My wife was smiling all the way to the pie shop.
We had a destination in mind, about five miles up from Lanesboro, Minnesota. We had been training for this day for the past few weeks, what was to be a fairly epic bike journey along the Root River trail located close to the Iowa border. There was only one problem. It turns out the pie shop was closed that day, but we made up for it by picking a cafe in the next town over.
Biking for leisure like this—choosing a trail, stopping midway to camp, aiming for covering around 40 or 50 miles in one trip—requires some endurance. It’s not the kind you need for a triathlon, but you do have to plan things a bit differently. What will you bring? Do you use a Walmart-branded bike? How important is it to eat healthy and get a fairly decent sleep?
To find out, I tested quite a few gadgets and biking gear on the trip to see which ones made the trip more enjoyable. I wasn’t planning on winning any races. I wanted my bike camping experience to be mostly about gazing at the rolling hills (yes, they have them here), stopping for a bite to eat along the way, and staying as comfortable as possible—more like driving a car than exercise. (By the way, many people use the term bikepacking, but I’m calling this bike camping—it’s a bit of both without the same “go lean” angle that’s usually associated with bikepacking).
The wonderful discovery, of course, is that bike camping is a way to get physical exercise without even realizing you’re doing it. Here’s just about everything I brought along and learned.
It’s all about the bike. For any trip, whether you’re camping or not, the transport mechanism you choose makes all of the difference and dictates how much you’ll enjoy the experience. The Haanjo is like an Audi—streamlined, powerful, sleek. I absolutely fell in love with it. It has what’s called “forward positioning” which propels you on a paved trail better than any mountain bike. It’s super light, which means less effort when pedaling (especially if you have added extra gear).
I knew I’d be pulling a bike trailer with a tent, sleeping bags, and some cooking gear, so I went light on the bike. This Blackburn pouch—like their seat and handlebar bags—still let me pack in my phone, a few snacks, and even a flashlight or two. I liked the easy access and the extra zippered compartments, plus it stayed secure on the bike the entire trip.
The bike you use, the pack you attach—both are important. Next to those critical items, what you wear can also determine if the trip is a success. What I relied on most is an Under Armour Storm Hurakan Paclite Waterproof Jacket, which provide the right amount of wind protection and (one one leg) rain protection. I liked how thin and light it is, yet has 100% waterproofing.
What I liked most about the Garmin Edge is the simplicity. The bike computer has multiple screens that shows details like your current location on a map, but I stuck with the summary screen—my speed, total distance, and time on the bike. It was great arriving at the campground after a day of biking and knowing, without any doubt, how many miles we had traveled.
Many bike camping friends would never head out with anything more than a backpack like the Blackburn models I mentioned. They insist you only need a change of clothes, a toothbrush, some food, and a sleeping bag. For me, it depends on the travel distance. On the Root River trail, you can bike for maybe 30 miles and take your pick of several campgrounds near Lanesboro. I used a Burley Flatbed on one trip because I wanted a few extra gadgets with me and I knew the daily distance would be fairly minimal. For leisure trips on a flat trail, the bike trailer worked fine.
The Root River trail in Minnesota is incredibly scenic, and it makes sense to record the journey. I used the WASPcam 9907 because it records in 4K and gave me a nice wide angle of the trail. Also, it’s waterproof without needing a case (unlike previous iterations of the GoPro). The camera also stayed tight against the handlebars with a supporting bracket. After my trip, I even copied the videos over to a MacBook and used iMovie to speed up the footage and posted it on Facebook.
One of the most important things to know about bike camping is that, on the trail after biking all day, you will be “car less” with no options for retreat. I biked 20 miles in one day, and the weather turned a bit foul. I used the Nemo Nocturne because we camped in a fairly standard tent without too much protection from the cold (about 35-degrees at night). The Nocturne is perfect for bike camping because the bag is so light and compact, yet it’s rated for 15-degrees.
One of my own discoveries while bike camping is that there’s two distinct things: the journey and then the destination. I decided to wear Terrex Trail Cross SL shoes because I wanted to explore the area around the campground on foot. I also don’t like biking shoes (maybe that makes me a newbie, who knows) because I like to jump off the bike and snap photos or stop to stroll around the towns. These all-purpose shoes for biking and hiking have a flat sole and they’re super light.
My wife used this warm Helly Hansen jacket on the trip, designed for warmth and rain protection. The one comment she kept making is how light it seems. The jacket is fully waterproof, windproof, and breathable. One bonus is that the sleeves and hood draw tight for biking.
I mentioned how my bike camping experience was meant to be leisurely. That’s why I decided to replace the saddle on the Diamondback Haanjo with this more comfortable option. I have to hand it to Brooks England because, after 30-40 miles of riding (plus many more miles on other trips), I never felt like I wanted to take a break due to the seat. This saddle uses dampening effect to create more cushion, and the seat itself is made of rubber and cotton.
I’ve never liked tight-fitting clothing, but on a bike, it’s not optional. You need the warmth, the sun protection, and it’s annoying to have a shirt of pants flopping around. This super-light shirt has 35-UPF sun protection and wicking tech to help your body breathe and stay warm. I wore this on almost every leg of the trip (sorry about the smells) because it worked so well for warmth.
Many bike accidents happen when a lone cyclist goes off the trail—it’s not even a collision. We both really liked this comfortable, lightweight helmet—it has a quick adjust knob on the back. The straps were also easy to adjust and snap into place. The easier the helmet is to use, the more likely you are to wear it at all times, and this one worked perfectly.