holds in store, but they don’t really tell you which trail to try first. I needed a reasonable goal–something achievable for beginners. Thankfully, Lindsay Bliek and Doug Dunlop, two of my #yycbike friends, have been blogging about their bikepacking adventures with “normal” people, and Lindsay has created a greatest hits list (her wish list) of do-able bikepacking rides. That’s all I needed to get started. 

On July 29, we made a bikepacking trial run in the Kananaskis backcountry. It was a 20-km in-and-out along the Big Elbow Trail between Little Elbow and Big Elbow campgrounds. We didn’t rush, and we didn’t plan on staying overnight. This was just a trial run: load up the bikes with bikepacking gear and find our way to a campground. There is ample parking at the trailhead (across from the Little Elbow campground), which made it easy to unload, get the gear on our bikes, and hit the trail. The ride was fun, with gorgeous scenery along the way and easy to moderately challenging conditions. Big Elbow campground is situated conveniently beside the Elbow River, with brilliant mountain views. The campground was deserted on a Sunday evening when we arrived, but packed the day before. It provides places for tents (and places to tie up your horses), firewood and an axe, running water (not potable), food lockers, and pretty decent porta-potties.

The trail we rode to and from Big Elbow campground is wide enough for a truck and varies between dirt, gravel, and rocky terrain–all totally rideable on a mid-fat or fat bike (and quite rideable on any bike with mountain bike tires). There are a few inclines to conquer, some with 12-13% grade, but they are the exception not the rule and you can walk your bike in these places if short climbs aren’t your thing.

We still have some logistics to work out for an overnight run, but a full strength bikepacking trip is in the works. For now, I hope you enjoy the pics below.

Strava tracked my ride along the The Big Elbow Trail. (an indispensable resource for bikepackers and bike campers) also has a wealth of information on The Big Elbow Trail.

Gear summary: I rode my Surly Krampus, featuring no suspension apart from the cushy and nimble ride provided by the 29″x3″ Dirt Wizard tires. The Krampus was outfitted with a mix of Ortlieb, Apidura, and Salsa bikepacking gear. Brenda rode her 2014 Pugs (26″x5″ tires) with an Ortlieb saddle pack and an Apidura feed bag. We have various handlebar packs we’ll add on future runs. 

Entering the Kananaskis backcountry.
Krampus crossing the pink bridge at the trailhead.
Heading out to Big Elbow Campground.
Indian Paintbrush–I never get tired of summer wildflowers.
Incredible scenery along the way.
Early evening sun descending through the haze.
Almost there–Threepoint Mountain in sight.
We made it.
My 2018 Surly Krampus.
Brenda’s 2014 Surly Pugsley.
A great place to rest your head–Cougar Mountain in the distance.
Pit stop before we head back.
Heading back.
Back to where we started.
Dirty and dusty and 100% worth it.



2 thoughts on “Bikepacking in Backcountry

  1. thismombikes July 30, 2018 / 8:47 AM

    Gorgeous photos! Glad you enjoyed the ride and I look forward to hearing about your overnighter.

    • Greg Glatz July 30, 2018 / 3:21 PM

      Overnighter soon. I think we’ll look for a couple other guinea pigs … er, participants!

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