You heard about Couch to 5k, right? This is vaguely similar, only instead of trying to get you to run 5 kilometres, let’s get you cycle camping.
Said hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
I make no secret of the fact that I believe wild camping is the best camping. There are many reasons, but the most important is that you get to camp in amazing places, far from the crowds.
However, for the Couch to Camping challenge, any camping counts, even if on a formal camp site. The only thing that matters is that you go cycle camping away from home.
Here’s a simple statement of truth: camping in dry, mild weather is far more pleasant than camping in wet, windy and cold weather. Pick a date when you’ll go cycle camping, but remember that’s not cast in stone. If the forecast is looking iffy, simply postpone your trip. Honestly, that’s the best thing you can do!
It goes without saying that if you’re going cycle camping, you’ll need some camping kit. However, that does mean that you must rush out, spending thousands on expedition-grade kit!
I use a tent that I paid £30 for, and my summer sleeping bag cost me around £20. If you’ll be camping at a camp site, you’ll need little more, especially if there’s somewhere nearby to have breakfast. I’m a coffeeholic, and that all-important 1st cup of coffee of the day really matters to me, so I take my AeroPress Go, and my camping stove. Obviously, I take my cooking set too, so I have something in which to boil the water.
You will want a sleeping mat too, even if only one of those roll-up foam mats that even supermarkets tend to sell. Not only will it give you additional comfort, but importantly, it will help protect you from ground cold.
If you’re going to carry stuff on your bike, you need a way to make that easy. The simplest is to use a backpack, but I really suggest that you don’t. Backpacks become uncomfortable, give you a very sweaty back and places additional load on your back, your arms and especially your wrists.
Have a read of my guide on how to carry luggage on your bike. Panniers can start off very cheap, and for accessional use, cheap panniers would be fine. Full disclosure: my panniers can convert to backpacks, and cost me £10 each. They’ve seen extended usage over the past 5 years, but still have life left in them.
The practice run
Bikes handle differently when you carry stuff, and it’s a very good idea to get used to that. That means you really should get a practice ride in first, with everything loaded on the bike. Remember, when carrying extra weight, cycling up hills requires more effort, and factor that into your plans.
After all, it’s meant to be fun, and you don’t want to turn up at the campsite so exhausted that you just want to sleep!
Finding a spot to camp
Remember, you’ll be cycling there, so the spot you choose must be within your riding ability and range, and fit in with whatever time limits you may have. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mile away from your home, or a hundred miles away, as long as it fits in with your needs and preferences.
As you’ll be new to this, I’d start by looking what camp sites there are near where you live. Even for those of you who live in London there are local(ish) options, such as Lee Valley, or Abbey Wood (plus several others). Sadly, at the moment there are no Welcome To My Garden sites in Greater London.
As it will be your first cycle camping excursion, do yourself a favour and finalise where you’ll be camping beforehand. That will be one less thing to worry about. This is an important point – the more things you can sort out beforehand, the easier you’ll find the whole adventure.
Ideally, you should carry some emergency rations, and some snacks. For your first cycle camping trip, you may want to buy a meal, so extra brownie points if there’s a pub or restaurant right next to the camp site!
On several of my rides, though wild camping, I try to find a suitable spot near(ish) a pub, just for this reason. On a few Travelling Ouballie rides, we even camped in the pub garden (after asking permission, of course!)
Remember, if your registered with food delivery companies, you might even be able to have your favourite fast food delivered right to the camp site.
If you wanted to cook your own food, things change. Unless the campsite has a shared kitchen, you will need to carry a camping stove with you. Do not rely disposable BBQs! Those are usually banned at camp sites, and are bad for the environment.
A better option is a small gas camping stove. You’ll also need some camping cookware. Finally, you’ll need some recipes.
Yay! You got there! The first priority is almost always shelter, so get that tent or bivvy up. On a camp site, that also stakes your claim to that really nice spot. If you see it empty upon arrival, then first go to the pub, don’t be surprised if someone else nabbed it when you return.
Remember, tents have zip-up doors for a reason, and you want bugs to remain outside your tent. Always zip up your tent, whether you’re in it, or not.
Camp sites are full of people. I’ve never had a problem with anything going missing from my tent, but I would nevertheless suggest you always keep your valuables on your person. This is especially true when leaving your tent to go elsewhere.
Settling down for the night
You may find yourself going to bed earlier than you usually do. As you settle down for the night, your experience may be influenced by the camp site chose. Some camp sites are well-run, while others are free-for-all.
My most-favourite campsite, Hole Station, in mid-Devon, doesn’t permit any music at all, and expects silence from 11pm onwards. Far from draconian, it allows people using the site to have a blissful experience. By contrast, years ago I took my youngest daughter camping at the Plume of Feathers, in Princetown, up on Dartmoor. We hardly got any sleep in, as there were utterly selfish idiots making noise almost all night long.
Your natural alarm clock
Expect the dawn chorus to wake you (unless a rowdy camp site meant you never got any sleep!). If not the dawn chorus, then the light, as day starts breaking around you.
When camping, I tend to wake quite early, and I expect you might, too. There’s something magical about waking up under canvas! Even if you woke early, that doesn’t mean you have to get up. Take your time, and listen to the world. Get changed into clean clothes at your leisure, and when you’re ready, unzip your tent to face the world.
When camping, I’m usually in no hurry for breakfast, and I’ve cycled 20+ miles on some days, before grabbing breakfast. However, I take coffee seriously, and I do like to have a fresh cup of coffee before setting off.
Everyone is different, and you may not want to ride at all, before you had your breakfast. Again, if you picked a camp site with a restaurant nearby (that offers breakfasts!) move to the top of the class. Alternatively, you could simply have cereal and long-life milk. Finally, there’s still the option of having breakfast from your favourite fast food outlet delivered.
All that remains is for you to pack up, load everything back on your bike, then ride home. Do divert past a café or ice-cream stop and reward yourself for successfully having done your first cycle camping trip!