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.
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 ADVRider.com 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!