This beginners guide to motorcycle camping will give you the basics you need to get away for that all important motorcycle break.
Have you ever thought about just packing up your motorcycle and heading away for a few days to go camping?
When you first set out to go camping with your motorcycle, there are inevitably a few questions: What do i take? What kind of equipment do you need? What kind of luggage will keep my belongings safe and secure ? Hopefully this guide will answer those questions.
You don’t need to spend an obscene amount of money, on yourself and your bike, buying the latest and greatest in high tech gear. There is also no need to save up for a trip through Europe or around the world, when there is adventure on your doorstep.
Some of my most memorable trips away with the bike have been whilst packing the basics and heading out on some great roads for an overnighter.
Why go camping with your motorcycle?
A motorcycle is the perfect vehicle for camping!
When you take a trip in a car or motorhome, the scenery you see is like watching a movie on a widescreen TV. When riding a motorcycle, you are living the movie, in fact you are the starring role.
Getting away on the motorbike, even for a couple of hours is a chance to escape from life’s distractions. Add to that the simplicity of packing up the bike, the freedom to choose the road less travelled and the self sufficiency of camping – all of a sudden the bike journey becomes the ultimate adventure.
Imagine the scene. You’ve just completed 6 hours of riding some of the best mountain passes and you’ve arrived at your campsite. You’ve pitched your tent and you settle down to make a brew and strike up the portable barbecue, whilst breathing in the day and night air – there’s no better feeling!
You could spend thousands on a BMW 1200GS with all the latest gadgets and pretend you are Ewan and Charlie on the Long Way Down, but there is no need.
Bruce Smart went round the world on his Suzuki GSX-R1000, taking the minimum amount of luggage. Nathan Millward rode from Australia to the UK on a postal bike. Ed March rode around Iran on a Honda C90.
Put simply, the best bike to go touring on is the bike you own! – Lets get this first camping trip out of the way and you’ll learn what you like and don’t like about your current set up.
What type of Luggage?
Good, well-designed luggage, will not only keep your equipment safe from the elements, but will also be of a sufficient capacity to carry what you need. Companies such as GIVI, Touratech and Kriega, make some outstanding luggage for your requirements. Again, you don’t need to spend a fortune kitting out your bike. Here are your basic options:
Look in any motorcycle shop or online store and you will see an array of tank bags. These are brilliant bits of kit and I would certainly suggest taking one of these as a minimum requirement.
Tank Bags are great for gaining access to those items you need at close hand. Items such as wallet, phone, map, camera, passport, spare change etc can all be carried in the tank bag and be accessed very easily.
This RICHA magnetic bag of around 15ltrs, is ideal for starting out, it even has a clear map compartment, where you can keep your waypoints listed and more importantly dry. It sticks to your metal tank with weighted magnetic points, but you also have a strap to stop it slipping off.
This GIVI tank bag clips onto a ring around your fill cap, so you can clip it on and off.
Hard panniers make excellent repositories for your equipment. They’re hard wearing, so they’ll protect your equipment from all elements of road, weather and traffic.
They’re lockable, so security will not be a niggling doubt when parking up in busy towns.
You could pack cooking gear and camping gear in one pannier. In the second pannier you could pack stuff you want to keep dry – clothes, sleeping bag, wash bag etc. Simply load the panniers with a small sports type bag and you can take that with you in the tent, leaving the panniers empty in the evening.
There are disadvantages. Width can be a problem, meaning that you certainly have to watch your panniers when navigating busy traffic or those tight spaces. They can be deceptively heavy, especially if you don’t know the exact capacity you are filling. You could be tempted to fill them meaning extra weight on the bike.
Then there’s also the frames for your panniers that stick out like a sore thumb, if you have the aftermarket bolt on ones.
Top Box or Tail Pack
These tend to be widely used mainly for keeping your helmet locked away when away from the bike. They’re also great for keeping those items, such as a day sack or camera equipment for exploring. I wouldn’t overpack a top box though as the weight will have a great impact upon the handling of your bike, especially in the bends.
Aftermarket soft panniers are great cheap way to pack your equipment onto the back of your motorbike. They’re less expensive than the hard luggage set up. They’re cheap to replace if they get scratched or damaged and they’re lighter and easier to pack away when you don’t need them.
The downsides are that the cheaper varieties may not be as waterproof as you’d like and they’re not very secure when leaving them on your bike. Even if you padlocked them, it only takes a knife to cut around the lock to gain access.
One of the cheapest and easy ways of just getting started is to invest in a large dry bag. These offer excellent protection for your clothing and camping equipment. Simply sling it over the back of the seat and secure with some straps or bungees and you’re off.
The dry bag is a great option for holding your equipment you need for the weekend and heading off into the wilderness. Most dry bags are of great quality and fully waterproof.
If Kayaking adventurers can keep their stuff dry, you can understand how great they are at withstanding even the worst of weather.
I purchased this one from LOMO which I found to be the least expensive, but great quality.
The small dry bags are ideal for packing individually grouped items to give them that extra waterproof protection. Items such as sleeping bags and spare clothing can be packed tightly and compressed into these great dry bags.
What to Pack
One useful exercise in knowing how much to take is to gather everything you think you’ll need for a trip away and lay it out on the living room floor. Then divide that in to thirds. Discard two thirds and look at the remaining third and that’s about as much as you’ll need.
Ok, not entirely true, but you get the gist. Not an exact science and not the rule of thumb for packing, but its a fun exercise and it gives you that scary thought that you are definitely taking too much!
In all seriousness though,there’s the old adage that says “you don’t need to pack the kitchen sink”. You do need to be weary about weight on the bike so there is no need to take loads of gear. You can’t plan for every single scenario so don’t try. I’ll try to give you a basic list of things that you will need. You can then use the useful kit list to plan what you can and can’t do without.
Back Packing or Hiking tents are the best sort of tent to take with you. These tents will be smaller in size to reduce weight and pack size, making them ideal to carry on your motorbike. Designs are normally tunnel or dome shape, allowing the best in wind resistance, rigidity and stability in open areas. Just don’t take your mates marquee with those massive metal poles!
A tunnel type tent will have great air circulation, be roomy and great in high winds. A dome tent will give you that extra headroom for getting changed in the dry and be easy and quick to pitch.
The Vango Nova is an example of a 2 to 3 man tent with a porch. A porch is such a benefit, so that you can leave your wet smelly riding gear without stinking out or soaking your sleeping gear and dry clean clothing. It’s also light and folds down to next to nothing.
When you are first starting out, buy a tent that has great reviews but is not that expensive. You’ll know what you like or don’t like after a few trips as everyone has different needs and opinions. Don’t forget a small mallet and spare pegs/guide ropes.
Sleeping in Morrocco or Mexico, then you’ll need something that will keep you cool. Camping in Alaska, then you need to keep mighty warm.
A decent sleeping bag with do both, but you’ll pay a hefty price. You’d think that sleeping in Norway, you’d pick a 4 season sleeping bag full of down to keep you toasty warm. However, when i did my trip it was 30 degrees celsius and I was too warm. It goes to show you can’t always get it right.
Whether you pick a square sleeping bag or mummy bag, made of down or synthetic, you’re never going to get it 100% right first time. Everyone has different sleep patterns. You should research a sleeping bag on how you sleep, what your sleeping temperature is, if you are a cold or warm sleeper, or if you get too claustrophobic in a mummy bag.
My advice is to buy a decent 3 season bag that is not too expensive at first. You can then buy a bag suited to your body and your environment late on.
This Vango Venom 400 is a great bag and it packs down to next to nothing.
There’s nothing worse than sleeping on a cold tent groundsheet with no insulation. You wake up feeling just plain old groggy, having had next to no sleep and the pain in your joints mean that next few hours on your motorcycle isn’t going to be fun!
Any fool can be wet and cold, so it pays to think about staying warm. Self inflatable matresses are a god send. They take a few minutes to inflate and are great at giving you a comfortable nights sleep.
This one from Vango is the one i bought and it’s a great addition to my camping equipment. It cost around £20 – great!
Unless you are going up into the remote wilderness, then i wouldn’t take too much cooking equipment for your first camping trip.
When touring Norway I bought all my meals on the go and i took the basic brew kit, so that i could have a nice cuppa tea in the morning. For all your cooking needs, I would look no further than the Jetboil flash stove.
This fantastic bit of kit will heat you up some water in minutes. You can then use this to make a brew or to add to rehydrate some dried meals.
If you really need to get back to basics and eat cheaply at the campsite then the simple Adventure Main Meals sold by camping stores are ideal.
These are dehydrated for ease of use and ease of carriage. As well as adding the only the minimum amount of weight to your pack, they’re extremely simple to prepare: open the pouch, add hot water, stir, leave. Eat!
You should always wear protective equipment on the bike. You should dress for the potential accident rather than the weather. Therefore leathers or textiles, suitable boots and gloves are a must. Textiles are a god send in warm weather as you have lots of zips and openings to vent that unwanted warm air.
Using the layering system can be handy. You can layer up under your riding gear to keep warm in the cold weather and strip down to a wicking base layer in the warm. Don’t forget your fleece and your waterproofs for that inevitable downpour.
When thinking about what I pack for a trip away, I will take the minimum i can get away with. You will be on the bike wearing the same riding gear every day. The only change will be underwear, socks and t-shirt. So, you only have to think about what you will change into, in the evenings when your days riding is over. A pair of jeans, clean t-shirt and a pair of trainers will be ideal. Don’t forget the fleece!
Don’t try to take along so many clothes that you don’t have to wash! You can still wear something more than once and some campsites even offer laundry facilities.
Tools and other equipment.
I thew away my OE toolkit that came with the bike and made my own, which i keep in my tankbag.
My basic toolkit consists of a socket for my rear axle, usually a size 27. Then I also take a small kit of screwdriver, adjustable wrench, sockets and ratchet which i keep in the tank bag. I take a large socket ratchet bar, which i keep in the main bag. I’ll take long nosed pliers, C-spanner, allen keys, zip ties, masking tape, chain oil, puncture repair kit, spare bulbs and that’s about it. That will hopefully get me out of most snags, but if not then roadside assistance are always a phone call away.
I’ll take my wash kit in with my spare clothes. I’ll take a camera and action camera with spare lenses, sunglasses, maps, phone, wallet, spare keys, etc in my tank bag.
Don’t forget your side-stand Puck for the campsite!
This is a great check list for looking at what you may need. You can also adapt it to suit your needs.
Finding a Camp Site.
Some people like to plan their trips with military precision. Others like to wing it.
If you’re doing arduous 12 hour days and then waiting until late to find a site, then you will quickly get tired, irritable and your camping trip will become more of a chore than an adventure.
My advice would be to have a rough idea of where you want to head to and make a note of campsites in the area. You can then stop for lunch at midday and look at where you are likely to be around 4pm. Have a look at campsites that are around that area and stay there.
You could ring ahead during lunch to be sure that there are pitches available, or you could chance your luck and rock up hoping to get a spot. I’ve always just pitched up at a site without booking ahead. Being a solo motorcyclist means that you can probably get a pitch anyway, as you’re not too much of a burden and will be gone in the morning.
Being on a motorcycle is great, but add to that the joys of heading off for an overnight stay somewhere remote, enjoying the freedom of the open road – there is no better substitute. It is motorcycle therapy at its best!