Camping vs. Touring

Bike Camping. How it's different from touring, and why you may actually have time to do some of it. And about the bike camping gear we like, use, and stock.

Mt. Diablo, California, USABike camping and bike touring are alike enough to require the same kind of gear, but bike touring emphasizes the journey, and you stop only so you can refresh yourself and do it again the next day. Bike camping emphasizes the destination and what you do once you get there, and you just happen to get there on a bike.

If you have to work for a living and don't have summers off, bike camping is easier to fit in, and the easiest way of all is with Sub-24 Hour Overnight (S24O) trips. You leave on your bike in the late afternoon or evening, ride to your campsite in a few hours, camp, sleep, and ride home the next morning. It's that simple, and that's the beauty of it. You can fit it in. It requires almost no planning or time commitment. In the past 9 years I've done more than eighty of them, and I'm no planner.

The S24O is like the movie Groundhog Day, because you get to refine your style over and over again, without major suffering or consequences. You can take notes in the evening about what you should've brought and what you didn't need to bring. After a few of these, you'll have a kit-of-gear that works for you, and how to modify it for conditions.

If you're slightly interested in this, you're probably thinking about where to go. The ideal destinations are regional parks & open spaces, ideally ones that allow overnight camping. You can discover good spots on trail rides, or look at maps. Any place that offers a good view and is out of sight of the rangers-on-patrol, or early morning hikers is a good spot. Bike touring doesn't require stealth; bike camping usually does.

If there isn't a good place to go that you can ride to, drive a car. Get far enough out of Manhattan or downtown Cleveland so that you don't spend an inordinate proportion of your less-than-24-hour trip mixing it up with thick traffic. Don't go Green and pay for it in stress. It's better to drive to the edge of the woods and take off from there.

Try to get somebody to go with you. It may be hard to find a friend who's game, so go alone if you have to. People always have excuses. The first few alone may be uncomfortable, but they get easier, and eventually somebody'll want to go with you. Exaggerate about how much fun they are.

Many of our catalogue covers and most of the photos on our home page were taken on S24Os. The wettest, windiest, worst ones are more memorable than the fluffy ones. Have you ever noticed (if you're a guy) that your beard grows faster when you're outside?

About our small selection of bike camping gear

The camping gear we offer in the shopping section is by no means the only stuff that works, but is our favorite for S24Os, and it's all useful for touring and general camping, too. Here's some information about some of the companies that make the gear we like.

Our focus is bikes, but a small assortment of good camping gear lets you use you bike in more ways, and that's our justification for including it. You may notice, if you're REI/Campmoor savvy, that most of what we sell they don't. They sell good gear, of course, but when it comes to slightly quirky gear that is actually better, or more pleasant to use, or offers some kind of advantage BUT isn't high on the pop charts because it's not New and Improved, those places can fall flat.

You won't find a Wiggy bag there, or the Trangia cookkits we offer, for instance. There's some overlap (Snow Peak bowls, plates, spork), but for the most part the gear we offer is hard to come by other places, and we've boiled our selection down to what the exact same stuff we use ourselves, no exceptions.

What to bring on a one-night campout

What to bring bike camping. And roughly what it'll cost

 What to bring

Sleeping bag: Compact, 1 to 2.5lbs. $150 to $310. Quite a range.

Pad: 7oz to 1.5lbs, $15 to $60.

Tent, stakes: 2 to 4.9999lbs, $100 to $300.

Pillow: If you use one at home, you'll want one here. A separate pillow weighs less and takes up less space than sleeping on spare clothes, and for an S24O, there shouldn't be any spare clothes. If you like your home pillow, bring it; and there are lots of inflatables and cheap stuffables out there, too.

Toothbrush kit: About 2 oz. If you don't have a mini-tube of paste, squeeze some into an empty film can.

Headlight or booklight: 2 to 3oz., for reading at night or fishing around for stuff in the dark.

Extra clothes/pajamas: A fresh set of woolies and wool sox. About 1.5 to 2lbs.

Beanie: Wool works well.

Stove, fuel, fire kit: Only if you're going to cook. Around here, if the grass is green we cook, and if it's brown we don't--because we don't want to set the woods on fire and get in trouble and have it all over the internet.

Not that you have to or even should copy us, but this is how we do it: If two to four people go, we use a Trangia cookset with separate bowls and cups for eating and tea. The Trangia always works and always works well, and it's silent and safe and simple, and there's no canister to discard when the fuel's out.  

Eating gear: A cup or bowl, and maybe a spoon. About 6 to 17oz.

Food: Bring what you like. About 1.5 to 3lbs per person, and everybody sleeps full. In winter when we know it's safe to cook we typically bring bulk soup mixes, wholegrain spaghetti and real sauce, canned fish, bread, chocolate, dried fruit, tea, things like that

Book, camera: If you read or take pictures. A tiny booklight beats a headlamp if you plan to stay wide awake reading much of the night, but a headlight will certainly do, and will work better if you ever have to make a night-time run for it, for any reason.

Camera recommendations
Old way: Film. New way: Digital. All the pix on our site are film, which is why some of them are technically lousy! Wide angle lenses are the most useful for group camp shots. A small tripod comes in handy.

Other & notes: You'll be hard put to include all of the above for under 18 pounds, but on a hot summer overnight with no stove, 13lbs is do-able and not too hard. (If your mission in life becomes getting your overnight kit down to 6 pounds, you can do that, too. All it takes is more money (for lighter & more expensive gear), less money (don't bring as much), and tons of fanaticism or just getting a kick out of the numbers.)

A normal overnight kit will fit into a big saddlebag or a large stuff-sack in back, and a basket or a large handlebar bag up front. Or two baskets. Don't go nuts on the weight, but a small, light kit is all you really need. In the Winter, it is hard  to go for under 29 pounds. I know it  sounds like a lot, but holymoly, it adds up fast, and the nights are long, so you don't want to be without something. Bring a band-aid or a first aid kit if you like. If you don't, just be careful.

The most I've carried on an S24O is 54 pounds. Ridiculous, but it was a good test for the Bombadil, and it included a big extra tent, pad, doubles on a lot, canned and wet-soups for several, planning for a long night (dark at 5pm) sitting around talking before going to bed. I won't do that again, but the point is, it was only one night, and you can get away with things like that on an S24O.

More on Camping/Touring