There are many similarities between motorcycling and camping – the feeling of freedom, the idea of exploration and the appreciation of one’s surroundings – yet few think of combining the two. Recently, though, more people are learning to appreciate the simplicity of motorcycle camping, both on their own and with a group of fellow riders.
Of course, there are tradeoffs when you plan a camping trip around your motorcycle – space and weight being the biggest limiting factors. If you are thinking of giving motorcycle camping a try, here are some basic tips to get you started on your adventure.
The number one rule when it comes to motorcycle camping – pack light. Even the largest touring bikes have a finite amount of space and carrying capacity, and if you are camping with a smaller dual sports motorcycle or a sportbike, options may be further limited.
The upside of a motorcycle’s limited luggage capacity is that, in the true spirit of camping, it forces you to bring only what is necessary for the adventure. The downside, though, is that it can be difficult to decide exactly what those ‘necessary’ items are.
Shelter, of course, is a primary concern. Although there are a few hearty souls that use nothing more than a tarp and a few lengths of twine as a makeshift shelter, there is no reason you cannot travel with a tent-like any other camper; companies like Eureka, The North Face, REI and many others make ultra-compact tents that can fit in a saddlebag.
Likewise, MSR, JetBoil, and Coleman make one-person stoves with small fuel canisters in a variety of styles – so you can even bring food with you on the road. A quick trip to the local outdoor store will reveal plenty of options for portable cookware and utensils.
With careful planning, it is possible to bring many of the everyday items you would expect to find at a campsite: a tent, sleeping bag, food, cooking items, clothes and rain gear. You have to choose compact items, and give up a few of the extras you might normally think of taking.
It can be difficult on your first trip to know exactly what to bring, but a helpful tip is to keep a master list of all items you bring on your motorcycle adventures. Not only will this list make it easier to pack for subsequent trips, but if you make a note of items that you find are not necessary and can be eliminated, then the list will help you pack lighter and more efficiently.
How to Pack your Motorcycle to Go Camping
So now that you have decided what you are going to take with you, how do you get it all on the bike?
Bungees, backpacks, bags, and nets have all been used at one point or another to transport items on a motorcycle, but there is no question a set of saddlebags and a top case are invaluable for the motorcycle camper.
Many touring motorcycles come from the factory with hard-sided cases that attach to the bike, while cruisers are commonly found with leather or canvas bags. If your motorcycle does not already have saddlebags or a top case, there are many aftermarket options available, even for sportbikes.
The most useful companion for saddlebags is compression sacks. Made out of canvas or nylon, they can compress a sleeping bag or clothes into a more compact size and shape, allowing for easier packing. Compression sacks are usually inexpensive, and widely available at outdoor stores or the local Supercenter.
No matter how you plan to carry your camping gear, there are a few basic guidelines that are good to follow when packing a motorcycle. Because weight can hurt a bike’s handling, heavier items should always be as close as possible to the center of the bike – packed low in the saddlebags. Lighter objects can go in the top case or lashed to the pillion when riding solo.
If you expect inclement weather (or even if you do not), remember that not all bags are water-resistant. Bring along a few bungee cords and plastic to protect your gear in the rain. Garbage bags can be convenient for this task – they slip right over bags, can store equipment in a pinch, and you can use them at the campsite to pack out the garbage.
It is also a good idea to plan out before-hand what items will be packed in which bag or case – that makes weight distribution consistent between trips, in addition to making it far more difficult to accidentally forget something.
Planning for Emergencies
As with any road (or off-road) adventure, you want to be prepared for anything, so leave a little extra room in the saddlebags for emergency gear.
If your motorcycle came with a toolkit, make sure it is comprehensive enough to cover common problems the bike might encounter on the road. If not, be sure to pack a supplementary kit. A repair manual can be helpful to bring, as well as a tire repair kit and a small motorcycle air pump (learn how to use them beforehand, if possible).
A cell phone is another must-have item, and if your camping adventure will take you far off the beaten path, then a personal locator beacon such as a Fast Find or a SPOT Locator is another option to notify friends or authorities in case of an emergency.
Of course, the most important tool you can take with you is a well-maintained motorcycle and proper safety gear. Make sure the bike is checked out before a long trip, and that the rider is fully protected and mentally ready to ride.
These are just a few tips to help you plan, pack and head out on a motorcycle camping adventure. Unlike more traditional forms of camping, motorcycle camping allows you to have a complete experience from start to finish – not just when you are at the campsite.