I’ve been on motorcycle camping trips at least a couple of dozen times over the past few years and I’ve gotten pretty good and packing my motorcycle with everything I need to be comfortable, well fed and relaxed.
The way you pack your motorcycle for camping is going to depend greatly on what kind of motorcycle you ride. Adventure bikes are designed specifically to carry a lot of gear, but other bikes, like sport bikes or, say, a Sportster, it gets a little trickier.
No matter what type of motorcycle you have, there are some basic rules to follow when packing a motorcycle for a camping trip.
Pack for the destination location.
Where are you going? What’s the weather going to be like? Will you be tent camping in the wilderness, or staying in a campground or at a cabin? What kind of animals are in the area?
These are the things you want to consider when you’re selecting what gear to take, which clothes to pack and how to pack it. It will determine how much space you’ll need on your bike, where and how you will store your food, and possibly how to tie everything down securely. If you want to know more about what to pack, check out this blog post.
Lay it out before you pack
Once you’ve decide what you’re going to bring, gather it all up and lay it out on the floor. Start separating items that should go together. For example, put your tent, sleeping bag, and other sleeping gear in one pile. Put all your cooking gear, utensils, stove and fuel in another pile. Same goes for all your food and all your clothes.
With everything laid out and separated, take another look and ask yourself if there is anything that you really don’t need to take. Eliminating unnecessary items now will help save space and weight.
Most used items easy to reach
You should separate items that you know you’ll want quick and easy access to. These are things like your cell phone, camera, wallet or your motorcycle registration.
It can also include items like lip balm, sun screen, a water bottle, charging cords for your phone or GoPro, headphones, sunglasses, snacks. The list is up to you.
If you ride with a tank bag, these are the items that should go in the tank bag. If you don’t have a tank bag, designate an outside pocket of your side bags or duffle bag to keep these items. Just make sure that you can reach them easily without removing straps or other bags. You don’t want to have to dig for these items.
Keep your gear dry
I doesn’t matter if the weather report says clear skies all the way, always assume it’s going to rain. Murphy’s law states that if you don’t pack for the rain, it will rain. So, make sure you have a way to keep everything dry.
If you don’t have waterproof luggage, you can use a number of different methods. Here are a few alternatives for keeping gear dry.
- Heavy duty trash bags: stuff your duffle bag, tent, sleeping gear into a large trash bag. I’ve done this many times when I didn’t have waterproof luggage.
- Gallon size Ziploc bags: these are great for your clothes or electronics
- Dry bags: at any camping store you can find a set of dry bags like those found here on Amazon. They’ll add an extra layer of protection and they are great space savers too.
Keep your food separate
I like to pack my food in my hard shell top case because it’s all in one place the hard case protects it from animals. If you have soft bags, you can use the provided food storage at the campsite such as a bear box or food pantry. If you use a wooden pantry at the campsite, be sure to lock the door. Racoons are clever, so you need to make it as difficult as possible for animals to get into your food.
If you’re camping in an area where there are no food lockers at the campsite, store your food in a bear proof container, or bear proof bag. Sometimes bear containers can be big and bulky, so often a bag is an easier option.
But, even if you’re not camping in bear country, other animals like coyotes, foxes and racoons will be happy to run off with your food. Hanging your food out of reach is a great option.
Keep toiletries separate
Just like any overnight trip or vacation, it’s helpful to pack your toiletries in a separate bag to keep them organize and to prevent them from spilling onto all your other belongings.
Items like shampoo, perfume or cologne, sunscreen or makeup can leak, so it’s best to keep those in a water proof bag. Also, if you’re only camping for one or two night, consider leaving some of these items home. Bring only the absolute necessities. If you’re feeling really hard core, bring a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant, done.
You also want to keep your bag of toiletries out of your tent. Animals not only love the smell of food, anything with a scent can attract them and you don’t want them sniffing around your tent at night. Keep them and store them with your food.
Keep emergency items and tools accessible
Most motorcycles have space under the seat for a small set of tools for roadside repairs. This is great unless all your luggage is packed on top of the seat. Suddenly, you have to unpack everything just to get to a wrench.
The solution is to keep your on-board tool kit where you can find it without removing any straps. Consider carrying it in a saddle bag, near the top.
You could also consider carrying your tools in a fender bag. These are a great option if you have the right type of front fenders with enough room to secure the bag without impeding the front shocks.
Another option is to keep tools in a handlebar bag. These options will depend on the type of motorcycle you ride, but, the important part is to make sure your tools are accessible.
Pack snacks and water
When on a long motorcycle ride you want to make sure you stay hydrated and keep your energy up with snacks. Choose high energy snacks that are individually wrapped and that won’t melt. A chocolate bar will be a mess, go for M&M’s instead if you need a chocolate fix.
Other great snacks are trail mix, energy bars, mixed nuts, a piece of fruit. Avoid packing junk food like chips or soda. Drink water instead and wait until you get to your campsite before you crack open a beer.
PRO TIP: if you want a cold beer at your campsite, don’t pack it when you leave. Instead, buy it at a store closest to your campsite so it will be nice and cold.
Balance the load
To make your ride easier distribute your gear by weight evenly on each side. If you can remove your saddle bags to pick them up and compare the weight with each other, then that’s awesome. If not, do your best to distribute the weight evenly.
Heavy items on the bottom
To keep the center of gravity as low as possible on your motorcycle, pack the heaviest items on the bottom, light weight items on top. This can be a little tricky sometimes.
So, when you lay out all your gear and items on the floor, start deciding which items will go into which bag and on which side. Getting a good mental picture of where it will all go will make the packing process go faster.
Keep in mind that it’s not a perfect science. There are going to be things that are on the heavy side, but because of their size, they have to go on top of your seat. Often the culprit is the tent, or your on-board tool kit, but do your best to keep the weight as low as possible.
Securing it to the bike
It is so important to secure your gear on the bike so that there is absolutely no chance of something flying off down the highway. Whatever method you use is going to depend on your motorcycle and what type of bags you have.
There are really cool luggage sets that click together and strap down to the bike making it super quick and easy. But, if you’re like me, and you use a duffle bag, follow these tips to secure your stuff.
Use cinch straps instead of bungee cords. Elastic cords can stretch and give when you go over bumps and the hooks can actually come loose. This happened to me once with an air mattress. I haven’t use elastic chords since.
Keep your dirty clothes separate
At the end of the day you’re going to have some dirty clothes and nasty socks. Use a simple plastic grocery bag and designate it as a dirty clothes bag. Put your dirty clothes in the bag, toss it to the corner of your tent, and it won’t get mixed up with your clean underwear.
Another benefit of this is when you get home all you need to do is dump everything from that bag into the washing machine.
Charge electronics while you ride
This last tip doesn’t really have to do with packing your motorcycle, but it’s a smart idea to charge all of your electronics while you’re riding. If you bring extra battery chargers for your devices, charge them while you ride to use the power of the motorcycle’s battery so you don’t run out of power at your campsite.
I hope you use these tips the next time your pack for a motorcycle camping trip. Get out there and ride, be safe and have fun.