Bicycle camping is a fun and economical way to go bike touring. There are several ways in which it can be approached. It’s not quite car-camping and not quite backpacking, but shares a little from each. If you are already a camper, you may have all or most of the gear you need. Let’s talk about some of the special requirements and concerns of camping with your bicycle.
The first obvious thing that comes to mind is your tent. What you need for bike camping is something small and light. A lot of times a backpacking tent can serve you well. We’ve used our four season Moss backpacking tent with great success, but while on a tour several years ago, we decided that we weren’t camping often enough to justify the nearly nine pounds of weight (yes, I was very surprised when I actually weighed it!) we wound up mailing it back home and stopping at a local Walmart to see if they had any cheap and light tents. What we ended up buying was actually a children’s tent for $14. It sounds crazy, but it had several advantages. First, it was light, about half of what our Moss weighed. Next, it had a PVC bathtub floor, meaning that we could also send home our ground cloth that we had to use under the Moss, creating even more weight and space savings. The drawback was that it was small. We have to sleep it kind of Katty-corner, but the weight/space savings is worth it to us. If you are camping alone, you could look into buying a bivvy-bag, essentially a one man tent just big enough for a sleeping bag. If you’re really bold (and cheap), you could just roll up in a tarp for the night. I’ve done it and it’s not so bad. You will end up sharing your space with some creepy-crawlies, but hey, you are camping!
Speaking of tarps, a small, lightweight tarp can be a good addition with multiple uses. You can pull it out and hide under it, bikes and all to wait out a passing rain storm, you can use it as shade at your campsite or extra dry space if it’s raining and you’re trapped in your child-size tent, and for throwing over your bikes at night to keep them dry from the weather or dew. It doesn’t need to anything fancy. A sheet of plastic will work. A sheet of Tyvek is cheap, light and very durable.
You’re probably going to want a sleeping bag. The important thing about bags is that they are appropriate for the season and that they can be compressed into a small size. We have some cheesy no name bags that weigh next to nothing and crush down to a small size. They are flannel lined inside and nylon outside and are perfect for the Summer months. They can also be zipped together. Really nice if it does gets chilly out 😉 Remember, you can stretch a lightweight summer bag into cooler weather by wearing some clothes (tights, socks, shirt) inside the bag. You can also get a sleeping bag liner. Down bags are great for colder climes and crush down considerably. The drawbacks on down are they are expensive and you can’t get them wet. If you have a particularly difficult bag to compress, you can buy a sleeping bag compression sack. On our bikes, we store our bags inside of a trash bag to keep them dry and they ride in my front panniers, one on either side, along with our rain ponchos and my flip flops. It seems to make for some pretty good weight distribution front to rear on the bike.
Along with your sleeping bags, you will also probably want a sleeping pad. Sleeping pads go under your sleeping bag. They add comfort, like a mattress, and keep you off the damp ground, keeping you warmer. You can look at these as a disposable luxury, but at our age now, we won’t even consider leaving them behind. Pads come in different lengths and materials. You can get full length, three quarter, or even half length. They are usually either foam or inflatable. Some are heavier than others and the length figures into that. I’ve used foam and inflatable over the years. What we have now are inflatable Thermarests3/4 length and they are Heaven! The only drawback to them is that they tend to slide around underneath you during the night. These live in Carol’s front panniers, in a similar fashion to the sleeping bags on my bike. Thermarests are a bit pricier than most foam. Look for them at REI or Campmor, etc. One of our Thermarests got a couple tiny holes in it (dang cats!) and wouldn’t stay inflated through the night. I found the holes and patched them with bicycle tube patches. Worked like a charm! 😉
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