Choosing the Best Tires for Bikepacking
Bikepacking is loosely defined as touring off-road (on gravel, fire roads, singletrack, etc.) with a more streamlined gear setup than traditional touring racks and panniers. This allows you to ride singletrack without snagging your bags on thick brush, trees, etc. and prevents backcountry rack breakage.
Because bikepacking takes you away from paved surfaces — and the cars that come with them — it’s a much quieter (and often safer) experience than road touring. Campsites are easier to find, wildlife is easier to spot, and you’re more likely to experience those moments when you really feel “out there.”
Riding over many different surfaces with the full weight of your camping gear, you might find that your normal mountain bike or gravel tires don’t handle bikepacking as well. While it’s not strictly necessary, having the right tires on your bikepacking bike can vastly improve the ride experience. After all, isn’t bikepacking all about an enjoyable experience? In this article, we’ll talk about how to choose the best tires for bikepacking based on your riding style, local terrain, and more.
What To Look for in a Bikepacking Tire
There’s no single “correct” bikepacking tire. Your ideal tire may be very different from someone else’s based on where you ride, how you ride, and your particular goals. That said, there are a few core qualities that you’ll want in a bikepacking tire no matter what:
- Stability – A bikepacking tire has to carry you and your gear over rough roads, narrow trails, steep climbs, loose descents, and more. When you’re rolling with extra weight in unfamiliar territory, you want a predictable ride. Go for tires that prioritize stability so you can ride with confidence. (Tip: Take your loaded bike on a “shakedown” ride before embarking on a bikepacking trip so you know how it handles when loaded.)
- Durability – A punctured tire is inconvenient at best, but it can spell disaster on a remote bikepacking trip. Rugged routes with sharp rocks, burly roots, cactuses, or other hazards amplify your risk of tire damage. We recommend opting for durability over rolling efficiency or weight savings. Tubeless tire setups can also help you avoid some of the most common tire punctures.
- Comfort – Long distances, extra weight, and rough roads are a recipe for discomfort. Running lower air pressure in your tires cushions you from road and trail chatter for a more comfortable ride. Large-volume tires that are set up tubeless are ideal for this approach. It’s a small change that makes a bigger difference the farther you ride.
How to Select a Tread Pattern
Every tread pattern is designed for certain terrain and riding conditions. Choosing the right one can mean the difference between a solid ride feel and a sketchy one. Here’s how to pick a tread pattern that will work for you.
- Consider your terrain – Envision where you'll spend most of your time riding. Will it be pavement, gravel, or singletrack? Will it be rocky, sandy, or hardpack? Wet or dry? Many routes cover multiple terrain types and you can't always predict ride conditions, so an educated guess is fine.
- Consider your riding goals – What do you want to achieve on your trips? Maybe you want to cover big miles each day (fast-rolling tread) or perhaps you want to ride technical and loose terrain with confidence (spaced-out tread with large knobs). Whatever it is, take it into account when choosing your tread pattern.
Teravail Tread Designs
It can be difficult to choose from the countless tread patterns out there, and there may be many that will work for you. To help you get started, here are a few of our most popular bikepacking tires:
- Sparwood features a classic file tread for traction and control on gravel or fire roads. Its casing balances volume, rotating weight, and stability for a solid all-around bikepacking tire.
- Rutland has an open tread pattern and high-volume casing options. These attributes make it ideal for journeys with unpredictable conditions that might include loose terrain, mud, and hardpack.
- Ehline employs a tightly packed center tread with open transition lugs and supportive shoulder lugs. The 2.3" and 2.5" casing options are high-volume but will fit a wide variety of bikes. It rolls efficiently yet delivers loads of grip in loose corners.
- Coronado has a paddle-like tread for loose surfaces, as well as our largest casing volume. It delivers a stable and efficient ride over sand, chunky doubletrack, and more.
With a tread pattern in mind, it’s time to think about tire casing options. A casing is the internal layers and construction of the tire. This determines everything from sidewall stiffness to weight to puncture protection, and defines a tire's ride characteristics.
We provide multiple casing options so you can tune your ride based on individual needs. Our bikepacking tires come in two different casing options:
- Durable Bead-to-Bead offers a robust composition with a woven nylon layer in the sidewall and tread cap to protect the tire against punctures, abrasions, and lacerations.
- Light & Supple rolls more comfortably and weighs less than its counterpart, though it offers less puncture protection.
In general, we recommend the Durable Bead-to-Bead casing for the rigors of bikepacking. However, consider these factors if you’re tempted by the Light & Supple casing:
Rider and Gear Weight – Heavy touring loads put more force on your tires, which calls for reinforcement. We recommend our Durable Bead-to-Bead casing, which provides additional stability and reliability while maintaining a comfortable ride. If you have an ultralight kit, you might opt for the reduced weight of our Light & Supple casing.
Riding Style – If you prefer aggressive lines, high speeds, and hard cornering, our Durable Bead-to-Bead casing can help you push the limits while reducing the chances of a flat tire. Those who prefer a mellow pace may get along just fine with the Light & Supple casing.
Intended Terrain – The roads and trails you ride are a major factor in casing choice. For sharp gravel or chunky singletrack and fire roads, you’ll want to consider the additional puncture protection of our Durable Bead-to-Bead casing. If your routes are mostly paved backroads and hardpack gravel, you might appreciate the cushion and weight savings of our Light & Supple casing.
Once you’ve selected the right tread and casing for your riding style and conditions, it's time to consider compounds. A tire's compound refers to the types of rubber in its tread. This mix determines the softness and flexibility of the rubber, often measured by its durometer*. A compound can be tuned to different durometers for specific ride experiences or conditions.
For gravel tires, we’ve found that 60a-durometer rubber delivers the best general tread pattern performance thanks to an ideal balance of grip, comfort, and abrasion resistance.
Many of our off-road tires come in one of two compound options:
Fast Compound uses firmer rubber for reduced rolling resistance and a faster-rolling tire.
Grip Compound employs softer rubber for increased traction and a stable, predictable ride.
The final step in choosing the best bike tires for gravel is picking a size.
First, check your bike's frame and fork clearance to determine what will tire size will fit. Next comes the important step of determining what tire size works best with your rims. To learn more about tire clearance and rim compatibility, check out our article on tire sizing.
While your bike will likely fit a range of tires, wider tires are more stable, especially at lower pressures. This makes them more comfortable, dependable, and efficient when the terrain gets dicey. We suggest opting for the wider end of your available size range unless your routes are made up of lots of pavement and firm, fast gravel.
If you’re afraid that a wider tire will slow you down, keep in mind that the terrain often determines the fastest tire. For example, rough and loose gravel can present a serious challenge, so the extra confidence and stability of a wider tire may actually make you faster.
When it comes to bikepacking kit, think of tires like a stove or tent; you can likely get by with whatever you have, but you’ll be much more comfortable and prepared with gear that’s designed for the task at hand. You’re now ready to choose the tires that will bring a new level of enjoyment to your bikepacking trips. Explore our All-Road, Gravel, Off-Road, and Fat & Plus tire lineups to get started. If in doubt, consult a local bike shop about the best tires for bikepacking on the terrain where you live or where you’re going. Happy riding.
*The Shore A Hardness Scale measures a rubber’s durometer, or its hardness and flexibility. Very soft and flexible rubber textures are a 0 on the scale, while very hard rubbers with almost no flexibility register at 100.