Bike Touring: Part 3 - Camping

Bikewagon - BWCC

This article is the third in a series of pieces about bike touring - multi-day bike trips that can cover a lot of terrain. The first article in the series went over the basics of planning and packing for a tour, and the second article went over considerations when you are actually on the road.

This third article in the series will review what to do at the end of the day -- the basics of camping on a cycling tour. If you are new to camping, this guide will help you get situated and prepared for cooking, cleaning, setting up shelter, and sleeping outdoors. For experienced campers, this article may have a few helpful tips that you hadn't considered. Read on and see what you can learn!


Finding a Site

Most cyclists embarking on multi-day tours will want to plan their route carefully beforehand (See the first article in this series for tips for that process). In general, most riders sleep in private campgrounds and state, county, or national parks. Riders looking for more luxury generally stick with bed and breakfasts or hotels/motels.

For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on campgrounds. But always remember: unless you are embarking on a trail ride, bike touring is a front country experience. If a crazy storm moves in and you get soaked, check into a hotel for the night; you can dry your clothes and sleep warm and dry. It's good to have an escape!

When looking for campsites, keep an eye out for "hiker/biker" sites. Many state parks (and some other parks), especially those along popular bike routes, will have this sort of campsite available for less than half the price of a normal drive-in campsite. In many campsites, hiker/biker sites are somewhat secluded, with a much more natural and remote feeling, and generally feature a picnic table and a fire ring. Hiker/biker sites generally have the same access to bathrooms and running water as the rest of the campground, perhaps with another minute or two added to the walk.

Most campsites require you to pay as you enter and use a system of envelopes and a dropbox if no employee is there to take your money. Most campsites have an information board in a prominent location, which may have important information. Make sure to take a look when you get where you are going.


Once you get to camp, most likely the first thing you are going to want to do is eat. A full day of riding can really get your appetite going! While some riders choose to stop at restaurants near camp, you can save a lot of money, have healthier food, and enjoy cooking in the outdoors if you make your stop at a grocery store or farmers market instead.

For reliable cooking, you will need a camping stove. Most cyclists use small, lightweight stoves designed for backpacking that burn white gas or butane fuels. These provide plenty of heat for cooking, so make sure you've got one before you head out on the road.

The foods that cyclists eat are really up to them. Don't shy away from dense, high-energy foods. A rider can easily burn 6,000 calories or more in a day of riding, so make sure to get plenty of food. One tradition is a quart of ice cream as a dessert snack. Two hungry bikers can put that down no problem. Honest! Just make sure that you have a good mixture of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats.


Keeping clean while camping can be something of a task. The first task you are likely to have to deal with is cleaning the dishes. Most touring cyclists carry small bottles of liquid soap, scrubbers in plastic bags and a dishrag. Combined with the faucet at a campground, you won't have any problems washing dishes with this setup. These items only take up a tiny bit of space and will be worth their weight in gold.

The other thing to keep clean is yourself. Many campgrounds have shower facilities, and it is a good idea to pack a handful of quarters and a lightweight quick-dry towel for use in this situation. If you can't shower at the campground, keep an eye out for swimming holes in any lakes or rivers you pass during the ride!

Your quarters will also come in handy for washing clothes, as some campgrounds have washing and drying machines available for guests to use. These often take quarters, as well, and you can usually purchase detergent for a quarter or two. It might be a good idea to bring a small baggie of powder detergent, as well -- sometimes the dispenser is empty, and folks with sensitive skin (or noses) will prefer their own choice.


Most cyclists pack a small tent for biking. Look for something lightweight, waterproof and with good rain-fly coverage. In general, a department store car camping tent isn't going to cut it; you need something a bit more heavy duty. Then throw in your sleeping pad (necessary for comfort as well as insulation from the cold ground -- even in warm climates!), sleeping bag and a bundle of clothes for a pillow, and you are ready to sleep. By this time of the day, you will be very ready.

The Bike

When you head off to bed, what are you doing to do with your bike? Well, first of all you want to lock it up, just like you would in the city. Better safe than sorry!

Many cyclists also pack a large garbage bag to put over the bike during the night. It is good for your bike to stay as dry as possible to extend longevity.