I don’t know about you, but I despise packing. It’s something that I am really trying to work on getting over this year. It’s my first world problem that can suck joy and energy from the pre-trip vibes.
My solution? A list. Not a new trick by any means, one that I have used many times before, but this year I busted out an electronic spreadsheet and have been using it for each and every trip instead of losing the piece of paper I swore I would hang on to.
Family packing list
And, now, I share with you my ultimate bike camping or bikepacking gear list for families with the caveat that it is just a guide and you may do it differently. I often get asked about what we pack and how we pack it; I think that these are important questions to answer with respect to helping others get out the door rolling.
Lightweight bicycle camping
We are definitely not the most minimalist bikepackers around. So far, that aspect seems to gets easier as the kids get older; for example, this year our youngest no longer needs diapers at night and while they are not heavy, per se, they are bulky. So, we have reduced our total pack volume by about 1L of space this year, hurray!
There is a saying out there that you should pack and then get rid of half of the stuff you packed. Many people who go on longer tours end up mailing home or giving away gear that they thought was paramount to their comfort and success. It’s true.
We — or perhaps I — tend to err on the side of having extras on hand for the kids as I feel a certain responsibility taking them in to the backcountry, amongst the mountains where the weather can change suddenly and snow can fall any month of the year. My priorities for them revolve around: warmth, food/snacks, and first aid.
Volume-wise, for clothing, picture my 5 L waterproof dry bag stuffed with adult-sized clothes versus their 10+ litres. My six year old is a rational being whom you can usual instruct to move faster to get warmer, etc.; my three year old, not so much (yet). And, here we are taking them on awesome little adventures, but there is such a thing as too much Type 2 fun for little bodies and when you are warm and have a good snack, everything looks much rosier.
As a parent of two young children, I feel that it is my job to not push the boundaries with respect to their warmth and comfort, but I am okay to push my own.
Bikepacking packing list
Most of the terrain we are riding is comprised of gravel roads and old fire roads (some in great shape; some not-so-much). We do not encounter much (if any) singletrack yet with the kids — hopefully we will in a few years. As such, we are off-road touring, but we are not paring our gear list down to the bare minimums like a true bikepack set up (if there is such a thing), a set up that would make singletrack easier (no panniers hitting trees), or hike-a-bike more enjoyable (due to your bike just being lighter, overall, and full-size panniers can be kind of pesky to walk beside).
Ours is a family-sized packing list for bike camping. Here is a resource for more lists, including an enduro or minimalist packing list.
What we pack
Here we go! Organized by category (sleeping, kitchen, safety, etc.) this is exactly what we pack. The clothing list is a little vague because it is weather- and duration-dependent (more so weather, though). And, keep in mind that we live near the Rocky Mountains and do most of our trips there, which means it can snow any month of the year and the nights are often hovering just above zero degrees Celsius.
Sleeping is an area we have find where much weight and bulk can be shed when gear needs replacing. For example, my husband’s decade plus old synthetic North Face sleeping bag wasn’t warm at all any more (and hadn’t been for awhile) but it hadn’t been in the budget to replace it. We were finally able to get him a new one for Father’s Day this year and it is lighter, packs down smaller, and is warm. Win win win! We also swapped out partial therm-a-rests for two double matts and that reduced overall weight, while increasing comfort and warmth with full-body coverage even for the adults. With this set-up, we got rid of a whole pannier this year!
Super light tents big enough for four are not cheap! Tarp-tents might be a better solution, homemade or otherwise, but since we like having little people contained and I still don’t understand the bug barrier system of a tarp we went with the lightest weight 4-person tent we could afford which was the in house brand at our local outdoor chain, MEC. [Unfortunately, 2018 was its last year.] It has been a great bike camping tent.
We carry a tent-specific footprint as a ground sheet, plus we carry an extra tarp if it looks to be particularly wet out for use over our tent or cooking area.
All but the poles (tent, fly, ground sheet, siltarp) fit into a dry bag and go in my husband’s front basket. I carry the poles and pegs in the pole bag strapped to the front of my basket/front rack.
I highly recommend giving a line item for each part of your tent in your packing list. For example, I have:
- tent fly,
- tent poles,
- tent groundsheet, and
- siltarp & rope.
It would be ridiculously awful to forget some of those important bits! For us, it’s especially important to at least have the poles as their own item because we pack them separately.
Here is our complete gear list for our sleeping setup, including suggestions if what we have is no longer for sale or I think it’s a great other choice:
|Sleeping Kit||Item Description||What we use||What we also recommend|
|Total Approximate Pack Weight||Includes items with weights listed, an estimation of my sleeping bag weight, stuffies, & book||11.5-12 kg (25-26.5 lb)|
|Tent||Lightweight 4-person tent||MEC Volt LT 4 (2870 g)||MSR Papa Hubba NX|
|Groundsheet||Tent specific footprint groundsheet||MEC Volt LT 4-Person Footprint (404 g)||MSR Pappa Hubba NX Footprint|
|Siltarp & rope||Lightweight tarp that can be used over the tent for extra protection, or at the cooking area. Also can be used as an emergency shelter.||Siltarp|
|Pillows||Only 3 of us use them. Definitely not a necessity for some...||MEC Deluxe Pillow, medium|
(342 g, total)
|Exped Air Pillow UL
(45 g, each)
|Sleeping pads||We have switched to two Exped Duo Synmats|
(1 Medium; 1 Large)
|Exped Synmat Hyperlite Duo, medium (1049 g)|
|Exped Synmat Hyperlite Duo Sleeping Pad, large (1360 g)|
|Sleeping bags||Mom||MEC down sleeping bag, -7C, circa 2013|
|Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20 Degree Sleeping Bag
|Dad||Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20 Degree Sleeping Bag|
|Big kid||Regular sized MEC Explorer, -5C (1300 g)|
|Little kid||Small sized MEC Explorer, -5C (<1300 g)|
|Down Quilt, we got ours on clearance it's no longer made. It's an excellent extra layer to have on hand for cold but also hot nights. We seem to always bring it and never regret having it. Here are two suggestions:||Western Mountaineering Cloud 9 Comforter, Queen|
|Exped VersaQuilt Duo
|Stuffed animal||The girls are each allowed to bring one small stuffy if they like. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.||Loonie||Sharkie|
|Book||We bring a read aloud paperback. This summer we have been working our way through Harry Potter (and it's awesome). The girls fall asleep listening.||Harry Potter||The Land of Stories|
Camp Kitchen & Toiletries
Since our toiletries live with our kitchen supplies, I’ll merge these two groups together! We keep them together because then we are less likely to bring stinky things into the tent by accident. Tooth brushing water is likely near the cooking station, too, and that’s more or less all we bring for toiletries anyway!
We use a Steripen for water treatment and always carry an extra battery. We also put it in a warm pocket once in camp if the temperature is 10C or less and I sleep with it in my sleeping bag. We have had bad experiences with it not wanting to work in cooler temperatures, the battery claims it is dead (even when brand new), so now we baby it and it works. (We otherwise quite like this treatment system for our usually crystal clear mountain water.) The only other downfall of the Steripen is that we tend to need to bring our old school 1 L Nalgene bottle as that’s what it works in best. Our water bladders are weird shapes and difficult to transfer from and the Steripen treats either 0.5 L or 1 L — we know the Nalgene is 1 L, so we use it because it’s the right volume and it’s a good depth and width.
|Cooking Kit||Notes or description||What we use||What we also recommend|
|Total Pack Weight||~3.2 kg (7 lb)|
|Stove||I'm considering switching back to our MSR Whisperlite (423 g) to stop creating waste from fuel cannisters.||MSR Superfly|
|MSR PocketRocket 2
|Fuel||Butane/Propane blend, 8 oz or 16 oz canister (we've started going for the bigger ones as we get more hotter burning time from them for boiling water & it means less canisters for the landfill).||MSR IsoPro Fuel, |
|Optimus Fuel Cannister|
|Ways to make fire||2-3 ways is best. We carry 1 full-size and 1 smaller BIC lighters. Sometimes matches. I'd love a flint.||BIC Lighters|
|Pot set with plates, cups, & bowls||We usually ditch the frying pan. (Meal dependent)||GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper Nesting Cookset|
|MSR Flex 4 System Cookset
*The deep dish plates might be fore the extra 219 g!!!
|Sporks x 4||We have two of the bigger sized ones and a couple of the slightly smaller ones for the girls.||Light My Fire Sporks|
|Titanium Multi Utensil
(22 g each)
|Sharp Knife||I hate cutting with a jackknife so if the menu requires it, I bring this one.||MSR Alpine Kitchen Knife|
|Cutting board||We almost never bring it, menu dependent (and even then...).||GSI Ultralight Cutting Board|
|MSR Alpine Deluxe Cutting Board
|Multiuse biodegradable soap||We just bring enough for a trip or two, not the whole bottle.||Campsuds|
|Cloth or scrubby||Something to clean dishes with. We have a||Pot Scrubber||PackTowl Microfibre Face Cloth|
|Scraper||Super helpful for keeping food bits out of sump water.||GSI Outdoors Compact Scraper|
|Water Treatment||We us a Steripen and always bring an extra battery. If we are solo, we usually bring tablets, too, just in case.||Steripen|
|Platypus Gravityworks Filtration System (2L) or 4L|
|Water bottle||We use this as our treatment vessel for our Steripen.||Nalgene 1 L|
|Coffee Maker||The plunger doesn't fit the cup of our cookset, but it does fit the bowl!||Aeropress|
|GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip
And for toiletries, they live with the cooking supplies in a small mesh bag. I do keep sunblock, the hand sanitizer, bug spray, wipes, and toilet paper handy in my front basket in their own ziplock for on the trail use.
|Toiletries||Notes or Description||What we use||What we also recommend|
|Total Pack Weight (approximately)||Max 500 g|
|Toothbrushes||We all use the kids' old toothbrushes, they're small, a little too worn out, but work for a night or two.||Kid sized toothbrushes||Bamboo Toothbrush Set|
|Toothpaste||Whatever small tube we can find.||Crest Travel with Scope|
|Tom's Travel Toothpaste
|Toilet Paper||Never seem to need it for provincial parks; always seem to need it for national parks.|
|Wet Wipes||Not a full pack, but some in a ziploc. I don't use them at home, but appreciate having them when traveling with kids.||7th Generation Wet Wipes||Naty Travel Wipes|
|Handspray||This stuff is amazing for getting sap covered hands clean! (And it ALWAYS happens with the kids.)||Dr. Bronner's Hand Sanitizer|
|Pack towel||I bring 0-2 of these, depending on the trip: if it's going to be wet or if the weather is conducive to swimming.||Pack Towl Full Body Size|
|Ultralite Pack Towl, Full Body size
|Pack face cloth||It's a luxury to be able to wipe my face clean at night with some water.||Pack Towl Face Cloth|
|Ultralite PackTowl Face Cloth
|Sunblock||We put it in this smaller tube.||Ombrelle|
|Bug Spray||Luxurious. Non-DEET. Sorta works. We carry a small bottle.||Mosquite Shield PiActive Mosquito Repellent|
|Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin (same concentration as what we use)|
We travel at pretty slow speeds as a young family in the backcountry. But, shit happens and it’s good to be prepared with both skills and tools.
I’ve been in the world of first aid since I was a teenager and was repeatedly trained every few years for work throughout my twenties, and then I was thoroughly trained when I became a volunteer ski patroller. It’s nice to be at the point where a lot of first aid procedure is ingrained enough that it seems second nature. I am starting to feel the need to brush up again and do an in-depth wilderness first aid training — something I have always wanted to do.
Whatever your skills, make sure you know your ABCs, basic wound dressing, and for biking with kids it’s good to be able to set up a splint or slings on various points of their little arms — this can be a fun game with kids and is great practice in case the real deal happens. Chances are if anyone crashes and hurts themselves on a bike trip there will be a good scrape from gravel or a broken wrist or clavicle. The kids wear close-toed sandals and usually have at least capri length pants on, covering their knees. We also choose to wear helmets and are travelling at such slow speeds that they should actually be effective if a noggin is knocked.
Another point for us is that we still have a way to carry our eldest out of the backcountry, if necessary (eg. she can’t ride due to a broken wrist). Sometimes I have the FollowMe Tandem, my husband always has a fork mount on the back of the Haul-a-Day so we can drag her bike and she can catch a ride with him and her sister on the longtail. If an adult is unable to ride, many of our backcountry distances are walkable in a pinch. This is the kind of stuff I think about.
Predator safety is fairly simple with the kids: we are loud and often travel in a group bigger than just our family. The girls are also not allowed to race ahead, they must be able to see us. They know to yell “Day-O” when rounding corners or heading into thicker brush. Each adult carries an easily accessible full-size can of bear spray. We also carry a pen launcher kit with bear bangers, but mostly have it for its flares (as bear bangers are not permitted in some parks). Travel by bike is usually higher speed so you can more easily surprise animals than when on foot, but we really are not travelling very fast so this is something we are aware of but it’s not like we are ripping down trails quickly or anything!
|Safety Kit||Notes or Description||What we use||What we also recommend|
|Total Pack Weight (approximately)|
|First Aid Kit||Carry it, refill it after each trip, and know how to use it (and the rest of the stuff in this list).||Adventure Medical Kits(283 g)||Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series(1140 g)|
|Flexible Splint||These things are amazing. Practice using it, it's fun!||SAM Splint|
|Space Blanket||Essential. Blanket or bivvy style.||SOL Emergency Bivvy(108 g)|
|Anti-inflammatory||Acetaminophen or ibuprofen, your choice.|
|Kids' anti-inflammatory||Acetaminophen or ibuprofen, your choice.|
|Anti-histamine||We go for non-drowsy Claritin, mostly because I know that's what works for me.|
|Headlamp||We keep them in here to make the first aid kit "grab-and-go" ready in an emergency. We bring these into the tent at night.||Petzl - TIKKA Headlamp plus I have it converted to USB Chargeable (but I don't think they offer that adapter anymore)||Petzl REACTIK (USB Chargeable)|
|Bear Spray||Each adult has a full size can kept in an easily accessible place. Check your expiry date so the propellant still works (the contents never go bad; the propellant though...)||Bear Spray|
|Pen launcher & flares||Also known as a bear banger. I have used the banger part many times with great success when I used to work in silviculture. Some parks don't allow them. We carry ours mostly to have a flare launcher in an emergency. Note that there are two types of launchers (rim- or centre-fire) -- get the correct cartridges for your launcher or they won't work!||Tru Flare Pen Launcher Kit|
|Jack Knife||A bit redundant with a bike multitool, but it has pliers which can be super handy.||Leatherman Squirt||Leatherman Signal
|InReach capability||We don't have one yet, our distances aren't far. It will be something we add in the near future, I hope. So far we just have mobiles with limited to no service. InReach requires a subscription.||Garmin Inreach Explorer+, Garmin inReach Mini, or DeLorme InReach Explorer|
|Map||Most of our routes by bike are very straightforward and our trips are short. We use our phones in airplane mode to conserve battery but still access their GPS function.||Apple iPhone 6 Plus in Lifeproof case|
Rain, Warm Wear, & Regular Clothes
Clothing is one place where we can probably learn to slim down a bit more. But, like I wrote above, I won’t compromise on the kids’ warmth, something that proved to be very useful this spring on one trip when we got heavily rained then hailed on for the last kilometre or so coming into camp and were soaked. The kids for chilled right through to the bone and needed to be warmed up with dry clothes.
If the forecast looks to be dry, I really go basic for clothing; if it looks to be wet, I throw in an extra pair of socks and dry clothes for camp for me, too. I still manage to fit all of my belongings in a 5L dry bag.
|Clothing Kit||Note or Description||What we use||What we also recommend|
|Rain pants||I don't usually pack rain pants for myself unless the forecast is for cold rain. A garbage bag skirt works well, too.||The kids use MEC Newt Suits. My eldest has now switched to rain pants and jacket.||Tuffo Muddy Buddy|
|Rain jacket||Adults use gore-tex shells.|
|Down or synthetic jacket||Adults use lightweight down jackets; girls use Patagonia polyfil jackets (shoulder season weight).|
|Warm upper layer||Adults use wool cardigans; kids use fleeces.|
|Mitts or gloves||Fleece or similar. I pack extra fleece mitts for the preschooler.|
|Long sleeve||poly or merino|
|Undies||extra for the preschooler|
|Bra||wear it, some times bring lightweight one for camp if looks to be wet out|
|Shorts or capris||wear them|
|Long johns||merino for adults; thin fleece pants for kids|
|t-shirt||1 to wear (merino or poly); dry one for camp|
|socks||wool, put under sandals if cold out; wear sleeping if cool.|
Until this point, you’d think this is essentially a backpacking packing list for families. That’s about right! You need to at least know how to fix a flat to go biking in the backcountry and carry the tools to do so. Make sure your bike and brakes feel good before heading out.
This is what we carry, in addition to the jack knife that is in our first aid dry bag:
|Bike Specific Stuff||Notes or Description||What we use||What we also recommend|
|Pump||We need one for both Schraeder and Presta and one that can work well setting up tubeless, if necessary.||Lezyne Micro Floor Drive||Filzer Mini Zee2 Pump has always been good to me, too, but I've never tried to setup tubeless with it.|
|Tube||20" spare for the Haul-a-Day and Frog 55.||20" bicycle tube, Schrader|
|Patch kit||Make sure it's not too old or the cement will have dried out. Also make sure there's still some grit on your sandpaper.||Park Tool GP-2 Pre-Glued Super Patch Kits||Park Tool Vulcanizing Patch Kit|
|Tubeless kit||Bacon, 1 oz extra sealant, valve tool, extra valve||Tubeless Plug Patch Kit|
|Tire levers||Best not to use them, but sometimes you gotta (or I do, at least)!||Park Tool 3 Carded Tire Lever Set|
|Multi-tool||Allen keys/hex wrenches, common screwdriver heads including torx for brake work (or Rohloff shifters), plus chain tool.||Filzer multitool||Lezyne Blox 23 Multi Tool|
|Zip ties||So handy and they weigh nothing.||(1,000) 6" inch Black Cable Ties|
|Duct tape||Wrap some rounds of it on a water bottle, lighter, or your tire pump.||Gorilla Tape|
|Helmets||We all use ours.||Bern Nina x 2, POC Trabec, & Abus Urban|
|Pogies||Spring rain can be cold, these have come in handy this year. We will bring them, weather dependent.||Bar Mitts, MEC, and a homemade pair||Coldbike Pogies|
|Riding gloves||I bring at least one pair for the kids, often two in case they get wet (especially for our youngest passenger who is not working hard to keep warm). I usually bring a pair for myself and my husband often doesn't.||ZippyRooz|
How we pack it all
Because my husband is carrying our preschooler, we tend to give him two full dry bags on lightweight stuff: sleeping bags and some clothes. He also carries the tent, fly, and siltarp in his front basket (the Haul-a-Day rides a bit better with some weight up front anyway) along with his bear spray.
Since I am no longer carrying a kid (except the odd time when I hook up my eldest to the FollowMe Tandem, depending on the trip), I try to carry as much as I can to make up for the preschooler! In my panniers I carrier our “kitchen”, toiletries, and all of the food. I also stuff at least my personal dry bag on top and usually one other, too. I carry the tent poles strapped to the front of my basket. And, in my front basket, I keep first aid kit, bike tools, snacks, bear spray, and extra layers for me and the kids that seem to go on and come off as we ride. I also take a waterproof compressible stuff sac with an adult sleeping bag in it (or the one with two kids’ sleeping bags and our down quilt) and mount that on my back rack.
I’m still figuring out how to best pack my Troll. It works the way it is but I would like to reduce the weight on the back especially when I am using the hefty FollowMe Tandem. I recently got a frame bag and moved the tools and first aid kit from my front basket into it, aiming to have heavier, low-use stuff there — I’m thinking kitchen stuff would be best there, yet annoying for when in camp (the panniers are convenient because you can lug them around easily or use them in a bear hang). So, we shall see — I’ll update things here as I go!
|Item||Note or Description||What we use||What we also recommend|
|Frame bag||I managed to snag an imperfect bag at a discount, yay!||Porcelain Rocket 52 Hz|
|Front rack||Surly 8-pack|
|Basket||Our baskets are mounted on front racks. The Bike Friday frame mounted front rack for the HaD and the Surly 8-pack for the Troll.||Wald 139 (Haul-a-Day)|
Wald 137 (Troll)
|Basket bag||I used to use a bunch of dry bags all strapped in with a bungee cord, having a basket bag is much simpler.||Monkey Wrench Cycles via Porcelain Rocket|
|Cargo net||Velo Orange Cargo Net|
|Rear rack||I have the Surly rear rack and it's super beefy and wide, but too heavy, not sure if it was the best pick.||Surly||Ratking T Rack|
|Rear panniers||Axiom (no longer made)||Ortlieb|
|Dry bags||We have two bigger heavy duty ones that we put on the Haul-a-Day, otherwise we have lots of thin lightweight ones for clothes, etc.||All from MEC, including these ones for sleeping bags and these for clothing.|
|Straps||How I secure the tent poles to my front rack, in front of the basket. Also great for attaching stuff to a front fork, etc.||Voilé|
If you are just getting started and have access to a Chariot that you can borrow, you could haul gear that way, or by renting a BOB trailer or similar.
Keeping it all dry
Almost everything is in a dry bag or similar. Lightweight dry bags are readily available and fairly inexpensive these days. They seem to be fairly durable, too. Garbage bags do work if you have them — aim for a double layer. Shopping bags usually have some sort of hole in them, so I would avoid.
We have accumulated quite the collection of waterproof gear over the years, starting with roll top panniers from our commuting days in Raincouver, to waterproof compressible sleeping bag sacs, and now I even put our clothes in them which helps to keep us dry and organized, with each person having their own stuff sac. 10-15L size is ample for young kids (as per my philosophy, above); aim for 5L max for the adults in your group, including a lightweight down jacket — some people opt for a ziplock bag size (I’m not there, yet).
We all seem to prefer wearing water bladders on our backs these days. I especially love them for the kids because they seem to drink more. I keep the Steripen handy with the first aid stuff in case we need to treat extra water en route.
We have lots of streams, rivers, and lakes on our trips so we only carry the water we need for the day’s riding (about a litre per kid and 1.5 or 2 L per adult). We treat water once in camp and I always top up or refill water bladders plus treat another litre for the morning’s coffee and oatmeal before we go to sleep. [Pro tip for Steripen users: Keep it in your sleeping bag so that the batteries don’t go caput on you due to cold — a problem we have with Rocky Mountain nights.]
Get out there!
I hope that this bike camping gear list with packing tips helps you to get out there and explore with your family! This is just one example of a packing list but hopefully it’s a good place to start.
Here are some trip ideas for those local to Calgary and area:
- 10 Family Friendly Bikepacking Trips in the Canadian Rockies:
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