Motorcycle Camping 101

Motorcycle camping
When it comes to motorcycle camping, it’s about the journey and the destination. (Photos by Rich Cox)

For some the idea of a night in the wilderness, or even at an established campground, is simply unthinkable. How do you survive without a solid roof and hard floor, not to mention TiVo, the Dux bed and all of your stuff? What about insects, wild animals and hot running water? And for goodness sake, if you must bivouac for recreation, don’t you need a car to carry everything?

No, no, bon-bon breath, the joy of camping is not merely communing with nature, sleeping under the stars and smelling like a campfire in the morning. Part of the fun is doing without, and enjoying the simplicity that it brings to an evening. After the day’s ride, whether you take your time and prepare a fancy meal or just heat up a can of soup and savor it slowly, there’s nothing else to worry about… except the dishes!

Motorcycle camping
Part-time Campbell’s recipe tester Salvadori spices up his Chunky soup.

After dinner go for a stroll, read a book by candlelight or share your favorite beverage around the picnic table, because “Desperate Housewives” just isn’t on! Camping out is a lot cheaper than motelling it, too, and can keep you out on the road longer for less money.

Camping by car can be a necessity with kids or when not everybody rides. It also means you can bring it all—firewood, the family tent, an air bed and pump, the 12-pound Coleman sleeping bags that zip together, a camp kitchen in a 35-gallon storage box and enough food and drink for twice the crowd. What about camping out on a motorcycle trip? Unless you intend to tow a motorcycle trailer like one in the buyers guide that follows, motorcycles limit the amount of clutter one can bring along. No problem! With a little ingenuity and a few small, lightweight essentials from a backpacking store, you can enjoy a hot meal, the camaraderie a roaring fire creates and a soft, warm bed out in the wilds. Unless it rains and a bear eats your food, of course.

Motorcycle camping
Cheers! Shorts, topsiders and a beret are clearly the secrets to staying warm on a 45-degree campout.

Old hands that we are at motorcycle camping, for the Rider staff campout we thought it might make a useful June issue story to up the ante a bit with an Editors’ Challenge. The rules were simple—each of us had to pack on one of the four bikes in the sport-touring shootout on page 36. In addition to the hard bags on the bikes, each rider could use a large Dry Bag Duffel from Aerostich RiderWearHouse on the pillion. These hold a ton, strap or bungee on easily and keep everything dry—medium and small sizes are available as well. Each rider could also use a tank bag, but it had to be small enough that it would not get in the rider’s way when tucked in at speed—we were also testing the motorcycles, after all. Finally, each camper had to bring his or her own tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag, and had to prepare something hot to eat for themselves for dinner and breakfast.

To the experienced campers out there this probably sounds easy, and indeed normally it would be…except that magazine lead times being what they are, we had to plan our little soirée for a night between rainstorms in early March, when the forecast was unusually chilly. That meant extra gear, of course, so we simplified our task by doing what you would probably do anyway—picking a campground with toilets, running water, picnic tables and firewood. It allowed us to get in a long test ride on day one and two, work our Gold Wing-mounted photographer Rich Cox half to death both sunset and sunrise, and still spend a reasonably comfortable night roughing it.

Motorcycle camping
The Red Bag Brigade headed for home.

The wind blew and it was definitely a cold night, but in the end we all had fun yakking it up by the fire till we ran out of wood. As a bonus we were in the perfect spot that evening and morning for much of the motorcycle photography.

Fireside Tips
We whiled away the evening wine tasting and sharing our camping tips and stories. A few general ones are listed and in each camper’s sidebar.

  • Freezing meat and other perishables the night before you leave and packing them in foil or in a small, soft-sided cooler will usually have them thawed by dinnertime. Or not.
  • Look for a tent sized one person larger than you plan to accommodate that packs small enough for your carrying method. Practice setting it up at least once before you go. A cheap ground cover—old shower curtain, tarp, whatever—will protect the (preferably waterproof) bottom of the tent from sharp rocks and sticks. Don’t forget the rain fly if it’s not a fully waterproof model.
  • The debate over white gas stoves vs. propane/butane canister models burns on, but we do know that white gas is cheaper and works better in cold weather, and propane/butane is cleaner and more convenient.
  • For the purposes of this story we were each packed self-sufficiently, but normally groups would share a single stove, lantern, tent(s), etc. for efficiency. More room for beverages that way!
  • Check the weather, and call ahead to campgrounds on your route to see if you need reservations, how late the camp store, if any, stays open (for firewood, for example), etc.
  • Finding and researching campgrounds is easiest online—a good place to start is the National Park Service, National Forest Service or just Google “motorcycle campgrounds” or simply “campgrounds.”


Motorcycle camping
Senior Managing Editor Donya Carlson

Despite claiming that this was going to be easy and the rule that we could only use a small tankbag that didn’t interfere with a tucked-in rider, Senior Managing Editor Donya Carlson showed up on departure morn with a lovely color-matched tankbag the size of a laser printer, in addition to her other luggage. We forced a smaller one on her, into which she stuffed its mysterious contents, though on the ride Editor Tuttle nearly threw it in the bushes because it still got in the way in the fast corners. Thank goodness he didn’t, because that evening Donya whipped a 10-inch homemade cheesecake out of it for dessert! With some baling wire contributed by Tuttle she also roasted marshmallows and made s’mores, those yummy traditional camp graham-cracker sandwich treats that taste great and could give heartburn to hot-dog eating champ Takeru Kobayashi. Clem had never enjoyed a s’more before, and afterward pronounced that he wouldn’t be needing another for quite some time.

Motorcycle camping
The Eureka Zeus was up and ready to move into in 2 minutes, 20 seconds.

Donya needed a smaller tent for this venture, as she normally camps with her husband Bill and he just wouldn’t fit in the Dry Bag Duffel. She selected a two-man Eureka from Whitehorse Press that packs small and assembled quickly and easily. Donya also volunteered to try the new­fangled Jetboil Personal Cooking System from Whitehorse, a compact, self-contained cooking cup/burner/fuel canister combo, and it worked well within its food/gas volume limitations.

REI Kilimanjaro 3D 0-degree mummy bag w/ compression sack
Eureka Zeus Performance 2EXO tent
Jetboil Personal Cooking System/matches
Camping air mattress
Ground cover
Buck knife
Swiss Army pocket knife
Mini plastic cutting board
Plastic plate, heavyweight plastic spoon, fork
Wet Ones wipes
Sponge and dish soap/soap leaves
Princeton Tec Aurora headlight/extra AAA batteries
Surefire 6P flashlight/extra 3V lithium batteries
UCO 4-inch candle lantern/candles
Soft cooler/Blue Ice
Insulated coffee mug with lid
Paper towels
Small towel
Ziploc bags

Munchies: Gruyere cheese and crackers
Dinner: Barbecued chicken, stuffed potato, small can green beans
Dessert: Cheesecake w/ raspberry sauce and berries, s’mores
Breakfast: Quaker Instant Oatmeal, blueberry scone, mini banana
Drinks: Hot chocolate, tea bags


Motorcycle camping
Senior Editor Ken Freund

Senior Editor Ken Freund has a well-used set of camping basics, including a very trick flat-folding stool (which we never saw him sit on, though, hmmm) and a soft water bag that looks like a really angry sea sponge but can be filled with air and used for a pillow. He’s partial to his military canteen, and its canteen cup for cooking, even if he did spill it in the fire he so expertly started in the cold wind while trying to boil water. Ken needed a warmer sleeping bag and a new tent for this trip, the first of which turned out to be not quite warm enough for the windy 40-degree low we had that night, especially without the fleece jacket liner he wished he had brought. And the new tent, while touted to be waterproof and windproof, turned out to be difficult to set up without practice (the support poles are on the inside), which meant that Ken provided some of the entertainment that evening. We think he had fun anyway….

Motorcycle camping
Ken experienced the Five Stages of Tent Setup: 1) Optimism, 2) Confusion, 3) Frustration, 4) Determination and 5) Victory!

Black Diamond (Bibler) Lighthouse tent
Marmot Wasatch down sleeping bag
Compression sack for sleeping bag
Therm-a-Rest air mattress
Plastic ground cover 5 x 7 feet
MSR Dromedary water bag
Military surplus 1-qt. canteen w/ cover and cup
Folding stool
Optimus compact gas stove
Aluminum compact mess kit
Knife/fork/spoon combo
Aluminum candle lantern
Petzl headlamp
Eveready flashlight/lantern
Gerber utility tool
Lifeventure Trek backpacker’s towel

Dinner: Mountain House freeze-dried beef stroganoff
Breakfast: Instant oatmeal, Tang, tea


Motorcycle camping
Contributing Editor Clement Salvadori

As a former ’round-the-world rider, Contributing Editor Clement Salvadori has learned to do without better than any of us. His gear is older than the youngest in our group, but it works, and that’s all that matters. A can of soup fortified with some spices, some bread and wine from the bottles we (naturally) found room for in our duffels and a warm fire—that’s all Clem needs. Even long pants or jeans in 45-degree weather seem to be optional in Clem’s camping scenario—it must be the beret—though in the future the rest of us will offer to carry some pants for him. Clem’s camping approach is as simple and uncomplicated as it gets, and there’s only one thing we couldn’t figure out: How in the heck this giant among motorcycle campers fits into that tiny tent!

Motorcycle camping
How does 6-foot, 3-inch Clem fit in this small 15-year-old Wenzel tent?

Wenzel tent
Early Winters sleeping bag
Therm-a-Rest self-inflating air mattress
Campmor pillow
Propane stove, manufacturer unknown
Mess kit, stainless steel
Swiss Army Knife
UCO candle lamp
Morenita espresso pot

Dinner: Campbell’s Chunky Soup, Pita bread, seven spice dispenser
Breakfast: Swiss cheese, Fuji apple, coffee


Motorcycle camping
Editor Mark Tuttle

Editor Mark Tuttle and his wife Genie go motorcycle camping regularly, often in the Extreme Lightweight Dual-Sport Primitive (ELDSPC). On the Kawasaki KLR650 the Dry Bag Duffel goes on the luggage rack and holds both sleeping bags in compression stuff sacks, an inflatable air bed and ground cover. The rest of their gear fits into a large pair of Happy Trails aluminum panniers, including the two- or three-man tent and water if needed. Despite having to pick it out of the coals on occasion, Mark is partial to grilling beef or chicken over an open fire for dinner, hence the simple flat barbecue grill that rests on rocks and stores in a paper sack. Fancier ones with legs and such tend to rust, break or take up too much space.

Motorcycle camping
Mark’s Eureka Backcountry 2-person tent is perfect for solo motorcycle camping.

Mark needed a new solo sleeping pad for this night out, so he followed Arden’s lead and went for a Big Agnes REM air core insulated sleep pad. As a side sleeper, the self-inflating Therma-a-Rest pads had proven too thin for him, even when inflated. Big Agnes provides 2.5 inches of insulated cushion between your body and the ground and packs just as small as a Therm-a-Rest, though it has to be inflated manually. Mark had to carry a little extra gear as ringleader, and because he had to feed and inebriate the photographer before we could get him to sleep in a tent.

Big Agnes REM insulated air core sleep pad
Synthetic mummy bag in compression stuff sack
Compressible pillow
Eureka Backcountry two-man tent
Ground cover
8″ x 16″ grill
Spatula/tongs/serving spoon
2-quart aluminum pot w/ wire handles and lid bowl
Pot grabber
Small frying pan (substitute for grill if no campfire)
Salt-pepper shaker
MSR Superfly stove
Primus Alpine EasyLite mini gas lantern w/ carrying case
Propane-butane mix canisters for stove and lantern
Scouring sponge
Leatherman Wave
Mini Maglite
Soft cooler/Blue Ice
Coffee filter holder/filters
Paper plates/bowls/plastic utensils
Waterproof, windproof matches
2-gallon folding water container w/ spout
1-liter TFO FlexiFlask (folds flat when empty)
Enamel metal coffee mug
Camp towel
Paper towels
Tickets to the Super Bowl (a.k.a. toilet paper)
First-aid kit

Dinner: Chips & salsa, boneless chicken breast (olive oil, S&P, rosemary marinade in Ziploc bag), Minute Rice, peas & carrots (canned)
Breakfast: Quaker Instant Oatmeal, coffee



  1. My wife and i took our two kids camping the past summer on our bikes. They were five and seven years old. They loved the biking and the camping. We rode from central Saskatchewan to central British Colombia. We rode approx 600 kilometres a day to get to our primary camp site. I pull a small trailer behind my bike. With the right gear you would be surprised how little it will weigh and how small it will pack. The trailer and gear only weighed 300 lbs. for pics of our set and gear please email request. Round trip was around 4500 kms. We plan a lot more motorcycling and camping as a family for years to come.

    Jason Davies
    Saskatchewan Canada

  2. Two words: Hennessy Hammock.

    It weighs a shade over 2 lbs, is smaller than my camping pillow, is waterproof, bugproof, comfortable as heck, and setups and tears down in a couple of minutes. It is a revolution in camping. Compare that to sleeping on the ground, tent poles, 20 minutes to set up, 20 minutes to tear down and pack.

    Don’t leave home without it.

  3. Great article! I love hearing other peoples motorcycle camping stories and how they pack for the trip. It’s interesting to go through everyone’s gear list and compare. I can’t say enough about how important quality gear is. Breakdowns and gear failures are the worst when you are on the road or away from civilization!

  4. It was nice to read about what Each person packed… nice review/alter what I would pack.
    It was good to know what dinner/breakfast they brought also! I like to bring Hot & Sweet Beef Jerky. If it works out, I like to stop at an Arby’s and get some Beef Sandwiches; their good cold or heated in their foil.


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