Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Bike Camping

Bike camping fanatic Ben Gibbons shares his experience to help beginners get started!

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Crisp air, carrying the smell of pine needles alongside a steaming cup of tea, warming chilled hands. A flickering campfire dances with an orange glow, with deep conversations, laughing, and music.

The memories made while bike camping will last a lifetime.

Mind you, you probably haven’t washed in a day or two and have likely batted away a couple of mosquitos or run away from a swarm of midges. You also forgot your tent pegs – and wished you had read this article beforehand to be properly prepared!

Bike camping offers cyclists an immersive opportunity that allows you to explore nature, get some exercise, and camp under the stars. It combines the freedom of backpacking and the enjoyment of cycling into one adventurous traveling experience.

That said, bicycle camping can also be challenging. There’s no need to succumb to analysis paralysis, but there are clear downsides to being overly confident but underprepared.

Having completed countless bike camping trips all over Europe and beyond, I’m here to share the lessons and experiences I’ve picked up along the way to help first-time bike campers have a great first adventure for themselves!

We’ll look at:

Bike camping in a forest with a group socialising in a hut.

What is Bike Camping?

Bike camping, often referred to as bikepacking or bike touring, combines cycling and camping.

It involves embarking on multi-day or even multi-week journeys using a bicycle as your primary means of transportation, while also carrying all the necessary gear and supplies for camping.

Bike camping offers the perfect blend of adventure, sustainability, physical challenge, and a connection to the natural world.

Its popularity has surged over the last few years as people seek meaningful and immersive outdoor experiences that allow them to explore the world on their own terms.

Note that bikepacking trips don’t necessarily have to involve camping, as you could also stay in hostels or hotels. It’s better to think of bike camping as just one form of bikepacking.

How To Plan Your First Bicycle Camping Trip

Bike camping doesn’t have to break the bank! You might have heard that it demands a top-tier bike, custom bags, and all the latest ultralight camping gear. It does not!

While investing in quality gear is great for the long run, it’s not a mandatory requirement to kickstart your bike camping adventure.

We’ll look at a more complete list later on in this article, but for now, get out there and have fun!

Your setup doesn’t have to be perfect; here are a couple of things to bear in mind:

#1: Use the Bike You Have

A mountain bike against a brick wall.
Robbie’s trusty old MTB is his go-to bikepacking bike. © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Don’t worry about finding the “perfect” bike. Whether it’s a rickety old road bike, a top-of-the-range gravel bike, a heavy full-suspension mountain bike, or a trusty old hardtail, your existing bike can get you started.

While specialized bikepacking models offer added comfort and features, they’re not a prerequisite for your adventure.

#2: Choose a Nearby Route

Effective route planning is essential for a great bike camping adventure.

For your first bike camping trip, opt for a short loop – something longer than 15 km (10 miles) but less than 50 km (30 miles) close to home for a simple overnighter.

Stick to familiar trails or roads as a test run, and pick a well-known campsite or wild camping spot to keep it easy.

Diving deep into the backcountry wilderness can be great fun, but save it for when you’ve built up your experience and have the appropriate safety gear.

#3: Work With Gear You Already Own

Use the cycling and camping equipment you already own; there’s no need to dive deep into the world of ultra-lightweight gear right away.

If you lack something, consider borrowing from a friend or renting before making new purchases. Just like with bikes, fancy camping gear is a bonus but not a necessity.

If you don’t have any bike camping-specific gear, throw a backpack over your shoulder and head off.

#4: Skip Complicated Cooking

Leave the Michelin Star at home. In fact, if it’s just an overnighter, leave any pots and pans and bring a ready-made baguette or any other simple-to-carry meal, loads of flapjack, and possibly a beer.

If you can, bring a small camp stove to heat water, a metal mug or two, and enjoy some oats and coffee in the morning. No need for any pans!

#5: Have a plan b

Always have a bailout plan and think ahead. Ensure your first overnighter takes place in a familiar and comfortable area, where you can easily bail out if needed, just in case you forget something or face equipment trouble.

Keep an eye on the weather and evaluate potential risks before setting off.

Once you return home, reflect on your experience. Take some time to assess what went well and what didn’t.

This reflection can guide your future gear purchases and fine-tune your setup for even more enjoyable bikepacking adventures ahead.

Remember, the journey is about the experience, not the gear, and you can always invest more as you become a seasoned bikepacker. Enjoy your adventure!

A medium size bikepacking saddle bag.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Bike Camping Gear List

So, we’ve just told you to crack on, get out there, and not worry about the gear. While that sentiment is pertinent, there are a few essentials that you should always take and a couple of extras that may improve your experience.

Research your planned routes to determine the specific gear needed. Consider factors like climate, weather, town frequency, food resupply points, and water availability to tailor your packing accordingly.


Getting a comfortable night’s sleep is essential when camping. When investing in new sleeping gear, consider the following options:

  1. Tent: A common choice for bikepackers consists of the tent body, rainfly, poles, pegs, and optional ground sheet, which can be distributed across various bags for on-bike storage.
  2. Tarp: Lightweight solution suitable when mosquitos aren’t a concern.
  3. Hammock: Ideal for solo bike camping, requires trees for set up, and often necessitates a separate under quilt for colder weather.
  4. Bivvy: Ultralight, water-resistant bag favored by minimalists and ultra-endurance racers.
  5. Sleeping Bag: Choose between down or synthetic, matching the temperature rating to or exceeding the expected nightly temperatures at your bikepacking destinations.
  6. Sleeping Mat: Available in inflatable or closed-cell foam styles, ensure your pad has an adequate insulation rating.
  7. Sleeping Bag Liner: An accessory that increases the temperature rating of your sleeping bag.
  8. Inflatable Pillow: An optional addition, some prefer to use clothes stuffed in a dry bag as a makeshift pillow.

Bike Maintenance and Repair Kit

  1. Multi-tool with bits suitable for your bike.
  2. Chain breaker for chain repairs.
  3. A small bottle of chain lube for lubrication.
  4. Duct tape wrapped around your mini-pump for various repairs.
  5. Zip ties for versatile repairs and fixes.
  6. Shock pump if using suspension on extended trips away from bike shops.
  7. Mini hand pump.
  8. Tire plugs, including smaller and oversized options.
  9. Extra sealant for tubeless setups.
  10. Spare tubes, a minimum of one, although two or three are more sensible depending on trip duration and location.
  11. Tire levers.
  12. Tire boot for severe sidewall damage.
  13. Super glue to secure plugs or stitched areas.
  14. Patch kit with rubber cement as a backup for tubes.
  15. CO2 inflator with nozzle for reseating tubeless seals (if you’re using tubeless!)

Bag/Storage Set Up

A bikepacking mountain bike loaded with bike camping gear leans against a bench.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Bike trailers can be a helpful way to boost your storage capacity, but I’d avoid them if possible as they’ll massively restrict the terrain you can ride on and can also create problems with your bike’s handling and how it performs under braking.

The following are all better options for bike campers:

  1. Frame Bag: A custom-made bag that maximizes your frame triangle’s packing volume, available for various bike frame types. Consider custom options for the best fit.
  2. Handlebar Bags: Convenient and easy-to-access storage solutions for your handlebars. Try not to pack heavy items in your handlebar bag, as it may affect your ability to steer.
  3. Seat Bags: A single bag positioned behind the saddle, ideal for a lightweight and narrow setup, minimizing flapping and interference during off-road biking. Multiple options are available.
  4. Front or Rear Racks, Baskets, and Panniers: Though not traditional bikepacking bags, these options have been used in bikepacking setups. They provide reliable gear-carrying solutions, especially for all-terrain cycling.
  5. Accessory Bags: Complement your primary frame pack, seat bag, and handlebar bag setup with accessory bags. They come in various shapes and sizes, offering additional packing space and convenient access while riding.
  6. Backpack: If you don’t have any of the above, a backpack may suffice for a short trip!

If you’re getting serious about bikepacking and want to invest in a proper high-quality rig, you can check out the Ultimate Bikepacking Setup Guide from competitive ultra-endurance racer Robbie Ferri here!

Cooking, Food, and water

Cooking gear for bike camping on a wooden bench next to a bike.
  1. Stove.
  2. Fuel for the stove.
  3. Pot (if necessary).
  4. Mug.
  5. Cutlery (a Spork is a great option).
  6. Lighter
  7. Coffee Maker: An Aeropress is a great compact, lightweight option.
  8. Food of choice. Instant noodles and dry food go a long way on a short trip!
  9. Water bottles.
  10. Water purification tablets.


  1. Phone
  2. GPS Device
  3. Portable Charger
  4. Headtorch

This list, while not exhaustive (and possibly excessive for some trips), serves as a helpful starting point.

And of course, don’t forget a basic first aid kit!

Where Can I Camp With My Bike?

A bike sits next to a tent by a river at sunset with a mountain in the background.

The choice between wild camping and staying at campsites while bikepacking depends on your preferences, experience level, and location.

Check the legality of wild camping in your location. If wild camping, always remain discreet and leave no trace.

Some of you will relish the chance to embrace the thrill and independence of wild camping, while others value the comfort and amenities found at established campsites.

You can also mix and match both approaches during your bikepacking expedition, reserving campsites for certain evenings and embracing wild camping for others.

Regardless of your preference, it’s essential to prioritize responsible and eco-friendly camping practices to safeguard the environment for future adventurers.

What Bike Do I Need For Bike Camping?

Which bike you need for your trip depends on the route that you have planned. Obviously, an aero road bike isn’t going to do very well on the Colorado Trail.

If you’re new to bicycle touring, your existing bike is probably adequate for short trips. Deciding on which top-of-the-range bike is necessary can lead to procrastination, so use what you have for enjoyable short tours.

That said, investing in a suitable bike is recommended for longer or more challenging tours.

The choice of bike depends on your planned route; hardtail mountain bikes are good for off-road bikepacking with a bit of singletrack, gravel bikes or dedicated touring bikes are ideal for mixed terrain tours taking in a few dirt roads, and a classic road bike will suffice for a tarmac-laden adventure.

Touring bikes are designed for comfort and durability, with features like upright seating, attachment points for panniers, and sturdy steel frames.

In essence, use your current bike for short tours, but consider investing in a suitable bike for longer and more challenging adventures, with the choice depending on your planned route and preferences.

Now You Know All About Bike Camping…

Bike camping, or bikepacking, offers an unforgettable blend of adventure and connection with the natural world, and are a step up from standard day rides.

While it may feel like a daunting prospect, especially for beginners, it doesn’t demand expensive gear or extensive planning.

Instead of stocking out a bike rack with countless high-end bicycles right from the off, using your existing bike and gear, starting with short nearby bike routes, and keeping things simple can lead to memorable adventures!

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As a qualified sports massage therapist and personal trainer with eight years' experience in the field, Ben plays a leading role in BikeTips' injury and recovery content. Alongside his professional experience, Ben is an avid cyclist, splitting his time between his road and mountain bike. He is a particular fan of XC ultra-endurance biking, but nothing beats bikepacking with his mates. Ben has toured extensively throughout the United Kingdom, French Alps, and the Pyrenees ticking off as many iconic cycling mountains as he can find. He currently lives in the Picos de Europa of Spain's Asturias region, a stone's throw from the legendary Altu de 'Angliru - a spot that allows him to watch the Vuelta a España roll past his doorstep each summer.

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