How To Camp with Your Family by Bike

Last summer, my children and I decided to set off on a bike camping vacation.

By Kathleen Wilker

Last summer, my children and I decided to set off on a bike camping vacation. With my husband away for work, we were down to one adult to haul two kids and all our gear. I wasn’t sure I could pedal the hilly 37 miles (60 kilometers) to the campsite, but a friend who is a seasoned bike camper assured me that I could haul the load and have fun along the way. “You’ll make it,” he said with a grin. “Just go slowly.” Of course he was right.

My seven-year-old daughter and I rode our Bike Friday Family Tandem with my four-year-old son in a children’s bike seat. Our gear took up the rear in a Chariot Bike Trailer. It was heavy, but awesome. I love having both kids attached to my bike. It makes me feel confident when we have to ride in traffic. I know that if the kids get tired their safety won’t be compromised, because I’m in charge of steering, braking, signaling and communicating with drivers. When the hills were too tough to climb with our extend-o-bike, we got off and walked.

Our route was along the Ottawa River in Ontario, through the Gatineau Hills of Quebec and between the Gatineau River and some tracks used by a steam train to get into the village of Wakefield, Quebec. We saw some butterflies, lots of birds, a rabbit or two and a deer. There were also a whole lot of other cyclists out for day trips, many of whom rang their bells as they passed to cheer us on. When we arrived at the campground after a two-day ride, we met up with two other families for a few days of sun, sandy beaches, campfires, hikes and general camping fun. With three adults on site to share the responsibility of keeping an eye on the kids, preparing meals, cleaning up, building the fire and setting up the tarp, it was a very relaxing few days with lots of time for coffee and long chats. And with a total of six kids on the campsite, the younger campers had an absolute blast.

Unlike car-based road trips –which are often taken on highways– bike trips, especially bike trips with kids, follow quiet and interesting secondary roads where there is lots to see and do. If you see a fruit stand, stop and eat. If you pass a variety store, treat your team to an ice cream. We brake for playgrounds with monkey bars and splash pads. And if there’s a great hiking trail or a waterfall en route, we get off the road, lock up the bikes and head into the woods. For smaller kids who are still in bike seats or buckled into trailers, the chance to get out and explore is even more important. Happy kids make biking easier and future family bike trips more attractive. I can’t wait to see what kind of adventures we get up to this summer on our bikes.

What to Bring

Pack light for a smoother ride

We carried everything for one adult and two children in a single Chariot trailer and front and back panniers. Here are some of the key items we brought:

Camping Gear

+ Bring the lightest and smallest (within reason) tent that you own. The children (ages four and seven) and I slept in a two-person tent on two Therm-a-Rests. Down sleeping bags are very warm and pack up small; place them in waterproof bags, such as contractor-grade garbage bags or paddling gear bags. Pack a camp stove, one pot and lightweight plastic dishes and cutlery.

Essential Bike

Clothes Checklist

+ Waterproof rain gear

+ Two pairs of padded bike shorts each

+ Lightweight wool sweaters

+ One change of clothes

+ One swimsuit

+ One sun hat

+ Bandannas: under a helmet, they provide sun protection and prevent heat stroke. If it gets really hot, a wet bandanna under a helmet can cool you down. Tie them around your neck to protect against mosquitoes and sunburn.

Note: Avoid cotton –once it gets wet, it stays wet

Food

+ Oatmeal breakfasts, dehydrated dinners, lunches and snacks. Since chipmunks and raccoons can be a problem, pack food in waterproof containers, such as a canoe camping barrel.

Drink

+ One water bottle each and Gatorade for a quick sugary boost.

Other Gear Checklist

+ Toiletries

+ Sunscreen

+ Basic first-aid kit

+ Basic bike repair kit, including pump

+ Camera

+ Map

+ Bike locks

Leave Behind

+ Books: Telling stories and singing songs is more friendly and weighs less

+ All but the smallest toys: Sticks, sand, leaves, flowers and other nature treasures can be found along the way and left along the way

Looking for more inspiration?

The Pedal Powered Family is starting their year-long 12,425-mile (20,000-kilometer) bike tour. Follow this family of four on the adventure of a lifetime: pedalpoweredfamily.com

4 Comments

  • Elle Bustmante

    Great article! We are just getting started bike touring again now that we have two kids (3 and 11months). We took our eldest on a 600 mile tour around Oregon when he was 10 months old. Bike camping is the best! You get to see, smell, taste everything and have the time to watch the world go by. These trips will probably be the best memories our children will remember growing up. What a wonderful gift to share with them!

    Here is more info about us: http://www.tinyhelmetsbigbikes.com

  • sara

    Bike camping is now on our family list of something we want to take on! I agree with Melinder– inspiring. And now, also, I am excited to read about Gina’s adventures with her sons too.

    Kathleen– I love that you took on the trip while solo parenting. You get extra kudos for that, in my book.

    Also, I think it is amazing that Gina does separate bike trips with her two sons. Not sure I could pull this off with my three, but I love the idea of the ULTIMATE “mommy date!”

  • Melinder

    Great tips, intrepid family and well written. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Gina

    For each of the past 5 or so summers, I’ve taken each of my 2 sons on a separate bike trip. Sometimes we leave from home, last summer we tackled the Eastern Townships in Quebec. They love the adventure, and we get to spend the kind of time together that doesn’t happen during the school year. We talk, sit around the fire, tell stories going up hills, stop for ice cream.

    We get to know each other again. All year we look forward to these trips. They’ve become part of who we are and what we do.

    Gina
    http://www.pedalparadise.wordpress.com

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