Anything Else I Should Know About Gear?
Here’s some specific notes:
Food – You can get as minimalist or as ornate as you want. If there is a store en-route to your campsite, then you can stock up there instead of hauling all the food out with you. Fully-cooked meats (or their veggie equivalent) provide a lot of protein, and spoil less-readily than uncooked meats. Packaged, dehydrated food has the advantage of low weight and a self-contained mess, but tends to be expensive. Vacuum packed foods and most canned foods are a great item, since they can be eaten straight out of the package whether you have a fire or not. (though cans are heavy) Many people carry some sort of camp stove, so they can at least heat water, either to rehydrate food packets or to make ramen, soup, or hot coffee. (Yes, they have French Presses that can pack on a bike)
If you have the money, for about $100 you can equip yourself with a tiny camp stove, fuel container and titanium cookset and folding spork. It’s pricey, but it’s the ultimate in lightweight. And if you want to be sure not to burn your food, you can go the other route with heavy steel or cast iron, but you’ll pay a penalty in weight.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can always go to the grocery store and make some “gorp” – an example “recipe” would be a box of Corn Chex, jar of salted cashews, and two bags of dried fruit. Cheap, and a great survival food.
I’ve also carried a cooler on the back of my bike with ice, bacon and eggs in it and had a great breakfast in the morning on a number of camping trips – you can get pretty ridiculous with the culinary luxuries if you’re willing to carry the weight.
On another trip I carried out tomato sauce in a thermos and brought pasta with me that I cooked on-site. I carried out parmesan cheese in the aforementioned cooler and had a great dinner. A hot, cooked meal can make all the difference if the weather riding out to the camp really sucks.
The important thing is to bring food you like and equipment you know how to use. Many of the camp stoves require special fuel, so if you’re going to be out for more than a day, make sure you have enough fuel or know where you can go to resupply yourself.
Shelter – The obvious choice is a tent. You can get a cheap tent for under $40, but it’ll likely weigh 10 pounds or more. After a couple of trips, you’ll be looking for something lighter. To go lighter, you’ll either sacrifice comfort or money. REI and other camping / sporting goods stores will have 3-season and 4-season backpacking tents that come in under 6 pounds. They will typically cost $100-$250 depending on the time of year – try to get in on a sale or when they close out a particular tent model.
Another choice is a lightweight hammock – the disadvantage is finding 2 trees the right size and distance to sling it. Also, many state parks and private campgrounds won’t let you attach lines to trees or other objects in the park – if you buy a hammock, check the local regulations before toting it out there, unless you like unexpectedly being forced to sleep on the ground. Some hammocks have an optional stand which allows the hammock to be set up without the use of trees – these stands tend to add significant weight, and can be unwieldy to pack on the bike.
A third option is really cheap and lightweight – a tarp. You can prop the center up with a stick and tie the corners down to stakes, trees, or whatever. It’s incredibly cheap and lightweight, but the wind will go right through it. Great if you’re wearing a lot of clothes inside a beefy sleeping bag, or when you only need protection from the rain and not the cold. A tarp won’t provide any bug protection, so keep that in mind during mosquito season and plan accordingly.
The real luxury option is not to bring anything, but to rent a cabin, yurt, teepee, or fire lookout. State and USFS campgrounds have all of those as options – they vary from site to site. The disadvantages are that typically they are over $30 a night, and if you don’t jump on them 6-9 months in advance, they may already be booked.
Clothing – Don’t wear cotton, or if you do, make sure you’ve got a dry set of clothing you can change into if you get soaked riding out to your destination. When cotton gets wet, it loses all its insulating value, and your campsite may be miles from the nearest town. Whatever you wear, wear it in layers – layers provide the most flexibility for temperature control. The bottom layer should wick moisture away from the skin, and you should have an outer windproof shell.