July 5th, 2016

bike camping 101
You love biking, and you love camping. But you’ve always been afraid to combine the two and actually go bike camping because it sounds so daunting: a heavy load on a long ride, gathering that gear list, and making sure that you definitely have all your supplies (so you don’t end up exclusively noshing on energy bars since the propane burner never made it into your pack).

Fear not. Bike camping is a lot simpler than it sounds because there are a variety of different levels of bike camping. There’s absolutely no need to jump right into multi-day bike camping, freeze dried food and purifying your own water. You can start out very simply, without a tent even (see credit-card bike touring, below). And once you’re ready to pitch a tent, you’ll just need to gather the lightest version of your camping supplies, get a rack for your bike, sturdy bike panniers and bike bungees to secure all supplies. Oh, and find just the right camping spot, of course!

bike camping 101

First step, even before assembling a packing list, is to decide what type of bike camping you’re after. Here’s a nice round-up of different types of bike camping/touring options from REI and some pros and cons to each:

  • Credit-card bike touring: Carry only your basic gear. Then, pay for things like hotels and meals along the way (hence, “credit card”). This method makes for a light ride and less stress about whether you remembered everything. Think of it as “glamping”: You tour in the luxury of warm showers. But you’ll pay more for a hotel than a campground on the dirt, and more for restaurant meals than a packed PB&J.
  • Self-supported bike camping: Pack and pedal everything yourself. Store all of your camping supplies and meals in panniers attached to your bike rack or a bike trailer behind you. This method is affordable and gives you the breezy feeling of self-reliance. But it also means you carry everything on your own muscle power.
  • Car bike camping: Have a friend bring up the rear with a van full of your camping gear! You can be free of your heavier supplies, and if you get caught in a downpour, you’ll have instant shelter. The challenges include: finding a friend who would agree to experience the views from a car instead of a bike, and not being able to offroad it with your bikes—or the car would be left behind.
  • Organized bike camping: In a paid bike camping tour, all the headaches are someone else’s problem. You get to meet new people, and in some cases, you don’t have to carry the camping supplies yourself. The accommodation and navigation are all taken care of. The downside? These tours can be expensive, and you don’t get to choose your own adventure.
bike camping

Once you’ve decided on your trip style, packing becomes simpler. If you choose to do a self-supported bike camping, you’d need the maximum gear. Here’s everything you’d need to make it happen from Bike Overnights and REI:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Camp pad
  • Pillow
  • Tent
  • Food
  • Toiletries
  • Map
  • Flashlight
  • Pocketknife
  • Matches
  • Raingear
  • Towel
  • Two pairs of biking clothes
  • Two pairs of non-sweaty clothes
  • Patch kit
  • Pump (like this one or this one)
  • Cycling multi-tools (like this one)
  • Sturdy Bike Rack (like this one or this one)
  • Bicycle Pannier Bag (like this pair)

That’s it! And even those items are optional: Not everyone would feel the need to bring a towel or multiple pairs of clothes, especially if you aren’t overnighting over numerous days. Some rugged adventurers can do without a camp pad or air mattress. And others might happily sleep in a camp hammock instead of a tent.

bike camping

Once you’ve narrowed down your checklist, pack all of your supplies in panniers, baskets, and/or a bike trailer. For some wild inspiration, check out these DIY bike trailers. You can also buy one that’s readymade. If you’d rather skip the expense of a trailer, just strap your tent to your rear rack. Organize your items into panniers by category, such as sleeping and cooking (and use other packing advice from this seasoned Canadian traveler).

Then, you’re ready to bike the world!

One Response to “Bike Camping 101”

  1. Mark Hendricks

    You forgot S48’s; sub 48 hour rides. This is the bulk of the riding for most bicycle tourists. Most of the time you can pack everything you need on your sleeping bag and tent! I love my panniers and top bag, but most of the time, they just aren’t necessary.