Bikepacking folks - Tell me about lighting

I signed up for a bikepacking race but I have no experience riding in the dark/at night. Those of you who do a lot of dark riding, please share your headlight/battery setups and recommendations!

Personally in summer I like to stop when it gets dark and sleep until sunrise. That still gives about 16hrs on the bike at least which is plenty enough for me!
I do carry a light, a Hope R4 with a 6 cell battery pack because sometimes you just want to keep riding into the night if it’s beautiful out there.

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I’ve got another bike with an Exposure strada on it. I can run it off any usb power bank type battery which is nice and cheap.


For multi-day races/events you probably aren’t riding that much in the dark but it does depend on the time of year and location - midsummer in northern Scotland or Scandinavia and there’s not much actual proper darkness. You might also ride more in the dark on a shorter event as you are more likely to “ride through” than bivy.

As examples:I did the Highland Trail 550 (miles) a few years ago taking just over five days and used less than 50% of a fully charged Exposure Joystick which included riding through the final night. Last November I did the BB200 (that’s 200km) and used all the charge in one Joystick, half that in another and about half the charge from a 4-cell pack running a Hope Vision 2 light.

The Joystick was helmet mounted with the Hope on the bars. What you generally want is a wide beam light on the bars with a more “spotty” light on the helmet so you can pick things out.

Whatever you go for, don’t just stick the light on max power and hope for the best, you need to manage things - no need for full power when heading uphill or if you have to do some hike-a-bike - doing this you can really eke things out.

What’s the race/event?

I’m doing the 2 day, 250 mile option for this

so I intend (hopefully!) to ride late into the night and really try to minimize sleep, since it’s only one night.

I really recommend these lights, they’re the perfect brightness, and the battery life when mounted to a handle bar is amazing. I used these for a Kokopelli Trail ride through the night (long story), and the battery lasted for over 10hrs on low.

There are several light threads below. Also, I’ve heard some several people that ride at night to have two lights - one on your handlebars and another on your helmet.

You should definitely be using 2 lights. While LED lights are far more reliable, powerful and economical than lights of a few years ago, mounts still fail, the light you got a couple of years ago that used to last 5 hours now only lasts 4, etc.

And if you think that your night riding time (allowing for possible mechanicals, having to turn your lights on early due to overcast conditions, etc) will exceed the battery time of even 1 of your lights, you should carry 3 (or a spare battery if this is feasible).

A helmet light can be a good secondary light - can be useful to pick out road signs, or looking into a corner before you enter it.

I agree with the suggestion of managing the brightness too. As a rough guide for road riding, I use about 250 lumens climbing, about 500 lumens on the flats, and 1000 lumens when descending.

Think about the placement of any front bag, and how compatible this might be with your lighting. While many roadies like using a GoPro style light mount under their out-front computer mount, this is not going to work with a handlebar bag. Also think of the shape of your handlebars - round clamp light mounts used to be common, which may not fit on non-round aerobars - although rubber band mounts are more common now, which suit a wider range of bar shapes.

As batteries become larger to support brighter lights with longer run times, they become too top heavy for a single bar mount. If you want to run significant brightness over 3 hours, you are probably starting to think about 2 piece systems with an external battery pack. I use a Gemini Duo, with the battery pack on a velcro strap on the down tube (I duct tape the frame where it is likely to rub). But there are many great alternatives.


Bike lights is akin to the N+1 for bikes, you never have the only correct light.

I have done a 500k (11000vm) single stage in 35 hours with a dynamo set up, for both light and charging of power to bank for other chargeables, to a 1000 miler 5 days 9 hours, with no dynamo as resting up every 19-20 for 4 hours allowing charging of lights and bits at the places of rest, among other rides of 1400km bikepacking over 12 days, 5 & 7 day tours, to a weekly 40km ride we do from 6pm into the evening.

I do agree that a minium of two lights is essential, 3 is best practice.

A main bike light can be dynamo set up (I use the K-Lite with USB charger), or a stand alone light (I use Exposure Toro MK12, the MK13 is bigger and brighter but not always needed, I also use the Extreme Lights Baviaans edition with a rechargebale battery, use of either is dependent upon the race/event/trip/logistics).

A helmet light is sensible to have and use, allows for a host of cases where a bike light is not always practicable. I use the Exposure Joystick (this can be used as a main bike light but dependent upon the use case circumstances).

A third light I use is the Petzel Actik Core, as a back up light or spare light when the others are not practical to use.

Management of the modes of the various lights is an on-going effort, there are times when a brighter or dimmer mode is ‘better’ and is all use case dependent.

Don’t forget blinker lights for the bike, rear I use Exposure Blaze MK1 and upfront, have various el cheapo blinker lights.

Know your realistic ability for the race and then include a 15% time deficit for potential issues and factor in that time for battery usage, if you have no means of charging on the ride. A 250 mile ride can be done with one night of riding, again dependent upon factors of start time of event, your goal time to finish, lights being used and many more.

I do recommend you go ride at night, not only to get used to how things work in the dark, but also a mental training knowing you are out in the cold, lonely air whilst you could be sleeping and yet you need to be in the saddle for a few hours. Make the uncomfortable comfortable. :metal: