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Dec 31, 2018

Planning Your First Bike Overnight

"Thinking about something is often far more daunting than actually doing the thing"

Planning your first bike touring trip or bike-overnight can seem like a daunting affair - especially if you're not used to camping. But with some careful planning, route selection, not biting off too big a challenge your first time out, and the right mix of gear, it can open the door to a great experience and whet your whistle to do more trips, longer trips, and more adventurous (remote) adventures.

With a focus on helping people get out for their very first night out on a bike, some seasoned bikecampers may find some of this info somewhat pedestrian. That's ok. We still like you. If you feel like contributing some wisdom to our readers, please leave a comment at the bottom.

We'll break out this article into 5 categories -
  1. Easy Is Beautiful
  2. Choosing a Route
  3. Bike and Camping Gear
  4. Clothing Learnings
  5. Secret Sauce

At the very end of the article we'll provide a basic gear list for you to use as a template. It is intended as a suggestion - not a rule - as our own gear lists will ALWAYS change depending on route, time of year, and type of bike used.

1. Easy Is Beautiful

In a few words - pick a campsite that is easy to get to as the ride distance is much less important than the actual bikeovernight at this point. Ride a distance that is comfortable for you. Keep in mind you'll be carrying a lot more weight than normal so expect to go slower than normal. This is especially important if your bike and gear setup is still being sorted for stability and efficiency.  

Plan for just one night. Remember - the goal here is to get comfortable with the whole experience of riding your bicycle to camp for the night, to spend the night sleeping outside, then head back the next day.

Set yourself up to succeed. If you do these things, hopefully you'll come back from your first trip happy, energized, and perhaps feeling like you want to try again.

Returning from a single bikeovernight to Gooseberry.

2. Choosing A Route

For our purposes in Calgary, Alberta, the 2 closest campsites that you can ride to from DT Calgary is the Gooseberry campsite in Kananaskis Country and the Millarville Racetrack south of the city towards Turner Valley - both of which are about 50kms away.

In our opinion, getting to Millarville is much more enjoyable with only a few kilometres being spent on a major highway whereas getting to Gooseberry is pretty much secondary highways most the way. The Millarville campsite also has a few more comfort amenities than Gooseberry. We've been finding ourselves purposely choosing quieter roads as it enhances the experience and reduces the stress.

The other thing to contemplate is driving out of the city and taking a short cycling trip into the campground of your choice. This can open up many more campsite options and also is a nice little bit of insurance if the weather turns ugly and you really want to bail out on the adventure.

Choosing appropriate routes can be daunting, especially if you have never ridden on the roads before or driven on them. If possible, go on a scouting mission on your bike or in a vehicle to check the route for safety, hazards, amenities (stores, shelters, etc).

If this isn't possible we'd recommend sticking to known roads and routes you are comfortable with. Alternately, the Strava Heat Map is an interesting tool as it shows where people are choosing to cycle

Route To Millarville Racetrack

3. Your Bike, Camping Equipment, Food 

"There is only one really bad way to bike tour and that is to not go bike touring."

In a previous life, I spent a lot of time in a vehicle traveling around the country for work and more often then not the cyclists I saw bike touring were most definitely not on fancy, purpose made touring rigs. The vast majority were riding contraptions held together with duct tape, bungie cords, and bailing wire and they seemed to be smiling (or grimacing) just as much as the folks on fancy setups.

The point I am trying to illustrate is the bicycle used is not something to concern yourself with at first - just get out there. Just make sure your bike is in good working order as you do not want to deal with roadside repairs. Sure, if you fall in love with bikecamping, by all means, get yourself a better bike and better gear, but when starting out - JUST DO IT.

As far as the bike goes, honestly, ride what you got. The only real exception to this would be a full suspension MTB or serious racing-type road bike - though both could work for your first time out. Invest in some pannier bags and a sturdy rack and you're good to go. Adding a handlebar bag is a really nice touch to keep important things close by and accessible while riding.

Hybrid-style bikes are great as they usually have mounts for racks and fenders, comfortable fit, and a wide-ish gear range. I've even gone fixie-packing with friends a few times and it was as much fun as touring on a regular geared bike. Even an older model hardtail MTB can work great.

Loaded up and ready to tackle a new route in Southern Alberta - Old Porcupine's Choice.

However, if you decide you want to invest in a purpose made bikecamping bike, there are many options to choose from now which include but are not limited to:

  • Traditional Road Touring (Surly Long Haul Trucker, Fuji Touring Disc)
  • New School Gravel/All Road (Niner RLT, Fuji Jari)
  • I Want My Cake And Eat It Too Everything Bikes (Surly Ogre/Troll, Surly Bridge Club)
  • Offroad/Dirt Focused Bikepacking (Tout Terrain Outback, Surly Krampus)

For camping specific gear, this would be our suggestion for the basic items you'll need to bring:
  • Sleeping Kit
    - sleeping bag, sleeping pad, perhaps sleeping clothes, pillow(s)?
  • Shelter
    - tent/bivvy/hammock/tarp - you decide
  • Cooking Kit (Optional if you are not cooking anything)
    - stove, pot, fire starter, lighters, coffee stuff, spork, bowl
  • Food and Water
    - are you making food or bringing pre-made stuff? Is there potable water at the campsite?
  • Clothing
    - riding clothes, rain gear, cold weather gear, camp clothes, hats, gloves, extras
  • Safety/Repair/Hygene
    - first aid kit, bike repair tools/pump, bike lights, camp light/flashlight, soap, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, personal items/meds, toilet paper, bug spray, sunscreen

Your food and nutrition considerations will vary widely depending on the length of your trip, proximity to towns with amenities, and your personal nutritional needs. Bring snacks and try to eat a little something every hour or so to keep your blood sugar levels from crashing.

While on tour, make the time if you can to stop for a lunch break and relax for 20 to 30 minutes. During your break, stretch a little and enjoy the rest. 

In hot weather, also be sure to keep your electrolyte levels up with nuts/fruit/bananas or one of the many sports nutrition products on the market, even Gatorade can make a difference and is available at every gas station.

We always try to enjoy "local cuisine" when available - whether that is a little cafe, gas station, or a full service restaurant. I'll never forget the ecstasy of having an unexpected full breakfast at Chute Lake Resort during our trip on the KVR a few years ago. While not the highest quality I've ever had, it sure was better than packaged oatmeal I'd been eating for 5 days previous and felt like the biggest treat ever.

Chute Lake Resort $10 Breakfast
BRING CASH. There is nothing worse than arriving somewhere, you're starving, and their debit machine is not working.

Now, if you do already enjoy camping, perhaps you're into backpacking excursions, most of that gear will probably make the transition from the backpack to your bike bags pretty easily. However, if your current idea of camping revolves around "car camping" or RVing, there is a really good chance that all of that gear will be too heavy or too bulky to work for bikecamping. Dig around, see what you have, and try and make it work. Your focus should be on items that are light and compact.

If you do not own the required gear, you can rent all manner of camping gear from the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre.

My bike and kit for the Bitterroot Loop 2016.

4. Clothing Learnings

"There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices"
~ Scandinavian Proverb

 Clothing choices are really an individual choice but there are a few things I've found over the years that have made a real difference for me.

#1 - WOOL! Wool everything. Even the fanciest of synthetic fabrics cannot compare to the performance of wool. Lightweight base layer long sleeve tops and leggings are great also as sleeping clothes.   

#2 - It Gets Cold At Night In Alberta. Don't believe the overnight low temperature forecast. There is nothing worse than freezing your butt off all night to then get on a bike and ride again. I always bring a compact-able puffy jacket with me now, even in Summer - unless I know for certain it is going to be really warm - for example, summer in the Okanagan.  

#3 - Camp Clothes/Sleeping Clothes/Double Duty Items. Personally, I like changing out of the clothes I rode in once I get to camp. I also bring sleeping clothes for comfort and a good nights rest. This is totally up to you but I'll bring this stuff to maintain some overnight comfort. When choosing your clothing, try to pick items that can perform different functions. Wool base layers are great for sleeping in and rain pants/jacket can keep heat in on chilly early mornings.

#4 - Rain Gear. Always. When you need it, your usually really really need it. Kind of like insurance, you don't it for 99.9% of the time - but really need it for the 0.01%. End of story.

#5 - Bring Less Clothing Than You Think. My recommendation is to wear the same outerwear everyday - shorts/shirts - and only bring extra socks and undies. There are no style points to be won on the fashion show runway that is the open road and trail, so leave the fashion behind and focus on comfort and lightweight.

The only caveat here may be if you are "credit card touring" and not camping, instead staying in motels. If that is the case, bring an "apres-ride" outfit so you can wash your biking stuff/and or let it dry.

5. Secret Sauce 

Here are a few things we'd also recommend you bring along on your first bikeovernight:

  • A sense of wonder and adventure - the journey is as important as the destination
  • Where possible, try to bring items that can do "double duty"
  • Instant coffee and instant oatmeal were made for bike touring! (though you'll need a stove)
  • Pickup your meal from town on your way to the campground and stop in on the way home for breakfast
  • Portable boombox for tunes along the way and in camp
  • Bring more snacks than you think you need
  • What do you recommend?
 Are you ready to try your first bikeovernight? We are offering 3 guided "Bikepacking For Beginners" trips in the Summer of 2020. 

All the information and registration is available at our sister site -
The Taft Tunnel in Idaho on The Route of the Hiawatha - part of the Bitterroot Loop.

Recommended Gear List

This list is intended as a guide - not a rule - so add or subtract to it depending on your personal needs, length of trip, expected weather conditions, and comfort.

On-the-bike Clothing

  • Cycling helmet
  • Touring shoes — good for walking as well as riding, i.e. some flex in the sole
  • Cycling gloves
  • Cycling shorts - or not
  • Socks — wool
  • Leg warmers or tights for riding (rain pants could substitute)
  • Short-sleeved shirt
  • Light, long-sleeved shirt for layering and sun protection
  • Rain jacket and pants

Off-the-bike Clothing

  • Puffy Jacket
  • Comfortable shorts
  • Comfortable pants (zip-off legs or rain pants could substitute)
  • Underwear (1 to 3 pair)
  • Lightweight sandals, flip-flops, or camp shoes
  • Wool or fleece hat
  • Wool sweater or fleece jacket
  • Gloves — wool or fleece
  • Swimsuit (optional)


  • Toiletries - tp, diaper rash cream, hand sanitizer
  • Towel (lightweight to enhance quick drying, like the PackTowl)
  • Pocket knife or Leatherman (pliers and other tools are handy)
  • Lightweight lock and cable (optional – not a U-lock)
  • Water carrying bladders or containers — at least 1 US gallon capacity
  • Basic first-aid kit with ibuprofen, tylenol, allergy meds, and emergency phone numbers
  • Bandanas (many uses!)
  • Sunglasses
  • Flashlight/headlamp and/or candle or oil lantern
  • Powerbank to charge phone/gps/electronics
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunblock
  • Nylon cord
  • Water filter or tabs (if potable water is unavailable)
  • Camera, book, journal (optional)
  • Be Bear Aware - Bear spray and cords to hang bags (where appropriate)

Tools and Spare Parts

  • Tire levers/patch kit
  • Spare tube (and tire, depending on the trip)
  • Mini-pump
  • Spoke wrench
  • Allen wrenches
  • Screwdriver
  • Chain tool (or substitute a good multi-tool for all of the above, allen wrenches, and screwdrivers)
  • Assorted plastic zip ties
  • Small chain lube and rag
  • Bicycle lights, front and rear
  • Duct tape (invaluable – you can wrap some around a broken pencil to save weight)


  • Sleeping bag (Down bags are warmer, weigh less, and pack smaller, but useless if wet. Synthetic bags are heavier and bulkier, but less expensive for comparable warmth and they will keep you warm even if wet.)
  • Sleeping pad (Closed-cell foam pads work well and are light, but self-inflating pads are more comfortable and packable.)
  • Tent or Bivvy Sack or Hammock with tarp - your preference
  • Personal eating utensils (fork, spoon, cup, bowl)
  • Stove (A small backpacking stove with fuel and fuel bottle(s).)
  • Cooking equipment (Small pots and pans — backpacking equipment works best and is lightweight.)
  • Utility Knife

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