I’d pared everything down to the bare basics for this mountain bike trip—except for that bulky plastic clamshell I’d secretly zipped into my backpack when my friend Julie wasn’t looking.
We’d packed pretty light—everything fitting into either our daypacks or the small bundles hovering over our rear wheels, our sleeping bags lashed to our handlebars. So when the stars began peeking at us through the treetops as we licked up the last scraps of dinner, Julie laughed in surprise when I pulled out a container of gooey, half-melted chocolate cupcakes. No matter how minimal I’m willing to go with my kit, I believe good camping food can make even the most bare-bones campsite feel like home.
You won’t find me stringing up twinkle lights or carrying a Bluetooth speaker on my mountain bike camping trips—whether it’s bikepacking or even car camping. The less that comes between me and nature, the better. Except when it comes to food. My first mountain bike camping trip was also the first time I saw someone make burritos from scratch on a camp stove, and I don’t know if I’ve tasted a more satisfying burrito since.
To me, camping isn’t about recreating the comforts of my home in the outdoors—because to me, “home” is wherever I can be myself and make memories with my friends. And one of the best ways I know of making those memories is savoring a special edible treat together. Noshing on a satisfying camp dinner is the perfect time to relive the day’s scary drops and insane climbs—to share the little victories and failures of the trail. So even if I’m just wandering over to a patch of dirt with my sleeping bag later—instead of constructing an elaborate home away from home—you know I haven’t skimped on the feast beforehand.
Maybe it’s as simple as making sure my fizzy water is nestled in the cooler back at camp before I leave on the ride, or carefully packing all the ingredients for a killer Dutch oven dessert later, but the more camping trips I take in order to go mountain biking, the more I realize that a little effort in the food department goes a long way. I’m certainly no snob—the meals I’ve devoured in ecstasy around a campfire might rank way below average at home or at a restaurant. But after I’ve kicked off my bike shoes and wrapped up in my puffy jacket, there’s nothing more fulfilling than a hot, savory dinner, a cold, fizzy drink and something rich and sweet to end it all.
Pro Tip: Don’t skimp on the “good” stuff.
Maybe at home you’re cautious about your diet—you go light on the butter, or choose low-sodium products. It’s smart. But after a day of pedal-mashing, lung-searing fun, a rich, salty meal will probably sound a lot more satisfying than the light, low-fat meals you might make at home. My good friend and camp-cooking pro Sarah Uhl recently shared her secret to perfect post-ride camp meals with me: extra butter, and extra coarse-ground sea salt.
Hilary's Camp Favorites
- Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy
- Big Agnes Air Core Insulated Sleeping Pad
- Lodge Logic Dutch Oven
- YETI Hopper 30 Cooler
- Cookies or donuts, if available
- Good, fresh tortillas
For more basecamp to mountain bike information, visit REI.com.