How to go bikepacking with a baby
Ines Thoma shares her tips for bikepacking with a baby through the Allgäu Mountains in Germany.
Would you go bikepacking with a baby in tow? We asked Canyon Athlete Ines Thoma how she and her partner Max juggled a multi-day bikepacking trip on their gravel bikes with daughter Romy.
Planning and preparing for bikepacking with a baby
Max and I have wanted to go bikepacking with our daughter Romy since she was born. We had a lovely trailer in our garage ready for adventures, but we decided to wait until this spring to take it out. A good weather window was crucial since one-year-old Romy is so keen on walking and discovering the world. As a result, we need to be able to stop everywhere and anywhere to let her do this.
At the moment, she likes to sleep in the trailer. When she wakes, she wants to see everything, so we put her in the child’s seat on the front of the bike. The ideal setup was one gravel bike with the trailer and the other with the front seat.
Carrying kit was surprisingly easy, too. When Romy sleeps in the trailer, we simply wear our backpacks. When she’s awake and in the child’s seat, we put our bags in the trailer. We also used frame bags for other bits and pieces.
We planned a bikepacking route starting at our doorstep in the Allgäu Mountains. The tour was a 200km loop and allowed us to see our landscape from a different angle. We chose easy, calm gravel roads and cycle paths that passed by playgrounds for Romy. Lakes and rivers along the route allowed us for mid-ride swims and to see plenty of wildlife.
Kit list for bikepacking with a baby
For the parents:
- Rain jacket
- Long riding pants
- Spare socks and underwear
- Sandals, pants and long shirt for the evenings
- Spare tube and tools
- Phone charging cable
For baby Romy:
- One whole extra clothing kit in case we get wet
- Sun hat
- Beanie (that fits under the helmet)
- Knitted jumpsuit
- Two books and some toy animals for the trailer
- Knitted blanket for the trailer
- First aid kit and nappies
- Enough food for the day
- Water bottle
- Children’s carrier (our ultimate sleeping tool)
Bikepacking with a baby: Day 1
We packed our stuff the night before so we could begin nice, relaxed and early on day one. We left without booking accommodation beforehand since we didn’t know if our route would take three, four or five days. We decided to not camp, due to a high chance of thunderstorms in the afternoons. This meant we were almost guaranteed to get wet at some point.
The morning was nice and easy along some cycle paths and Romy soon fell asleep. This meant we could speed up and tick off 35km before the first proper picnic stop. Things went way smoother than expected!
We never really tested our setup before our trip. As every parent knows: you have to be flexible with your plans. Sometimes the kids love it and sometimes they want to stop the ride and explore after 2km.
We discovered a nature reserve, watched some frogs and stopped at a lake and playground for lunch. While there, we also looked for accommodation and booked a nice farmhouse. One on hand it’s great to be flexible and ride as long as we want. On the other hand, it means we have to find somewhere to sleep as we go.
As luck would have it the thunderstorm hit us not long after Romy’s afternoon nap. We stopped in a cafe and hid under a farmer’s roof to avoid getting wet. So far so good. But I started to get a little nervous. Just as the sun came out to play again, so too did Romy. We still had 15km to ride to our accommodation. How would we keep Romy content? It was already getting late for her.
Luckily the landscape in the Bregenz Forest in Austria was super pretty - plenty to look at - and we had some nice little trails, gravel roads and steep climbs in the last kilometres. I think it was beginner’s luck but we finally finished after 70km at around 7pm in the middle of the forest. Romy was loving it! When we arrived at the accommodation, we were stoked to find a little farm shop, where we could get some local eggs, butter and cheese for dinner. What a day!
Bikepacking with a baby: Day 2
You always have to start early when kids are involved. We soon found a nice morning coffee at the Fairtrade shop in Hittisau. Romy slept in the trailer during the first big climb of the day, which gave Max extra motivation to put the hammer down. The child’s seat on the front of the bike means there’s little room for your knees, which gets uncomfortable after a while. I decided to strap the seat to my backpack and climb this mountain.
The weather changed to summer overnight, so we could leave our warmer kit in our bags. Unfortunately, this meant we had our first sunburns of the year. For some reason, we always remember to put sunscreen on Romy but never ourselves.
After crossing the mountain pass and the border back into Germany, our lunch stop appeared in the middle of nowhere. Something you have to bear in mind when bikepacking with kids is that when they’re hungry, they’re hungry now. You don’t have the chance to seek out the best coffee shop you would if you were on your own.
We chose to carry food in case she suddenly needs it and we had space to grab more if we needed to. All Romy’s kit was in our backpacks, so we had space in our frame bags for snacks, Romy’s sun hat and sunglasses.
At the river Iller, which flows through the Allgäu mountains, we made the mistake of ignoring Romy’s signs of tiredness and stopped for an ice cream. The result: an overtired kid who won’t sit happily in her trailer. This meant a longer break and we had to carry her until she fell asleep. Since we lost two hours of riding, we shortened our day (in terms of kilometres) and parked our bikes up for a nice afternoon walk.
Bikepacking with a baby: Day 3
Our trip was running smoothly enough to only have 68 kilometres left. I was almost a bit sad that we didn’t have further to ride, but on the other hand I didn’t want to overdo it on the first try. We conquered the Joch Pass up to Oberjoch in the morning. We couldn’t stop for coffee as Romy was sleeping. Under-caffeinated is not my favourite riding state, so maybe I should add coffee shots to the essential snack list!
While it would’ve been nice to stop for coffee (especially if the baby isn’t sleeping), sometimes it makes more sense to cover extra miles while she sleeps. It’s much more comfortable to keep riding and it enables us to ride faster.
When Romy woke, she decided it was lunch time. Luckily, we were able to stop at a field next to the road, which had plenty of birds to watch and flowers for her to pick. On reflection, I don’t really think Romy needed the playgrounds we planned into our route. She is still at an age when she’s just happy everywhere. Nevertheless, we couldn’t resist stopping at a beautiful playground in Pfronten, which looked like a medieval fort.
The day was going really well and it was hot. We finally managed to call in at a nice coffee shop in a mountain hut and went for a swim in the nearby lake.
When we arrived back at our home, we already had so many ideas for future bikepacking trips. It was such an amazing way to spend time as a family, be outside the whole day and experience a little adventure. We also managed some good riding efforts too. The trailer with Romy weighs 25kg, so you can imagine how that feels while riding 2,500 vertical metres!
Improvements for the next bikepacking trip
The trip went surprisingly smoothly and all the three of us were pretty happy most of the time. I would probably pack the little camping coffee setup for caffeine intake whenever we stop.
I would maybe change the bar setup or even the bike for riding with the kid’s seat. Riding a mountain bike with a shorter geometry and a riser bar would add the necessary space for easier pedalling. I will experiment with it.
Another idea would be to pack a tent and full camping gear. Then we could be even more flexible with the overnight stops. Adding another trailer to the second bike with all the camping gear on it would make sense in this case. Depending on the area you would be travelling through, this could be a really cool idea and make for an even more enjoyable experience.