What should you bring on a bike camping trip? You’ll get a better answer by asking what you shouldn’t bring.
There’s a simple mantra to consider when packing for a trip: Less weight equals more comfort. Until it doesn’t. The truth is, you should bring what makes you happy or enriches your experience, balanced with how challenging (or not challenging) you want the ride to be.
Think of it as a venn diagram of distance, comfort and quality of life. You may want your cast iron skillet for that perfect breakfast, but that extra 8 lbs will catch up with you on mile 45.
A basic packing list for a bike camping trip stays relatively the same whether you’re preparing for a single overnight or a longer distance ride. But you’ll still want to account for the distance you’re traveling. Depending on your needs, each additional day might equate to extra clothing, or additional gear, like portable phone chargers or shower towels. For longer trips, you can also consider staying one night at an Airbnb or hotel for the opportunity to wash your clothing.
We like to think of a packing list in terms of must-haves, nice-to-haves and comfort items. It’s a choose your own adventure after that.
A small note: don’t be intimidated by the entirety of the list. It’s better seen as a wishlist than as one of essentials. For a first trip, you can get away with a much simpler list of things, which you might also be able to borrow from a friend.
Consider these four overall packing tips:
- Kill your darlings: Start by putting together a complete packing list. Then cut item by item until you feel comfortable. Think of it from the perspective of necessity: what do you absolutely need to survive on this trip. What is unnecessary?
- Design the trip to limit what you need: See your route as a resource. For example, you don’t need to bring heavy (or lightweight) cooking equipment; instead, you could eat takeout on the road, or gather snacks or dinner ingredients at a grocery store on the way. Design your trip to avoid the need to pack more.
- Look for lightness: Choose the lightest items you can. In some cases, that might mean investing in ultralight camping gear. In other situations, it might mean downsizing what you have. For example, do you need an entire tube of toothpaste, or just a tiny bit in a ziploc bag?
- Assume that your heaviest stuff will be clothing: It may not seem obvious, but we’ve found that clothing is often the bulkiest part of our pack. If you can reuse clothing on a short trip, do it. The grime is worth the time.
A note on baggage:
So, how will your lug all your junk?
For new riders, there’s no shame in the bookbag game—we bet you can fit all of your gear in a backpack, especially if you’re sharing a tent or sleeping bag with a friend who can share the load. But, we do highly recommend training with a bookbag leading up to the event, adding weight as you go, to help prepare your body for the extra weight. If you’ve never done a long distance ride, you may find that both your legs and your upper body will get sore and slow you down.
We highly encourage you to explore baggage options like panniers, or saddlebags, that attach to a rack of your bike. Of course, that means having a rack installed, if you don’t have one. You can probably get a rack at local bike shop, which often carry pannier bags as well. Panniers will be game-changing for an overnight trip and your regular commute. They take the stress off of your back, add stability to your bike, and become incredibly handy when grocery shopping or taking a six-pack to a friend’s place.
Quick thoughts on food:
Although you'll be stopping many places for your meals, there are some things to consider if you want to bring your breakfast, lunch and dinner. We recommend doing some web searches for idesa about backpacking meals, as our recommendations are pretty basic.
- Simple breakfast suggestions include oatmeal (if you're cooking), or keep it simple with fruit, energy bars or a bagel
- Simple lunch suggestions include trail snacks, canned tuna & crackers, pb&j tortilla roll-ups, hard meats and cheeses
- Simple dinner suggestions include instant rice & beans, fire-baked potatoes, or a tinfoil wrap of potatoes, veggies, and cheese over the fire
Now, what to pack:
- Saddlebag / pannier or backpack
- Sleeping bag
- 2 water bottles
- Protein, sugar, fat-rich snacks (protein or granola bars, fruits, gummies, peanut butter and jelly sandwich)
- Lunch (unless you plan to stop)
- Travel bike pump
- Bike multi-tool
- Patch kit
- Tire levers
- Spare bike tire tubes
- Basic first aid kit
- Portable charger and charging cable
- Deodorant and toothbrush
- Tee or performance tee
- Shorts or comfortable pants to change into
- Hand sanitizer
- Rain jacket
- For off season trips, you’ll need items to stay warm overnight
Nice to Have
- Bike rack
- Sleeping mat (a must in the offseason)
- Stove kit
- Fuel, flint and lighter
- Cooking utensils
- Collapsible plates
- Collapsible pour over coffee maker and filters
- Pocket knife
- Insulated mug
- Padded biking shorts
- 2-4 bungee cords for storage on rack
- Inflatable pillow
- Head lamp or flashlight
- Bike lock
- Bear food bag (maybe a necessity depending on your trip)
- Comfortable shirt and flip flops for camp
- Bug spray
- A second set of padded biking shorts is nice for longer trips
- Waterproof bags
- Hand towel for cleaning cooking supplies
- Collapsable ultralight shower towel
- Small shampoo, body wash
- Energy gummies
- Solar panel
- Waterproof pants
- Bluetooth speaker
- Handlebar phone mount
- Mylar cooler
- One standard change of clothing, like jeans and a shirt
- Collapsable camp chairs or picnic blankets
- Deck of cards or other games