The Ultimate Guide to Motorcycle Camping
Why Motorcycle Camping?
Say you like exploring the Great American Outdoors. Walking, hiking, mountaineering, RVing, and cycling are all fine and dandy. But if you ask me, there’s an even better option.
Motorcycle camping combines the convenience of highway travel with the open-air experience of walking and hiking. Moreover, it allows you to go off-road and see everything Mother Nature has to offer, sans heavy breathing and aching feet!
But wait a minute. Who am I, and why do I have such a hard-on for motorcycle camping?
My name is Hugo, and I’m a die-hard motorcycle enthusiast. I’ve traveled far and wide, high and low, over and under, and sometimes straight through! Now, I use my blog to help folks with their two-wheeled troubles and recommend the best gear, parts, and anything related to motorcycles!
Today, I’ll be talking about my first love: motorcycle camping. And before we’re done, I bet I’ll have you planning your very first motorcycle camping trip!
I’ll go over what type of gear you’ll need as a beginner, how to choose your route, what kind of motorcycle you’ll need, and how to tackle some common issues related to motorcycle camping.
Without further ado, here’s my Ultimate Guide to Motorcycle Camping.
Gear, Equipment, and Luggage
So you wanna go motorcycle camping? Before you set out, it’s a good idea to draw up a list of essential items you’ll need. Below, you’ll find the list I used the first time I went camping. Feel free to copy it shamelessly, add/remove some stuff, or come up with your own list.
And if you are just dipping your toe in the water, it is a good idea to rent camping gear rather than buying it outright. Even though it’s one of the most fun pastimes out there, motorcycle camping might not be for everyone, so renting gear for your first trip might be a good idea.
It goes without saying, but motorcycles are somewhat dangerous. Unlike the cocoon of safety that most modern cars are with airbags, crumple zones, driver-assist functions, and even self-driving capabilities, the only safety features on most motorcycles are what you’re wearing.
For the novice motorcycle tourer, I recommend a high-quality helmet, some sturdy motorcycle gloves (preferably outfitted with palm sliders), knee/elbow pads, and some high-top riding boots that come up over your ankles.
There is no such thing as too much safety gear, so feel free to add as much as you want and can afford. But the items mentioned above are non-negotiable. They should be on every beginner’s list and offer a good balance of safety and value.
Now, if you’ve ever been camping before, you’ll know how hard it is to pack and carry everything you think you need. That problem is only amplified on motorcycles, where space is even sparser, balancing the bike is hard, and each gram feels twice as heavy!
So, for ‘Starter Motorcycle Camping Gear,’ the keyword is ‘lightweight.’ In fact, that’s true for even the most experienced motorcycle camper. In other words, pack the essentials, and ditch the rest.
What you pack will depend on where you’re going, for how long, and in what weather. That said, every top box and pannier should be stocked with the following essential items:
Small tent or hammock, including rainfly, even if you're camping in the desert
Lightweight and compact sleeping bag and sleeping pad
Mess kit and backpacking stove
Emergency toolbox for motorcycles including tire patch kit, first aid kit, duct tape, bright flashlight, extra batteries, small pocket knife, some length of rope, and the odd solar-powered battery bank and jerrycan
Other travel essentials such as emergency rain poncho, sunscreen, bug spray, and toilet paper
Pro Tip #1: Some folks like to outfit their bikes with aftermarket batteries so that they can use the headlights as a camping lantern. This is a great way to repurpose an existing piece of hardware and save some weight in the process!
You can find a ton of useful camping gear and other items here.
‘But Hugo, where do I put all that stuff? My backpack can only hold so much!’
If that’s you, don’t worry. Most motorcycles can be outfitted with luggage in the form of top boxes and panniers. These bolt right onto the back of your bike, providing a ton of extra space where you can store all the important stuff. They’re also usually weatherproof, so don’t worry about getting your stuff wet.
Tank bags are also useful for storing smaller items that you need quick access to. Personally, my tank bag holds my phone, GPS, camera equipment, spare batteries, and a pack of wet wipes, which by the way, come in really handy on the road!
Next up, we have the motorcycle you’ll be riding. What kind of bike you choose will depend on where you want to go, how much you want to spend, and whether or not you want to go off-road. It’s pretty important to choose the right bike, so be sure to do your own research.
Without getting bogged down in the details, my top pick for a motorcycle for camping would be a larger displacement dual-sport or ADV bike. Each offers a ton of utility for both on and off-road riding. They are lighter and more easily maneuverable than heavier touring bikes or baggers, which also can’t go off the beaten path.
Another advantage is that dual-sports and ADVs can be had at most any price point. Dual sports appeal to the budget-conscious, while ADVs cater to those looking to ride in style.
Dual-sports will be more capable off-road thanks to their lighter weight and even perform adequately on the street. ADVs, on the other hand, will be heavier, pricier bikes set up primarily for the highway with much more creature comforts. These include larger fairings and windshields, cruise control, heated seats/grips, GPS integration, quick-shifters, rider aids, adjustable suspension, and anything else the manufacturer can charge you for.
That said, ADVs also manage to have decent off-road capabilities, so they’re something of a jack of all trades.
Tips and Ramblings
Well, folks, you’re pretty much set for your first motorcycle camping trip. Now all that’s left is to bore you with some tips and personal stories that taught me a lot about motorcycle travel and camping.
Choosing Your Route
When planning out your first trip, you will want to take it easy. Opt for a local campground or something similar for your first outing, and you’ll be traversing continents in no time.
For my first trip, I chose to go to a local campground, which helped me familiarize myself with the finer details of motorcycle camping an hour, rather than a couple time zones away from home!
And unless you’re confident riding on uneven terrain, steer clear of off-roading. There’s no shame in taking it slow and steady.
Here are some tips and resources for planning your motorcycle adventure.
Wolf Pack vs. Lone Wolf
Motorcycle camping trips with friends and family can be fun bonding experiences. Not to mention, it helps to have someone to back you up when you make a mistake or need some help.
Most of my early motorcycle camping trips were with friends. However, I have since shifted to an almost exclusively solo-camping style. Still, I used to love sharing stories over a campfire, playing team sports, and creating lasting memories.
So for the absolute beginner, I’d recommend traveling in a group, though solo motorcycle camping has its own allure.
If you aren’t sure which one is for you, check out this blog post for more info.
Cheapskate, Miser, Motorcycle Traveler
One of the things that initially attracted me to motorcycle camping was how cheap and budget-friendly it can be. Sure, you can always make it a lot more expensive, but the potential for budget travel is endless.
Instead of renting expensive hotel rooms, you can opt for camping.
Furthermore, bikes are just cheaper to own and operate than, say, RVs and vans. Even fully-loaded motorcycles get better gas mileage than the most efficient car. Parking is usually cheaper for bikes, not to mention easier.
In a pinch, you can hitch a ride with a friendly pickup truck owner with your bike in tow. Bikes aren’t as complicated to maintain or work on as most cars, and the repair bills are easier to stomach.
And with that, I hope I’ve convinced you to give moto-camping a try. Remember to have fun with it and not get caught up in the little stuff.
About The Author
Hugo has motorcycling encoded into his DNA. From riding and working on his bike to traveling and camping all over the world to helping others find the best parts for their bikes, he enjoys everything related to motorcycles and two-wheelers.