Are you thinking about exploring the world of bike camping? Preparation is key here, especially if you’re new to the adventure. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know to get started in bike camping, including the different types, how to prepare, and what you’ll need to stay safe and have a great time.
Do You Need to Be an Expert to Bike Camp?
No! You absolutely do not have to be an expert to get started in bike camping. It’s extremely beginner-friendly and you don’t have to travel for any set period of time. You can go out for a single night, 10 nights, or several months. It’s all up to you and your goals. It is best to start small early on, however, to ensure you get a handle on the sport, but you can quickly ramp up your efforts and go out for longer and longer tours.
If you’re looking to get out of the city for a few days and into the outdoors, this can be an amazing activity for the entire family.
Different Types of Bike Camping
Bike camping is actually a catch-all phrase for two different types of travel on a bike with the intention of camping. They are Cycle Touring and Bikepacking. The type you choose depends on your own interests, gear, budget, and goals.
Cycle touring generally refers to a type of bike camping that keeps to paved roads and towns. They can last anywhere from a single day to months long. There are a number of different types of cycle touring, too, depending on what you want to accomplish.
Organized tours are great for beginners and the organizers can help ensure you have all the gear you need while also planning your route for you and accommodations based on the type of tour you book. These may be in larger groups and can get expensive based on the services offered.
Self Supported Touring
Self-supported touring is exactly like it sounds. You are responsible for all of your gear, travel routes, accommodation, and other planning needs. It tends to be less expensive compared to other types of cycle touring and you will have quite a bit of freedom on your trip. This is a great option if you’re just planning on heading out for a day or two.
Credit Card Touring
Credit card touring requires you to carry less gear with you. Instead of bringing all your water, gear, clothing, and other supplies you need for the entire trip, you simply pay for it when you need it. Cyclists can also opt to stay in a hotel rather than a campsite. This route comes with less hassle but it will require a bit more planning to ensure you have a place to stay each night.
Another option that requires you to carry less gear is vehicle-supported touring. You simply pack the car with everything you need, but it will require someone else to go with you. This type of bike camping allows you to travel further though and adjust if you run into bad weather or scheduling issues.
The second type of bike camping is “bikepacking,” which will have you sticking to back roads, trails, and dirt roads, similar to backpacking. You will head from campsite to campsite rather than town to town, though you can absolutely head into a town if you need to if one is near your route.
It is not only about going from town-to-town though. Bikepacking can also be just for a quick overnight to a local park. We know a group of dads who take their young children bikepacking from their suburban homes, via a trail, to a nice, secluded county park about 10 miles away. It isn’t far from home, but provides a fun weekend night experience.
What Equipment Will You Need for Bike Camping?
You will not want to go empty handed on your bike camping trip! You should have a checklist ready to go before you even head out, and you will likely need several bags to carry all of your gear. Here are some things you’ll want to add to your own list, but remember: how much you bring and what you bring will depend on your trip’s itinerary and the length of the tour.
Bike and Bike Gear
Of course, you will need a bike on your bike tour. However, the type of bike camping you’re opting for can impact the type of bike you need. Road-style bikes work well for cycle touring while you will definitely want a mountain bike or a bike with wider tires for bikepacking.
You should also have
- A helmet
- A bike repair kit and other bicycling gear
- A taillight
- A bike lock
- A headlight
Food and Water
Even if you’re bringing your credit card, you absolutely need to bring enough food and water with you. How much you need will depend on how long you’ll be gone for and where you’re going. You will also need more water if you’re heading out in the heat or planning on riding for longer portions of the day. Carrying some freeze-dried backpacking meals can be a good idea, as they are lightweight and work great in a pinch. It’s recommended you bring a water filter along with you just in case.
In order to bike camp, you’re going to need camping supplies. Even if you’re only heading out for a single night, it’s generally a good idea to pack
- A tent
- A sleeping bag
- A sleeping pad
- A camping stove
- A mug
- Matches and a lighter
- A spork
- A pot
You may also opt for things like pillows, tarps, hammocks, and other materials.
Safety and Travel Needs
Bike campers should also bring along necessary safety and travel items. It’s recommended that you add these to your checklist:
- A cellphone
- A map (Even if you have a cellphone, you never know when you’ll be without service.)
- A compass
- A portable charger
- A GPS
- A first aid kit (Including medications)
- A watch
- A camera
Toiletries and Clothing
You don’t necessarily want to head out with just the clothes on your back, especially if you’re going out for more than a day. It’s essential to pack enough toiletries with you to last you the entire trip and clothes that are weather appropriate. The basics are easy to overlook, too – you don’t want to get to your campsite and realize you forgot toilet paper!
- Cycling clothes
- Bike shoes
- Rain clothing (Including gloves)
- A hat
- A jacket
- Camp clothing (including warm and insulated clothes for when the temperature drops)
- A toothbrush
- A hair brush
- Hand sanitizer
- Lip balm
- Toilet paper
- Chamois cream
Depending on how far you’re traveling and how much gear you’ll bring, you may need a few different types of bags. Some options are
- A handlebar pack
- A seat pack
- A frame pack
- A top tube bag
- A cargo cage
- A backpack
- Bike panniers
- A bike trailer (This is a great option if you’re traveling with your kids as you can ensure you have enough space to pack everything you need.)
And a Few Other Things
In order to be fully prepared, you may need a few more miscellaneous items, though some of these are optional:
- An ID
- A credit Card
- A passport
- Travel papers
Make sure you also bring anything else you think you may need or want on your trip. This checklist is a good starting point though.
When it comes to bike camping, you absolutely need to be prepared. This means deciding what type of bike camping is right for you; planning out your route or itinerary as necessary; and having all the gear you could need for daily riding, camping, and emergencies.