Recently I joined the Southern California Bicycle Camping Meetup group for an overnight bikepacking trip. We followed a route that started in inland Oceanside and headed west towards the ocean, navigating south on old Highway 101 to Encinitas and the San Eligio State Beach campground.
To prepare for the trip I re-installed my pannier racks for my Axiom pannier bags. (Note: when I bought my Surly LHT used in 2021, it came with the racks and packs). I installed both front and rear pannier racks, thinking I would use both sets of bags, even though the trip was only an overnight. Here’s my bag configuration:
- Rear pannier bag right side contained my sleeping bag and sleeping pad. These two items took up all the space in the bag. My sleeping bag is not so ultralight and doesn’t compress that small – same for my sleeping pad.
- Rear left. Clothing and toiletries.
- Right front. Jet boil, coffee press, coffee.
- Left front. GoPro kit in its case, and tech organizer with all my cables and a power block battery for charging everything (most of the weight).
- Rear rack. I strapped my tent (about six pounds) on the top of the rear rack use Voile straps.
Total weight, bike plus equipment, about 50 lbs. Heavy, yeah. But my Surly LHT handled the weight well, and I feel like I did a decent job of balancing the weight.
As the members gathered for the ride I made a point to observe what kind of bikes and equipment they had. There were a couple of Surly LHT riders plus me, one Brompton, one Co-Motion and one recumbent. Most were carrying about the same amount of gear as I, so I felt a little better about that. Once we made camp I made quite a few other observations.
I have purchased most of my gear from Amazon. Since I have a Prime membership, it’s just easy to do. But the majority of the other riders were REI customers – tents and gear. Made a note to extend my shopping to REI. Tent sizes ranged from one person to four-person. Mine is spec’d for two people, but I’m 6-2, 200 and there’s room for me and my gear that I want to keep dry. Two people would be cozy to say the least.
Dining consisted of eating out at different restaurants. Saturday we stopped for lunch in Oceanside at a Mexican restaurant. Saturday night we walked from the campsite across the street and ate at a fish cafe. Sunday morning we had breakfast in Encinitas. Which was fine with me – meant not having to think about menus and carrying food.
Sunday morning everyone awoke and laid out their coffee artillery. Everyone had their own coffee makers, Jet Boils and either fresh ground or instant coffees. Quite a sight. My setup is a Stanley coffee press where you heat the water and combine the coffee in the same container.
Observations from the trip:
- First thing I learned is about the California State Park campsite reservation system, which is notoriously challenging. For most State parks, one has to phone the reservation line at 8 am on the day six month in advance you want to camp. But some of the State park campsites also offer “hike/bike” sites that don’t need to be reserved. First come, first served. Roll up, pay your $15 and pitch your tent. San Eligio has hike/bike, and we had a nice campsite with plenty of room, a picnic table, fire pit, and potable water.
I also learned that some of the California State Park campsites have eliminated hike/bike sites. Leo Carillo, for instance has closed hike/bike with no indication whether it will ever open the site for hikers and bikers. The experienced bikepackers I was with understood the system and how to make sure the campsite you want still has hike/bike option.
- Could I have carried less? Maybe. Thing is, I’m always afraid of leaving something behind and then cursing myself as I discover I needed it. So I brought everything – like my full GoPro case with camera and all accessories. I’ve done rides where I minimized my GoPro kit and would up leaving stuff that I needed to mount the GoPro on my bike. Also makes me wonder what my configuration would resemble if I was riding across the U.S. Funny thing, a rider on a road bike pulled up alongside me on Sunday as we headed back to Oceanside, asking how far we’d come. When I told him we were wrapping up an overnight in Encinitas, he said the way we were all loaded made him think we were pedaling to Alaska.
- I could have balanced my load a little better. The rear carried most of the weight. I might have moved my tent to the front rack and strapped it on sideways. Or put the sleeping bag on the front and rearranged the other bags. Overall, though, I thought the load was manageable.
- I wore a Camelback and would not do that again. I was freeing up handlebar space by eliminating my water bottle holders. Should have stuck with what I knew.
- I would consider a full frame bag that adds storage in the middle of the frame. I might be able to eliminate the front racks and packs. Will investigate further.
- Notice that many overnight configurations I’ve seen on Bikepacking.com have no pannier racks and bags. A rear under seat pack that’s large enough can carry an ultralight tent and maybe an ultralight sleeping bag. A front handlebar bag could manage one or both. I do have a seat post rear bag, and I tried to fit my tent in it, but it was a tad too small.
- Despite the nifty display of REI camping gear, I’m pretty pleased with the shopping I did putting my equipment together. My little $70 tent has been across Iowa and Death Valley and is holding up well. My sleeping bag that doesn’t roll up easily nor compress too well, is super comfortable in 40 degree weather. I’ll stick with what I have.
- Joining a group of experienced bikepackers is a great way to ease into self-contained bike travel. There were little things I noticed that will aid me in future trips, like tent pegs that can be pounded into hard ground. It’s also enlightening and inspirational to hear experienced bike travelers talk about some of their trips. I stumbled upon this group by googling “bikepacking Southern California”. Worked like a charm. Give it a try.