Multi-day unsupported trips. Where to sleep?

Well, ive done some decent rides, getting close to 100miles a day, but ive always had a place to sleep.

Im gonna be doing a 200ish mile ride from Spokane, WA into Montana, then riding back.

The trails are already planned. Centennial trail from Spokane to Couer d’Alene, follow I-90 to Cataldo trail head and follow Trail of the Couer d’Alenes to Missoula.

I already have the equipment and everything ready for the ride, so thats not a problem.

So my question for all you solo riders out there. Where do you stay at night? I know some of you can just stay at motels and stuff, but do any of you just bring along a tent or something and camp trail side? Is that even legal? lol

Thanks for any input on this. Its gonna be a fun trip.

Can’t help you with the sleeping thing.

Unless you go another 60 miles or so past Missoula. You could stay at my house. :roll_eyes:

I thought of that. I have some friends in Missoula though that I could possibly stay at.

Okay seriously. I’m not sure if camping on the side of the trail is completly legal or not… You might be fine for just like a quick overnight sleep.

Depends on what land it’s on though, like, if it’s National Forest it might be okay. Try looking up the regulations online, might say something about the subject.

Thanks for the link. Ive been spending the majority of today getting all the stuff finalized, then it hit me, “Where am I sleeping?” lol.

If you are into camping out, lightweight backpacking concepts may apply…

Ultralight_backpacking Wiki


What’s that website?

Can’t you just sleep in your car? :wink:

Sorry that’s not very helpful. I’m not much of a camper but also consider how much weight of stuff you want to carry on such a long ride…

So I’m a pretty big fan of wilderness backpacking, and more recently a novice practitioner of ultra-light methods. Some might claim that’s because I’m getting old and can’t carry as much weight as I once could. Let’s just ignore those people for now.

Despite my love for self-supported wilderness trips, if I was going to do the ride you mentioned, I’d focus on this fact: a credit card is lighter than even the lightest tent, and way WAY lighter than a tent/sleeping bag/cookstove combination. Do some online searches to line up a Motel 6 or Best Western or Travelodge (well, maybe not a Travelodge) closest to where you think you can get each day. You’ll have warmth, shelter, a daily shower, and a forced encounter with civilization that will let you eat something besides clif bars, and replenish your liquids and clif bars versus carrying enough to last you overnight (dinner water, sleeping water, breakfast water adds up…heavy).

But that’s just me. Sounds like a fun trip, and I look forward to hearing some details after. I was looking at that centennial trail at one time, trying to figure out how I’m going to get my name on that “Who’s done a 100 mile ride?” thread.

Good luck.

The ultimate set up would be a gortex bivy (weighs 400grams or so) a light, inflatable down sleeping bag, thin blow up mattress. This will cost you around a grand, so perhaps motels will have to do. My family is all for going into the wild and coming back a month later.
We once hiked three days to a beach with just seasoning, lemons, and powdered goods and ate moules and crabs. It rocked!

I don’t understand all this personal hygiene stuff. Can’t you wear the same clothes for a few days? Sure you might stink at the end, but you just ridden X number of kilometers so f*ck off!

I’ve pondered that question on my 2-day self-supported runs, and ultimately came up with tomblackwood’s answer. I still like the idea of some ultralight fastpacking and going without a room … but man, after a full day’s exertion and going onto another … a shower, bed, and a couple of hot and effortless meals are worth some money.

I have a macpac Epic 150 sf sleeping bag, which is waterproof, weighs very little and packs up tiny. You can sleep out in it.

It was quite expensive, cost me about £100, but I’ve already used it 5 or 6 times, so it’s cheap compared to hotel rooms.

The one I have is the lightest one, which is only for summer use, there are similar warm waterproof bags out there.

There’s an American company that makes similar waterproof sleeping bags, but I can’t remember the name, probably be a better deal for you than buying MacPac (from New Zealand).

As for legality bivvying is a grey area in most places. There’s no law against sitting down at the side of a trail and having a rest, or even lying down. There’s obviously a law in a lot of places against putting up a tent. Bivvying is somewhere in the middle of the two. I’ve bivvied at loads of camping illegal places without any hassle. Just make sure you’re somewhere slightly out of the way and you’ll be fine.

Using a tent, if you’re camping illegally / wild camping, you have to be a bit more careful, because you might get some hassle if you get caught doing it, and tents are pretty obvious. Searching the web is often a good way to find out if camping is tolerated or actively forbidden in an area.


I’ve done it with a full tent, very heavy and seriously slowed me down. I’m planning for this summer to get an army surplus gortex bivvy off ebay, and just my sleeping bag liner. If you are camping rough, don’t pitch until after dark, I can’t believe anyone pays people to go searching out illegal campers who are discreet.

For the most part in the States…camping is going to be illegal(or legal with some rules and registration costs) in most places except National forests or on certain trails like the AT. With national parks and other areas they at least require a camping permit (which may be free) or as a general rule they don’t allow camping. It is not like other countries where you are allowed to camp anywhere as long as it isn’t posted, it is the opposite here…you can only camp where it says you can camp.

Sometimes this varies in different States, but I think as a general rule you can’t just camp along a trail in the woods randomly. You may or may not get caught, and the officer may or may not care. As Joe said…when you don’t use a tent it is much less of a hassle and if you want to be inconspicuous just use a bivvy or waterproof bag or something that won’t draw attention.

For example, if you are on a trail or on a quiet road…chances are that it is going to be illegal to just pull to the side and camp randomly. However, if you go off the trail/road far enough and are just using a bivvy chances are no one will have any idea.

I’ve done two x-country self supported bike rides and I “urban camped” both times.

Firstly, are you staying anywhere near towns? If so your best bet is to go into town and start making friends. On my bike trips our group would roll into our planned town with no place to stay and anywhere between 30 minutes and 2-3 hours later have a spot. Either in a house, backyard, city park, behind a business - it really varied.

The easiest way is to find a good city park. Then find the cops or city hall and explain to them your trip and ask if you could camp there. This takes some word choice. Don’t say “Can I a camp in your park?” - better would be “I’m on this long distance unicycle trip, I was planning on staying in this town tonight and I was wondering if I could throw a small tent up in your park?” Avoid the word “camp” like the plague - it’s a killer. What also works is if the park has a shelter say “blah blah unicycle blah blah and I saw that nice shelter in your park - could I throw a sleeping bag under that tonight?” Also, always remember to introduce yourself with your first and last name and explain your trip before you ask for anything. Look them in the eye and shake their hand - you have nothing to hide.

What also works is going up to every church in town. “Hi, I’m (your name) and I’m (explain your trip) and I was wondering if I could throw a small tent up in your yard tonight.” If they are confused mention that you’ve had good luck with churches in the past.

If that strikes out go to the local library under the pretense of updating your website/blog. Strike up a conversation up with the librarian afterwards and tell her about your travels. Eventually ask if she knows anywhere that you could spend the night. She’ll probably offer hotels and campgrounds first - listen patiently and then follow that with “Yea, the issue is that I don’t have alot of money for this trip (since i’m saving up for school?) and I was hoping to just find a park or someone who’d let me throw my tent up in their backyard. I don’t need much space at all.” This will get his/her mind thinking about all their friends who may have yard space. They key with this kind of thing and with the supermarket trick that I’ll mention next is to BE PATIENT. Don’t hurry through a good conversation to get to the asking. People will think you’re just pretending to be nice to get something from them. Slow down and enjoy making friends, you’ll find a place to stay eventually.

If that doesn’t work go to the supermarket to resupply food - while there hopefully people will strike up converstations with you. Touring bikes and Unicycles are great coversation starters. Once you answer their questions and are super polite eventually ask “Do you know anywhere I might be able to throw a tent tonight? A park or maybe a backyard?” Emphasise how little space you need. Remember - you are screening them as much as they are screening you. Don’t stay with sketchy people.

As for getting into someone’s house - let them offer that. A lot of people will put you into their yard and then later invite you into their house for sleeping or dinner - but only after they’ve gotten to know you better first. Be friendly and engaging and once they are sure you aren’t a threat or a wierdo (usually at least a few hours later) they’ll start to really open up to you.

On rare occasions I’ve asked people who were out in their yards if I could camp there. That works ok, but is a last resort. People don’t want to be occosted in their private spaces. Public spaces are a much safer place to ask. The super-market trick works pretty well. Also, be prepared to strike-out a lot. Don’t be afraid of rejection. You’ll may be turned down 10-20 times before you get a good place, or get one first try. It depends on the town.

Small towns are better than big towns. Small towns are WAY better than big towns. 30k or smaller is what you are looking for here. I can find a place ten times faster in a town of 500 than I can in a town of 30 thousand. Big cities - don’t even bother unless they are hippie like Eugene or Missoula. Portland, maybe, but it would take all my skills and be pretty hard. (there I would start asking at co-op houses and natural food stores)

Finding a place to stay is one of the funnest parts of touring, and the people you meet will really enrich your experience. Do think about water availability at all times. If you camp in a park find a water spigot. If there is no water, then find somewhere or stalk up on gallon jugs before the store’s close. You’ll need water during the night, for breakfast, and to fill up before tomorrow’s ride. Also, if you are park camping let them know that you’ll be out very early in the morning so you don’t bother anyone. Don’t park camp without letting the cops know unless you are super well hidden. (like deep in the trees or in a baseball dugout.)

Trialside camping works too - but it’s sketchy because of the lack of available water, the chance of police intervention, and the chance of local hoolagins/territorial bums messing with your stuff. One guy with a bivy sack can probably find a place in any town to squat without asking permission so that is an option too - but not entirely my style since I kind of have fun asking. Many guys that I know use the “squat in a bivvy-sack” technique somewhere out of the way. If I were ever on a solo-ride I’d use that option more - but on my trips we had 4 people one time and 7 another so that wouldn’t have worked. We found a safe place to stay EVERY night, so I know you can do it.

One last thing - pay attention to your appearance. DO NOT LOOK LIKE A BUMB. Keep your hair short, neat, or pulled back. Shave every couple of days or keep your beard neatly trimmed. Do look a little dirty since you’d been on the road - but don’t look like a crazy person. This will help tons when talking to the cops. Short hair and a shaved face will work wonders when trying to get old people to let you into their backyards or younger couples to let you around their kids. Urban camping is not a good time to have dyed hair, 10 foot beards, or crazy hippie hair. (unless you are squatting - and then go for it because that appearance will scare off some people and get people to leave you alone)

And this goes without saying - but don’t have drugs on you. And don’t buy/drink beer unless it’s offered to you by your host - and then NEVER get drunk. (I don’t know you, this is just a general tip)

Yeah, Americans have a raw deal on this in terms of legality of wild camping. Although surely, you have an awful lot of space. Anyone looking for wild campers is only going to check main trails and things, as long as you’re well off the trail, camp late, get up early, don’t have a campfire, you’re surely gonna be okay? That’s the case in New Zealand, where similar laws exist. If you have small dark coloured 1/2/3 man tents or bivvi bags, it’s amazing how many people can unobtrusively camp in a small area.

Having said that, I don’t reckon the asking random people would work so well here in the UK, most people have pretty small gardens, and local parks you wouldn’t want to camp in. Unicycles are unusual okay, but I had much more offers of random help from people in NZ than in the UK.

In England and Wales, wild camping is an offence unless the landowner allows it. However it’s strictly speaking only a civil offence, so the only thing the landowner can do in most places is chuck you off the land, they typically can’t sue you or issue fines unless you’ve actually damaged the place in some way, like burnt down a woodland or broken down walls or something. It’s tolerated in a lot of places like part of the Lake District and Dartmoor (I camped with 20 Scouts in 6 tents on Dartmoor once, no problems at all).

In Scotland, I believe it’s legal anywhere in the countryside under the new access code as long as you don’t make a mess, cause damage to the land, do it on farmland, right in someone’s back garden etc.

As far as water goes, check out what the locals say about any streams / rivers you’re crossing. If you’re in mountainous areas, you can usually get away with drinking the water, with a filter or purification tablets if need be. I’ve never taken much more than what fits in my camelbak plus a 250 or 500ml emergency bottle that I use whilst I’m looking to refill the camelbak .