A Beginner’s Guide to Bike Camping

A few weekends ago, I went on my first bike camping trip to a wonderful new camp just outside the city of Portland, Oregon called Stargazer Farm.

There’s something about camping and biking that just go together like marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers. In our fast-paced world, both activities force you to slow down and bring you closer to nature. Unconfined to the walls of a building or vehicle, you’re able to fully soak in the sights, smells, and experience the elements of nature—from the hot sun to rain slapping you in the face (yep, most of our ride was in the rain). You’re more aware of yourself, your surroundings, and ultimately (hopefully) appreciate all of the above ten fold when you arrive to your destination.

A snapshot of Stargazer’s Entrance

Photo of camp by Nathan Kane

Photo by Nathan Kane

Photo by Nathan Kane

Photo by Nathan Kane

My introduction to bike camping started with the idea of getting a group of great industry folks together all for the love of bikes, bonfires, and brands. Hipcamp, Swift Industries, Stumptown, Nutcase, Sun Liquor, Limberlost Co., Jacobsen Salt, Diamondback. More than anything, I wanted to give this whole camping and biking thing a test-run so I could share my experience with others, and potentially encourage someone else who’s been on the fence to get out there and do it!

What could have taken 30 minutes by car took about 7 hours by bike. Let me clarify: we took the exploratory route, I’m not that slow. Also, my guide is by no means an ultimate bike-camping guide. Find a resource for that later in the post, and find my lighthearted tips for a fellow beginner below. And if you’re in the Portland area… get out to Stargazer Farm ASAP.

1. Find a bike-camping spirit guide

Biking and camping is just better with friends (more on that later), so get out there and find your match—post on Facebook, seek out a local meetup, join a local bike-campout, find someone or a group who’s open to showing you the ropes.

I consider myself lucky to have connected with Martina, the founder of Swift Industries last year. Her company specializes in designing and making beautiful, custom bike-camping bags and accessories, and providing information that makes bike-camping/touring/you-name-it approachable and accessible for new riders like myself. With a mutual love of both bikes and camping, we had a lot to talk about. It turns out I even live on the same block as the house that she grew up in! Crazy, right?

From facilitating the ride and trip-planning, to making gear accessible, I consider Martina my bike-camping spirit guide and am so thankful for that. She even wrote a post for Hipcamp last summer: The Ultimate Guide to Bike Camping, which is pretty much her expertise shared online for the the masses. Reference her ultimate guide to bike camping, and Martina can be your bike-camping spirit guide, too.

Photo by Nathan Kane

Martina lent me this awesome set of panniers to use for the weekend. Photo by Swift Industries

2. Set a date and location

With a group to wrangle across Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle, Martina and I began this conversation around 6-months in advance and settled on a date that worked. We chose the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, however, there was just one bump in the planning road—we were hard-pressed to find a public camp that had availability for the holiday weekend.

Insert Stargazer Farm, a magical oasis a mere 30-minute drive, or 7-hour bike ride from Portland that was newly listed on Hipcamp… that is, it’s 7 hours if you take the “exploratory route” and enjoy multiple pit-stops for fuel and sight-seeing. For context, it’s an easy 2.5 hours, or 28 miles if you take the Springwater Corridor Trail, completely doable as a Friday jaunt from the city, or maybe even a weekday.

With a date set in stone, and a location, the next few months consisted of getting setup with loaner gear for the weekend, and getting STOKED for my first bike-camping trip with an amazing group of people that I’d never met before to a place I’d never been. The best adventures are all about the unknown, right?

Riding in a ray of sunshine after the rain. Photo by Swift Industries

A snapshot of camp. Photo by Swift Industries

Camp. Photo by Nathan Kane

3. Take your time

Plain and simple, know that biking to your destination is a marathon, not a sprint. Bike walking (up a hill) is also an option for us noobs. Smile because there’s no better place to be when you’re cruisin’ in the country.

Joe, my wonderful boyfriend literally giving me an extra push up the hill. Photo by Swift Industries

Probably super stoked about descending. Photo by Nathan Kane.

4. Treat yo-self

Corn dogs, Jo-Jos, oreos, a mid-ride beer. Whatever strikes your fancy. This obviously depends on the length, location, and priorities of your ride. Some rides it makes sense to prioritize efficiency and weight. Others… corn dogs.

If it’s your first time bike-camping, hopefully your route has access to spots to stop, refuel, or use a legit restroom facility. Also, when you’re biking for 7 hours in a day, you’re pretty much welcome to eat whatever you damn well please because you’ve either burned it off, or you’re going to. Just make sure you don’t send yourself into a food coma until you get TO the camp.

The ultimate cheers. Photo by Gabriel Amadeus Tiller

Items were not actually in the basket like this for the duration of the ride. I think. Photo by Swift Industries

5. Biking and camping is better with friends. And coffee.

I was in good company, to say the least. Shout-out to the fine folks who are passionate about bicycling and camping that made this ride possible from Swift Industries, Stumptown, Sun Liquor, Nutcase, Limberlost Co., Jacobsen Salt Co., and Diamondback.

Pretty solid crew, right? In addition to the industry peeps, we threw out an open-invite to the greater Hipcamp and extended brand audiences, turning our intimate meetup into a 40-person community campout at Stargazer Farm on Saturday night.

Steve, the head roaster from Stumptown brought a bag of green coffee beans, and browned them to perfection in his Zen Roaster (pictured below). It may have been the longest cup of coffee ever made, but like I said, camping forces you to slow down, and appreciate things like making a 40-minute cup of coffee, which you probably wouldn’t do on a typical weekday morning.

Photo by Gabriel Amadeus Tiller

Steve in action.

Gabriel from Limberlost biked in with some 40 kits of DIY backpackers pad thai kits, and presented a demo to the group.

Photo by Nathan Kane

Photo by Swift Industries

Erik from Sun Liquor served up a camp-cocktail demo in partnership with custom bags made by Swift to make them perfect for treating yourself to a fine cocktail when you’re camping.

Photo by Nathan Kane

Photo by Swift Industries

Everyone else who signed up for the campout and rode in on Saturday, you are awesome. I hope to meet you by the campfire at Stargazer again!

About Stargazer Farm (It’s amazing)

Stargzer Farm field. Photo by Nathan Kane

River access. Photo by Nathan Kane


Photo by Gabriel Amadeus Tiller

Stargazer Farm is a historical conservation land situated above the confluence of the Sandy and Bull Run Rivers, and was home to a Dutch botanist by the name of Jan de Graaf in the 1920’s. Born into a dynasty of plant scientists, de Graaf’s muse was lilies. He patented over 150 varieties of the flower, and while today Stargazer Farm supplies organic produce to Portland restaurants, the property is still dappled with the beautiful flowers to remind visitors of the farm’s unique history.

Photo by Swift Industries

Photo by Swift Industries

Why Stargazer Farm is great for bike-camping (by Swift Industries):

Outdoor Kitchen, (bring your own pots and tableware)
Refrigerator
Covered eating area
Fire pit stocked high with wood
Perfect for hammock camping
Spacious enough for big groups and cozy for small gatherings
Close to provisions in Sandy, OR
Perfect for a family bike overnight
Close to the Sandy River for a soak after your ride

Worthy mentions:

Check out my bike-camping setup below:

Gabriel from Limberlost rode to the farm with a full adventure rafting kit in tow. Here he is breaking down and strapping his bike to the Alpaca raft for a serious adventure down the river. After which, he re-assembled his bike, packed up his raft, and rode back to camp.

Photo by Nathan Kane

This is a snapshot from inside one of the covered tents, next to the group campfire area, which guests are welcome to use.

Rad goodies for guests

Unparalleled river beach access, a short hike from camp.

Tiny reclaimed cabins, which will be available to camp in the future at Stargazer Farm.

Dear Stargazer Farm, I love you.

This upcoming weekend is the global 2016 Swift Campout. If you’ve also been thinking about bike camping and need that extra push to get out there, check out campouts happening near you on their page. You know where to look if you need a last-minute camping spot!

Words and a few photos by bike-camping newb, Julie Murrell

Julie will try pretty much anything once. Bike camping is definitely one of those things she’ll do again, along with visiting Stargazer Farm.
Julie manages marketing and community at Hipcamp.

Photography by Swift Industries, Nathan Kane, and Gabriel Amadeus Tiller

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