The 5 Elements of a Satisfying Bikepacking Trip: Nova Scotia Edition

Article by Sam Rokos

The 5 Elements of a Satisfying Bikepacking Trip: Nova Scotia Edition

After an excellent bikepacking trip amongst friends last year in Vermont (see Slowing Down to Soak in Vermont’s Fall Foliage), I wanted to recreate the magic of the trip — this time in Nova Scotia, Canada. What made that trip special was the slow pace; my companions, Mike (my partner) and Charles (friend and fellow NEMO coworker); and the rolling hills and farmland of Vermont in peak foliage.

We added a new companion this year, asking Gabi (pronounced Gob-ee), NEMO’s Product Development Director, to join us for another chill bikepacking trip where the emphasis was on fun and not crushing miles. Originally, we dreamed of completing the Cabot trail, the picturesque loop of Cape Breton at the northernmost part of Nova Scotia. But after seeing how long it would take to get up there, almost 12 hours in the car, we opted for a route closer to Lunenburg, a town on the eastern side of Nova Scotia.

Another trip planned by the seat of our pants, we found some peculiar people, places, and beverages on our journey, which felt fitting for a place so far north and so hard to get to. As I reflected on our travels, I thought about the best flavors of the trip and a recipe came to mind.

Consider my flavors but feel free to freestyle when cooking up your own bikepack trip!


1. People: The Spice of Life

When I told my mom I wanted to do a bikepacking trip in Nova Scotia, she immediately recommended getting in touch with Al and Merrill, friends from my parents' own adventuring days way back when. My family had made the long trek (which can be made by boat and car) to Nova Scotia, Canada, years ago when I was small, and I vaguely remembered my parents' friends. I knew they owned a bed and breakfast and ran a bike shop out of a barn for years, but mostly I remembered Merrill teaching me how to fold a bed sheet corner and being upset I couldn’t go sea kayaking with the grown-ups.

I was excited to see them again as an adult, and this is how our bikepacking trip came together around friends, both old and new.


Al and Merrill's original Bike Barn sign.


Al and Merrill graciously hosted us, letting us camp in their backyard to start off our trip after the long haul up the coast from New Hampshire. We knew we’d all get along when Merrill suggested a quick bike ride before dinner.

My mom, an avid sewer, has been making Hawaiian shirts for family and friends for the last two years and she had made shirts for Al, Merrill, and Gabi — the newbies of the group. Everyone threw on their shirts and we rode along as they gave us a tour of their coastal neighborhood. (We, of course, had to pause and take a swim.)

Our first taste of Nova Scotia was delicious.


Al and Merrill in their Hawaiian shirts.


The crew.

Al and Merrill are like my parents: kind, thoughtful people that have lived — and continue to live — a life full of family, friends, and adventures. They’re the kind of people that I think Gabi, Mike, Charles, and I aspire to become.

For me, my favorite part of our trip was getting to hang out with them. Al rode with us for the first day of our trip, taking us on backroads and rail trails, and the fastest of us all without a heavily weighed-down bike. We met up with Merrill for lunch before saying goodbye to them both and heading on to the campground we were staying at for the night.

Most of the route was rail trail.


Al and Merrill came to our rescue after Gabi was hit by a car on our journey, saving the day by switching out his front wheel that was damaged by the car. Thankfully, Gabi was okay, and we were able to continue our trip even after this mishap.

We were lucky enough to stay with them for one more night before we made the return drive to New Hampshire, and I think we’ll all remember our time with Al and Merrill fondly.


Camp on night 1.

2. A Lucky Break (Freshly Caught)

After leaving Lunenburg and making our way to Hubbards Beach, we sought out food for dinner and found a local dive bar on the coast close to our campground. There, we found ourselves parked for the rest of the night, enjoying a tab fully covered by the kind — though unfortunate — Canadian that hit Gabi on his bike.

We felt we had to celebrate Gabi’s good luck (only a few scrapes and no serious injuries!), so we commandeered the Bluetooth speaker and won over the bartenders with Charles’ good taste in music. We shut the place down that night after befriending some folks from Halifax around the firepit.


Drinks at Tuna Blue.


The classic dive bar is an optional ingredient but comes highly recommended by Charles and Gabi, as it adds to the quirkiness and character of little coastal towns. The two of them later found themselves around our campground neighbor’s campfire, sharing whiskey and singing poorly.


3. A Dash of Salt, Like the Ocean Air

Living on the seacoast of New Hampshire and Maine, we’re pretty spoiled. But we were pleasantly surprised by the coast farther north, and the fact that there were few tourists along our journey. A coastal ride is especially beautiful when there’s little traffic and the cycling experience remains pleasant both on and off the rail trails.

The next day, we made our way back the way we came, enjoying the sights and seeking some good food from the coastal town of Chester. After consuming way too much pizza, we finished the day at Graves Island Provincial Park, a green, foggy island and one of the most scenic campgrounds I’ve ever stayed at.  

An island off the eastern coast of Nova Scotia, it features 360-degree views of the ocean at some spots and a quiet, serene beach — a truly lovely campsite to be in after the previous night’s RV park. We finished our trip the next day, opting for the coastal route back to Al and Merrill’s so we could continue enjoying the ocean view.  


Camp on night 2. 


The island was beautiful!


Pizza never tasted so good.


4. A Refreshing Discovery

To save some driving time, we initially took the ferry from St. John, New Brunswick, to Digby, Nova Scotia, in order to arrive at the beginning of our bike route. (On the way back, we took the ferry from Yarmouth, NS to Bar Harbor, Maine.) 

We boarded the Digby Ferry at 7 a.m. and, after watching the coast disappear, the boys went in search of refreshments and soon discovered a new love: Mott’s canned Caesars. The Canadian spin on bloody marys, Caesars use clam juice, resulting in a saltier drink.

The boys were smitten (I had a taste, they were pretty good) and proceeded to have a Caesar at every. Single. Meal. On the last day of our trip, in a restaurant in Lunenburg, we discovered 50th anniversary glasses of the now beloved (to us) beverage. After bartering with the waitress, Gabi, Charles, and Mike each proudly took home a glass.

As we left the restaurant, we could hear the hostess exclaiming, “Are we selling our glasses now?”

Do you think there's enough Mott's Canned Caesars?


The infamous glasses.

5. A Sweet Ending That Leaves You Wanting More

We all loved Nova Scotia — the ferry experiences to and from, the coastal towns, and the friendly Canadians we encountered along the way. The long days on the bike left us tired but satisfied, wishing for more time on the island. It was a short but amazing experience, and maybe in the next couple years we’ll make it up to Cape Breton.  

This trip left us wanting another piece. 

Mike and I on the last day.



We had the pleasure of testing out 2023 sample tents on this trip and we’re excited to provide a sneak peek of what’s coming in the new year. In just a few months, NEMO will release the Hornet OSMO™ 3P and Dragonfly OSMO™ Bikepack 2P as additions to our tent collection.

Made with our proprietary OSMO poly-nylon, these tents promise 4x better water repellency, 3x less stretch when wet, and a 20% higher strength rating than similar fabrics. OSMO composite fabric is completely free of fire retardants and is woven from 100% recycled yarns to reduce waste.

Be on the look-out for these new tents!

The Hornet OSMO™ 3P and Dragonfly OSMO™ Bikepack 2P.


Gabi’s Kit: 

Tent: Hornet OSMO 3P 

Sleeping Bag: Disco Men’s 15 Regular

Sleeping Pad: Vector 25R 

Pillow: Fillo Elite Luxury 


Gabi’s Notes: 

“After pawning off the tent poles to Charles, I stored my entire sleep system in two rear panniers. I have a set of Ortlieb Back-Roller Classics that I use for everything from grocery runs to office commutes. They work perfectly fine for bikepacking, too… but they’re big — and I fell victim to overpacking. In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to cart around as much extra clothing, food, tent lighting, or spare parts. But I’m also not one to count ounces, so I’ll pedal a little harder and earn my Mott’s canned Caesar.

A smaller kit and better gear distribution over the front of the bike would have translated to nimbler handling, but I made it work. My trusty Trek 520 re-tuned with a few more battle scars, and is now ready for the next trip. Maybe next time with wider tires.”

Gabi and his kit.


Charles’ Kit: 

Tent: Hornet OSMO 3P 

Sleeping Bag: Disco Men’s 30 Regular

Sleeping Pad: Tensor Insulated Regular, Switchback Insulated Regular 

Pillow: Fillo Elite 


Charles’ Notes: 

“While the rest of the crew packed the kitchen sink, I chose a much lighter, minimalist approach. I personally don’t want to rack-up and rack-down after every trip; in fact, I don’t even have racks… I’m a full believer in the voile/custom webbing strap religion. While the others had a specific spot for every item in their bicycle suitcases, I enjoyed reefing everything down with surprisingly limited real estate.

When asked at the end of the trip if I would change my setup, my answer was: I would pack less. Extra clothes? I’m already dirty. Rain gear? It’s summertime, embrace the storm! Spare tubes and a pump? What are friends for!?  

In all honesty, the straps slipped at every pothole and a dedicated lower pannier or large frame bag would be ideal. I also would’ve enjoyed more room for trinkets but that’s probably for the best as the only souvenirs I gathered were a Nova Scotia fisherman magnet, proudly displayed on my fridge, and our extremely rare Mott’s canned Caesar 50-year anniversary, stained pint glass. I’ll cherish it forever.”


Charles' kit.


Sam & Mike’s Kit: 

Tent: Dragonfly OSMO Bikepack 2P 

Sleeping Bag: Disco Women’s 30 RegularDisco Men’s 30 Regular 

Sleeping Pad: Quasar 3D Insulated Regular, Astro Insulated Regular 

Pillow: Fillo Elite x 2 


Mike’s Notes: 

"I decided to take some hints from Charles and pared down my kit a little this year after over-packing last year. I removed the rear racks and packed down all my gear into my Swift Jr. Ranger panniers. Snacks, tools, and spare parts were stuffed into a homemade frame bag. My sleep system fit perfectly into my left pannier and my clothing/other gear into the right pannier.   

For a mid-trail bike like my Salsa Vaya, I don't think the benefits of the front rack are as pronounced as they might be on a more squirrely low-trail frame, but having tried both a front and rear rack, I have come to prefer the planted and stable feeling of the front load. The front racks are also approximately half the weight of the rear rack — a welcome relief given the amount of canned Caesars we were carrying around! 

The 2023 Dragonfly OSMO Bikepack 2P sample performed perfectly! I tucked it behind my handlebar box using the integrated coated webbing straps on the stuff sack and was pleasantly surprised at how durable they felt. Just like last year, we lucked out again with incredible weather, but if that ever changes, I will be happy to have the Landing Zone™ to help keep the gear in the vestibule dry. 

Just prior to arriving at our first campsite, I came to the realization that my clothing pannier looked a little light.  I dug into my bag, knowing already what I had forgotten, and found that my camp shorts and shirt were missing!  Thankfully, the campsite had t-shirts and I bought a pair of overly revealing shorts from a women's-only consignment store near the campground. Don’t forget to check and double check your kit before you head out!"


Mike's kit.


Sam’s Notes: 

“I overpacked… by a lot. I overestimated how many layers I would need and, yeah, packed the kitchen sink. I really only needed camp clothes, my bike kit (jersey and bib shorts), a rain jacket, and a warm layer. For some reason, pre-trip Sam felt she needed 3 shirts (why??). Next time, I need to remember what I actually wore on the trip and make sure to check the weather forecast the day of. 

In terms of bike bags and transportation method, it felt good to have these dialed in after trying out my new bike bags on the Vermont trip last year. I had panniers that were loaded on the front of my Trek Checkpoint, which worked well along with a half frame bag (that Mike made for me!) and a saddlebag. The extra bags this time around definitely contributed to the overpacking.” 

Sam's kit.


The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it. Sam works in NEMO’s Marketing department, managing relationships with NEMO ambassadors and partners, assisting with executing consumer and media-facing events and coordinating other Marketing/PR needs. This is Sam’s fourth GO FAR trip. When not traveling, Sam enjoys time on her gravel bike, trail running and experimenting with homemade hummus recipes.