Many people like the idea of bikepacking, but are held back when they can’t work out where they should be camping. As a keen bikepacker who’s camped for many years, I wanted to take the chance to help clear things up and get you out on your first trip. So, where should you camp on a bikepacking trip?
When on a bikepacking trip, you can either camp at a campsite, camp with permission on someone’s land or wild camp. When picking a camping spot, look for somewhere flat, that protects you from the wind, is near a water source and is safe from falling objects.
So, now we know what type of places you can camp on a bikepacking trip, but how do you actually find them? And which type of camping should you be doing? I take a look into these as well as show you the best ways to wild camp in the rest of the article.
Where to camp on a bikepacking trip?
When it comes to camping on a bikepacking trip, you have 3 main options.
- Camping at a campground
- Camping with permission
- Wild camping (also called Stealth camping)
What are the most popular camping options when bikepacking?
To find out which of these methods is the most popular, I asked a large group of cyclists which of these was their favourite way of camping on a bikepacking trip. As you can see, wild camping was the most popular, but a large proportion also used campsites.
What to look for in a camping spot?
When picking a camping spot, there are a few universal things you should look for, no matter what type of place you are camping in.
Flat ground can make or break a camping spot. Trying to fall asleep on a bumpy area or steep slope can be nearly impossible. Not only is this annoying, but it can also ruin your next day of cycling and make you more prone to an injury if you have to cycle while tied.
Protection from the wind
While your tent has been designed to keep you protected from the wind, a thin sheet of fabric can only do so much, especially with cheaper tents.
Finding a camping spot that gives you protection from the elements, for example behind a large rock or boulder, against a wall or in a valley can be a great way of improving your night’s sleep.
On the other hand, avoid camping on the top of a mountain or hill. While this sounds like a good way to wake up to a lovely view, it’s also a surefire way of freezing all night long.
A water source
Being near a water source can be a huge benefit while camping, be that near a tap at a campsite, or a river when wild camping. After a long day cycling, having a way to wash your bikepacking kit (or even yourself) can be a game changer. It can also be helpful to have water close by for cooking and cleaning your cooking gear after you’ve eaten.
While having a water source nearby is helpful, you don’t want to be too close to a river or creek, water attracts wild animals and during poor weather, you have the risk of the river flooding.
Somewhere safe from falling branches
When setting up camp, make sure to look above you as well as around you. Loosely hanging branches are called widowmakers for a reason, and a harsh wind can pull these off a tree, which is very dangerous. Also, make sure you are not sleeping underneath any other hazards for example power lines.
Somewhere that feels safe
When it comes to camping, one of the hardest skills is knowing when you’re being overcautious and when your “bad feeling” is something to listen to.
In general, most campers will suggest that you trust your gut. You’ll also get a better night’s sleep if you aren’t camping by a group of people that are giving you bad vibes or an area that seems dodgy.
To save yourself from moving camp once you’ve already set up, I’d suggest picking an area earlier in the day for your first bikepacking trip. Once you’ve done this, spend a few minutes sitting there, taking in the vibe of the place and getting a feel for it before starting to set up your tent. While I don’t change camping spots often, there have been a few times this has saved me.
Camping at a campground
Camping at a campground or campsite is the traditional way of camping, it’s the type that you may have done with your family as a kid. You arrive at what is typically a large field with lots of other tents set up. You normally have access to a toilet and sometimes firepits etc.
Campsites can be a great way to get back into the experience of camping on a bikepacking trip. They also help to reduce some of the stress of finding a camping spot as you know exactly where you’ll be sleeping as you set out each morning.
How much does camping at a campsite cost?
To find out how much campsites cost, I found the average price of a campsite for 2 people in each of the countries below. As you can see, the price of a campsite ranged between $38 and $12 depending on where in the world you were.
How to find a campsite?
There are multiple different ways to find a campsite, the most obvious being to just google it. However, there are a few specific websites and apps that bikepackers have recommended to me.
|Discover The Forest||A website to find national forests near your bikepacking route|
|Recreation||Find camping spots around the US and reserve them in advance|
|Gaia GPS||Pull up trail maps and view established campgrounds in the area you are exploring|
|Free Camp Sites||A website showing free campsites around the US|
|Campsites||A website showing camping and glamping spots around the UK|
|Park4night||Paid and free camping spots for tents and motorhomes. Covers all of Europe and a lot of other places|
|Komoot||Shows a variety of paid and free camping spots on the map as points of interest as you plan your trip|
|WikiCamps||An app showing campsites and camping locations for individual countries, find the one for the country you are bikepacking in|
In general, it is worth looking up whichever campsite you plan to book on google, as well as on the app or website you found it on. The google reviews for a campsite can tell you a lot about the place. Oh, and also try checking their website directly and see if it is cheaper to book this way than through the app you are using.
Questions to ask when booking a campsite?
I’d suggest calling up a campsite to book, that way you can make sure it really does exist, and you can also ask a few key questions.
Check they are not just an RV park
Some campsites are designed only for RVs and campervans, and will not allow you to set up a normal tent there. Make sure this is not the case before you book.
Check what facilities they have
Certain features can make or break a campsite. If you are paying for the privilege to camp, double check if they have the services you require, for example, toilets, showers or even electricity points to charge up your bikepacking GPS, phone and bike lights.
Check if there is a minimum night stay
Some campsites will not allow you to turn up for only one night, and require you to book for a minimum of two. If this is the case try explaining your situation (I’ve often had people let me stay for one night even if it was against the policy), and if not, consider booking for 2 nights and then just leaving after one.
Confirm the check-in times
Some campsites have check-in times like a hotel, if this is the case you need to double-check what it is and confirm you will be able to arrive by this time.
You may find they have a “late check-in policy” where you can call them when you arrive. Either way, check this in advance, as there’s no worse feeling than arriving at your campsite to find a locked gate.
Check their policy on groups
If you are bikepacking as a group, make sure to check their policy on groups at the campsite. Certainly in the UK, large groups of guys are sometimes not allowed at campsites and you don’t want to find out that you and your friends aren’t allowed in.
Camping with permission for free
Camping with permission can be a great way to find a campsite when bikepacking. Camping with permission involves finding an area of privately owned land, for example, a farm, and asking the owner if you can stay the night there.
While this might sound a little daunting, lots of bikepackers use this method, and you actually have more success than you would imagine.
Where can you ask for permission to camp?
Once you start thinking outside of the box, there are lots of places you can camp with permission on your bikepacking trip. You’re not only limited to gardens and fields, try thinking about other options too:
- Community Centre’s
- Pub Gardens
- Fire stations
How can you find somewhere to camp with permission?
When it comes to finding somewhere to camp with permission, a few websites have been set up for this exact purpose. These sites link landowners who are happy for people to stay with bikepackers looking for somewhere. The premise is that if you use the site, you try to offer your own home up when and if you can.
The most popular among bikepackers is Warmshowers, however, this has recently become a paid service. As the name suggests this links bikepackers and bike tourers with other riders who can host you for the night and offer you a warm shower.
Other websites with similar features include:
As well as finding a camping spot with permission digitally, you can also try finding one by asking the local community. Chatting with people at the local pub or cautiously asking people who are sitting outside of their houses can be a good way to get the lay of the land, and they might even offer you their own garden as somewhere to stay.
How to ask people if you can camp in their garden/field/backyard?
The idea of camping with permission sounds good until you realise that you actually need to ask someone for permission. If you are anything like me, this step is much harder in your head than it actually is. So, how do you actually ask someone if you can stay on their land?
In general, I would suggest leading with the question of nearby campgrounds. This makes it clear you are looking for somewhere to stay, and if they do not have an option in mind (which they probably won’t), then they might think to offer you their land, and in some lucky cases you might even end up with a bed.
I’m not going to pretend this will work every time, some people will be annoyed at being interrupted, but everyone I’ve ever spoken to has been polite, and most have been friendly.
In general, bikepackers asking a random member of the public if they can stay on their land seem to have a success rate of around 30-50% (based on the riders I have spoken to).
Obviously, it helps to speak the language of the country you are in, and you can even bring along a small gift or souvenir for the owners of the places you stay at (for example a postcard or a small bottle of alcohol), which is a good way to let them know you appreciated the gesture.
Some bikepackers suggested calling the mayor of whichever town you are cycling through to ask if there was anywhere you can sleep for the night! While I haven’t tried this it might be a great way of skipping the awkwardness of the doorstep ask.
In the same way, you need to trust your gut about finding a camping spot, you also need to make sure that the place you camp with permission is safe as well. Just because someone is allowing you to stay in their garden does not mean you should be fully trusting of them. If something feels off, leaving is an option. This is one of the reasons why I prefer public locations such as churches or fire stations for this type of bikepacking camping.
The end of part 1
So, we’ve established the main types of camping you can do on a bikepacking trip and looked in detail into campsite camping as well as camping with permission.
To read the rest of the article where I give you my tips for wild camping on a bikepacking trip, take a look at part 2.