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Hipcamp Journal

The Ultimate Guide to Bike Camping by Swift Industries

posted on 07 07 2015 entry by Swift Industries

The best way to hit recharge is to get outta dodge for a weekend of bike-camping. With a little planning and some simple gear tips, we’ll get you primed for the kind of adventuring that gets you back to the simple life and soaking up the open road. - Martina, Co-Founder & Creative Director, Swift Industries

#1 State of Mind

Curiosity is ingredient numero uno to grabbing life by the horns and trying a new way to wander! Are you searching for the highest road in the North Cascades? Ever wondered if you could skinny dip a different river every day for a week on end? Piqued by making pizza over the hot coals of a camp-fire?

Us too.

There’s the folks who wonder their entire lives and the folks who are hellbent on turning curiosity to discovery in order to find out what the world is made of. We’re thinking you’re in the second camp.


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#2 Essential Gear

A bicycle with gears and a rack to carry panniers is the first essential tool to getting started with bike touring. Riding loaded with camp supplies will turn your bike from a mustang to a burro so having gears on a bike can make the climbs a little easier to conquer. Pop panniers filled with provisions on your rear rack to let your bicycle do the heavy lifting.

Your nomadic home should include shelter (a tent, tarp, bivy or hammock), a mat and a sleeping bag. If you’re shopping around for a bag, we’re head over heels for down because it’s highly compressible and hella cozy—but beware—down and rain are not compatible so keep your stuff in dry-bags to avoid a long and soggy night. If you’re travelling with a multi-person tent and a bunch of buddies you can spread the love and split up the footprint, body, and rainfly among friends.


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The roving kitchen should be small and packable. Our kit includes:

  • a cutting board out of food grade plastic
  • a sharp knife
  • a spork
  • spice kit (small containers of salt, pepper, cumin, chili, etc)
  • plastic squeeze bottle of cooking oil
  • a 1L pot and pan
  • a backpacking stove and fuel
  • coffee kit
  • a mug for both eating and drinking


#3 Tetris

The art of packing is mastered over time, and we’re eager to share what we’ve learned. Packing with evenly distributed weight between your two panniers is the first thing to practice. Over a hundred miles in the course of a weekend, it takes lots of muscle strength to steer an unbalanced bicycle.

If your bags look like a lumpy sack of potatoes dump ‘em out and start again. Use the soft stuff like socks, leggings and puffy to fill in the area around hard goods like mortar. Filling a cook-pot with socks and a fuel canister will utilize the dead space. A tent can be attached to the top of the rear rack to leave space inside the touring bags for weather-sensitive provisions. A little mindfulness goes a long way: put sensitive gear like down sleeping bags and electronics in seam-sealed bags. There’s nothing like crawling into a warm, dry bed if the weather’s gone to shit.

Last but not least, shrink everything! Think as efficiently as possible about space. Maybe the sun-screen can be put into a smaller tube, and there’s no need to take the whole salt shaker if you can put a little seasoning in film-canister sized containers. This is prime time to get really OCD about how you pack.


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#4 Route Planning Tips and Tricks

We begin at home with a computer and a regional paper map, and we do a whole lot of cross referencing between what Google Maps suggests for cycling out to, say, Heart O’ the Hills campground in Olympic National Park.

Start by plugging in your destination and toggling to bicycle mode in Google Maps then start fine tuning the suggested route. Quiet roads are sure to impress, so when you’re planning maximize those digital maps to reveal the backroads that every traveller longs for. Opt for roads with old the title. “Old Woodinville-Duvall Road” has likely been replaced by larger more heavily trafficked thoroughfare, leaving the grandparent highway underused and laid back.

Local knowledge is top notch, and often surpasses what any mapping site can offer. Just remember that folks who typically drive have a pretty different perspective than someone who pedals it. “It’s just over that hill,” could have you pushing in the ditch for a mile.


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#5 Going the Distance

Folks often asked how far to ride each day. 45-50 miles heavy with camp equipment is a solid challenge that allows for exploring along the way. Keep in mind that 50 miles of flat roads with a heavenly tailwind is pretty different than 50 miles over two mountain passes. Sometimes a day’s distance is determined by the stretches between campgrounds, and you may have to pull a long day in the saddle to make it into camp.

Food is fuel. A good friend of mine once said, “Eat lots and eat often.” It’s the key to happiness when you’re working hard and are at the whim of the elements. It took years to learn how to stay well fed and stoked--but once the algorithm revealed itself, the miles were better and we explore much further. The four ingredients for stellar miles: listen to your body, snack tons, drink plenty, and eat good food!


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#6 Trail-Smarts

Now’s the time to get comfortable with fixing flats and the basic maintenance your bicycle will want for a few days on the move. Local bike shops usually teach “fix-a-flat” classes and can help acquaint you with the parts of the bicycle that will purr with a dab of oil. Include a spare tube, a patch kit and pump, some tire irons and a multi-tool in your repair bag. Zip ties make for impeccable MacGyver-ing, and don’t forget a roll of duct tape.

Riding in traffic is the most risky part of being on a bike. Do your best to ride in a steady and straight trajectory, and ride in the shoulder whenever possible.

Whether you’re setting up camp in an established campground, or heading to a secluded spot in bonafied wilderness, we think its worth mentioning that the ethos of leave-no-trace runs deep in the bicycle-adventure community. Please do your part and leave a picnic spot or camp-site in better shape than when you arrived. For us, the spirit of living on the fly is imbued with tons of respect for mother nature, all her creatures, and the folks who share the trail. This means cleaning up, packin’ out, poopin’ 6-8” deep when there’s no privy, and moving along with minimal impact.


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#7 The Simple Life

Relish your days of vagabonding by bicycle. Listen to the birds chirp and the muskrats slip into the lake for a pre-dawn swim. Check out a fishing town and enjoy the local scene wherever your wandering ways take you. It’s all about tuning in and dropping out. Start paying attention to where you are in the moment and walk away from the daily grind to get perspective and reorient. The magic about bike-camping is that it’s equal parts going there as getting there.

Oh! That reminds me, do you remember our quest for the highest road in the North Cascades? We found it two weeks ago; turns out that Forest Service Road 5400 in Washington State is a decommissioned mining road that snakes 5000 feet upward--right past Dead Horse Point--to Hart’s Pass Campground. The road ends at a fire lookout at 7488 ft in elevation with a 360 degree vista of the high alpine cordillera. We’ve checked that one off, now on to the next: who wants to go chasing rivers?


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Happy Trails!

Check out our profile on Hipcamp for insane photos from our high altitude adventure!

Photos take by: Gideon Tsang (instagram @gideontsang) and Spencer Brown (instagram @spencerbrown)

Location: Bastrop State Park, TX http://hipca.mp/1RhjCg0

About the author: Martina is the co-founder and creative director of Swift Industries, an in-house bicycle bag company in Seattle, WA. Martina fuses her love of remote cycling with a libertine color sense to bring a fresh aesthetic to bicycle touring and commuting bags. Swift is a creative force in the adventure-cycling scene, and has stoked wanderlust worldwide through events, storytelling, and Swift’s original approach to product design.


Editor's note: Hipcamp is officially live in the West Coast states (CA, OR, WA, HI, and AK)! To coincide with the launch, we're highlighting Voyagers in the corresponding states to see what's up in their neck of the woods. If this post inspires you to get outside, check out our AleTrails giveaway, running from 7/7/15-7/21/15 to win a West Coast bike camping tour, a NEW touring bike from Specialized, and $5k in outdoor gear!

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