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  1. #1
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    Safety while bikepacking

    Hi, I am reading a lot about bikepacking and the idea seems more and more attractive to me each day.

    I have experience camping with my tent but mostly on campgrounds. Being new in the country I wonder if you can share some hints with me...I live in California and I am thinking about short bikepacking trips to the northern and southern sierras. I like rough terrain more than touring.

    1) where can I set-up camp? Wilderness regions, state parks...I am unfamiliar with the basic rules that apply for bikepacking.

    2) which basic safety rules I must follow to be safe of wild animals? Very different here from my homeland in Europe.

    Regarding water and avoiding lightning, flooding etc I am not so concerned since I have some more experience

    Any hints or link to resources would be appreciated.

  2. #2
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    As for where to go, you have to look at what land management policies are for the areas you want to visit. Find the trails, then find permissions. Every land manager is going to have different rules about where you can put a tent. Some will allow dispersed camping (put a tent anywhere in the forest, as long as it's so far from trails and roads and water, etc). Some will not allow dispersed camping and require you to use developed campsites or campgrounds. Some won't allow camping at all.

    Wilderness is a big, resounding NO. Not gonna happen with a bike. On foot, sure, but not on a bike.

    Animal safety depends on the animal. Things you do to be safer around bears (mostly how you handle your food and cooking) will be different than things you do to be safer around mt. lions or rattlesnakes. To know what animals you need to concern yourself with, you need to know where you're going and what animals are likely to be found there.

    Considering your newness to this, I'd recommend spending some time doing shakedown trips. For bikepacking, you need your gear to be small and lightweight. Very much like backpacking. Backpacking is a good entry to dispersed camping, and you will have more trails to choose from. Whether you decide to do a couple backpacking trips first to warm up for bikepacking, or dive into bikepacking wholeheartedly from the beginning, you need to have gear that's small enough and light enough to carry, and then you need to have a way to carry it.

    Start with a short trip and one overnight until you get it right. If it's just one night (with good weather), you can screw up, maybe be a bit uncomfortable, and still make it home just fine. Don't push to get far away from anything your first few times out. A few miles from the trailhead would be plenty. You could even stop a mile from the trailhead if you chose the right trail. Make these shakedown trips about learning the gear and skills you need. Going WITH someone who is more experienced will help, and will also allow you to get a bit farther away and piggyback/learn from their skills some. Even if you're going with someone skilled, I wouldn't make the first trips more than one night, though.

    The area you're talking about is going to have a lot of land with restrictions. Lots of Wilderness off-limits to bikes. Lots of hiking-only stuff. Many of the popular hiking routes have food storage restrictions (bear canisters required). I do not know bikepacking options in that area. Others will be able to help more with that. There is a good chance that some of the bikepacking options will have stretches of dirt/gravel road. I know my area does. Have to use the roads to connect segments of singletrack.

    You are going to have to look at the camping gear you have and decide what will be appropriate for bikepacking. How big/heavy is it? How bulky when packed? Look at what other people are using for comparison purposes. Good bikepacking gear very closely mirrors what people use for ultralight backpacking, so backpacking resources should be on your list, too. Look at what retailers sell. Visit backpacking websites. There are a few bikepacking sites, too.

    bikepacking.net has a lot of good info, including people's gear lists you can browse.
    www.hammockforums.com is a site specific to hammock camping. Users there range from folks who only stay at developed campgrounds and don't travel far from their car to ultralight backpackers and bikepackers, road touring riders, motorcycle touring riders (who carry much of the same ultralight gear), and people who sleep in hammocks at home.
    BackpackingLight.com - The Community of Lightweight Hiking and Backcountry Travel is a good resource for gear and technique, too. Some of these folks border on the fanatical for carrying the lightest gear to the point that they cut toothbrushes and trim cord and straps, but there are valuable things to learn here.

  3. #3
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    Safety while bikepacking

    Thanks so much !! I will check all your recommendations and I will take a look at the websites.

    I understand your explanations about land managers having each their own rules, I will look for trip reports in the area that I think are at my riding range and level. I have already located places near home for easy one night rides to test material.

    Currently I am more concerned about the mountain lions, wholves, snakes...We do not have grizzlies here, rather normal bears but I do not plan to go to areas where there are known to be.

    Thanks again for the time devoted in writing such a complete answer !!!

  4. #4
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    Good advice already given. My input: Where you are talking about riding is often Forest Service Roads. As said above, Wilderness areas are off limits to wheels. Research well any singletrack you would like to ride.
    Forest Service roads are in National Forests! Camp where you like, but I would caution to situate yourself out of easy sight, be cautious of hunters, 4 wheelers (ATV), 4WD (ORD) enthusiast - mostly as they are so much faster than you will be, and may practice target shooting while out and about. Stray bullets are no fun.
    As an old motorcycle camper in that area decades ago I often found after I woke in the morning that I maybe was on private land (pitching after dark) and I was quiet and left very early. Never had a problem.
    I think you're going to love it.
    you may have come before us on no bicycle, but that does not say you know everything.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OS-KR View Post
    Currently I am more concerned about the mountain lions, wholves, snakes...We do not have grizzlies here, rather normal bears but I do not plan to go to areas where there are known to be.
    I wouldn't worry about wild animals. Some basic awareness and common sense is enough to manage the risk. Most dangerous animals are hard to surprise. In California I don't think you need to worry about grizzly bears which are dangerous--black bears are common but easy to stay away from--keep your food in a bear box (some campsites and backcountry areas require them). They are mostly interested in your cheese wiz and jelly.

    There are only four poisonous snakes species in the US. In the mountains you can find two--rattlers and copperheads. Copperheads are pretty shy unless you bother them, rattlers are easy to avoid as they see you first and have a handy warning.

    In some areas of California loose dogs could be a problem if you're on roads.

    Maybe carry some pepper spray if you're paranoid and accept that you'll probably end up spraying yourself, lol.

  6. #6
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    Four venomous snake species? Bull$hit. There are at least four in my state, which isn't known for venomous snakes. I will say that only one in the US has truly life threateningly dangerous venom. Most are just painful and disfiguring at worst unless you have an allergic reaction.

    Black bears are usually big chickens. Keep your food secure and be noisy and you will be fine. Habituated black bears can be problematic though. There are typically local warnings about problem bears however. They like developed campgrounds most of the time (hey Boo Boo, how about a pic-a-nic basket?). Bear spray is a good precaution for habituated bears that will not leave you alone.

    MT lions are sneaky. Best thing you can do is educate yourself about them and be smart. They are stalkers. They pounce when you do not see them and they think they can get a jump on you. I have had close encounters with cougars in the past with no issue. Also black bears. But I am educated about how to prevent problems.

    I have had more trouble with raccoons to be honest.

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    Understanding the federal system here is a great start because the rules for federal land and state land can vary wildly. For both governments, websites can be woefully behind on data updates so be sure to call within a week or two of any trip.

    Keep cash on hand for paid camp sites on government land as some do not take credit yet or at all.

    Though advice will wildly vary on this, try to obey the rules and regulations concerning camping and bear bag rules on government land. The feds run armed law enforcement which write out rather expensive tickets and can arrest jerks and confiscate contraband. Plenty of people have likely broken the rules for decades without issue, but Murphys law says that new people why try to game the system will be the first to get caught.

    As to animals, be mindful of the difference between common bears and proper food management. Despite their inate timidity, brown and black bears across tourist wilderness in North America have become quite adept at using aggression to literally scare food away from travelers. Some bears on PCT have even learned to untie or otherwise foil sloppy bear bag knots. These advanced Yogi Bears are usually relocated to deep protected wilderness but they sometimes find their way back home...hmmm. General bear rules: stay absoultely away from ANY and ALL bear cubs. Dont feed the cute punks, no touching, no pictures. Momma bear is usually near by, she can out run and out climb you and she will kill you, Liam Neeson in Taken-style.

    Probably more than bears, I'd be mindful (but not overly anxious) about mountain lion/cougar in wild areas even in urban settings. Cougars are patient, stealthy and deadly. I saw the "I Shouldnt Be Alive" episode where an elderly couple were on a stroll in a suburban wilderness area and the husband was attacked in the face and neck by a cougar. In the fray, the man grabbed the only weapon he had-a ball point pen-and stabbed the cat in the neck until it yielded. His wife found someone with a cell phone to get help and they both lived to tell the tale. Former Texas governor Rick Perry came across a cougar and because he is Texan, he was jogging with a firearm and shot the big cat dead. I mention this because mountain lions/cougar strikes have increased steadly in North America so it is best to be vigilant and keep something sharp, pointy and lawful on your hip at all times (Not a gun but a quality, full tang 4-5 knife like a Mora should do in the pinch.

    If staying still and backing away slowly doesnt save you from an attack, you only options are to aim for eyes or neck. Sans weapon, use your finger nails and scratch and flail. Most persons without a gun who survive animal strikes discuss a will to live that kept them fighting even on the edge of death. Knowing this is really the only defence you have out there.

    Some key point that I think wilderness travelers should know:

    -You got lost at least one hour or more before you realize it. Unless you have a GPS that is accurate and know your location and an exit, use you map and go back from whence you came.

    -A lot of lost Travellers become lost stepping away from their camp to do simple things like relieve themselves. Minimally, keep a knife/leatherman, flint striker, safety whistle and a compass on you whenever you step away from camp. At night, use a P bottle to relieve yourself or if you need to leave the tent, put up a light. I use a blue photon light for this because blue and green are the brightest night lights.

    -Lastly, while a cell phoneis mandatory kit it is not foolproof. Neither is GPS. Have a friend or family member familiar with your iteniary, the agency(ies)* that respond to emergencies on the land(s) you will traverse and when you are expected to be at civilization. This simple step allows loved ones to premptively call for help if you dont arrive when youre due and narrow the search grid if you are indeed lost and down. Three days in fair weather is about the best you can get before your chances slim. Even on a bike, you can get horribly lost. Keep someone informed, they dont even need to be in the States.

    *Because of the whole federalism thing, police agencies are bureaucratic islands that have poor info sharing capacities. If you get lost/hurt on federal land and ring the state police, you could watch your cell phone battery burn down as the operator tries to find the appropriate agency to call. Know where you are and who the 911 on that land is before you go and save 10 minutes of precious time and cell battery.
    "Strong. Light. Cheap. Pick Two." - Bontrager

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  8. #8
    Slothful dirt hippie
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    I've bumped into both bears and a cougar in the wild while out roaming around. Never needed a weapon to handle the situation but it's good to think through potential scenarios and visualize how you'd deal with it so you can go on autopilot when the moment comes.

    Black bears CAN be aggressive, but as has been already stated are mostly timid and in the vast majority of interactions what you'll see is a hairy butt running away. Ask around for local knowledge of the area you're heading into... some places have a long history of bear problems which makes food storage an issue. To put this in perspective, we've got a locally heavy bear population and due to hunting pressure they're so spooky they go the extra mile to avoid interactions. Overall... rare to see alive, sign everywhere spring through fall so I know they're there anyway, mostly not a big deal.

    We also have such a dense cat population that problem cougars have to be put down... there's just no place left to put them that another cat hasn't already staked out, and they'll kill each other anyway. I had a very memorable tangle with one while running my little dog team at night years ago. The best strategy is to look very large, loud, and aggressive as they'll typically back down from confrontation.

    Sooner or later when you start realizing you've probably been very close to bears and cougars multiple times a season that you never realized were even there. Obviously ANY animal with babies or food to protect, or that's old/injured/starving can be extra problematic (a local rider was once sent up a tree by a cow elk during calving season). But as someone else already stated, the darn varmits- raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, mice- are FAR more likely to be a problem to a camper.

    And attacks are VERY rare. You're massively more likely to get in a car wreck on the way to the trail head. I think the amount of worry people have is disproportionate to the danger because of some lizard-brain leftovers from our cave man days.
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

  9. #9
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    Safety while bikepacking

    Thanks to all, pouring this info. So basically I set up my camp, store safely the food and go and enjoy my sleep?

    No differences regarding wild animals between a traditional tent and a bivy sack?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    Four venomous snake species? Bull$hit. There are at least four in my state, which isn't known for venomous snakes.
    No, not bull$hit. 4 native species in the US, that's it. The internet confirms what I learned in 1st grade.

    Rattlesnake, Copperhead, Coral snake, and cottonmouth/moccasin.

    There just aren't sustaining populations of other non native venomous snakes. It is possible one could be found but would be exceedingly rare. Pythons and others are probably common in Florida and could be dangerous but aren't poison.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by OS-KR View Post
    Thanks to all, pouring this info. So basically I set up my camp, store safely the food and go and enjoy my sleep?

    No differences regarding wild animals between a traditional tent and a bivy sack?
    HA! If you've ever skinned an elk, you'll find that 1. It's hard to punch through that hide and 2. Knives dull quickly. The fact that predators routinely get through it for meals is pretty impressive.

    Your tent or bivy? Pfft!

    Fortunately that will most likely only be a recollection when you find the d**n varmints have chewed into something overnight.
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

  12. #12
    since 4/10/2009
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    Quote Originally Posted by OS-KR View Post
    Thanks to all, pouring this info. So basically I set up my camp, store safely the food and go and enjoy my sleep?

    No differences regarding wild animals between a traditional tent and a bivy sack?
    No, shelter type doesn't really make much difference. As long as I'm enclosed from the mosquitoes, I don't pay much mind. If a bigger animal wants to get into your shelter, it will. Your objective is to make it so they don't WANT to. That means keeping your food well away from your camp so that if the animals do find it and mess with it, they leave your camp alone. It's not just food, either, but ANYTHING with a strong aroma. Bears will rip into a tent to check out any curious smell on the off chance that it MIGHT be edible. So bug repellents, soaps, toothpaste (ESPECIALLY TOOTHPASTE), etc should all go with your food away from camp.

    In bear territory, especially an area known for problem bears, be absolutely diligent about food handling. Do not cook where you camp. Do not keep ANYTHING smelly/edible where you sleep. A properly used bear canister is better than a bear hang. I have an Ursack which falls somewhere between. I use it with odor-proof liner bags (like a beefed up ziploc bag) and so far haven't noticed any animals bothering it at night. While I occasionally visit bear territory, I have it more for the smaller critters like raccoons, without the bulk and weight of a canister. If mice are a big concern (any well-used shelters, campsites, or cabins will probably have mice - and in the west, especially in desert areas, be VERY concerned with potential disease transmission from rodents - plague and hantavirus are endemic in the US), they'll work through an ursack in no time. I'd carry a Ratsack for them (a wire mesh bag that's more protective against small teeth).

    Ursack
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    Odor Proof Bags | Animal and Critter Protection | Contact us Today

    Speaking of plague and hantavirus. Fleas are the big concern for plague. They're not hard to avoid if you're passing through quickly. Staying in a rodent-infested cabin for long stretches is another concern, though. Prairie dogs tend to be more well-known for being reservoirs, but many other rodents are, too. Permethrin (used primarily for ticks and in some insect-repellent-impregnated clothes) will help against them. As for hantavirus, just stay away from rodent droppings. Abandoned cabins up in the mountains can be FULL of ancient rodent droppings. Probably best to stay out of those.

    Speaking of ticks, they're a pretty significant concern in parts of the country because of the diseases they transmit. And they transmit LOTS of diseases (and more are still being identified). Those diseases tend to be regionally distributed. Soak/spray your clothes in permethrin. Soaks are better. Do not allow cats to be around the wet product - it is safe for them when it's dry, though. Do your spraying or soaking outside, in a garage, wherever your cat does not have access...if you have one.
    CDC - Geographic Distribution - Ticks
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  13. #13
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    Safety while bikepacking

    Thanks Harold !! Just on the spot !!

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