Preparing for Your First Bicycle Campout (Even if you’ve never camped)

Who’s Ready for Bicycle Camping?

Are you a cyclist who loves spending time in the great outdoors?  Then bicycle camping is something you’d probably truly enjoy.

If you’re not yet a cyclist but interested in bicycle camping, why not get out there and get started?  Give cycling a few months and you should be ready to start thinking about your first bicycle camping adventure.

As a cyclist that’s interested in bicycle camping, you’ll have one or maybe two meaningful challenges to contend with.   All new bicycle campers will have to figure out how to transport their camping gear on their bicycle. Some new bicycle campers also have to get comfortable with spending time in the outdoors and the nitty gritty of camping out.

If you’re an experienced camper looking to start bicycle camping, you can breeze past the first half of the article.  Slow down at Stage 4. Car Camping + Bicycle.  From that point forward this article will help you strategize the best way to head out on your first bicycle camping overnighter.

Do You Have Beginner First Aid, Bicycle Repair and Wayfinding (FABRW) Skills?

Before diving in, we should discuss basic preparedness.  In our all encompassing overview of bicycle camping, I discuss beginner first aid, bicycle repair and wayfinding skills as a prerequisite to learning bicycle camping. (See the section:  Sizing Up Your First Aid, Bicycle Repair and Wayfinding Skills).

When you’re just getting started, focus on a basic but reliable level of preparedness.  Find a balance between adventure and caution where you feel comfortable.

Here is a list of some basics skills that will help to keep you safe and prepared while learning bicycle camping.

Beginner First Aid:

  • Taking Care of Small Cuts & Abrasions
  • Stopping Bleeding with a Tourniquet
  • Bandaging Sprains
  • Performing Heimlich
  • Performing CPR

Beginner Bicycle Repair:

  • Repairing Flats
  • Lubricating Chain and Other Moving Parts
  • Tightening Bolts
  • Repairing Chains
  • Replacing Broken Spokes
  • Troubleshooting Minor Issues

Beginner Wayfinding:

  • Familiarity with route discovery and navigating using paper maps.
  • Familiarity with navigating using a smart phone.

Are You Comfortable in the Great Outdoors?

Whether you grew up living near wilderness, in a dense urban environment or somewhere in between, your natural comfort for the outdoors is likely determined by this foundation. Spending more time outdoors is undoubtedly a healthy choice and given enough time, anyone can adapt. It may just require a bit more willpower for some urbanites to settle in.

Finally getting a chance to spend time in the outdoors may be such an exhilarating experience, that it’s surprisingly easy to figure out how to settle in. For those who find it challenging to acclimate, take your time, it’ll come.

  • Have you never spent a night camping or have you camped but not for many years?
  • Do you car camp every now and then?
  • Do you love hiking short distances, but that’s about it?
  • Are you scared of bugs or things that go bump in the night?

The less comfortable you are in the outdoors, the more you should take your time in the process of getting re-acquainted.

Acclimatizing with Day Trips Into Wilderness

When acclimatizing yourself to the outdoors, there is nothing like going to the source with a day hike into deep wilderness.

If you’re an urbanite just wrapping your brain around the idea of bicycle camping, the easiest and best place to start is the simple day hike.  Get started by going for a few long day hikes. Bring your food, water, first aid kit and other necessities.  Try to find more remote places where you’ll be away from the crowds and be able to experience some solitude.

Spend some real time out in nature.  Maybe bring a blanket and a book and do some lounging.  Relax, have fun and get a little dirty.  Taking two or three 3+ hour jaunts into wilderness like this will go a long way towards making you feel much more comfortable in the outdoors as you begin learning camping skills.

Stage Your Way Into Camping Comfort

If you’re not comfortable with camping, breaking the various skills apart into smaller bite-sized lessons is a great way to avoid anxiety and enjoy the process of learning how to camp.  Staging also gives you a way to pace yourself so you can level-up through a few trips, adding in skills as you progress.

While going through the staging process, an important question is how you’ll obtain the camping gear you need.  Will you use what you have, borrow or buy new gear?  While you’re learning, I recommend holding off on buying gear for as long as possible.  The more basic camping experience you have, the better you’ll be able to size up what type of gear is most suitable for your needs.

Sometimes in order to make any progress, you will need to invest in camping gear early on.  You’ll have to make the decision whether to buy inexpensive gear that works well enough for your current learning stage.  Or do you want to buy more expensive gear that it better suited for the level of bike camping you plan to be doing in not to long?  This can be a tough choice.  Generally, I recommend starting out with inexpensive gear especially if you can imagine continued use of it for car camping.

Stage 1. Backyard – Sleeping

Camping is just sleeping without a roof over your head.  For your first night out, the only thing you need to figure out is how to get comfortable with sleeping outdoors.  To get started, keep things as simple as possible.  Try to figure out your most immediately accessible way to sleeping outside.

The first question is place.  Why not your backyard?  When you camp in your backyard, you no longer have to concern yourself with your destination.  And if things aren’t going well, just bail and jump into bed.

The next question is your tent.  Do you already own a tent?  Then use that one.  If you don’t own one, try to borrow one.  If that is not an option its time to go grab yourself a basic car camping tent.

The last question is your bedding.  If you own an inflatable mattress, that is a good way to get started.  It is comfortable, portable and you can make a bed on it with your regular bedding.  Another way to go is to use a sleeping bag and sleeping pad.  This will be more like the setup you take with you bicycle camping.  Again, I recommend borrowing if you can.

Camping in your backyard is about as easy as it gets, so get on with it already!  Get a hold of a tent, set it up in your backyard some afternoon, setup some bedding and at bedtime head out to the tent.  Yes, it is very simple.

*If you don’t have a backyard, it may be a little trickier, so here are a few suggestions for your first night out.

  • Find a friend who’ll let you camp out in their backyard.  Maybe offer to bring over pizza and then retire into their backyard.
  • Setup your tent in your living room.  This doesn’t really qualify as a night out, but in a pinch, it’s better than nothing and might be a good step before starting in with real camping.
  • Go car camping for your first night out.  This will of course take more preparation for your first night out.  Jump ahead to the steps described below.

Stage 2. Backyard – Getting Comfortable

For your first night out, keep things as simple as possible.  With a night under your belt, for your second night out solve any problems you had staying comfortable during your first night out.  And figure out the stuff you’ll want to have  with you to make the experience more comfortable and fun.

Ideally your second night out will also take place in your backyard.  As you experiment with more stuff, being at home will allow you to easily run in the house and grab whatever you want to try.

What kind of stuff might you want to bring with you bike camping?  Here is a quick breakdown of some of those things:

  • Hygiene: toothbrush & tooth paste, hair brush, deodorant, lotion, hand soap, wash cloth, hand towel
  • Clothing: warm clothes for sleeping in,  clothes for the morning
  • Utility: first aid kit, water bottles, flashlight, lantern, camp chair, matches or a lighter (for building a campfire), trowel and toilet paper (for camping without facilities)
  • Entertainment: book, tablet, journal, frisbee

If you’re planning on sharing your bicycle camping adventure with your partner, kids or your dog, this second night is also a good time to bring them in on the fun.

Stage 3. Car Camping + Food

Having survived and thrived over two nights of backyard camping, now it is time to head out for a car camping adventure.  And since you’re leaving the comforts of home behind, now is a good time to focus on the basics of feeding yourself while camping out.

Continuing on with our gradual learning, I recommend keeping food simple as well. Plan out a dinner, breakfast and snacks that don’t require cooking.  And not only do I recommend not cooking for your first night of car camping, I recommend that you keep it simple for your first few nights of bike campouts as well.

Easy Camping Food:

  • Dinner: sandwich, burrito, pizza, salad, pasta
  • Breakfast: cereal, granola bars, fruit, yogurt
  • Snacks: crackers & cheese, carrot sticks, chips and salsa

While I recommend sticking with foods that don’t require cooking, some heat may be required.  For example, you may require a hot cup of coffee or tea to get going in the morning.  If this is the case, you might as well jump ahead with the program and get yourself a campstove.

Stage 4. Car Camping + Bicycle

In your first three nights out, you’ve become familiar with the basics of camping.  On this fourth night out focus on practicing and preparing  for your first night of bicycle camping.

How will you be transporting your camping gear on your bicycle?
  • Will it be by trailer, with bicycle bags or by cargo bike?
  • Go with what you already have or can easily borrow.
  • If you know some cycling parents, chances are that they have a bike child trailer around which can work great for beginner level bicycle camping trips.
Does the camping gear you’ve used for backyard and car camping fit on your bicycle setup?
  • With a large bicycle trailer or cargo bike, chances are everything will fit quite easily.
  • With bicycle bags, you may have trouble with bulky camping gear.  Look to borrow or purchase some lighter, compact camping gear.

On this fourth night out, the recommendation is again to go car camping, but this time around you’ll bring your bicycle camping setup with you and camp out of it.  You’ll be focusing on packing up and testing out your bicycle camping setup and not having to stress out about the cycling itself.  And if any issues come up, you’ll have your car with you to make a trip to the store or back home as needed.

Your First Bicycle Camping Trip

Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to get used to camping before heading out on your first bicycle camping trip.  Keep up the good work and ease your way in.

  • Prepare in advance – Getting packed up and organized a couple of days in advance will make for a smoother start.
  • Choose a route that you know – If there is a route that you are already familiar with, that will make the expedition that much easier.  If not, take the time to learn the route in advance, figuring out how you’ll navigate.
  • Choose an easy route on roads – There is no need to push your physical limits on this outing.  Start by planning your route on low traffic roads without to much vertical change.
  • End up at a campground if you can to make things that much easier.
  • Have Fun!  That’s what this all about after all.

Learning Bicycle Camping On Your Own vs. With Others

My recommendations are from the perspective that you are teaching yourself everything you need to know to start bicycle camping.  However, most people end up learning bicycle camping skills through some combination of learning on their own and learning from others.

Learning On Your Own: 

  • (+) Some people learn best by figuring things out themselves.
  • (+) This is always an option even if you don’t have easy access to someone to learn from or with.
  • (+) If part of what you’d like to do is spend some time outdoors alone, you’ll get plenty of that by self teaching.
  • (-) Learning on your own sometimes can be frustrating or scary when someone else could show you the ropes.
  • (-) Learning on your own can be lonely.

Learning with Inexperienced Friends or Family:

  • (+) Learning together can make the process more fun.
  • (+) Learning together can make the process more efficient with your shared brain power and different experiences and strengths
  • (-) Generally most of the “figuring it out” burden will fall on one person’s shoulders.

Learning from Experienced Friends or Family:

  • (+) Learning from those you know is often the most natural way to progress.
  • (+) Learning from friends or family can be a whole lot of fun.
  • (-) You may end up learning from someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing.
  • (-) Issues with interpersonal relationships may get in the way of you learning effectively.

Learning from Guides:

  • (+) This can be the most efficient way to learn all of the basics very quickly.
  • (+) It can be a whole lot of fun to learn from a charismatic teacher who is focused on making sure you are learning at a decent pace while having a fun time doing it.
  • (-) It will cost some money.
  • (-) A hired teacher may not be very invested in your success.

If you have the opportunity to learn from others, I still recommend mixing in some independent learning.  Developing some of your bicycle camping skills on your own insures that you’ve really grasped everything you need to know.  That said, learning from those more experienced than yourself can dramatically speed up the process all while making it more fun.

As far as learning from guides, hiring someone who is focused on identifying your capabilities and gently guiding you through the learning curve. At the same time, fumbling through a learning process on your own can have its merits whether its your preferred style, you’re on a budget, or its inconvenient to hire a guide.

Let’s Go Bicycle Camping!

After reading this article, preparing for your first bicycle camping overnight may seem like a daunting task.  Remember that my highly orchestrated learning process is for the most thorough and gradual approach designed around cyclists with little to no camping experience.

For those following the full process, allow for one to two months to get through it.

  • 3 days of 3+ hour day hikes.
  • 2 nights camping from home.
  • Preparation time for car and bicycle camping.
  • 2 nights of car camping.
  • 1 night out on your first bicycle camping adventure.

Many cyclists, especially those of you interested in trying bicycle camping, already have plenty of camping experience.  And many of you also have the opportunity to learn from others.  With prior experience and friends to show you the way, preparing for your first bicycle campout will be a relative breeze.

For experienced campers you can consider doing a condensed version of our plan over a week or two.

  • Spend a week or so getting your bicycle setup and camping gear organized.
  • Pack up your bicycle, do a test ride around your neighborhood and camp-out for a night in your backyard.
  • Make any necessary gear adjustments and head out for an easy first bicycle camping overnighter.

However you decide to go about getting going with bicycle camping, its a great step in the direction of fun, relaxation, fitness and adventure.  So, enough with the chatter already.  Its time to make a plan and get out there and go bicycle camping!

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