Camping off your motorcycle is one of the great joys of 2-wheeled travel. It’s not quite as bare-bones as backpacking, but it’s a definitive leap in coolness past car camping. And don’t get us started on RV “campers”….
Your moto camping experience can be frustrating or enjoyable, and the gear you bring is a large part of that. To help, we’ve compiled this Moto Camping Gear Guide of our favorite “don’t leave the garage without it” gear. This is stuff we actually use, not just a collection of free goodies that we unboxed and photographed, that’s been torture-tested and certified Woman Rider approved.
And incidentally, everything on this list was packed in the two side boxes on the Africa Twin in the above photo.
Tent – Marmot Limelight 2P
I’ve been using this tent for more than five years and it’s put up with all sorts of abuse: gale-force winds when we camped at Miller Motorsports Park (now the Utah Motorsports Campus) for the World Superbike races, heavy rain (and even snow) in the Colorado mountains, scrubby desert floor…it even survived flying off the back of my ex’s bike at 70 mph on the freeway. One pole got a little scuffed and very slightly bent, and the carry sack was shredded, but it still goes together perfectly, and I just carry it rolled and secured with a bungee now. When folded down and in their bag, the poles are about 18 inches long, which fits diagonally into most square-ish ADV bike luggage. They’re easy to strap to the outside of a bag if you can’t get them inside.
I like Marmot products because they’re not outrageously expensive, they can often be found on sale at places like REI and Backcountry.com, and they’re well-designed. I can pitch this tent by myself in less than 2 minutes. There’s no fussing with threading a 10-foot pole through fabric sleeves, and no trying to hold everything together as you keep the poles in position and desperately stab them into the corner gussets. The tent clips to the poles securely and the poles are held in position with an x-shaped plastic piece at the crossover point. Seriously, it doesn’t get any easier than this.
The Limelight includes a rainfly (that actually works) and footprint (ground cover to protect the tent floor), as well as a handy mesh “shelf” that’s suspended from the ceiling and is a great place to put a light, bike key and your pStyle (see below). The current version has been redesigned to offer more headroom and a bigger interior, plus it now has two doors and two vestibules. Marmot simply made a great tent even better.
Packed weight: 5 pounds, 10 ounces
Packed size: 18 in. x 7 in.
Sleeping Bag – Nemo Rhumba 30 Long
Nemo says the Rhumba was designed for “sleeping like a human,” and I couldn’t agree more. I’m a side sleeper, and traditional mummy bags just aren’t comfortable for me. I suffered for years before realizing that New Hampshire-based Nemo made something called a “spoon-shaped” bag, which has extra room in the shoulders and legs to accommodate people like me.
I opted for the women-specific Rhumba 30-degree down bag in Long (at 5-feet, 9-inches, I’m tall for a woman). If you’re worried about getting cold in sub-30s temps, I’d recommend sticking with a bag rated at 30 degrees or more and using a liner for cold-weather trips. It’ll save precious packing space for the majority of your trips that aren’t that cold (let’s face it, we’re traveling on motorcycles).
For the Rhumba, Nemo uses special “DownTek” 650-fill power down that offers better performance if you accidentally get it wet. It also compresses all the way down to 5.5 liters, or about the size of a large cantaloupe. A pillow pocket, extra material and fill at the collar and dual zippers (so you can unzip around your legs if you get too toasty) are nice features as well. It’s not cheap, but for me, a good night’s sleep is the most important thing when I’m on the road.
Packed weight: 2 pounds, 6 ounces
Packed size (compressed): 5.5 liters
Sleeping Pad – Nemo Cosmo 25L
I opted for the Cosmo because, again, I’m a side sleeper, and I needed something to support my hips and shoulders, plus the Cosmo comes with an integrated foot pump. Yes, I may look funny standing there pumping up and down on my sleeping pad, and it takes a little while to fill (I’ve never timed it, but guess it’s about 2 minutes), but when we’re camping out at 8,000 feet and you’re getting lightheaded from blowing into your air mattress, I’m happy to have my Cosmo.
The Cosmo also happens to pack down quite small, considering how thick it is. Fully inflated, it provides 3.5 inches of plush comfort, with a built-in raised pillow section and a twist valve at the corner that lets you fine-tune air pressure while you’re on it. The one downside: it’s loud. Any movement sounds like two balloons rubbing together, so if you’re a light sleeper who tosses and turns a lot, earplugs might be a good idea.
My Cosmo is several years old, but as far as I can tell the only change Nemo has made is to offer it in a different color. It’s rated for a minimum temperature of 35 to 45 degrees, but an insulated version is also available for lower temps. It comes with a carry sack and several patches (although I have yet to need one–knock on wood).
Packed weight: 1 pound, 13 ounces
Packed size: 9 in. x 4.5 in.
Pillow – Therm-a-rest Compressible Pillow
This is my one “luxury” item. I’ve tried the rolled-up jacket method and stacking clothes under my head—it’s just not the same as having a nice, fluffy pillow. I use Therm-a-rest’s Compressible Pillow in the Medium size (18 in. x 14 in. x 4 in.), which is more than big enough. The pillow has a soft polyester cover and is stuffed with pieces of foam that allow it to be compressed for packing. Once you unpack it, just give it a few shakes and “fluffs” and it puffs right back up.
Packed weight: 9 ounces
Packed size: 14 in. x 5 in.
Camp bathroom – pStyle
This little beauty will change your life, I promise. No more squatting over who-knows-what in the dark, no more finding a good place to hide, no more stripping off layers of motorcycle gear when you’ve really gotta go, no more “hovering” over questionably clean gas station toilets. Yes ladies, you can pee standing up.
There are a couple of designs out there, but I settled on the pStyle because it’s simple and other reviews I’d read indicated that it works well, “even with a strong flow.” Not having my cup runneth over definitely sounds like a plus. It takes some practice so you know how far back to hold it—I recommend the shower for your first time—but once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why it took us this long to figure this out.
I opted for the carrying case as well, which lets you “whip it out” and go do your business discreetly.
MSRP: $12 + $12 for the carrying case
Chair – REI Flexlite Chair
This could be considered another luxury item, but it packs down so nicely I seldom go without it. It also lets me use the side boxes from the bike as tables if I’m not at a campground (which is fairly often). The REI Flexlite is a less-expensive version of the popular Helinox Chair Zero, but as far as I can tell it’s just as robust and easy to use. Packing it back up tightly enough to fit into its carry sack can take practice, but once you know the tricks it’s easy.
Packed weight: 1 pound, 10 ounces
Packed size: 15 in. x 4.5 in.
Camp lighting – Black Diamond Spot Headlamp, Moji/Moji XP Lantern
I always carry a headlamp with me; they’re convenient for hands-free work around the campsite, and my trusty Black Diamond Spot gets the job done efficiently. It has bright white LEDs that are dimmable at the press of a button, plus red LEDs for when nature calls in the middle of the night, and the head swivels down so you’re not blinding your fellow campers when you look at them. Mine is the old style, but the new one is the same price: $39.95.
If I’ve got the space, especially if I’ll be staying at a campground with picnic tables, I like to bring a Black Diamond Moji or Moji XP lantern along as well. I don’t like traditional lanterns; they’re too big, and they also tend to make so much bright light that they ruin my night vision. The Moji solves this problem: it’s small and dimmable, so you can go from full brightness to just enough to see by—or to scare away hungry raccoons. It comes in two sizes, the regular Moji ($19.95, 100 lumens max., 70-hour burn time, 4.3 ounces with AAA batteries) and the larger Moji XP ($29.95, 150 lumens max., 120-hour burn time, 7.9 ounces with batteries). Both include folding loops that let you hang them for more ambient lighting.
Stove – JetBoil Flash
I’m a minimalist when it comes to camping food. I’d rather not deal with actual prep work and cleanup, I just want to eat and get to my mug of wine. Modern backpacking freeze-dried meals have come a long way, and there are even some fairly healthy options out there (Alpine Aire being one readily-available brand). You can’t beat them for lightweight, easy-to-pack convenience, and all you do is boil water (usually 2 cups or less), dump it in, stir and seal the pouch. 15 minutes later, voila!, Cuban rice and beans…or scrambled eggs with sausage, peppers and onions…or chicken tikka masala…or warm apple cobbler!
The quickest and easiest way to boil water at camp is a JetBoil Flash. It’ll boil 2 cups of water in a little more than 2 minutes, and with its push-button igniter it’s foolproof. It even has a heat indicator on the built-in insulation layer that tells you how close you are to coffee, hot cocoa or dinner. The whole thing disassembles in seconds and nests for secure travel. If you need more temperature control (with the Flash, it’s all or nothing), step up to the JetBoil MicroMo.
Packed weight: 14 ounces
Packed size: 7.1 in. x 4.1 in.
Towel – REI Multi Towel Lite
If you know you’ll be going someplace wet, or you want to be able to shower or go for a swim on the trail, this super lightweight towel will be your best friend. It’s thin and soft, absorbs up to 8 times its weight in water and yet wrings out almost completely dry (like ShamWow! but without the annoying salesman). Fold it up and put it in its included mesh carry sack, and it’ll pack easily into any available nook or cranny.
MSRP: $18.50 (size Large)
Packed weight: 2.9 ounces
The little things…
Disposable plastic utensils are not my favorite. I don’t like creating more plastic waste, and they take up too much space. Do yourself (and the environment) a favor and pay a few bucks for a reusable spork. I like the ones with a spoon on one end and a fork on the other.
An insulated mug is perfect for hot cocoa, coffee, water, soup, wine…whatever. Mine also has a lid so my coffee stays hot, even on chilly mornings. More expensive variations incorporate a folding handle for easier packing.
Hot sauce packets are a quick and easy way to spice up your freeze-dried meals, and they’re lightweight, easy to pack and don’t need refrigeration.
I always carry a packet of disinfectant wet wipes—they’re perfect for cleaning your hands before eating, a quick and easy “bath” after a hot day on the bike and wiping off your cooking equipment/utensils after you eat (be sure to rinse them with water afterwards).
Do you have any favorite camping gear? Tell us about it in the comments!
Great article for aspiring moto-campers such as myself 🙂
I’ll place a link to your magazine and to this article into the SCMA Newsletter if you have no objection
Thanks for the feedback! You’re welcome to link to the article–hopefully it’s useful to some of your readers! -Jenny
OK, I/m a guy; fut I love this email every time it comes out. Loved the article. But I would like to add one thing
Yamix 2Pack 3Pcs Stainless Steel Portable Tableware you will recieve, Fork Spoon Chopsticks Set. I got mine through amazon, two sets for $10. They are stainless and will last forever. You won’t believe how many uses you will find for the two chopsticks!
LOL we don’t mind if you’re a guy, you’re still allowed to read our stuff! Good call on the chopsticks…but we gotta know, what’s the weirdest use you’ve found for them so far?
I travel with a Big Agnes suite. My *insulated* air mattress fits into a bottom sleeve of my sleeping bag so I don’t roll off the pad during the night. The only downside is that the poles don’t fit in my panniers so I carry the camping equipment pillion in a dry bag. I do carry an extra dry bag to put the wet tent into, sans poles, if it’s happened to rain overnight. I use a 2 person tent (luxury!) if I am traveling alone and I liked this tent so much that I bought a 3-person one for traveling with my man. That gives us enough space to store the riding gear overnight inside the tent with us. One last comment – if you’re traveling with someone and sharing a tent, no matter what the brand, consider buying one with an opening on each side so that you don’t have to crawl over each other to get in and out (luxury!)
Greg (Rider Senior Editor) uses Big Agnes stuff and loves it too. I must not roll around much, since rolling off the pad isn’t really an issue. And +1 on the 2-person tent. It’s not that much bigger than a 1-person, and man it’s nice to have the extra space inside for your gear. When traveling with Kurt (boyfriend), we bring the 3-person and sometimes we’ll split the carrying duties depending on who’s got room. One person takes the tent, one takes the poles. Also, the new Marmot Limelight 2-person has two doors (my old model shown in the photo only has one).
You’ve definitely pointed someone interested in bike camping in the right direction. When riding you’re immersed in nature and it just seems natural to pitch a tent at the end of the day, once you’ve tried it, you’ll be hooked. Most places let you pitch two or more small tents in one spot, which is nice if you’re riding with others. I do carry a bear bag when I know that I’m going to be camping in a remote areas. I’ve used, for the last several years, a Microburst from Camp-Tek to blow up my BA sleeping pad. It works great and you’re right, after a long day of riding the thought of blowing up a pad is a killjoy. I also carry a portable Power Bank that I charge on the bike. I can then charge my helmet com unit and phone in the tent at night. If it’s warm I can also use the Power Bank to run my Thermaltake Mobile fan. The fan takes little power and can make a huge difference on a warm night. Great article; I always enjoy what you toss out there.
Do you use the Sena Power Bank? I’ve been considering getting one to test and review. -Jenny
This spring I picked up a Winplus car jump starter to use with the bike. I usually carry a Power Bank that I’ve purchased on Ebay that has around 10,000mAh or so which works out great. If you get one that’s too large it takes a long time to charge. If you take your time you can get them for 10 to 20 dollars. What drew me to the Winplus was that its jump start current is 200A – 350A which is perfect for a bike. Some jump starters have too high of a start current. The real selling point though is that you charge it through a USB port. I can charge it on the bike as I go, which is perfect, and it was only $50.00. You can also use it as a Power bank to charge your phone or whatever. I made a cross country run earlier in this month and I carried the Winplus and a regular Power Bank. I used the Power Bank to charge my Scala Rider on the go if I’m stretching out the day. If I’m listen to music it dies after about 9 hours. I never had to use the Winplus, but it felt good to have it. It’s like carrying around a tire plug kit. You don’t want to have to use it, but if you need one it feels great to have one. I’ve carried a Stop and Go plug kit for years and I was glad that I had it on this last trip. I picked up a deck screw in my back tire somewhere between Death Valley and Barstow. It was 111 degrees and it was a quick 15min repair with the kit. Without it, it would have been a real long day. I run Ride-On in my tires and between that and the plug I made it all the way back to Ohio without losing any air out of the tire. I changed the tire out right away when I got home, but it got me home.
An excellent article Jenny. You hit all of the high points covering all of the basic essentials. My wife and I have been motorcycle touring and camping for over 40 years (in 37 states so far). The quality and ingenuity of good discounted backpacking equipment have continually improved over the decades; and we have upgraded our basic equipment from time to time – but at the same time we have never deviated from our basic equipment list: a good tent, good sleeping bags and pads, a good cookstove, camp chairs, and a couple of good lights – and we’ve always been all set. We stick to brand name equipment from companies such as North Face, Jansport, Marmot, and many others – and in addition to the security of their typical lifetime guarantees, their equipment has never let us down. These products are super small, lightweight, and easy to use. Everything all together takes up very little space on a motorcycle, and with the advent of quality affordable equipment, there is no longer any reason to be cold, wet, or uncomfortable when camping.
I liked your lanterns, but chose a different route. Found a couple different solar powered ones. Solar cell on one end with led array on other end and flat until you blow them up. Set them out for the day while riding and they will run all night on low or for several hours bright enough to read by or play cards around a table. One is shaped like a small pillow and the other like a small can of coffee. The pillow one has a “softer glow” and the can shaped one is a touch brighter, but either choice is good. Two years on and both still working.
We love ours. Squished flat they don’t take up much space. Luci light is the brand we use.
The only other article I try to take with me is a tarp to put under the tent or over the bike – depending on weather.
I’m wondering if your items are available in Australia as postage from the USA tends to get expensive. I’ll have to do some research.
Thank you for your informative article.
I also like to take a frisbee. You can use it to fan the tinder when you are starting a fire, as a plate, and as entertainment at the end of the day. If you are traveling alone it’s a great way to meet your neighbors. Multi use items are the best.
I was so pleased to find that my gear matches yours almost item by item! But I will add two things included in my motocamp gear:
1. Inflatable, solar-powered LED lantern- I strap one to my tailbag for charging while riding and love having an extra light source at night. These are super lightweight, fold down flat, and give off a decent amount of light.
2. travel clothesline- I’ve strung up a clothesline between two bikes, between my bike and a tree, etc. in order to hang up towels, sweaty riding socks, washed items, etc. Super useful and small!
Good call on the clothesline! I bought a cheap one from I don’t remember where; it’s super stretchy and includes hooks and suction cups for the ends (in case you’re at a hotel or someplace with smooth walls).
Good write-up. Only thing I might add would be the new solar powered lanterns Price has gone down quite a bit and selection is good. I have a couple – both collapse to next to nothing and each has good attributes. The one like a pillow is great soft light and folds to size of a pack of cards w/o the air in it. Other is shaped like a 1 lb coffee can blown up and folds down to about 4″ circle by half inch thick w/o air in it. On high, can illuminate an entire picnic table for cooking, playing cards, etc if hung from a tree or when car camping at top of you 10 x 10 pop-up tarp.
+1 on just about everything here! Just a few notes/comments…
Love my Nemo Cosmo, the built in pillow is too small for me, but perfect as a “backstop” to keep my pillow from scooting off the top of the mat during the night.
(almost) Always go for the bigger tent. If the 3 person model of a given tent is the size of a loaf of bread, the 2 person will be that loaf minus 3-4 slices. Insignif. for the pack size but luxe for living in it. Tyvec (house wrap) makes an excellent ground tarp if your tent has none. Just cut it a few inches SMALLER than the tent floor. If it’s bigger, rain will channel between the tarp & tent floor.
Luci lights are great!
Finally….Sleeping bags can be reasonably priced, pack small, & keep you warm…Unfortunately, you can only chose two out of that list of three.