Not only is it full of quality togetherness and great views, taking your kids on a backpacking trip can teach them incredibly important skills like staying positive during long(ish) days in the saddle, packing the right nutrition, where and how to get water when you’re away from the tap, and the pure joy of waking up without another soul around.
Plus, two-wheeled travel away from cities and sidewalks is often safer than areas with heavy traffic and can boost their ability to navigate slightly variable, unpaved terrain. Plus, it almost goes without saying that when you teach a kid to ride a bike, you introduce them to a lifetime skill and hobby.
What’s more, riding a bike helps kids build their bone density, develop their muscles and maintain good cardiovascular health. Not to mention, a good bikepacking trip is good for your health as well.
Naturally, camping and biking with toddlers or older children requires some careful planning. Read on for family bikepacking tips that will make the experience fun and memorable for the whole family.
What is Bikepacking?
Bikepacking is a cross between multi-day backpacking and all-terrain cycling. The term is often used interchangeably with “cycle touring” or “mixed terrain cycle touring.”
Like backpacking, bikepacking requires travelers to be self-supported and carry their overnight gear including food, water, camping gear, toiletries, and more. It’s a form of travel that encourages multi-day exploration in the backcountry and adventuring off the beaten path. But, unlike backpackers who travel on foot, bike packers travel by bike.
Cycling allows travelers to venture further into hard-to-reach places. This allows bikepackers to take the road less traveled, including singletrack trails, off-road paths, gravel, or forgotten dirt roads.
6 Tips for Bikepacking with Kids
Traveling with kids—no matter your mode of transportation—always comes with unique challenges, and bikepacking is no different. But the adventures you can have together on bikes are well worth the effort of some extra preparation. Whether you’re heading out on a one-on-one bikepacking trip, or exploring with the entire family, these six handy tips will help ensure you have the best experience possible.
Preparation is key to any camping trip, and when you’ve got the whole family in tow, there’s more to consider. Carefully plan out what you will need to be self-sufficient for your trip, from camping gear to bike accessories, food, and water.
2. Carefully Consider Your Kids’ Transport
The age of your kids will determine how you are going to ride together and what accessories you need. If your kid is between the ages of one to four, they should be riding in a tow-behind trailer for maximum comfort and security.
Alternatively, you might consider bike seats or specially-built cargo bikes. Ultimately, though, trailers are often one of the better options for bikepacking because they can also carry cargo. By towing your child behind you, you’ll also have more space to wear a backpack if needed. Children should always wear helmets while they ride with you, even when sitting or lying in trailers.
Children over the age of four will be heavier so may need or want to ride on their own kids’ bikes. Riding independently will be much more fun and engaging for kids, but it can also be very tiring. Riding for multiple days can be exhausting, even for physically fit adults.
Remember that children may struggle to keep up with an adult pace. If you’re considering traveling more than just a few miles a day, we’d highly recommend you bring a cycle tow strap or rope. This way, if kids get tired, you can tow them along behind you.
Older kids, tweens, or teens will certainly want to ride on their own. So, explore our range of bikes for 5 to 8-year-olds and bikes for 9 to 12-year-olds. If you plan to cycle off-road or go exploring in the backcountry, kids may need a mountain bike like our Scout 26 Inch 10 Speed Kids MTN Bike.
Not sure what size bike your child should be riding? Check out our kid’s bike sizing guide.
3. Invest in Quality Bikepacking Gear
Once you’ve decided how to transport your kids, you can focus on planning the rest of your gear. If you’re traveling with a trailer, you may be able to fit some equipment in the trailer with your kids. Frame packs and pannier pages are also essential. Some of the other items you will need for an average bikepacking trip are:
- Maps or GPS and a bike GPS or phone mount
- First aid kit – don’t forget sunscreen and insect repellent
- Camping gear – such as a tent, sleeping bags and mat
- Food & water – don’t forget lots of snacks
- Camping cookware – such as a stove, pots, and utensils
- Toiletries – such as toilet paper and wet wipes
- Bicycle repair kit – including a tire patch and inflator
- Bike lights – an essential for the whole family
- Bike bags – these can be frame packs, pannier bags, and/or saddlebags
- Weather appropriate clothing for the whole family
- Adult and kids’ bike pump
- Both adult and kids’ bikes bottle cages, so the entire family stays hydrated
- Helmets for the whole family!
Older kids can carry some of their own gear, making them feel independent and more involved. But remember, they may not be able to carry all the weight of all their own equipment. A heavy bike can be challenging for children to ride, so expect to do most of the heavy lifting.
If you and your kids are not used to riding with the additional weight, then you should all practice before setting off. Riding with kids or heavy gear on your bike will affect your balance and take some getting used to.
4. Involve Them in the Process
Keeping kids entertained on a cycling trip can be challenging, so let them be involved in the day-to-day tasks of bikepacking. Toddlers are capable of helping with tasks like collecting water, choosing campsites, or looking at the map.
Of course, children may take longer to do these things, but it keeps them entertained and teaches kids skills they can use to be self-sufficient later in life. Kids can learn resilience and perseverance from being out in nature away from creature comforts.
5. Make Regular Stops
Remember to make regular stops to accommodate little bladders and short attention spans. Breaks will also give everyone a rest, which is especially important if kids are riding their bikes. As you’re planning your trip, be mindful that you’ll travel at the speed and stamina of your slowest rider. As we know all too well, sticking to a strict or tight schedule isn’t possible when traveling with children. Allow enough time for unexpected pit stops.
6. Pick a Kid-Appropriate Route
You’ll want to plan your routes carefully when traveling with children. Picking and planning your route is another excellent opportunity to involve kids in the process. Learning how to read maps and follow signs is fantastic for kids’ mental development.
When planning your trip, be sure to pay attention to the difficulty rating of trails and routes. Younger children who are riding on their own have a hard time navigating challenging routes or steeper inclines. No parent wants to be pushing multiple bikes up a hill, so try and find trails where children can ride unaided as much as possible. Shorter rides tend to be more suitable for young riders, and you may need a plan B if a tired child refuses to ride.
If you’re towing kids in a bike trailer, you will need to pick smoother or sealed roads and paths, or the kids will have a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride. You’ll also want to be mindful of narrow trails if you’re towing a trailer. A single kids trailer is small enough for a single track, but double trailers are best suited to wider roads or paths.
For safety reasons, you should avoid riding at night or in the early morning with children. If you fall behind schedule and end up riding in the dark, then the whole family should be prepared with bike lights. Plan rides you can comfortably complete in the daylight to avoid riding at nighttime when accidents are more common.
Bikepacking is fun for the whole family!
Kids love exploring, and bikepacking and camping trips can create memories you will cherish forever. As long as you don’t make the journey too challenging, it will be a fun experience. Don’t choose routes or long distances which are too complicated, or kids may give up or get bored. If it’s your first time, start with a shorter weekend trip and work up to longer adventures!