How to: choose your overnight accommodation for bikepacking

UK Bikepacking accomodation:

Depending on where in the country you’re planning on heading off to on your bikepacking adventure, there will be various options for your overnight ‘accommodation’. We’ll start by looking at all the viable options and then narrow it down depending on where you’re going:
Wild camp – tent
Wild camp – hammock
Wild camp – tarp
Wild camp – bivi
Natural shelters

Your chosen bikepacking adventure playground may dictate your options, there are no bothies in the south or midlands of England, so that’s not an option if you’re heading along the South Downs Way. If you’re planning a fatbike bikepacking trip to the outer Hebrides, remember there’s very few trees on the beaches of the Outer Hebrides, so hammocks aren’t a great choice. Let’s take a closer look at our options and some of the benefits and drawbacks:

Pros – so long as you choose well you’ll get a wash, a hot meal and a comfy bed
Cons – by far the most expensive of these options, you’ll need a bike friendly one to be welcome covered in mud from the days riding and your mates might think you’ve gone a bit soft.

Pros – a real roof over your head, space to get changed and sort kit, a proper toilet and the ability to climb into your sleeping bag to make it feel like it’s camping.
Cons – harder to find as bunkhouse are less common than B&B’s or campsites, increasingly an expensive option. Still not ‘proper’ camping and sleeping outdoors has it’s own charm that you miss by being in a bunk barn.

UK bikepacking

Fatbike UK bikepacking trip – Lake District

bunkhouses are often old barns that have received a variable level of conversion

Bothies are maintained building in, usually, wild locations that are open for anyone to stay the night in. Many are listed on the Mountain Bothy Association website although there are also many ‘secret’ bothies out there to stumble across. The size and ‘quality’ of bothies is hugely variable but at a minimum you can expect a flat solid area to lay down your roll mat and sleeping bag and the majority have a fireplace (be prepared to carry your firewood in or go without the fire).
Pros – dry space to unpack, change and cook in shelter, often deciding to sleep in a bothy will dictate your route and take you to places you might not otherwise ride to.
Cons – basic bothies may have no toilet facilities, some can be dark and damp and you don’t know til you get there who you’ll be sharing with.

UK bikepacking

UK bikepacking trip – bothy

one of the few large bothies in England

Pros – unless very unlucky you can expect a flat(ish) bit of ground to pitch your tent, somewhere to do your washing up and a proper toilet.
Cons – riding from campsite to campsite dictates your daily mileage. Campsites often get busy and may destroy the sense of wilderness, if riding a fatbike you’ll spend the whole evening explaining to people why your bike has silly sized tyres and you can pay anywhere from £3 a night to £26 a night.

Wild camping
Wild camping allows you to choose where and when to stop your ride each day, let’s you choose where you camp dependent on weather and scenery and can give spectacular views of the stars after dark when you camp away from light pollution. Unfortunately in England and Wales wild camping is legally not allowed, despite which discreet and respectful wild camping is tolerated widely. As a rule never stay in the same spot for more than a night, pitch up late and leave early, stay off farmland and away from houses and you should be fine. That said be prepared for a local, ranger or warden to turn up after dark and ask you to move on, whilst a rare occurrence if you wild camp enough it will happen.

Wild camp tent
Pros – once your door is zipped shut a tent gives you a sense of escape from midges and bad weather
Cons – tents need larger areas of flat ground than some other options, are visible from further away and the sound of a snuffling hedgehog outside your tent door at 2am automatically morphs into the grunts of the UK’s last wild grizzly bear when wild camping in a tent.

UK fatbike bikepacking

UK fatbike bikepacking trip – Lake District

a wild camp tent spot whilst out for 10 days in the Lake District

Wild camp hammock
Pros – woodlands are easier to ‘hide’ in and being off the ground allows you to camp in boggy, uneven and other areas with ground that is unsuitable to tents
Cons – not all areas will provide suitable woodland for hammocks, and the fear of not finding a suitable rigging area often results in last minute packing a bivi bag ‘just incase’ (which results in a heavier pack)

Wild camp tarp
Pros – tarps are useful for more than just sleeping under, they can easily be thrown up if you need shelter to fix a mechanical mid way though the day, or can be safely rigged to cook under. Tarps provide shelter from the weather but you still get the views. With practice a tarp can be rigged almost anywhere.
Cons – no protection from midges

UK bikepacking

UK bikepacking – tarp

Practising your tarp rigging techniques on good ground will result in faster pitches when you’re out in the wilds with the rain coming in and darkness falling

Wild camp bivi
Pros – small, lightweight and by far the easiest option when looking for a suitable overnight spot. A bivi bag will add a good few degrees of extra warmth to any sleeping bag (think about putting a waterproof jacket on over your base layer, even when not raining it is beneficial against wind and cold)
Cons – without a tarp overhead there is no shelter to hide from wet weather when you’re getting in and out of the bivi bag, a heavy bivi bag can be as heavy as a light tarp but less flexibility in its use.

Natural shelters
There are numerous natural shelter across the country that could be used to spend the night in, from caves and hollows to huge fallen trees to giant boulders.
Pros – a truly unique overnight experience that can require the bear minimum of overnight ‘kit’
Cons – rarely clean and / or dry and due to some strange unavoidable loss of navigational ability and confidence seemingly impossible to find when dusk is falling.

UK bikepacking

UK bikepacking – cave

a cave big enough for two in North West Scotland overlooking a secluded beach

Carbon-Monkey are a specialist MTB skills course provider who run mountainbike courses in North Wales, the Lake District, Peak District, Scotland and on Cannock Chase. We grew up riding the trails of Snowdonia and MTB all over North Wales. From Jumps and Drops courses to multi day MTB expeditions, at Carbon-Monkey we are ready to welcome you on a MTB skills course that will provide real improvement to your riding. MTB skills are our passion and Bikepacking adventure expeditions our escapism, when will you join us?

3 thoughts on “How to: choose your overnight accommodation for bikepacking

  • Hi Nijat
    Thanks for your comments. I use tarps from Alpkit and then attach rigging points in the right place to be able to use my bike wheels to rig the setup.
    Please keep an eye out on the blog for more info on how to rig your tarp the same way I do.

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