For the eighth year in a row thousands of adventurous spirits will load camping gear on their bikes for a weekend adventure. Here at Swift, we believe there’s little better than spending the longest day of the year on a bicycle, and the shortest night sleeping under the stars. In the lead-up to Campout, we seek to inspire and educate, sharing fun stories and deep knowledge to help newer Campers with some confidence-boosting tips before they head out on their first bike-camping adventure. File this one under “Deep Knowledge”, courtesy of Swift Founder, Martina.
Are you a first-time bike-camper? Perhaps you’re watching curiously from the sidelines wondering if a bike-overnight is the thing for you? Want to get started but aren’t quite sure where to begin?
We hear you! We were all beginners at one point and know that feeling well. With that in mind, for us, there’s nothing more exciting than showing folks how simple it can be to gather some gear and get out on a short bike-camping adventure.
First things first–for a short bike trip chances are any old bike will do, but there are a few things that will make your outing a little easier. We recommend a bicycle with gears because your camping stuff might slow you down a bit and those hills will take a toll with your house on board.
The most common set-up is a rack to carry your panniers full of food, camping supplies and your shelter. It’s much more comfortable than riding with a heavy backpack! Let your bicycle do the heavy lifting so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of country roads.
Try to pack as minimally as possible. One of the most liberating things about traveling by bicycle is that when you’re stripped down to the daily essentials you pay closer attention to the landscape and people along the way. This doesn’t mean you’ve signed up for a sufferfest–not at all–the idea is that when we simplify our belongings, we can amplify the pleasures that make life so wonderfully satisfying. Like brewing coffee as the light hits camp on a summer morning, or chillin’ cross-legged next to a glowing fire sharing a nip with travel buddies. Soak in the moment. Life on the road is so good!
For Swift Campout you should bring along a ground pad, sleeping bag, and shelter. Gear designed for backpacking is also perfect for bicycle travel. Backcountry gear is lighter and more compact than ever–which makes bike-camping pretty luxurious without a ton of weight. I bring an inflatable pillow along, and even grind my coffee beans fresh each morning with a hand grinder. There’s really no need to rough it unless that’s your calling. The minimalism of bike camping should enhance the simple pleasures that make life soul-satisfying.
Your ride will be even more heavenly if you use a few simple packing tips.
- Mini-everything! Shrink your stuff–put sunscreen in a smaller tube, take pasta out of the bag and put it into a ziplock, don’t take the whole salt shaker; if you can, put a little seasoning in film cannister-sized containers. Take a single 1L pot and cook in cycles instead of lugging three pots along.
- Fill the dead space. Put your fuel bottle, some food, and even a pair of socks into your cooking pot. That way you can utilize the dead space created by your cookware. Same applies inside your panniers–stuff small things into the nooks and crannies so your bags don’t overflow.
- Make sure the weight in your bags is even so your steering is stable and your body is stoked. I like to strap my tent to the top of the rear rack so it leaves more space inside the bags for my sleep set-up, clothes, and kitchen.
- Say there’s rain on the horizon. Keep your clothes and bedding tidy inside your bags until your tent is pitched. If you don’t let your gear get wet from the start, your whole adventure will be much more fun come hell or high water. A little mindfulness goes a long way: put sensitive gear like down sleeping bags and electronics in seam-sealed dry bags. There’s nothing more satisfying than crawling into a warm, dry bed if the weather’s gone to shit!
If you’re an outdoor chef at heart, if conditions permit, the best is cooking over the open campfire! A great bike-camping kitchen includes:
- a cutting board out of food grade HDPE (Tap Plastics or REI),
- a sharp knife
- spice kit (small containers of salt, pepper, cumin, chili, etc)
- a small pot
- backpacking stove and fuel
- spoon or spork
- coffee kit
- small pan (the lid of a small backpacking pot is usually designed to double as a pan)
- a rag or wet-wipes to tidy up with
On a short ride it’s easy to take lots of freshies along, or stop at farm stands along the way. Relish the open air kitchen while you chop and prep; enjoy turning those hotdogs and veggies at a ritual pace over the embers.
More of a bachelorette in the kitchen? That’s easy too: you can take a burrito for dinner and no-cook breakfast like yogurt and granola for an easy and delicious start. That means you can forgo all of your kitchen gear and bring a teddy bear along, or a bb gun, or something fun!
Every tour is as unique as your travel style.
The pace and distance is entirely up to you. It’s a retreat, a time to relish the open road, and we all do that a little differently. The allure of bike-camping is that there’s no prescribed way to do it. Start with low mileage to get a sense for riding with a loaded bicycle. If you’re road touring and the terrain isn’t crazy hilly I think 50 miles a day is stellar distance and allows for a laid back pace. Make sure to eat often and stay hydrated. It takes work to pedal along and the landscape can be distracting so avoid low blood sugar by snacking tons.
50 miles sounds ridiculous? You’d rather tool around and smell the roses? Great! So long as you are living the dream, it’s all good.
If you’re heading out of town you should know how to fix a flat and have the tools along to make the repair on the side of the road. You’ll feel tough and capable knowing that you’re self-sufficient and can maintain your bicycle on your own. As for other tools–bring only what you know how to use, and unless you’re going into the deep wilds don’t overthink what to take along. Patch kit, extra tube, tire levers, a multi-tool, some additional bolts incase your racks come loose, and zip ties. Zip ties are a gift from the gods.
Be safe in traffic. Ride on the shoulder where possible, and stay as steady and linear as possible as you forge ahead. Some drivers will give you lots of space and others will be dicks. The reality of bicycle touring is that traffic is the biggest risk. Some folks choose to wear high-viz clothing and a rear triangle reflector on high traffic roads, and seriously, a helmet is a given in my book.
Finding quiet roads can be an art. Planning ahead is easier than ever with the internet at our fingertips. Switching google maps to “bicycle” mode is a great start, but doesn’t always reveal the killer roads that make your heart soar. When you’re planning be curious, maximize that map to scour for farm roads and country lanes that parallel the highways google suggests. RideWithGPS, Strava’s heat map, onXmaps, and Gaia GPS are all helpful resources for visualizing and building routes. Often counties publish bike-route maps. Check for local resources of that kind.
Alrighty kids. I hope we’ve reeled you in. It can be a leap to try something new and I’m excited and impressed that you’re pushing your comfort zone to give a bike camping trip a whirl! Holler if we’ve missed some glaring details and chime in if you have a stellar tip you want to share. My guess is that you’ll pack up and have a field day beyond compare. My hope is that Swift Campout is the first of many trips this summer!