Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran, we all need to find a place to sleep after a day of bikepacking.
While you may find yourself in a location where you have access to hotels or assigned campsites, most of the time this luxury will not be available. Although it may sound intimidating, wild camping is an incredible experience and will save you money. Waking up in remote and beautiful locations is priceless, it’s a unique experience. Except for those loud animals, let me sleep!
There are multiple factors that need to be considered so you can sleep safely and comfortably when bikepacking in the wilderness. These tips will help you to avoid additional stress and get more enjoyment out of your bikepacking adventure.
1. Plan ahead
Before heading out, check the wild camping laws in the state or country you are visiting to make sure it is allowed. Over here there only a couple of spots where it’s allowed and fines are serious.
Try to roughly plan out stops and routes you will take so you can avoid having to sleep near any cities. It is much safer and quieter in more remote areas.
When it starts to get later in the day, make sure to pick up some supplies if possible (food and water) when you go through a more inhabited area. This will prevent you from getting stranded in the dark without anything.
2. Be clever and quick when picking your spot.
Wait until it’s starting to get dark before you exit the road to set up camp. It’s not a bad idea to keep a lookout during the day for an area that looks appropriate and well hidden. You can always have supper and then head back to the spot once it’s dark.
When leaving the trail, make sure to walk quickly and with self-assurance.
3. Remain inconspicuous if needed
Setup camp once it’s dark in case if it isn’t allowed. This way, you are less likely to be seen and bothered. Make sure to check regulations before you plan your trip. Sometimes you just have to set up camp, but fines can be costly.
The most unobtrusive shelter would be the bivy bag but not everyone is a fan. It’s quick to set up and take down and therefore you are likely to go unnoticed. Unfortunately, there is not much space in a bivy and nowhere to put your gear.
If you use a tent, try to find one in a color that will blend in with the landscape, like a green or black tent.
Do not use lights! Although it may be hard to set up in the dark, it’s best to practice and learn to do this efficiently. Torch lights are easy to see for miles and locals can become curious.
If you don’t want people snooping around while you’re asleep we recommend avoiding the use of lights. A perk of this is you will have an amazing view of the stars, un-effected by light pollution.
If by chance, you do end up being located, just be nice. It never hurts to know a few general terms in the language of the country you are in for these situations. Try to explain as best you can what you are doing there and that you are harmless.
4. If you are struggling to find a spot, ask!
A field may seem like a great place to set up camp. Fields are relatively flat and remote, but they are private land. Regardless of the country, farmers are not very happy with people trespassing on their land. They will usually be around super early in the morning doing their daily duties and you will probably get discovered. See if you can find a farmhouse first and ask politely for permission, they will most likely be fine with it. Often people are very generous and even offer you food and drinks!
If not a field, you can always ask any landowner if you can pitch up on their yard. You may see homeowners tending their gardens or puttering around outside their house. Or you can go the old school way and just go and knock on some doors. It never hurts to ask, and you never know who you might speak to.
The majority of people you will encounter will help you to locate a camping spot or give you a recommendation of where you can camp. Others may offer you the option to stay with them or with someone they know. Some people will point you in the direction of a hotel or some paid accommodation and a small percent of the time you may not receive the help you are looking for.
Trust your instincts, if it feels like an appropriate time to ask for assistance than do so. And if not, you can keep on moving.
5. Secure your equipment and gear
Once you choose a place to set up camp for the night, it’s a good idea to assess the area for any potential problems that may arise. We recommend hanging out at the location for about 15 minutes just ensure no one bothers you and no other issues arise.
If you have a small tent or bivy you will be unable to store your gear inside with you. Therefore, you will need an effective way to secure your belongings in case anyone tries to take them in the night. You can use a string or rope to tie up your bag and attach it to your tent so you will feel if someone grabs it. If you have a larger tent or one with a porch, you can store your bags there.
There are a few options for the security of your bike. If there are trees around, you can use a standard cable lock to secure it to one of those. If no trees are present then, like with the equipment, you can secure it to your tent with a string. While this can obviously be cut, it will give you the heads up that someone is there. It’s highly unlikely though, depending on where you ride you might not even see many people out there when you’re on a bikepacking trip.
Some other tried and true methods are to use anything you have that will make noise and balance it somewhere on the bike. This way if someone tries to take it, the noise will wake you up.
6. Pick the proper geographical location
Find level ground to pitch you tent. This will make it easier to put your tent up and allow you to get a comfortable night’s sleep.
Find a location with natural protection and security. Trees will provide coverage from the elements and also something to secure belongings and tarps to if needed. Aim for high ground as it will provide you with more security.
Consider all-weather possibilities when picking your spot. Weather can change overnight quite easily, and you don’t want to get caught in a storm with no coverage. You do not want to pitch anywhere that would collect water during a storm. For example, you don’t want to be at the bottom of a hill or in a valley where water would flow downwards and soak both you and your gear.
Wind can be a problem as well, so look for somewhere that would block that out, if it did hit unexpectedly. Are you in and area that could experience snowfall? It is important to be prepared for anything.
Pay special attention to what is around your campsite. Are there any tree branches that look like they could break? If you are in a rocky area, check if there is potential for falling rocks that could roll over you. Are you near a body of water where the tide could rise during the night? All these factors are important to consider when picking your spot as you don’t want to get hurt.
7. Be aware of wild animals and bugs
Bikepackers aren’t the only ones who like wild camping. You will likely be sharing your campsite with other creatures. Be prepared for what you could face.
Make sure that any food items that you have with you are in a well-sealed container. Animals can smell food miles away and will likely pay you a visit for a late-night snack. If there are bears in the area, it’s recommended to hang your food bags in a tree if possible.
It is a good idea to come equipped with bug netting in case of mosquitos or other biters. There will be lots of bugs and insects in any location you pick, so it’s good to be aware of in advance. Also check for ticks, depending on the time of year they can become a problem.
It really depends on the area what kind of insect you encounter. In my area, oak trees are infested with oak processionary caterpillars and I really have to make sure not come in contact with them.
Beware of ‘crawlers’, they will get into your bags, clothes, kit, and shoes. Keep your shoes inside your shelter as they seem to be a favorite hiding place for all sorts of creatures. You don’t want to be putting your shoes on only to get nipped by a scorpion. Don’t forget to inspect them!
8. Camping on the coast
Beaches can make for beautiful camping spots they offer flat ground and also incredible views. Bivy bags are great for beaches, again, due to their quick set up and takedown time. They are also less conspicuous.
Be aware that it is illegal to camp on many beaches, especially in popular areas. If you’re in a touristy area, chances are you are not the first to attempt to camp there and also won’t be the last. Police are pretty quick to stop you from setting up in these locations and send you on your way.
If the area is more remote and un-popular than you shouldn’t have any problems or be bothered by the police.
Also, as mentioned before, be conscious of the tides. If it is a small beach the tide may come in overnight, so make sure to set up far from the edge of the water.
9. Don’t worry too much
While the concept sounds very daunting, for the most part, it’s mostly in your head. The fears outweigh the realities and you will not likely run into problems. Confidence is key and as long as you are well prepared you can handle any situation you may find yourself in.
10. Location hacks
Canada and the USA are very strict when it comes to enforcing camping laws. Make sure to plan your route and hit some appropriate camping areas. You will need to pay to camp in specified campsites in all the national parks.
In Central Asia, there is a huge population of stray dogs and wolves. Ideally, you want to be camping close to yurts or decently far away from them, so they won’t come snooping.
In Chile, the police are very thorough, and you will likely be questioned by them, regardless of where you camp. Typically, there are no issues as long as you explain what you’re doing.
If you’re wild camping in Romania, be advised. There are many safe spots to camping in the north of the country, while not as many in the south.
11. Leave no trace.
When you pack up in the morning make sure to take everything with you. Take all your garbage and leave no signs that you were there at all. If you’ve moved logs or done anything to clear space, just try to put things back as close as possible. It’s the right thing to do.