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9 essential items for bike camping

Guest writer Joshua Hodge

Small and lightweight camping gear is the essence of bike camping. Sure, you can be more generous with things you carry on a bike, as compared to when backpacking, but going lightweight remains the key. Lightweight camping is an art and is more than throwing money at expensive gear. Experience is the best teacher, but here we have a list of essentials (and some luxuries) that most campers recommend for a bike camping trip.

Choose The Right Gear For Bike Camping

1. Lightweight And Spacious Tent

A tent is a necessary companion for when you choose to spend quality time in the great outdoors. A lightweight tent works well for a single person. Most of the tents in this category are especially built for backpacking and are thus lightweight. With a little bit of creativity, you can reduce the weight further.

For example, many of these tents have a minimum weight and packed weight. The ‘minimum weight’ is the bare necessities that you need for shelter. At this point, the tent is basically stripped down to basics to provide only the essentials. This way, you have more options to consider and have a better hand in choosing what you want from your tent.

Beginners should take the pack weight i.e. take along the full tent. Let experience be your guide before you decide to go ultralight. You may also consider taking along a camp hammock in place of a tent. Just make sure your intended campground has enough trees and/or supports to tie the hammock.

2. Bikepacking – Backpack, Daypack, And Luggage

For a bike camper, the backpack does not have to be as large as those used by hikers and backpackers. A big chunk of your gear can be tied to the bike directly, rather than being placed inside a backpack. The B3 Bag from B&W international can be a good choice. It’s waterproof, lightweight, carries a lot of stuff, and is bike capable.

Alternatively, an ultralight Hydration Pack or Daypack that can be folded away when necessary is a great option to pick. These packs can come into play when you need them, and be tucked away on the bike when necessary.

These packs become more important when you’re on a multi-day camping trip. It’s easier to carry extra food, electronics, and potable water with a backpack. Choose a quality pack that keeps your back ventilated. A good backpack should spread the weight, taking it away from your shoulders, and sharing it with the hip area, thus lowering the center of gravity as well.

Conventional wisdom suggests that heavier items go into a drybag secured to the rear rack. A handlebar bag should be lightweight, and is best for accommodating things like the tent or sleeping pad. Water bottle cages are pretty helpful, they provide easy storage and keep the weight centered. Panniers are optional, useful only if you’re carrying some heavier items that cannot be placed into the rear rack drybag. Some expert bikepackers also choose to lash items to the bike with tie-down straps.

3. A Sleeping Bag

The sleeping bag you choose must be good enough for the weather. While going by the expected weather is just fine, it is best to think of the worst possible weather. A good sleeping bag should be able to keep you warm even in freezing weather.

In many locations, it can get pretty cold at night even if the weather during the day is perfectly amiable. Good sleep is necessary for an enjoyable experience. Your sleeping bag’s role is front and center in that arena.

Other important qualities for a sleeping bag for bike camping are its weight and ease of packing away. A lightweight bag that can be conveniently folded into a small package is immensely useful.

4. Camp Pad Or Mattress

A pad or mattress is necessary to keep you off the ground. They can also be useful in handling minor roughness on the sleeping ground so you can sleep comfortably. While air mattresses have been popular for a long time, camp pads are making a comeback in a grand fashion. Modern sleeping pads provide all the benefits you expect from a sleeping surface while remaining lightweight and easy to pack away.

Of course, air mattresses don’t fair terribly either, so it’s down to your personal preference and requirements. A good sleep surface also insulates you from the ground, so you can sleep warm.

5. Food, Water, And Snacks

Bike campers will obviously need to take along food and water for outdoor trips. Put a greater effort in them if you do not expect any such amenities near the intended campground or campsite. They are specially necessary for camping trips spanning across several days. Of course, water is always a necessity and you should carry some along even for smaller trips. Hydration is non-negotiable!

Food needs more thought. Campers may choose something simple like pre-made meals, dehydrated foods, or instant noodles. These foods are simple and quick to prepare. However, if you are determined to enjoy culinary luxury, carrying a cooler along becomes necessary to tend to any perishables.
Snacks are a good option to have a quick bite while you are moving and lunch and dinner are still far away. Dried fruits, trail mix, and jerky are excellent choices. It’s worth noting that many beginners will instinctively want to pack their food and snacks in Tupperware or similar containers. Shed that extra weight and put that food in Ziploc bags instead.

6. Pocket Knife

You may not essentially need it, but there are a ton of situations where a pocket knife can come in handy for a bike camper. Its lightweight and needs little space, so there isn’t much of an effort required in a pocket knife along. You don’t need a large fixed blade knife for camping, a pocket knife should do just fine. From food and first aid to getting a fire going, these can be pretty handy.
Some people prefer to take along a multitool or Swiss army knife in place of a simple pocket knife. It’s really down to your preferences, but I think a locking blade knife should be an essential item for backcountry camping. A 2.5-inch to 3.5-inch blade works just fine.

7. Cutlery And Utensils

This covers your camping cutlery, utensils, and stove. If you’re out camping for a few days, a stove can be useful in preparing your meals or even warming water for a bath. Some people may consider a campfire to be more useful than carrying a stove along, but a stove can be quicker in many scenarios.

Whether you choose to carry a stove or not, cutlery and utensils are indispensable. You’ll need something to cook your meals and cutlery to eat that food. A spork is a popular choice, though several other options are available. Carrying a knife, spoon, and fork can come in pretty handy. The same applies to utensils. You’ll need at least something where you can boil water.

8. LED Lantern And Flashlight

LEDs are both efficient and bright. Carrying along an LED lantern can make things easier, so you’re not left in the dark. Many lanterns also include solar chargers or similar mechanisms to make it possible to run the lantern without batteries. Not that it should be a problem! LED lanterns with sufficiently useful batteries can run for days.

A flashlight is another useful tool to carry along. While a lantern certainly helps with light, a flashlight can be more convenient to carry along when you’re walking near the campsite and it is getting dark. Cree XM-L T6 flashlights are pretty popular with campers. These flashlights last a long time and often include functions to zoom the beam of light or to vary its intensity. Other features like strobe may also be available.

Also make it a point to carry waterproof matches and/ or a lighter. These small, lightweight items make it easy to light a fire and can be very useful if you run into inclement weather.

9. Bike Tools

Being prepared to maintain your bike and keeping it in shape is as important as any other camping item in your arsenal. Trails can take their toll on a bike and help may be far away. So keep essentials like a bike pump and tire patch kit at hand. Also keep a hex wrench set/ Allen key set at hand for maintenance of the bike.

Joshua Hodge
Flatbike guest writer



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