One of the best parts of owning a motorcycle is the ability to cruise around and explore new, exciting, and remote places. Moto camping is a great way to extend those moments from solitary rides into full-on adventures. Being packed and ready to camp with your motorcycle can allow you to extend the boundaries for cruising far beyond where a typical weekend ride can take you. This guide to moto camping basics will teach you:
Let’s get down to business.
Motorcycle camping isn’t much different from car camping or RV camping; the only difference is that you’re loading and riding your motorcycle to the campsite. It’s a great way to double down on the feeling of freedom your bike provides. Instead of heading home after a cruise, you can pick a stop under the stars to spend a night or two. Moto camping is perfect for trips with friends or spending some quality alone time in the wilderness. Finally, it connects you to nature and takes your mind away from all the trivial things that occupy you at home.
What do you need to bring when motorcycle camping? Just about everything you would bring on a typical camping or backpacking trip, plus a few extras. At a minimum, you’ll need the following:
No camping trip is complete without a tent of some sort. You have to have somewhere safe to sleep; laying out on a blanket underneath the stars sounds great until it’s freezing and rainy at 3 a.m. If you’re someone who enjoys roughing it or you lack a decent amount of space on your bike, you can pack a bivouac shelter instead. Bivouac shelters are essentially a micro tent—they are large enough to fit your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and your own body into. They weigh very little and pack down to a very small volume. Similarly, you could also use a hammock instead of a traditional tent to save space and enjoy a unique kind of camping out.
Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad
Your sleeping bag and sleeping pad, more than anything else you bring, are essential to your comfort and survival. Before you purchase a sleeping bag or choose a weekend to camp, research the nighttime temperatures in that area. Choose a sleeping bag that will keep you comfortable (or alive) in the nighttime weather, or choose a camping date that will fit your sleeping bag.
Sleeping bags are given a comfort rating and a survival rating to describe the temperature range that they’re good for. For example, our Katahdin sleeping bags come with three different temperature comfort/survival ranges: 45-32 degrees, 30-15 degrees, and 15-0 degrees. The lower the comfort/survival range, the heavier (and usually pricier) the sleeping bag.
You will also need a light sleeping pad to go under your sleeping bag at night. They give you a bit of comfortable padding, which is good for your back and hips. They also help keep you warm as you sleep. The insulating ability of sleeping pads is measured by “R-value.” Talking R-values can get complex and boring, but the important thing to know is that the higher the R-value, the more insulation the pad provides.
The best clothes for moto camping aren’t the same as what you might wear for a typical ride. Most people know that leather and denim are perfect for riding a motorcycle, however avid outdoorsmen know that merino wool and polyester are ideal for camping. These fabrics are simultaneously breathable and warm; they wick sweat away from you without letting all of your body heat out.
If you plan to do any hiking during your moto camping trip, bring clothes made of performance fabrics like merino wool and polyester. Leave your denim and leather back at camp to ensure you’re hiking in clothes designed for performance on the trail, not on the open road. However, if you're planning to simply enjoy the campfire after your ride, don't worry about packing any performance clothing.
One more important tip for clothing concerning bear safety: Don't sleep in the clothes you cooked dinner in. If you're in bear country, you don't want a bear to be attracted to the barbecue smell on your shirt while you're asleep.
Most advice when it comes to food and water focuses on hiking and backpacking rather than camping. When you’re walking all day and then sleeping in a tent, a good rule of thumb is to bring two pounds of food and two liters of water.
Even if you don't plan on hiking, you'll still want to bring the same amount of food and water. You'll be hungrier than you think, and camping isn't much fun when you're starving.
What type of food you should bring depends on what types of activities you have planned. If you’re simply planning on enjoying a lakeside retreat and not, say, hiking 10 miles each day, you can bring whatever you like. If you are planning on getting a lot of exercise, though, bring foods that are high in protein and sodium. This will help your body recover, replenish lost nutrients, and stay hydrated.
Water, or, rather, access to water, is also a very important consideration. A source of clean, potable water makes everything easier. If your campsite doesn’t have drinkable water, you need to plan around that. Bring at least two liters of water, more if you can fit it. Alternatively, you can bring a water purifying system like a LifeStraw that will turn dirty water into something more useful.
Camp Stove and Cooking System
Another important consideration is food prep. Are you going to be at a campground with access to water and charcoal grilling? If so, this may inform some of your food choices if you plan on having a cookout. You'll also want to pack some camping cooking gear to make sure you're all set up for dinner. If you're headed to a more remote area akin to backcountry camping, you can bring dehydrated meals that you can cook with boiling water and lots and lots of granola. With a backpacking stove, such as a JetBoil, all you have to do is boil water, pour it in the meal, and stir.
There are also some other smaller items that are more or less necessary for an enjoyable and safe motorcycle camping trip. Many of them come from the “Ten Essentials” a list of items necessary for survival that have become synonymous with proper outdoor adventure packing. You may decide that you don’t truly need some of these items for your trip, and that’s okay. However, you should take them into strong consideration before leaving them behind.
Heading out to bear country for camping? You'll need these:
Filling out your camping checklist is one thing, but fitting all of that stuff on the back of your bike is another beast altogether. You’re likely well aware that motorcycles aren’t made with storage as a top priority, so how are you going to fit all that camping gear on your bike?
Though it truly depends on the type of bike you own, you will likely need to rely on a leather or fiberglass storage bin mounted to the rear of the bike. Whether you go with fiberglass mounts and panniers or the classic leather saddlebags, you need to maximize the amount of storage on your bike.
Saddlebags, for the most part, will fit any bike. They come with adjustable straps and buckles that will grip your bike securely. Leather saddlebags will typically cost about $125-$200.
Luggage cases made from hard plastic or fiberglass are more bike-specific; you’ll have to do a little more research to find the right one. You can find hard fiberglass storage options for roughly $300.
Backpacks: Should You Wear One?
You’re probably accustomed to wearing a backpack while you ride to work, to the store, or just on an afternoon cruise. While this is fine for short distances, wearing a backpack on a longer ride can increase rider fatigue, which reduces the distance you can safely travel. So, if you’re heading off to the woods for the weekend, do everything you can to fit your gear on your bike, not on your back. But if you must wear a backpack, try to make sure it is aerodynamic and/or doesn’t catch wind. And also be careful: A backpack while riding a motorcycle can cause your injuries in a wreck to be more serious than they would be if you weren't wearing one.
When deciding what kind of backpack or storage bin to get, it's important to consider volume. A saddlebag or fiberglass mounted case is useless if it can’t fit all your gear.
Generally speaking, this is the volume of storage you’ll need to have for moto camping trips of different lengths:
How much weight you are hauling should be at the forefront of your mind when putting together your gear list. Ultralight backpacking and hiking has become very popular in recent years; it describes a philosophy in which hikers try to cut as much weight as possible from their gear. This involves buying the lightest and smallest gear possible, as well as leaving anything that’s not an absolute essential at home.
Adherents of “ultralight philosophy” enjoy it because it makes camping and hiking easier; less weight means less taxing hikes. They also enjoy the way that having only the bare essentials makes them feel closer to nature.
Coincidentally, that feeling of simplicity and connecting with nature is part of the allure of getting a motorcycle, too! And since your motorcycle won’t have as much storage space as a car (and perhaps even less than a large backpacking pack), going ultralight isn’t just a nice idea—it may be the only way to go.
So, instead of bringing along a 6-pound sleeping bag and 6-person tent, get yourself a lightweight moto camping tent. You could even bring a moto camping hammock and compatible sleeping bag to keep things even lighter by hammock camping. Want an even lighter moto camping setup? You can actually anchor a tarp directly to your bike. No matter how you choose to pack, sticking close to an ultralight mindset will ensure that you can actually fit all your gear it on your bike.
Finding a place to park your bike and camp at the same time can be a bit tricky and somewhat depends on the type of motorcycle you own. If you have a true chopper, you probably won’t want to take it down a rough gravel road, but a dual-sport adventure bike is perfect for just that. Before you decide to grab a reservation on recreation.gov, make sure that you know your bike can actually get you there safely.
Many campgrounds are accessible by paved roads made to handle cars and RVs; your motorcycle will be fine there. Other campgrounds, though, are located farther in the woods at the end of rocky, dirt roads; you may want to stay away from these sites. As a general rule, you should avoid campgrounds or campsites that mention “backcountry” or “wilderness” camping. These terms describe campsites only accessible by hiking.
What if you don’t want to camp in a designated campground and be surrounded by other people? There is one option that will fill you with the spirit of adventure: overlanding.
If you have a dual-sport bike or any other motorcycle that can handle dirt and gravel, you might want to try your hand at “overlanding.” Typically, this is something people with heavy-duty 4X4 trucks and SUVs engage in. Overlanding describes driving (or riding in your case) into a wilderness area and setting up camp in, quite literally, the middle of nowhere. The journey itself is as important as the destination; an ethos that fits perfectly with the love of motorcycles.
Overlanding works well in regions without many forested lands—such as the American Southwest. It’s a truly rugged “cowboy camping” experience that offers something few other camping experiences can: adventure and solitude. There are no roads, no trails, and no visitor centers. All you have is your bike and what you can fit on it. Overlanding is a great way to experience a one-of-a-kind adventure; no two journeys are exactly the same.
Where do you go if you want to take a moto camping trip in the overlanding style? There are many collections of great overlanding routes/areas in America. However, the beauty of overlanding is that it’s really up to you. The best way to find a route is to simply daydream—find a place you think you would enjoy and research the rules and regulations about that land. If overlanding is permitted (or at least not expressly forbidden), you’re good to go!
Motorcycle camping is a great way to expand on the feeling of freedom you get from your motorcycle. A Saturday morning ride can turn into a three-day adventure that takes you far away from the stresses and excesses of everyday life. What’s your plan for your first motorcycle camping journey? Cruising through the winding roads of a national park or making your way overlanding-style? Let us know in the comments below!
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