Camping on a motorcycle is one of the great pleasures of owning a bike. It’s summer, and a lot of us with motorcycles want to know what we should pack for a big (or small) camping trip because there’s nothing worse than being caught out in the wilderness and not having the right stuff. After several years of big trips on two wheels, here are a few tips I’ve picked up that could help on your next touring trip.
Your first time motocamping?
For your first trip, you will undoubtedly take more than you will ever need. But once you’ve been on the road for a while, you’ll find you’re packing less and less. When I started going camping on a bike, I remember loading down my old Sportster with so much stuff the suspension bottomed out. Make a list, and pack what you would for a comparable backpacking trip, then add cold weather and wet weather riding gear.
Tip from the road: Every small town you encounter will have a store that sells what you need.
Don’t just bring tools, bring the right tools. When I had that old Sportster, I rode with metric guys and there’s nothing worse than needing a 3/8-inch socket but only having 10mms available. Everything on my Kawasaki seems to be removable with a 4mm Allen wrench, so I have a few of them. This also means, don’t bring a 17mm socket if you don’t need it.
I also bring an adjustable wrench, tire pressure gauge, pliers, a multitool, and a little Craftsman kit that has sockets and bits to fit a variety of bolts that will come loose. I also have a few extra bolts, washers, and zip ties. Jumper cables (even the small kind) will also save you from trying to push-start a bike in the wild. It’s impossible to fit everything to the bike the same way (or not to buy something stupid on the road), so I bring several bungee cord nets.
Tip from the road: Auto parts stores offer loaner tools, and almost any mechanic shop will lend you a wrench (and sometimes knowledge).
The right gear for you
Start with the basics, like a good helmet, jacket, ear plugs, pants gloves, boots and eyewear. Then, bring a good rain suit. Some people swear by a good backpack, but I don’t because it gets uncomfortable after 30 minutes and it’s simply safer and better to have your gear on the bike. I’ve found that extra camp shoes, giant mess kits, camping chairs, and other camping “essentials” seem to be more trouble than their worth. However, a good USB plug on your bike and an extra phone battery charger will help.
Tip from the road: Bring layers, and don’t forget your jacket’s liner.
Get a good map
Experience has taught me; don’t trust your phone, don’t trust GPS. We’re going to be in the mountains of Colorado this summer, where cell footage will be spotty, and the rain will preclude the use of an external GPS. Instead, pick up either a quality AAA map or a Butler motorcycle map. AAA maps and books are incredibly useful for showing roadside attractions, have detailed distance tracking, and offer plenty of local advice.
Butler maps are made for bikers and they show the best roads in whatever state you’re going to ride and camp areas with pull-out boxes that show where you really want to ride, also they’re water resistant and seem to hold up to multiple folds when you’re in the woods camping on a motorcycle.
Tip from the road: Instead of a GPS, use post-it notes on your tank or painter’s tape with the turns highlighted.
Tips for some peace of mind while camping on a motorcycle
One of the best peace-of-mind pieces of advice I’ve taken was to give a spare key to a friend or keep it somewhere handy. Another is to bring cash because rural gas stations are notorious for faulty card readers and some of the best small-town bars and diners we’ve ever found are (still) cash only. Bring snacks, too, because a lot of the discomfort and grumpiness on the road can be solved by a granola bar and some water.
Tip from the road: Don’t plan too much. One of the joys of being on the highway is exploring so let the road and how you feel dictate your trip, not the map.
You don’t need a touring bike to tour
Any bike is a dirt bike if you ride it on the dirt, and any motorcycle is a touring bike if you tour on it. I’ve toured on a sportbike, cruisers, sport-touring bikes, and vintage bikes. I’ve found is that the keys to touring on any bike are good friends, taking frequent water breaks, rest breaks, and eating snacks. That’s all more important than the type of bike you’re on. Know your bike, and listen to your body.
Tip from the road: Good saddlebags bags can always be found for cheap on Craigslist.
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