Bike packing is simple, relatively inexpensive (if you already have bikes) and will open you up to those beautiful moments that often mean the most. But can you have fun bikepacking with a toddler?

“I’ve got an idea; why not take our toddler bikepacking!” If you’ve experienced the carnage of ‘toddler bedtime’ you will probably be spitting your coffee at the screen right now with laughter. It’s true, introducing a motivated three-year-old into the confines of a small bike-packing tent is a bit like trying to contain an exploding star with a wheelie bin. However, I’m going to maintain that bike-packing can be the perfect family adventure.

First, let’s get one thing straight. My wife and I are not grizzled adventurers, I have a beard but I haven’t had to fight off a bear with a Spork; My wife has never been forced to drink her own pee and we have never slept in a drainage ditch. We are not hardcore; we are probably just like you. Now, maybe like you too, we are also parents.

Now, while I’m by no means a pro, this is not my first bikepacking rodeo. We have shared many successful – and an equal number of unsuccessful – bike packing missions. However, this story is not about an all-out assault on the Tour Du Mont Blanc route or a fast-packing attempt of the Great Divide. This time our goal was to introduce our three-year-old toddler to the wonders of sleeping under canvas, waking to the sound of birds, stiff necks and the unforgettable musky aroma of a tent full of people.

As I embark on the white-knuckle roller coaster #dadlife journey, the one constant is a desire to instil in my child a love for bikes and the outdoors, that same joy that has given me so many memorable experiences

We want to build foundations of adventure, fun, confidence and a ‘can-do’ attitude

Perhaps this foolhardiness was brought upon by the start of Scotland’s annual week of Summer; perhaps it was brought on by luckily being surrounded by other parents who ask “how” not ‘why”. Whatever the reason, it sounded like the perfect opportunity, with the promise of a balmy summer evening and dry morning. A simple plan deserves simple execution, and we intended to keep it light and fast and not too far from home. We were delighted that our boy’s beloved centrally mounted Kids Ride Shotgun kids seat allowed us to fit our tried-and-tested Ortlieb bar and tail bag combos, which had sadly seen too little use since our boy had been born.

Experience has shown us that the key to successful bikepacking is carrying only the basics, barely enough to sustain life, and of course, ample booze. As such, it was a little alarming to see how many extra items we needed to accommodate for the toddler. After a quick consultation with the boy, he confirmed that storybooks, Bear and a toy digger were surprisingly essential and could not be left behind. An hour of Tetris packing later, our wagon train rolled out. I’m not going to lie; the 10 km uphill ride to the summit of Brown Knowe, our local hill in the Tweed Valley, was not an easy climb. While I love our “Shotgun’ rides, the laden bar bag and tail bag, combined with an extra 15kg of toddler, certainly put some meat into my lactic acid sandwich. Still, as always, I had my loquacious co-pilot providing an excited commentary from the front seat. “What’s that daddy, why’s that daddy, go faster, daddy”.

Finally, rolling onto the summit plateau, we scouted around for 2 m of flat ground in the pockmarked hill. The tent was quickly pitched with ‘help’ from the tiny camper, and the stove fired up. The night’s menu was vegetarian sausages and pasta, by no means gourmet but eaten in the context of the summit ballroom; it was a taste rivalling any Michelin-starred restaurant. As the sun dipped lower, we sat back and enjoyed watching our three-year-old released into the wild. Freed from screens and noisy toys, he effortlessly adapted to his new world, and the wide-open space became his playground to run free and explore. We chased Dandelion seeds born on the wind, shouted crap jokes at unimpressed sheep and finally settled in the warmth of our sleeping bags as the sun wrapped us in gold.

To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from. – Terry Tempest Williams

If I said it was the best night’s sleep I ever had, I would be lying. The boy claimed his spot in the tent (which turned out to be a much larger area than we were anticipating) and slept like a log. Our slumber, however, was punctuated by his relentless wriggling and the occasional lazy punch to my face. But we didn’t care. It meant that we were awake to enjoy the majesty of the sunrise in peace, broken only by the occasional ripping fart from within the canvas.Later that morning, as we sipped bitter instant coffee, the boy emerged, dressed with that iconic ‘I’ve been camping’ face, desperately seeking his own breakfast hit of warm milk and an oat pancake.

We omitted a campfire, the ground was so dry one match could start a blaze – it still took us half a box of matches to light the stove though haha.
When camping, the hours seem endless, free from distractions you are bound to the rhythms of the day.

Later, as we glided back downhill to the house, craving a proper coffee and a paint stripping shower, I reflected on how times and our objectives had changed. We had not pushed ourselves to our limits on this trip or dipped our toes into the extreme. Instead, we had adventured as a family, easily our most challenging undertaking yet. As I let my mind wander, enjoying the easy speed, It went quiet for a minute at the front seat, then I heard a single sentence, not yelled, but uttered quietly and genuinely. “I love camping, daddy”.

Toddlers move at about the same speed as a glacier! To reach the horizon, you need a bike.

I hoped that we had built memories that would stay with him, memories which would later help build pillars of confidence and self-belief, the idea that anything is possible and experiences are the essence of happiness. In truth, at his age, he will probably remember nothing at all, but maybe some unconscious foundations will have been laid. However, to my wife and I, the experience had been timeless. Free from the distractions of a house to tidy, or dishwasher to load, we had immersed ourselves in the many excited conversations, perceptive questions and hilarious moments, strengthening the bond that bound the three of us. While there was no wifi on the summit of that hill, we had never experienced a better connection.

If you have been inspired, here are our top tips for bike packing with your kid.

Not far, no gnar!

It’s natural for adventure lovers to want to challenge and fight back against the restrictions of parenthood. But, it’s also important to bend your expectations, so everyone has a great time. Bike-packing will give you ample range to find your spot, be free from crowds and create your mini-adventure. You often don’t need to go far to experience the wilderness, so don’t bite off more than you can chew. A tent, a fire and a starry sky will be enough to convince your wee one they are a modern-day Ranulph Fiennes.

Pick your weather window.

It’s a well-known fact that it will always rain on tents. Rainstorms have been observed to travel thousands of miles just for the opportunity to shower on campers. Who hasn’t experienced the sound of rain hammering off the tent? That beautiful agony of the comfort of being warm and dry contrasted by the crushing realisation that your shoes are still outside. Bikepacking with kids is 1000% better if you wake up to a friendly and dry morning, so pick your weather window carefully. Keeping the elements on your side will leave you free to enjoy the moment.

You will need some extra kit.

If you already have camping gear, then you will probably have most of the kit you need. Bike packing is beautifully simple, but it pays to invest in the core kit. Chosen and used carefully, bikepacking bags, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and stove will last a lifetime, so do your research and buy the best you can afford. All you need after that is some food and a good sense of humour. Of course, you will need some extra kit for your kid, but it doesn’t need to break the bank as you will never be testing them in extreme weather (see rule above). There’s a range of sleeping bags that grow with your kid, taking the financial sting out of their accelerating growth spurts. If you have a bike-mad toddler, check out a front-mounted seat like a Kids Ride Shotgun seat. This will allow you to use normal bike packing bags, make riding more fun than a rear seat, and will be one of the best things you buy for your bike.

Do it

If you are considering trying Backpacking with your kids, do it. There’s no better way to connect as a family, and the best time is now.

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Words & Photos: Trevor Worsey