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The lowdown on the gear you’ll need to get started on your family camping trip by bicycle.
Family bike camping is the next step after you’ve figured out everyday family biking. But once you’ve gotten used to using a bike as your regular mode of transportation, family vacationing without a bike seems foreign. Having the right gear can make a big difference (not all the difference) but it can help with lightening the load, help make meals a little extra special, and getting geared up can save money in the long run as bike camping can reduce the cost of hotels, restaurants and open up new adventures that can only be found from the seat of 2 wheels. Convinced yet? Oh, yeah.. how the $%^ do to you carry all your stuff and your kids stuff and the kids?
First of all, bring back up. For your first trip, bring other adults with you that don’t have children so you can have an extra set of hands. Second, pack your panniers a week before, so you have a week to slowly pull things out of your bags and lighten your load before heading out. Third, don’t be afraid to figure out a multi-modal trip so you can get out of the city faster and make the best of what vacation time you have not sucking in fumes from trying to get out of the city. Trains, buses, trucks, car-share vans, taxi’s, car service’s water taxi’s and ferries are all welcome helpers to get you going on your family bike camping trip.
This summer, my family and I ( kids aged 5 and 7) went on a multi-day bike camping trip with another family (kids aged 3 and 6) who had never bike camped before. Here is some of the gear we brought with us that made the trip all the more easier:
If you’re family bike camping you need to make occasional use of a car to get you through longer or more dangerous transition areas, you’ll need a bike rack for the car. The great thing about this rack is that it attaches to many different types of cars, it’s a trunk rack but worked perfectly when we put it on a minivan. For car-free families like my own, this means that we have some versatility in what kind of car we’re able to rent, borrow or in our case carshare for the trip. The rack is lightweight, easy to attach, folds down for storage. Saris’ website also has a fantastic guide to their racks which enables you to see all of your options by car type. Price: $89.99 USD
If you don’t want to think too much about repairs and you just want an emergency bike repair kit, this is the kit for you. Because when you do inevitably run into an emergency, this thing has everything you need for the basics: Allan key set, mini pump (Presta and Schraeder), glue-free patch kit, and three tire levers. If you’re camping with multiple families, this is an excellent “personal needs” kit to ensure nobody gets stuck behind with a flat. One person needs the big kit, everybody else should be carrying one of these. Price: $54.99 USD
For a touring pump, this thing is amazing. It’s a bit longer than a standard touring pump, but remains lightweight and you can actually use it like a foot pump and get the pressure you need to pump it for higher volumes, up to 90 psi. Suitable with Schraeder and Presta, and even conveniently labels which side is which for the less mechanically inclined among us. There’s an upgrade to a version with the gauge, which I would highly recommend. Price: $44.99-$59.99 USD
This little multi-tool has everything you need for basic road side repairs, it even has a chain breaker. It has Hex 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 mm; Star shaped T25 and T30; Phillips-head; Spoke Wrenches Mavic Mtv, 3.22, and 3.45. Upgrade to the 20 if you want the disc brake wedges, a flat screwdriver…and a bottle opener! Price: $24.99 USD
Even out in the woods, you will at some point need to lock up your bikes while family camping. The Bordo (we went with the longer 90cm version) is secure enough that we felt comfortable leaving our bikes for a few nights at a marina when we took a water taxi to an island. With the extra length, we were able to lock two bicycles to a rack together. The combo feature is great, who seriously needs more keys. The Bordo folds away neatly and is lightweight, a definite Momentum Mag favorite.
For a chain lock, the 1200 is super thin and light. I used it to lock up the trailer, attaching helmets to bicycles, and occasionally to lock up the kids’ bikes. While this thing definitely isn’t high-security enough for the city, it’s perfect for locking up accessories in the country. It’s also simple, you don’t get to make your own code, it’s old school. Just make sure you write down the code they assign you!
The 180 cm 5510C coil lock is perfect for locking up kids’ bikes. It’s lightweight and the combo dial is smooth, but by far its best feature is that, unlike most coil locks, it doesn’t do that annoying twisty thing when you’re trying to use it. It just stretches out, then coils back up as if by magic. Find it here.
If you’re biking touring with younger children, chances are you’re not going to want to put both of them on the back of a cargo bike, but they’re definitely not going to ride the whole way on their own. For that reason, a trail-a-bike is the way to go. The Piccolo stands out among trail-a-bikes because it has 7 speeds, perfect your kids learning how to shift gears – my kid did more work than I did up hills. It tracks really well, and avoids the bizarre leaning that can happen with trail a bikes. It attaches to a Burley rear rack that is “burly” enough for bike touring, meaning it works really well when you’re carrying panniers. The swivelling attachment is great, it’s very secure but also very easy to remove. Price: $359.00 USD
Easy fit, easy on, lightweight kids helmet. With fun designs and not too hot for little heads. We loved how easy the Abus Smooty went on and off the kids’ heads without any fuss. Easily adjustable with it’s fit dial in the back. It even has webbing to keep away the bugs.
Everybody needs a bike bell! We believe nothing says a good bell like a bell with a nice ring, ding! The lever and base construction are made with black steel and the multi-fit handlebar clamp makes this bell compatible with most handlebars.
When you’re bike camping with kids, you need to carry stuff. A lot of stuff. For that reason, Ortlieb’s recently released Back-Roller Pro Plus Rear Panniers ($250 USD per pair) have been a total game-changer. They have 70L combined capacity between the two of them, making them the world’s largest waterproof panniers. Combined with the Sport-roller Front Panniers ($180 USD per pair) and the kids trailer we were able to fit enough stuff in the panniers to only bring one trailer instead of two.
And as a bonus to yourself, splurge or ask for the Ultimate 6M Plus Handlebar Bag ($125 USD) for your next birthday or Christmas present.
A bike trailer that keeps the ride smooth with capacity to carry 2 kids and your odd sized camping items like your sleeping pad, tent and then what better way to bring a watermelon, rosé and a 12 pack. For this trip we were able to carry our 5 yr old’s bike when the protected bike lane ended or he got too tired. If you spring for the integrated lights on the handle bar, you’ll be showing off this feature to your friends every time you go out. Price: $799.99 USD
We’ve tried two other four-person Big Agnes Tents, the really lightweight Copper Spur and the Burnridge Outfitter (no longer in production) . The Copper Spur is amazingly light, but not meant for family camping. I’m afraid of lending it out because I’m afraid the kids will destroy it or it will get a fire spark or something. It only goes with us when we really need to save on weight on hiking in camping trip. The Rattlesnake 4 MtnGlo has the same footprint as the Copper Spur but is much more robust.
It’s really hard to find a good four-person tent that doesn’t weigh a ton. The Rattlesnake 4 gets this balance right. It has a large double fly with a deep vestibule on either side. With four people in the tent (two adults and two kids), there was still room on the sides, even after laying down the thermarests. The lighting system is a fun, easy way to not have to hang a light that hangs in a spot – ambient light. With kids that are 5 and 7, they found it comforting to have the light on while mom and dad headed back out to hang with the other adults around the campfire. The lighting system only takes three triple A’s. If you haven’t invested in a family bike camping tent yet, check this one out for sure. It’s got two organization pockets and it takes two minutes to set up. It doesn’t come with a footprint so don’t forget to buy it. The Spur is straight mesh down to the bottom, the Rattlesnake is half mesh and half nylon. In temperate rainforest weather, it’s kind of nice to have a little less mesh. Can’t say enough, this tent is the colloquial bomb. Price: $499.95 USD