What You Need For Bike Touring – Camping Gear

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I wrote about cycling equipment for bike touring in another post that you can find here.

This one is dedicated to camping gear needed for touring. The items below apply to times when you stay overnight in campgrounds, or camp in the wild. If you plan on staying in hotels and motels and eating out while touring you don’t need any or most of the following gear.

When you go bike touring and you choose the more adventurous version with camping, instead of staying at hotels, you need a lot more of equipment. It needs to be compact and light. Think backpacking…

Essential Camping Gear for Bike Touring

Under the Essential Gear category you find the equipment that you absolutely need, if you plan on camping during your tour.


You definitely need a shelter. And there are few options for you to consider. The obvious one is a tent. If you choose a tent for your shelter, it needs to be small and light. One or two person backpacking tents work best.

The next, less obvious, choice for your shelter would be a bivy. For those of who don’t know, a bivy is an oversized, usually weather resistant bag for your sleeping bag. You put it on the ground, then you put a sleeping pad and sleeping bag inside. Some of the bivies have a mesh and rain cover at the top, in the head area. The mesh and rain cover are usually supported by a semi-circular pole to keep them away from your face.

A bivy usually weighs less than tent, and also takes less space, making it a choice to consider for bike tourer.

A third option is a simple tarp. You can bring some aluminum poles to prop it like an old fashioned tent. Or you can skip the poles, and use sticks or even your bike to create a tent-like structure with your tarp. This is a great space and weight saving option, as well as cheap. If you are on the budget, this might be the only way to go.

Like with everything, there are advantages and drawbacks to each camping solution listed above.

With a tent, you don’t need to worry about bugs. If it’s raining, you can easily change your clothes inside. You can stay in for hours and read a book, if it’s too nasty outside. But tent is the bulkiest, heaviest and most expensive option.

A bivy will also keep you out of the elements and will keep bugs away. It is hard to stay in it, when you are not asleep though. Additionally, bivies are, by their nature not well ventilated, accumulating condensation in warm or humid weather. They are also fairly expensive, and usually only slightly cheaper than tents.

With a tarp you are protected from elements, but you need to worry about bugs. Also, depending where you are touring, I would also worry about some crawling things, like snakes, scorpions, etc to get under your tarp. It is, probably, the lightest option, when you get a lightweight tarp.

Also, if you expect a lot of rain, you might want to bring a small, lightweight tarp in addition to any other shelter. It will make cooking, packing, and many other camp duties easier.

Sleeping Pad

The next gear item, that you need for your camping is a sleeping pad. There are many products to consider. You have to choose one based on your comfort level, your budget and the packed size that your willing to accept.

Generally, the thicker, the more comfortable pad will take up more space and will weight more. So you need to compromise somewhere.

The safest would be a closed-cell sleeping pad. These are the cheapest. You don’t have to worry about punctures, and you don’t have to inflate them every night. However, they are very bulky.

The inflatable ones are much more compact, but susceptible to punctures. So you need to be more careful with them.

Sleeping Bag

The next item on your list is a sleeping bag. Here, the choice will depend on what kind of weather will you be touring in. If you plan on touring only in the summer, when night temperatures are in the 50’s (above 10 C), you can use a summer bag. These are very light and can be very compact. If you plan on touring, when night temperatures get below freezing, than you, obviously, need three or maybe even four season bag.

Again, like with other products, you will need to compromise among packed size, comfort, and price.

Another option, if you’re touring in hot weather, is to bring sleeping bag liner, instead of the bag.

This is all the essential gear that you need, as far a shelter and sleeping arrangements are concerned.

Cooking Gear

Next, essential gear is your cooking set, which would include stove, fuel bottle/canister, pots, spoon, fork, knife, or spork, lighter or matches, etc. Again, this gear needs to be lightweight and compact.

As far as fuel choice is concerned, the easiest to use is the isobutane. But that depends where you travel. So check availability. The isobutane containers are NOT refillable, so they need to be easily accessible, since they don’t last long.

The most versatile, but more finicky, is gasoline stove. Obviously, for gas stoves, you will be able to find fuel anywhere in the world. This is why they are the choice of cyclists touring the world, or remote parts of it.

You can also go without any stove and rely on campfire. But this also depends on the area you are touring. Then you don’t need to carry the stove and fuel. However, you have to make sure that campfire option is always available. Also, your cooking will take a lot more time.

As far as pots are concerned, you can use anodized aluminum or titanium. However, titanium pots will cost you extra money.

Water Purification Device

Sometimes you will be bike touring in area where sources of running water are scarce, but there are lakes and rivers. Then an essential piece of equipment will be some water purifying device, like water filter.

I know, many of you will say there are other devices like UV-lights, and tablets and iodine drops, and so forth. This is a matter of preference. However, I think that the most versatile is a water filter. All the other methods, will not remove floating matter, particles and taste out of the water.

Non-Essential Gear

Then there is some non-essential gear. The so-called “nice-to-have” gear.

An inflatable pillow falls in this category. When you tour in cooler weather you usually have enough clothes that you could pile up under your head to serve as a pillow. However, when you tour in the summer with minimal amount of clothing, it probably won’t be enough to serve as an effective pillow. If you are, like me, and like to sleep on your side, some kind of pillow is essential for comfort.

Next, on the list of “nice-to-have” equipment is some source of light. I prefer headlamps. They leave you both hands free. And often you need both of them when performing evening campsite tasks.

Nowadays, we often go bike touring with a lot of electronic gear. Starting with the cell phone, then digital camera, sometimes pretty sophisticated bike computer, etc. They often require charging. There are two ways of charging them, while on the way, with power bank or with solar charger.

It actually a good idea to bring both, than you are covered no matter what. If there is no place to charge from the outlet, you have the solar charger. If it is cloudy or pouring, you use the power bank that you charged earlier from an electrical outlet.

Final Thoughts

This is it, as far as camping equipment for bike touring is concerned. There are many more items that could be added, but while they could make your touring event more comfortable, they depend on personal preferences, locales, needs, etc.

One thing to consider is that the least amount of gear you can travel with, the lighter your bike, the more you are going to enjoy your tour.

The more stuff you bring, the more complicated your touring will become. Just one example of my own experience. I enjoy photography and I also like to record videos of my travels, therefore, when I go bike touring, I bring a DSLR camera with multiple lenses and video gear with me. Not only this makes my bike another 10 to 20 pounds heavier, but every time I leave my bike somewhere, I have to haul the expensive gear with me on my back in the backpack, as I do not want to risk getting it stolen.

So, keep it simple, and you will enjoy your touring trip more.

Rich S.
Rich S.http://www.greatlakesexplorer.com
Rich S. is a lifetime photographer and traveler based in Metro Detroit area. He has been traveling the Great Lakes area for over 30 years. Follow his blog about his trips, interesting activities and destinations in the Great Lakes region.

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