Some things just go together. Peanut butter and jelly, steroids and American baseball, Jagger bombs and hangovers… But few things are as suited to each other as adventure motorcycling and camping. Both activities allow you to experience your environment from a first person perspective.
Why spend all day riding on the open road with the wind in your face only to spend the night in a stale hotel room with noisy plumbing?
There is nothing difficult about motorcycle camping, but ensuring a good night’s sleep involves a bit of thoughtful planning and equipment selection. If you are accustomed to “car camping” then packing for a motorcycle camping trip may seem like a futile exercise. Luxuries such as coolers, cots, and 8 man tents must be left at home in favor of lightweight stoves, compact backpacking tents and inflatable foam sleeping pads.
Let’s take a look at the main ingredients for a successful moto-camping trip:
Tent – The tent is your home away from home. There are several things you should look for when choosing a bike camping tent. It is best to size the tent for one person more than the number of campers, i.e. a two man tent for solo campers, and a 3 man tent for two-up camping. The extra space ensures enough room to store riding gear inside the tent. You do not want to have to leave gear hanging outside to discover that a late night rain shower left it drenched for your morning ride.
Because packed weight and space are primary concerns, some of the most suitable tents are those designed for backpacking. If you intend to carry the tent inside a side case or top box, be sure to check the packed dimensions prior to purchasing. A simple dome style tent with a waterproof “bathtub” style floor is ideal. Most dome tents have the added advantage of being easily movable once pitched. This could be handy for a variety of reasons.
For solo campers looking for ultra-light accommodations, hammocks, bevy sacks, or even simple tarps tied to the bike to form a quick lean-to are all possibilities. For the truly adventurous, sleeping under the stars sans shelter is always a possibility if you don’t mind rolling the dice on your weather prediction abilities.
Sleeping Bag – A good sleeping bag can mean the difference between a comfortable night’s sleep and the longest teeth-chattering night of your life. When you are buying a bag, consider the coldest temperatures you are likely to encounter, and then choose a bag that is one step warmer. It is always better to err on the warm side. Also, the temperature ratings advertised on most bags tend to be rather optimistic for all but the most warm-blooded of campers.
The two most common types of bags are synthetic and goose down. Down bags are generally warmer for their weight, but they have one major flaw – they are useless when wet. If you choose this type of bag, be absolutely sure that you can keep it dry.
The better choice for moto-camping is the synthetic bag. A reality of bike travel is that, courtesy of Mr. Murphy, sometimes things get soaked despite our best efforts. Synthetic bags have the added advantage of being cheaper than their down counterparts. The slight addition of weight is of less concern when it is being carried on a motorcycle rather than your back.
Bags come in several different cuts, but the most common are rectangle and mummy style. Mummy bags tend to be slightly warmer, but some people can also find them a bit claustrophobic. This choice really just comes down to personal preference.
Sleeping Pads – The hardcore campers may find this item to be unnecessary, but few that have slept on a quality pad will ever go back to sleeping on the hard ground. Thermos-A-Rest continues to be one of the most popular choices, and they have a wide selection to choose from. Most are the self-inflating style which is an excellent choice. By opening the air valve, they can be compressed down into a very compact package. They are more than worth the weight and space they consume on the bike.
For budget minded riders, a closed-cell foam pad is another cost effective option. They weigh almost nothing and can be packed easily by wrapping them around the tent bag.
Cook stove – Even if you eat most of your meals at restaurants or enjoy cooking over an open flame at the campsite, a good cook stove can be worth its weight in gold. They are very convenient for boiling water for everything from hot chocolate and oatmeal for breakfast to soup, rice, or pasta for dinner. There are a wide variety of stoves available, but the two basic types are canister (also known as cartridge or compressed gas) and liquid fuel.
There are lots of opinions on which style is superior, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses. Canister stoves are lightweight, easy to start, and easy to use. The main downside is that additional fuel canisters can sometimes be difficult to come by on a long trip. They also do not work well at low temperatures.
Liquid fuel stoves can be more finicky to start due to the priming process, but they are very simple and reliable. Many liquid fuel stoves have the added advantage of being able to burn gasoline in addition to white gas, alcohol or kerosene. Personally, I believe the advantage of being able to use the bike’s fuel supply in a pinch far outweighs any negatives of this type of stove.
Cook Sets – The options for cookware are almost unlimited. Again, the best bet is to look for a set intended for backpacking use. Don’t go overboard with this. Look for multi-use items. There is no reason to carry a separate pot, frying pan, bowl, and plate. One shallow pot can perform all of these functions. Look for coated aluminum cookware, or titanium if you have the extra cash to burn. A simple disposable plastic spoon may be the only utensil you need. Add a small plastic measuring cup that can double as a drinking cup and you have everything you need to eat on the road. Keep it simple.
There are lots of other helpful pieces of camping equipment out there, but this should cover the basics. As you gain more experience, you will continually fine tune your kit, adding and removing pieces as necessary. The main points to keep in mind are:
- Stick to the necessities. Less to buy, less to pack, less to carry, less to worry about.
- Keep it light weight and compact. Space and capacity are always limited on two-wheels.
- Look for multi-use items. Combine and eliminate.
I hope this article provides some useful information for those new to the world of adventure motorcycle camping. If you’ve been at it for a while, I invite you to leave a comment bellow about your favorite piece of moto-camping gear.