For most people, camping falls into two categories: the kind where you load up a backpack and hike/scramble/stumble your way to a backcountry campsite, and the kind where you load up your car or truck and drive to a campsite, usually in a designated campground. We’ll just ignore the RV type for the moment, as I’m enough of a camping snob to believe that four walls, a roof and a hinged door do not equal “camping.”
There is another category, however, that can bridge the gap between backpacking and car camping: motorcycle camping, or moto-camping as my friends and I call it. Camping off a motorcycle certainly doesn’t need to include backcountry roads and trails; I have a friend who crossed the country on his Yamaha FZ-09, pulling off at roadside campgrounds or pitching his tent on the property of friendly locals. If you ride one of today’s capable adventure bikes, however, a whole new world opens up to you. Many designated backcountry roads and trails are gated for ATV and motorcycle use only, so if it’s true solitude and a roof of Milky Way-swathed stars you’re after, load up, grab a map from the local National Forest or BLM station, and head out.
I was a backpacker long before I discovered moto-camping, and as such I tend to think and pack like a backpacker. For this list I’ve left out the obvious “appropriate tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, spork” items, and instead I’m focusing on tips and tricks that I’ve discovered (learn from my mistakes, trust me, it’s easier) and items I’ve found to be especially helpful when camping off a motorcycle.
1 – Ziplock bags
I like to carry quart-sized bags to hold my phone, fire starter (see #3), matches, snacks and any other small items I don’t want to get wet. I bring along gallon-sized bags to stow trash, marinate meat for dinner, and even carry extra water (don’t skimp, buy the good freezer storage kind).
2 – Multi-tool (with corkscrew!)
This one is pretty self-explanatory: knife, screwdriver, can opener, pliers…a decent multi-tool is a must for any motorcycle road trip. Mine has a corkscrew for the inevitable bottle I pick up as we cruise through wine country.
3 – Fire starter
Yes, newspaper is cheap, but it’s also bulky. For a few dollars, you can buy fire starter that’s small and easy to carry, and it works way better. Check out Zippo’s Fire Starter Puck ($1.95/one puck, enough for 4 fires) or Lightnin’ Bug ($2.95/pack of 8, available at REI).
4 – Nalgene bottle
Perfect for that post-ride campfire beverage. To me, whisky (or whiskey) and campfires go together like peas and carrots, and the plastic Nalgene is lighter than glass and non-breakable, plus it’s safe for short-term alcohol storage.
5 – Extra tarp
You should already be using a ground cloth under your tent, to protect the floor from sharp rocks and other hazards, but I like to bring another small tarp, especially on trips to wet or muddy areas. This gives you a clean, dry place to sit, put down your helmet, lay out clothes, etc. Also, it prevents the clothes changing dance–you know what I mean, when you’re pulling off boots and riding pants, and trying not to put a stocking foot down in the mud or dirt. Better to bring along a designated dance floor.
6 – Clorox wipes
To reduce the amount of water I have to carry or use, I clean my hands and wipe down dishes with disinfecting wipes. A quick splash of water afterwards is enough to rinse off any leftover bleach residue. Stash dirty wipes in one of your Ziplock bags to transport to the next trash bin you come across.
7 – LED headlamp
I prefer headlamps to flashlights; they free up your hands and most also feature dimmers and red LEDs for middle-of-the-night bathroom runs. Petzl and Black Diamond are two of the most popular and high-quality brands; I use the Black Diamond Spot ($39.95) for its bang-for-the-buck and robust ability to withstand being tossed around in panniers.
8 – JetBoil Flash
My backcountry cooking is typically pretty simple; maybe it’s my years of backpacking, but I’ve found that modern freeze-dried meals have come a long way towards being not only edible, but quite delicious. Plus prep and clean-up are easy. If you’re a minimalist like me, the JetBoil Flash ($99.95) is the only camp stove you’ll need. It does one thing, but it does it very, very well: boil water. Two cups of it in just under two minutes, in fact. Perfect for meals, coffee and hot cocoa. Best of all, it packs down into a very compact self-contained package.
9 – REI/Helinox camp chairs
One thing you don’t want to lug around on a bike is a big, heavy chair. A company called Helinox happens to make some of the best camp chairs out there, and they pack down small enough to easily fit into a pannier or duffel. For a similar chair at roughly half the price, take a look at REI’s Flex Lite Chair ($79.50). Both the Helinox and REI models are small, lightweight and hold at least 250 lbs.
10 – A book from our Top 10 Motorcycle Adventure Books List
Relax next to the campfire with a good book, and get inspired for your next adventure!
Just returned from a 4 day moto-camping trip to the Redwoods, 763 miles round trip. Amazing!!
2 up with my wife on the back.
Started riding Yamaha XT 225 and DR 650 at age 60. Now at 63 just purchased Yamaha XT250 just returned from two weeks of riding off road in Murphy, NC. Awesome trails up, down and around beautiful mountains. Amazing!
#3- cotton balls smeared with petroleum jelly make excellent fire starters. Lint from the dryer mixed with pj works great too.