The MotoCynic Guide: Motorcycle Camping (get out there!)


Had to get Firewood at the nearest town, sadly it was a bit green and did not work well.

Had to get Firewood at the nearest town, sadly it was a bit green and did not work well.

Motorcycle Camping appears to be popular lately, and while I found several articles written on the subject online I discovered that none of them told me exactly what I wanted to know. Many of them got close, and after reading several of them I got enough information to feel like I knew what I was getting into. Now that I’ve done a bit of camping on a motorcycle I thought that I would add my own thoughts on the matter and write my own guide.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on camping on a motorcycle, but I’ve been camping and backpacking all my life and done a few motorcycling camping trips over the years.

To write a complete guide I would have to write a book, so this won’t be a complete guide. This guide plus the links I provide will help you with your first MotoCamping trip. Once you have gotten out on that first trip, your own experiences of what went right and wrong will guide you better than anything else.

Which brings me to my most important point. If you own a motorcycle you can use it for camping. You don’t need an adventure bike or tourer, nearly all of my motorcycle camping has been done on a Ducati Monster. Which is very far from what most people would consider a good bike to camp with.

However, I do want to say I think that camping on a motorcycle isn’t really the best sort of camping for someone who has never done any camping before. If you have never been camping I would suggest that maybe go car camping with some friends. Borrowing as much gear as possible, and get a feel for what it’s like before embarking on a motorcycle camping trip. Here is a good guide to a first time camping trip.

The best sort of preparation for motorcycle camping is backpacking, it’s the most similar since you don’t have that much space to carry all of your gear on a motorcycle. If you’ve done any backpacking then camping on a motorcycle will be relatively easy.

On to my actual guide: There are really only a three very important questions you need to answer before you go camping on a motorcycle.

What Kind of Motorcycling Camping?

The first step when going camping on a motorcycle is deciding what kind of trip you are going to have. Are you going to be doing more camping or motorcycling. I tend to motorcycle more, meaning I spend most of my day riding and camp as a place to sleep (and relax by a campfire). I generally don’t cook and if I do I try and keep it very simple, ideally something cooked on the open fire with materials available at the campground.

If you are going to cook you’ll need cooking gear and food. You will also need to leave yourself time to cook while the sun is still up. Cooking while camping is an art to itself and I won’t even attempt to try and suggest how you go about that, just remember that since space is going to be tight simple will be better. Once again start small for your first trip so you don’t end up hungry. Here (or here) is a good site that suggest what to bring if you’re going to cook.

What do you bring/pack?

The most important things are a good tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. All of these can be had for any budget. There is a sweet spot in the middle, and I won’t tell you what you should spend. If you can borrow stuff before spending money on it even better.

For a tent I would suggest you make sure it is small enough to fit in your luggage (more on that below) which can be tricky as some tents have poles that are quite long and won’t fit in saddlebags. If you decide not to put it in your saddlebags or top case, make sure you put it in something waterproof, since you’ll really want your tent (and sleeping bag) to be dry.

Sleeping bags come in all sorts of sizes and costs, of course smaller is better, but with a decent compression bag you can get anything to be reasonably small. I use a bag that I got for car camping that’s huge but with a decent compression sack it fit OK on the back of my bike.

Sleeping Pad- This is really important. You want something that will insulate you from what could be very cold ground, but still keep you comfortable through the night. I use a Therm-a-Rest from my days backpacking. It’s pretty bulky compared to what you can get now, but it’s great to sleep on and a nice compromise between an air mattress and a ensolite pad.

Once you have those essentials sorted out you can start on other useful camping stuff. If you’ve camped before you have an idea of what you usually bring, my list is what I’ve used for my last couple of trips.

My only picture from along Hwy 96. The road was too awesome to want to stop.

My only picture from along Hwy 96. The road was too awesome to want to stop.

How do you fit it all on your bike?

If you don’t have saddlebags or  other luggage for your bike you’ll need to get some. Check out a local gear shop, if that doesn’t work I’ve found Twisted Throttle and Aerostich Warehouse both good places to get luggage. You need something that will work with your motorcycle, forums specific to your bike or are good places to ask.

This is where all your gear being smaller becomes important. More compact gear means it’s much easier to fit it all on your bike, leaving you room for some luxuries. To carry my gear I use saddlebags, a tail pack, and a backpack to fit all my stuff in. From my experience this is a comfortable amount of space to fit and take everything you need as long as you’re not planning on cooking. You might be able to do with less luggage, and if you have really high end backpacking gear (ie very compact) you could probably make do with just a large tail pack. (my motorcycle camping friend does)

I put my tent, my extra shoes, and a light jacket in one saddle bag. In the other I put my thermarest, clothes, and camping stuff (flashlight, toiletries etc.). I use my backpack for stuff I’ll want on the ride (extra gloves, layers, water, snacks, other visor) My tail pack holds the motorcycle stuff- a few tools, tire repair kit, lock etc. My sleeping bag is held on with a bungee net kept dry with it’s waterproof compression dry sack.

When packing, it’s important to try to keep the heavy stuff as close to the center of mass of your motorcycle as possible. So the front of your saddle bags is ideal. I also try and not carry too much weight on my back. Mainly because I tend to do 400-500 mile days and it can be tough carrying all that weight all day on your back.

One Last Tip:

Motorcycle camping isn’t hard, but for your first trip I think you should start small. Go somewhere nearby your home so you have plenty of time to set up and in the worst case you can just head home. Also I think that cooking is something better left to a second trip and only tackled if your confidant about it, or keeping it really simple.  Below are some great sites that have helped me in the past. Have fun and get camping!


This was with the Wife in 2008. So many memories, I can't wait to be out in the woods again!

This was with the Wife in 2008. So many memories, I can’t wait to be out in the woods again!


About MotoCynic

I started riding motorcycles in 2006, and there is no going back. I've ridden more than 100,000 miles, most of it on a Ducati Monster, and despite setbacks and murderous BMW's I'm loving every mile.
This entry was posted in Gear, Life, Motocycling, motorcycle, Motorcycles, Riding, Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The MotoCynic Guide: Motorcycle Camping (get out there!)

  1. The only difference with me is that my camping will be two up, We’ve already established that we can pack 3 days worth of change of clothes, plus street shoes and toiletries in the saddle bags (one bag each without compression bags). Puncture kit, wet weather gear, chargers etc… are stowed in the tank bag… still got a top box with rack to go so hopeful it will be OK.

    Thanks for a great post and links, it really deserves more than one “like”


    • MotoCynic says:

      You should be fine as long as you don’t try and bring cooking stuff. Or if you have small stove etc. The only time I miss cooking is when I’m in the same campground for more than one night.

  2. MotoCynic says:

    Reblogged this on The Ramblings of a Cynic and commented:

    I thought this would be worth posting here just in case the internet missed it the first time around.

  3. Pingback: MotoCynic Guide: Touring on Ducati Monster | Motorcycles and the Cynic

  4. Pingback: Another Year of Motorcycling: 2014 in Reveiw | Motorcycles and the Cynic

  5. Deckyon says:

    Not a bad write up. One thing I would add would be to swap where you have your moto tools. While this is mostly preference, there is some thought behind it. I keep my tools in the right pannier bag. First, it helps keep the weight low. Also, this way, you can access the bag staying as far away from the road as possible in the event of a break down. Now, make sure you put enough weight in the left to balance out. I put my fuel (MSR tanks) and cooking gear in the left to help with the balance. But, it really does come down to personal preference. Just wise to make sure the weight is evenly distributed on both sides of the bike.

    Every year I make a trial run only a couple hours from home. Last weekend was mine. full load out for a 4 night trip even though it was only for a single night. Gear changes, additions and subtractions. Test everything so you know what to expect.

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