There is special joy to be found in getting out of the city with your family and away from your daily routine. Sharing our wonder of natural landscapes and being in the wild is something that I, and many parents, love to do with our children. Camping by bike offers an excellent way for my children to witness the transition from urban to natural landscapes at a pace that allows us to appreciate the entire journey.
Camping with children by bicycle is not without challenges, though these are often offset by the rewards. Like any challenge, there are ways to prepare that can help make the experience more predictable and enjoyable.
Work Your Way up to an Overnight Adventure
Carrying your gear and children is often the most daunting challenge of camping by bike with kids. Start by planning a picnic by bicycle at a nearby park or beach. While only a day trip, you’ll find that you are packing many of the same essentials needed to camp by bike. Use these single day adventures to help you practice packing your bikes and your children at the same time.
Simplicity is the hardest thing to master when packing for camping with your children. Keep asking yourself the same question for each item; is this a need-to-have or a like-to-have? After packing, take a minute and weigh your bags, as an overloaded bike can be hard on both your body and your bicycle.
Your Destination Matters
Many cities are within a day’s ride to natural spaces and may even be accessible by a trail or path from your home. To help cover longer distances you can combine your bike ride with public transit to shorten the needed riding to get to your destination. While trains are often better at accommodating bikes and trailers, many buses have racks that can hold 2 or 3 bicycles at a time. In my experience, a destination 20- 30 miles (30-50 kilometers) away, depending on the terrain, is a good distance for riding with children.
Start with well-established campgrounds that have amenities such as picnic shelters, running water, and possibly even electricity. In some areas, campgrounds will have special sites reserved for the exclusive use of cyclists and hikers. Another option is to camp by bike with several families and stay on a group campsite.
The Journey is Part of Your Destination
Just like any kind of travel, children will need to stop more frequently. Plan to have lots of snacks and be sure to have identified good locations to take breaks along your route. Try to include stops with activities to give your little ones time to play while you rest your legs.
Getting into nature with your kids, even if it’s just camping in your friend’s back yard, is a way to share new and exciting experiences with your children by bike.
Great Gear for Carrying Children and More
Racks and Panniers: Racks and panniers help take the weight off of your back and distribute it across your bike. A double kickstand mounted near the center of your frame provides greater stability when loading and unloading.
Hook’em Up: For children able to ride on their own but not quite strong enough to cover the entire distance (typically between ages 5 and 8) the Trail Gator is an attachment that allows you to hook a small bicycle to yours when a child is too tired.
Bike Trailers: Bicycle trailers can do double duty carrying both children and camping gear. Most are covered and also provide shade, rain protection, and allow kids to sleep during the ride.
Cargo Bikes: Cargo Bikes such as longtails, Long Johns, and even some tricycles can be more stable than pulling a trailer and allow you to carry more than one child per bike.
This article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated.
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