Bike camping 101: A few simple steps to get you on your way

Camping: It’s an adventure and an opportunity to unplug and get away from the city for a few nights. Bike camping is all of that plus you’re on a bike. How great is that?

Bike camping does not have to mean bike touring. There is no requirement to overload your bike with bursting panniers and a sky-high backpack slowing your speed to that of a svelte box turtle. This is bike camping with the emphasis on camping. For those who don’t have the time to plan a grand odyssey, all you need is a minimum of gear to bike to a nearby campground, spend the night or the weekend, and bike back home. Easy. Here are a few details to help get you on your first bike camping adventure.

Bike Camping Gear

Lightweight, compact gear is best. For camping: a tent, sleeping bag, camping pad, toiletries, food, a cooking vessel, a single-burner stove (optional), and a headlamp are essential camping items. For cycling, take: a repair kit including pump, bike tool, tire levers, spare tube, and patch kit. Ideally, all of your gear can fit quite easily into two rear pannier bags and on a rear rack if required. Keeping your back free of a pack will ensure a more comfortable, less sweatdrenched ride.

Now is as good a time as ever to leave your laptop at home. A phone for emergencies is acceptable. A good book is a must. We will allow a book on a phone, but you have to make the page turning sound yourself. Remember what Robert Browning said, “less is more”. Lay out all of your gear in one place before you start to pack to ensure everything is as it should be. Check the relatively short list you’ll put together right after reading this article.

The Escape

No one is suggesting that cycling straight from your door to the great outdoors is the only available option. Most public transit systems will whisk bike campers to near the city limits or beyond. This lets you bypass the exhaust fumes of four-wheeled weekend warriors. In addition, passenger trains are starting to appeal to passengers with bicycles by providing easier boarding on some routes. Consider options within two to three hours of urban centers so that your time on the trip isn’t robbed by too much travel.

The Route

Sometimes the most direct route is not the most comfortable or accessible. Plus a safe and scenic route to your campground is going to be more enjoyable. There are a number of resources that can help you find a suggested route including Google Maps, Bikemap, and Bikely. There are also a slew of established and new cycling routes with helpful websites or printed maps. The ideal is, of course, a pleasant off-road trail or rail trail to your destination. Try to choose locations with this in mind and plan possible stops along the way for refreshments. If your campsite is within a few hours from home, leave in the afternoon after a strong espresso. Leave time for transit troubles, minor repairs, and general this-is-maybe-farther-than-I-thought issues. And the final step, have fun.


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