The Ultimate Guide to Motorcycle Camping 17 Top Tips
By Wesley Pestana | Updated Sep 04, 2018
I’ve loved camping ever since I was a kid but heading for the great outdoors on a bike takes the experience to another level. As I’ve grown older two things have changed.
The first, is the annoying fact that earning a crust impinges greatly on any leisure time. Secondly, I love a good gadget. Combining these two facts means that when it comes time to hit the great outdoors, I like compact motorcycle camping gear that works well.
So with this in mind, let's take a look at what you need to get the best out of your motorcycle camping trip.
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Essential Motorcycle Camping Gear
Every item on your trip has to earn its keep, why? Because weight and size are the enemies and there’s only so much crap you can get on a bike. So, if you’re looking at a motorcycle tent that’s up to the job, ask yourself a few questions first.
What Time of Year am I Going ?
Most tents are three season, this relates to spring summer and fall. If you’re taking your motorbike camping in the mountains during winter, then you’ll obviously need a specialist tent, and of course a snowmobile!
How Many Bodies Will I Try and Cram Into My Tent?
If you’re flying solo, then a two-man camping tent will give plenty of room for you and your motorcycle camping equipment. If you’re packing a ‘significant other’ who likes a bit of elbow room, you may want to consider a three-man. This type of tent will give you a slightly larger footprint, just be aware though that along with the extra size, comes extra bulk and weight. A lot of two-man tents on the market are ‘backpacking tents.' There's nothing wrong with them, it's just that all the emphasis is on how little they weigh and for me, they always feel a bit flimsy. I prefer to go for something a little more robust
How Robust is My Motorbike Tent?
By robust, I mean how heavy, and this is why you should always check out the ‘packed weight.' Here’s an example, the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 comes in at 2lb 5oz, whereas the Nemo Galaxi 2, weighs 5lb 5oz.
Now there’s nothing wrong with the Big Agnes but I’m not lugging it up a mountain on my back. The extra 3lb of the Nemo isn't an issue, so in this instance, go with personal preference.
Now if you're feeling uptight about your your bike having to spend the night outside you could consider an actual motorcycle tent like the Bike Shield so not only will you be protected, but you can tuck your baby safely into a bike tent. Weight does however, remain the enemy for anyone planning a motorcycle camping trip, so whatever motorcycle camping gear you choose, the overall weight of all your gear is an essential consideration and here's why.
Whatever bike you ride, the owner’s manual will give you the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating).
Here’s an example of GVWR, a BMW 1200GS can safely carry almost 1000lbs before it handles like a pig on a skateboard. The standard bike juiced up, and ready to rock weighs in at around 525lbs, which leaves you well over 450lbs to play with.
That may sound like an awful lot but it includes rider, and or pillion, plus riding gear and that’s before you even begin packing it with your kit in your motorcycle backpack.
How Much Does it Cost?
How deep are your pockets? You can buy a decent 3 sleeper tent for around a $100 which will give you plenty of reliable service over many trips. Fancy something a little more chic? How about a Snow Peak Taputorturite!!
What is It's Hydrostatic Head Like?
So what’s the deal with the Hydrostatic Head? In a nutshell, it is a standardized measurement that manufacturers of waterproof material use and it tells you your tent’s level of waterproofness. For example, if you see a tent with an HH of 5000, this translates to a fabric that can withstand a column of water 5000mm high, before it you get water ingress.
My last point to mention on the whole which is the best tent for motorcycle camping aspect is that while I do thoroughly enjoy motorcycle camping, I'm a fairly lazy camper so I'd prefer to opt for a quick motorcycle pop up camper, while they generally have a much lower maximum head height, the ease of use is just amazing, and not to mention the reduced weight from not having to lug around a bunch of heavy poles - but that's just my preference.
The next most important thing on the list of gear is a sleeping bag. A good night's sleep is crucial especially when touring. Shivering your nuts off all night in a bad bag is not recommended. When it comes to sleeping bags, there are three things to look out for, shape, filling and temperature range.
Shape breaks down into three basics styles; mummy, rectangular and tapered rectangular. The two rectangular variants are self-explanatory, with the tapered version narrowing down towards the feet. The mummy is very close fitting and comes with a hood. If you're someone who sleeps perfectly still and isn't claustrophobic, then the latter sleeping bag will do, otherwise consider one of the other two options.
All sleeping bags have one of two fillings, down or synthetic and each have pluses and minuses. The down bag is warmer and packs smaller. Get it wet though, and you may as well check into the nearest motel because your camping trip is over. Synthetic filled bags are cheaper, more rugged but bulkier to pack.
Like tents, sleeping bags are season rated, which in turn translates to safe temperature ranges. You will find most general-purpose bags are three season, and like a tent, if you intend it for serious cold weather, get specialist kit. You don't mess around with sub-zero temperatures.
A vital part of getting a good nights sleep when camping is keeping off the floor. Insulation from the ground will keep you warm and isolate you from the lumps and bumps. And answers to this problem range from thin foam mats to multi-cell inflatable beds.
As with everything you pack for a trip of this kind, it’s all down to trade-offs. A foam mat weighs next to nothing but is bulky, whereas an airbed packs a lot smaller but weighs considerably more.
Having gone down the foam mat route I can safely say that as a camping mattress foam mats are low on laughs.
Every aspect of camping equipment has improved dramatically over the years but cooking gear has lagged behind a little. Thankfully, technology has caught up and today’s options are a vast improvement.
The question you need to ask yourself before laying down the greenbacks is, what am I going to use it for? I know, it sounds like one of those ‘duh’ questions, but if your stove is going to be the sole source of hot food for a week, you need something up to the task while maintaining the requirement of compact camping gear for motorcycle camping.
You might consider a propane-powered unit with a decent size burner and pot stand like the Coleman Classic.
If however, you fancy something with greener credentials and an endless supply of free fuel, then a wood burning, Solo Stove Lite may be the answer.
For a weekend of coffee and ‘just add hot water’ meals the Jetboil Flash ticked all my boxes. It comes as a complete kit and the high output burner packs into its own cooking cup. It offer very efficient gear and a cool gadget all-in-one.
It doesn't matter what bike you ride, there is a right and a wrong way to pack it. Do it correctly, and you'll enjoy a trouble-free trip, do a shoddy job, by loading it poorly, and you’re an accident waiting to happen.
First of all, let’s look at stability. Motorcycle manufacturers go to all kinds of extreme lengths to get as much weight as low down as possible. Why? Because the higher the weight, the more it affects the bike's center of gravity.
On the road, this translates to the bike feeling top heavy and flopping into bends or the front end feeling vague and steering light. Pack too high and heavy, which is a common newbie mistake and you can even lose balance paddling through a car park.
The best way to avoid this is to spread all your kit out on the floor. This way you can see what you're taking and double check if you need it in the first place. At this point you should realize the importance of compact camping gear for motorcycle camping. If you have hard/fixed panniers, pack the heavy stuff low down.
This rule applies if you have throw-over panniers too, just make sure they can be secured to the bike in some way to stop them moving around too much. If you’re riding solo, use the entire passenger seat as this means the weight is inboard of the rear shock.
A wet bag will obviously keep all your kit dry, but it also keeps all your gear together in a neat oblong shape, making it ideal to lash across the top of your panniers.
Something to keep in mind here, if it's directly against your back, pack the lumpy things at the rear of the bag, so they don't jab you with every bump in the road.
Gadgets to Make Life Easier
Ok, so a sleeping bag isn’t strictly a gadget but the Three-Season Big Agnes Encampment, sure makes life easier. If you aren’t a fan of mummy bags and find trad rectangles bulky, then you will like the BA as it’s a combination of both.
It offers the warmth and compressibility of a mummy, but with extra leg room and if your back can stand a sleep pad, there’s a pocket underneath for it to sit inside. The bag comes in three sizes and can unzip flat, now that’s clever.
You may think you’re getting away from it all, but you’ve probably got a cell phone, GPS, GoPro or some other electronic device tucked away. If so, you need an FKANT Solar Charger. The positive is that all these items are ideal compact motorcycle camping gear. Built for outdoors it’s water and shock resistant, can boot up your smartphone in 60 minutes and the LED charge indicators are bright enough to use as emergency lighting.
We’ve all been there; you've just sat down to eat when 500lbs of grizzly comes calling with its eye on your curry-in-a-bag. Well, not today Bruin, that's not some ordinary old cutlery your packing, that's a Ka-Bar Tactical Spork.
Weighing in at just 2.4ozs, the serrated knife lives inside the body of the spoon for transit and then fits together to produce a serious piece of combat cutlery. If that’s a bit too cutting edge, check out the Eat N Tool, it’s a spork, bottle/tin opener, and wrench in one.
A definite must have on your list of motorcycle camping essentials is a good quality torch.
Anything can happen in the pitch black, just ask Vin Diesel. The Victagen Tactical 1230 is a small pocket LED torch that kicks out an incredible 1230 lumens on full blast.
Its got five lighting modes and a zoom facility which means you can go from illuminating your entire campsite to hanging it in your tent to read. It also has a strobe mode for emergencies, and its Li-ion battery is rechargeable via micro USB cable.
- Lay everything out on the floor you intend to pack and make doubly sure it’s essential?
- Take a minimum of two torches
- If you buy a new motorbike tent, erect it before you go. You can make sure no parts are missing and that you can erect it on your own
- When you buy a sleeping bag make sure it comes with a compression bag, (not all do) and check out its size when compressed
- Secure your gear in layers, don’t put it all in a big pile and strap it on securely
- Hard luggage or throw-overs, make sure your gear is in waterproof inner bags
- Before you leave, go for a ride with your bike fully loaded. You can make sure everything is stable; see if the tires need more air, or the suspension pumping up
- Keep your luggage away from lights and indicators
- Check for anything that could potentially drop into the wheel or drive chain
- Make sure you take enough food for the duration of your trip and can easily access water
- Don’t leave food or food waste in, or around camp. Put it in a bag and throw it away or if you are going completely rural, hang the bag from a high branch away from your campsite
- If you haven't got a kickstand pad, use a beer/soda can to stop it sinking into the ground
- Never park your bike too close to your tent in case it falls on you!
- If you light a campfire, make sure it’s out when you leave and take all your rubbish with you
- Take a spare ignition key and put it in the zip-up inner pocket of your jacket
- If you carry a cell phone or GPS, take some form of emergency charger
- Tell someone reliable where you’re going (even if its just a rough direction) and when you are likely to be back
Ready to Camp
All of the above may sound like a big deal, and even seem to suck some of the fun out of motorbike camping but consider these points. Firstly, once you've assembled all of your motorcycle camping gear if you look after it, it’s going to last for many trips. If you're looking for great adventure tours and guides head over to our friends at Moto Vermont.
Secondly, although it sounds like I'm battering the point about packing safely, it is imperative. Your bike is tough enough to take all kinds of abuse, but don't take it for granted. Overload your bike or lash your gear on poorly, and things unravel very quickly on the road, and it’s seldom pretty.
Lastly, all of our top tips are just common sense. It’s just unfortunate that they generally occur to you when it’s too late, so take them on board and Experience ‘In-tents Motorcycle Camping at its Very Best’ will make your camping trip safer, and more enjoyable.
If I’ve missed any or you have some to add, be our guest and hit the comment box. Motorcycling is fun and camping takes it to the next level, so enjoy.