Planning the Perfect Solstice Bike Campout
The 2018 Solstice Campout (aka Swift Campout) is right around the corner – time to get planning! In this guide you’ll find our suggestions and tips for making the most out of the biggest group bikepacking event in the world…
Celebrating the summer solstice – or winter solstice, depending on your locale – the Swift Campout is a worldwide group solstice bikepacking event that sees hundreds, maybe thousands, of bikepackers around the world gathering in small groups to ride off and spend a night or two outside. This year’s event will take place on Saturday, June 23rd.
The Campout, now in its fourth year, was started by Swift Industries, a bikepacking/bike touring bag company based in Seattle, Washington. Last year, according to Swift founder Martina Brimmer, the Campout saw over 1,600 entrants, and we’re expecting this year’s event to be even more far reaching.
We’ve partnered with Swift Industries to provide a resource to jumpstart your Campout planning this year. We’ve put together four key considerations below, along with related sub-topics and pro tips.
LONG DAYS, MORE TO DO
Technically, the solstice occurs twice a year when the sun reaches its most northerly or southerly excursion relative to the Earth’s equator – i.e. when the sun hits its highest or lowest point in the sky at noon. For the next solstice, this means really long days in the northern hemisphere, or really short days if you’re on the other side of the equator. For us, this translates to more time to ride, enjoy, camp, and play in between. Here are a few ideas of things to do on those extra long days.
Go Farther, and Slower
When factoring in riders with different skill levels, planning a group bike trip can be especially tricky. Fortunately, the summer solstice means longer days to ride. This gives the group the option to take on more distance, or move at a more relaxed party pace. In the spirit of the event, we recommend the latter. Make sure to check out our mileage chart to help you plan the appropriate distance for your trip. For a group trip, cut those distances even more.
Swimming Holes and Fishing Poles
The long days of summer make for the perfect time to add another layer of activity to your bikepacking excursion. If there are fisherfolks among your group, bring a couple poles and work a good bikefishing spot into your route. And, it’s hard to beat a good swimming hole or river dip at the end of a long, hot day of riding. Plan a couple swimming stops along the way. Here are a few more resources:
Take In The Sights
Many great bikepacking routes are based around key places to see and enjoy. If you’re making up your own route, consider weaving in a brewery, interesting restaurant, or other such local establishment as a mid-ride treat. And factor in a waterfall, viewpoint, or place of historical interest to help deepen your appreciation of the area. After all, you’ve got plenty of time to take it all in. Here’s a little route inspiration:
Pro Tip: Planning to visit a lake or swimming hole? You’ve already got a floaty.
Pro Tip: Consider an MTB destination trip. If you have a mixed skill level group, with some who want to ride singletrack and others who don’t, look into bikepacking to a trail destination where those interested can leave their bags at camp and go rip around some trails in the afternoon.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE
It’s time to start digging into your route. There are a few options to explore on our list of overnighters and a lot in our weekend routes. Or, try browsing our worldwide routes map to discover places to ride near you. You can also find a group of other campers by checking out the map of registered groups and riders on the official Swift Campout website, as well as in their Map Room where those riders will post their routes. And, if you plan on creating your own route, here are a few pointers:
Blaze Your Own Trail…
Thanks to a wealth of online tools and digital maps, we’re in the golden age of bikepacking route creation. However, if you are leading a group bikepacking outing, it’s best not to blindly pick a route out of the ether. Consider a route that you’ve scouted before, or trails and gravel roads you’re familiar with. For larger groups, think about using National Forest roads that could be rideable by all skill levels involved. For more route planning and navigational insight, here are a few links:
Pick the Right Campsite
Whether you design your own route or follow an existing one, the most important factor to consider when planning a group trip is where you’ll set up camp. Most campsites are only suited for two or three people, max. Be a good bikepacking ambassador by finding an appropriate campsite (or campsites) that can sustainably accommodate your group. The bigger your group, the more potential for impact on the landscape. If you’re riding out with a lot of folks, consider reserving a group campsite in a National Forest or a campground. Or, look for sites that have been designed to harbor several tents. And, of course, if you have a few beginners in your group, make sure everyone has taken a few moments to familiarize themself with leave no trace principles.
Make It a Weekend
While the Solstice Campout is based on a bike overnighter, which in itself can be quite special, there’s no reason you can’t make a whole weekend out of it, especially if you are a smaller, more experienced crew. Check out our weekender bikepacking routes for some inspiration. Around 20-50 miles (32-80km) is a good starter for an overnighter, and 50-120 miles (80-193km) is a pretty good benchmark for a solid 2-3 day weekender route. Be sure to keep the technical nature of the trail and total elevation gain in mind when deciding how far to ride. For more weekend Bikepacking routes, check out last year’s ROUT3 winners.
Pro Tip: Leave on Friday afternoon. Even though the campout starts on Saturday, June 23rd, there’s no reason you can’t TGIF and get outta dodge (and away from instagram) sooner. There should be enough daylight to hustle out and make a dozen or so miles before dark.
Pro Tip: Factor in group sizes to your impact, particularly if asking locals for water or visiting small stores, restaurants, or facilities.
WHAT, AND WHO, TO BRING
We recommend keeping the group size manageable, based on the particular factors of your route. If your group gets too big, be open to coordinating multiple camp areas, or even multiple routes. Be open to splintering into sub groups as well. When choosing your group or route, be very mindful of the terrain you’ll be riding and where you’ll be camping. Set a rendezvous point if your group is large, and make sure everyone knows how to find it.
Saddle Up The Posse
A key ingredient to a successful group bikepacking experience is making sure everyone is on the same page. Plan or select a route that fits the group and is appropriate for everyone’s skill level, and inform the group beforehand. Start a Facebook or email message group a month ahead of time to start building the stoke and educating everyone. Send out group messages about the route and plans. Here’s more related inspiration:
Carry Things as a Group
There are many items that can be carried and split between multiple riders. Tents, tools, cooking utensils, and fuel are all great candidates. While we think everyone should carry spares, tool kits, and have proper repair know-how, if you are planning to go light on the tools and spares, consider having a sweeper carry them in the rear of the pack, making sure no one gets left behind with a flat tire. Some ideas of what what to bring:
Aside from carrying duties for particular items, if you’re separating into sub-groups, make sure that someone in each has the necessary navigation and repair kits. And if you’re the organizer of the group, take responsibility for the the group’s actions. Not everyone is educated in Leave No Trace ethics, so make sure to remind folks ahead of time. Send out a link, or pass out LNT cards.
Pro Tip: Look into backpacker shelters/huts/bothies. These often have several campsites around them as well, and can sometimes make good group hangouts.
Pro Tip: If you’re the group leader, talk everyone through the route beforehand, to help manage expectations and ensure everyone is suitably prepared.
EAT, DRINK, BE MERRY
While you could keep it simple and toss a burrito in your pack, or bring a dehydrated meal, a group campout is a chance for feasting and celebration. We recommend planning a group meal, some fun community drinks, and snacks to share among the group. Here are a few points to consider and some tips to make it all the more enjoyable.
Cooking together is a great communal experience, but have your own snacks so you can regulate your food intake during the ride and avoid hangriness. Pairing up works well in the interests of cooking times and pot sizes. If you’re the kind of rider who might begrudge others if you don’t get your fair share of a meal, or if you have eating particularities, you’re probably better off fending for yourself.
What to Eat
While dehydrated and prepackaged meals work great for bikepacking, there’s nothing like fresh vegetables and a good fresh meal, especially when shared with friends after a long day of riding. It would be fairly difficult to cook a meal for several people, but consider dividing up into pairs and cooking one of the recipes below. Also, don’t forget to bring snacks! Cheese is always nice, and keeps pretty well without refrigeration.
Fun and Games
A few lightweight games can really add to the sense of community. Frisbees are easy to carry (and they double as a plate!) while small footballs are good too, especially if there are kids involved. An LED lantern can be useful if you’re planning to have a game of cards when you camp. As is a good book; reading it aloud can be great in a group, especially if it’s relevant in some way to the area in which you’re riding (whether fiction or non-fiction). A disposable camera can also be fun, which you can pass from rider to rider.
Pro Tip: Smuggle an obscure bottle of spirits or a nice bottle of wine as a surprise to pass around camp.
Pro Tip: Fun shareable food is always good. A bar of quality chocolate goes a long way. Bring some marshmallows and peanut butter too and make PB-s’mores for extra calories.
Pro Tip: You can’t go wrong with burritacos. As far as group meals go, tacos and burritos are always a great option. A bag of tortillas, some vegetables and beans, a block of cheese, and a few other odds and ends are a simple way to feed a crew. For breakfast? You guessed it, skilleted PBJ quesadillas, aka Gooberdillas. Solid power for another beautiful day of riding.
Looking for some more solstice weekend inspiration? Check out our 2017 Solstice Campout Roundup to see some highlights from what 260 of last year’s campers got up to. Also, be sure to visit the Swift Campout page to sign up. And if you have any other tips or thoughts to share, please leave a comment below.