Bikepacking with Children
Bikepacking is often the next adventure after successfully taking on longer rides and car camping. Similarly, bikepacking with children is something parents can get excited about and look forward to. But going solo (not necessarily by yourself, but without the tiny munchkins) and gaining some general bikepacking knowledge is a great way to test the waters of bikepacking life before you thrust the family into it.
Maybe you’ve gone on a few trips yourself or maybe you’re new to the experience in general, either way, you don’t have to keep the kids at home the next time you venture out. Riding into the woods with your kids in tow doesn’t have to be a daunting task. I believe that if you develop a love for this lifestyle in them early on, it will be something they’ll have with them forever. So, how do you prepare to go bikepacking with children?
You can prepare as best as possible, but my best tip is that you have to roll with the punches. Below are a few tips and tricks to help you prepare for your next bikepacking quest with your kids.
Are the kids ready?
You know your children best, so here a few questions you should ask yourself and the kids.
- Can they ride over four miles?
- Can they carry their own gear?
- Are they comfortable with backcountry (wilderness) camping?
- Do they want to go bikepacking?
Planning your route
There are many different factors that are involved in selecting the best route for your family’s big journey into the forests. Think about the following questions and determine which responses you are most comfortable with and plan appropriately.
- How far can your child ride in a day? Consider stopping for breaks, snacks, looking at bugs, climbing rocks, and “not riding” time in general.
- How many hours of daylight do you have each day? You want plenty of time to set up camp in the afternoon before it gets too dark. And if you’re planning a multi-site trip, know that it will take significantly longer to pack up and get going in the morning than it does during your kid-free rides.
- How much time do you want at camp as opposed to riding? Your bikepacking trip doesn’t have to be about covering lots of miles (and it definitely shouldn’t be when you are just starting out). The time in camp can be just as rewarding as the ride itself when bikepacking with children, and you might even enjoy it more.
- How far are you comfortable being away from home or your car?
- How far are you comfortable being away from the nearest ranger station? Town? Hospital?
- How much elevation change can the lesser physically able handle and at what distance?
- Do you want to see other people on the trail or prefer something more remote?
- What about access to water?
- Are you going to a designated campsite or will you be going primitive?
- Is there access to firewood? Are fires allowed?
- What kind of wildlife might you come across?
After you gather the answers to these questions, you should be able to find a route that matches all the needs for your family.
Bikes and everything on them
Be sure they have a bike that can handle the rougher terrain and is in good working order. Kids usually get frustrated easily and if they happen to be riding a bike that’s not equipped properly this will come in to affect pretty quickly.
Let the kids carry the lighter stuff, things like hats, snacks, PJs. But whatever you take, be sure that you can handle it all on your own without relying on the kids to carry any of their own gear.
“Do I really need extra stuff?”
When it comes to bikepacking with children, don’t slip back to your days as a new parent when you would the house with an overflowing diaper bag, backpack, and enough medicine for days. Whatever you bring needs to be able fit on your bike. Below is a list of what you might find useful for bikepacking with children, aside from the basic adult requirements:
- Hand sanitizer – You’ll need it for that time your kids find animal scat on the trail and, of course, have to pick it up. This is good for adults too, the sanitizer not the poo.
- Baby wipes –They are very useful for quick cleanups for virtually anything.
- Lightweight toys – If your kid needs a friend to fall asleep with, maybe introduce a special bikepacking friend that is a lot smaller and lighter than their current favorite a little before the trip.
- One or two tents – Determine which tent or tents work for your family. Some families will often sleep in one tent while others will have a separate tent for the kids.
If it smells, it's food
For those of us who ride and play in bear country, keeping your food safe and away from hungry animals isn’t new. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many cosmetics (including baby wipes and deodorant) act just like food when it comes to enticing the wildlife.
Keep your food and toiletries all together so that it’s easier to keep them separate from your sleeping space. You should never keep food or toiletries inside or near your tent; I like to follow this rule even when I’m not in bear territory. Rodents can be just as harmful to your food cache as a bear, and either situation can cause your trip to be cut short. Raccoons, marmots, and squirrels are all notorious for stealing food. When they have the chance, they’ll usually get what they want if you aren’t vigilant.
The necessary conversation
Number 1 probably won’t be a problem, but as happens with a lot of kids when they find themselves in uncomfortable situations, they may not be able to go number 2. If it’s possible, practice going number 2 outside and be sure to observe how to leave no trace when going outdoors. That might be a little odd, but the last thing you want is a bout of constipation for your kid when you’re in the backcountry. You might have to cut your trip short when it could have been prevented with a little planning and practice.
Trail side motivation
Snacks. Snacks. And more snacks. They work miracles for anyone at any age.
Friends help too. If you can, team up with another family. There’s a lot to be said about the motivation you gain while riding in a larger group. Having a few of your kids’ friends tag along can make the trip very fun for them and they could knock out a few miles without even knowing it.
When you reach the campsite give them an unsuspecting surprise, such as smores or other sweets. Better yet, take something with you that they wanted to bring along but couldn’t.
If you’re going to be riding in hot weather freeze a water bottle or two so that they always have cold water to drink. Tip: freeze the water in layers so that the bottle doesn’t break.
Give the kids little bottles of bubbles and watch them fly! If you find that one of them is riding a bit slower than expected or is losing motivation give them a small bottle and you will only see a wake of bubbles in your path.
Attitude is everything
Like with anything when it comes to raising a child, they are always watching you, always listening to what you say. Your feelings about the trail and the trip will filter through to them. Learn to stay positive.
It could be that the ride is taking longer than you thought it would. Maybe you think you are taking too many breaks. Those times you stop on the trail can be a time to teach something. If you stay enthusiastic about what they are noticing, you can use that energy to encourage them down the trail.
If you never let them stop to explore and only have the end destination in mind, everybody will start to get grouchy and things may go downhill. Factor in times for exploring along your route and keep in mind that children can sense frustration.
Likewise, when you start to get tired, remember to stay positive and model a good attitude. Chat about the things you are looking forward to once you get to your campsite. Perhaps it’s a warm fire or slipping out of your shoes and into your sandals. Maybe it’s the awesome dinner you have planned or the S’mores you’ll have for dessert. An optimistic attitude is irresistible.
If your children start to complain that their legs are hurting or their back is getting sore, stop and evaluate the situation. It could be that they have a blister that needs attention, or their pack isn’t adjusted right. The last thing you want to do is persuade them to carry on in an uncomfortable condition. What you see as grumbling may be actual pain, a short stop to check never hurts.
In the end, it's all about the journey
As you get geared up to take your family on their first bikepacking adventure, keep in mind that no matter what happens, the memories you make will be ones you keep forever. Teaching your children the critical life skills of endurance, patience, adaptation and flexibility can be very rewarding.
It may not all go as planned, but something is sure to be astonishing. Plan and prepare as much as you can, and once the time comes, remember to go with the flow and enjoy the beauty around you – together with your family relishing their newfound superpowers.