How to Adventure More with Your Bike: Bike Camping
For my husband and I, exploring new locations for our MTB adventures regularly involves camping. There is nothing better than waking up by a flowing creek bed with the sounds of birds as an alarm clock. MTB camping trips can make for a quick overnighter – some of our favorite local spots are in Sedona and Flagstaff, AZ – or a multi-night adventure. We’ve hit the road to Colorado and Utah and had a blast living out of a tent and our truck.
If you love traveling and exploring new trails as much as we do, staying in hotels can get expensive. Between fun trips, mountain bike events, and races we find ourselves on the road almost every weekend. Simply put: camping saves us tons of money. Even after investing in plenty of camping gear, avoiding hotels and making your own meals is the secret to adventuring on a budget.
Bike camping may not be for everyone, but it feeds our soul and love for the outdoors. I've made a list of some of the “must do” items that I have learned over the years that allow me to truly enjoy a bike camping experience. I like to call what we do “bike glamping.” If you’re looking for bikepacking tips, check out Jen Hudak’s adventure in Alaska!
Find Your Home Base for Biking.
The best thing about camping with mountain bikes is rolling out of your campsite and right onto the nearest trail. Choosing a central location means you don’t have to pack up camp and transport your bikes every time you head out for a ride. If you’re planning on a multi-night bike glamping vaca, this is a must.
If you’re heading out of town for a quick overnighter, having a central location isn’t as big of a deal. You could set up camp at the most scenic campsite you can find, enjoy a peaceful night in nature, and head out to the trailhead the next day.
Acquire Reliable Camp Equipment.
My husband and I originally started with a large “kids” tent when we began our camping life. Six years later, we have been able to acquire adequate camp supplies and even moved on up (literally) to a rooftop tent! Our camp adventures are much more comfortable and conducive for long weekends of riding and exploring.
Camp gear can be expensive, but think of purchasing gear as an investment; quality gear is meant to last. If you’re well-equipped for your camping adventure, you’ll find you’re just as well-rested as you would be if you slept at a hotel, you’re likely going to eat better (because you are cooking your own food), and you’re having more fun! Now that we have the proper gear, I’m never worried about how I feel on my bike while camping – even for race weekends!
If you do not have any camp gear, there are usually locations nearby that will rent basic necessities (backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tents, cooking supplies, GPS devices, hydration and water filtration/packs etc), or you can borrow gear from your friends (we used this option often).
Prep Your Meals.
Whether you’re racing or just enjoying the weekend shredding, how you fuel your body could make or break your camping experience. Think food that’s easily packable, less likely to go sour and can handle a beating!
One of the great things about bike packing is you can make your meals as simple or as decadent as you’d like. But regardless of how extravagant you get with your campsite cooking, investing in a large ice chest that will keep your supplies cold for at least two days is key.
My big tip? Pre-cook and pre-cut almost everything! Packing containers and plastic bags of almost-ready-to-eat food save time – meaning, food is in your belly faster! Depending on whether a campfire is allowed, I will cook camp meals over the fire; using a Dutch oven or wrapping food items in aluminum foil and sticking it in the fire. When I cook using this method, I’ll generally stay simple: diced sweet potato, meat of choice (pre-cooked, my favorite is bison), brown rice (precooked), and other vegetables. For breakfast, we always use our camp stove, which allows us to cook up some delicious egg sandwiches and percolate some hot coffee all at the same time. Want to get on the trail a little faster? One of my favorite quick breakfasts is oatmeal with hot water from our jet-boil and a cut up banana and almond butter.
To Shower or Not to Shower?
For me, showers are not necessary for an awesome camping experience. However, if you’re racing and showering is part of your routine (particularly if it is a multi-day race), then you may want to scope out a campsite that provides showers. But, beware. Some campsite showers come with a small fee (be ready with quarters); sometimes campsite showers are not heated (brrr); other times campsites with showers mean crowds and long lines for those showers, and sometimes showers are just plain gross. Make sure you read the reviews for the campsite before you book; generally previous guests will sing the praises of a campsite with good bathrooms/showers!
Or, you can do what my husband and I do: don’t bother! We generally try and find primitive camp spots – not because we crave the “mountain man” life, but because we camp to get away from crowds, get outside, find some epic views and a little serenity. So, what do I do for multi-day camping trips that include riding lots of bikes? Simple: “baby-wipe” bath. If I am especially dirty I will use the jet boil to warm my water in a bath bowl and use “warm baby wipes” and the water to wash my face. It’s always good to know if there is a water source near your campsite, whether it is a potable water pump or a creek. There is no better way of cleaning up after a sweaty bike ride than a swimming hole in the summertime!
Check the Weather.
Always be prepared for rain and cold! With rain, comes mud, dirt and miserable camping – if you’re not careful. Bring trash bags! Having a place to put wet and muddy clothes is the best way to keep your tent clean, your body dry and your spirits up! Waterproof boots, a high-quality rain jacket, and extra socks are also all must-haves.
For cold weather, layer up! Remember to keep a moisture-wicking base layer next to your skin and always bring extra undergarments. Ladies – if you’re stuck in a sweaty sports bra when you get back from your ride, you’re going to be shivering the rest of the night!
After you’ve had a full day of riding and a wonderful campsite meal, keep the good times rolling! We always have a music source, some camp games, good vibes and s’mores!