Why Bike Camping? Why Not?
What bike camping is
- A great excuse for getting outdoors
- Perfect for fitting in short, active vacays this summer
- A great way to pull you out of your day-to-day 9-to-5
- S-24O (Sub-24 hour Overnight), if you want
- A world of local adventure
- A short stay in an open space close to home
- Good for your body and mind
What bike camping isn’t
- Fossil fuel-consuming
Novice Bike Camper?
Start by thinking through where you want to go. Equipment for a bike camping trip depends on what type of touring you are planning to do. Ask yourself: How many miles am I planning to travel? What types of terrain will I be traveling? Hills, flat, or in between? Will I be riding on dirt trails or on the road? Will I be okay with just a sleeping bag or will I need a tent? Should I bring food to cook or pre-prepared food?
Your answers will determine the equipment you will need to have a successful trip. Here are a couple of basic equipment suggestions to help you get started.
There are bikes that are built specifically for touring, but realistically, you aren’t going to be using your bike to ride across the country. At least, not at first. Any bike that is durable and comfortable for you will work for your first camping trip. Consider whether your trip includes riding on dirt trails or pavement. A mountain bike with knobby wide tires is most appropriate for riding on trails.
These bikes have low gearing for grinding up hills and are built for harder off-road riding.
If, on the other hand, you plan on riding on the road, you want a comfortable bike that, like a mountain bike, has enough gears to get you up any hills you encounter. These usually have skinnier tires made for smooth rolling on pavement.
One thing to note: Your bike can carry a lot of gear, but you are the engine that has to pedal it. Edit your gear down to just what you need and no more.
Depending on how long you plan to be away and what type of camping you are planning, you will probably need a sleeping bag, food, water, camp stove (if you’re not taking pre-prepared food), and maybe a tent. Other items you may want include a change of clothes for hanging around the campsite, and soap for washing your food containers. If there are no showers at your campground, consider body wipes for personal hygiene.
To carry the above equipment, you will need a rack or two on your bike for holding panniers to carry your camping equipment. Or, alternatively, you could use a trailer to carry all your gear.
I’ve talked with people who do use their bikes for camping trips who swear by panniers and wouldn’t consider dragging a trailer behind their bikes for a couple of reasons:
Trailers add quite a bit of weight on their own, then when you add camping gear, they can create quite a load to haul around.
It’s easy to overpack a trailer with stuff you might not really need, particularly if you’re planning to be away for only a night or two.
Trailers take some getting used to. They change the way the bike handles and require more time to brake or stop, since you are carrying more weight behind the bike.
However, for carrying everything you think you’ll need, a trailer can’t be beat.
Trailers come in several configurations, they can have two wheels or one (one-wheeled trailers typically are used on dirt trails by mountain bikers).
Experienced bike tourists tell me that panniers (AKA, saddle bags), are a more practical approach for bike camping, particularly for short trips away from home. These fit on racks mounted on the bike either behind the seat, along the front tire, or, depending on how long you plan to camp, both fore and aft.
What you need to know about panniers
Panniers have the advantage over trailers in that they don’t significantly change the maneuverability of the bike.
Proper packing is important. Be sure to distribute the weight evenly between the panniers, with heavier items at the bottom of the bags, to aid balance on the bike. Also, if you have front and rear panniers, distribute the load evenly between the front and rear as well.
Locks & Lights
These are important (but occasionally forgotten or overlooked). Use the locks for securing your bike and panniers or trailer if you can’t be with them. Bike lights are really important for seeing (and being seen) during those times when you get caught on the road or trail as the sun goes down or early in the morning. Be sure you have head- and taillights.
Other items you shouldn’t be without: Spare inner tubes, patch kit for repairing an inner tube, tools for changing the tubes and a pump for the tires. Remember to pack spare batteries for your lights and/or solar charger for lights and your smart phone. Finally, physical maps are great for those times when you are out of cellular range and directional apps on your phone are good to have for when you’re not.
Lots of Water
You might go through more water than you thought you would, so it’s a good practice to carry a lot with you. Because bike camping is hard work (particularly the first time you go out), keep extra food on hand to fuel your effort.
You can go multi-modal, extending your reach so you can REALLY get away on your bike. Around the San Francisco Bay Area there are several transit agencies that allow you to bring your bike on public transit. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has lifted restrictions on when you can bring a bike onboard and Caltrain now has space for bikes on all its trains. Post-Car Press & Consulting has other suggestions for combining your bike travel with public transit.
Where to Wander
Finally, if you need suggestions for places to camp, Northern California and Southern Oregon are honeycombed with county, state and national parks in forests and on beaches, set up for summer camping.
Although we didn’t have time to experience the camping when we went through the area last year, Redding, California, has wonderful camping venues, as does Klamath Falls, and the area around Crater Lake, Oregon.
Where will you wander this summer? Hop on your bike for some overnight camping. Your mind, body and spirit will thank you for it!