It’s been a great day on the road––or off it––and as the sun heads for the horizon you’re thinking about where to bed down for the night. You could look for another stuffy motel room with questionable sheets and a constant drip from the shower, but somehow that doesn’t go with the adventure you’ve been having. Why not bed down under the stars instead, with the universe for a ceiling and crickets as your only neighbors?
If the last time you went camping was with your parents, and you struggled to set up a huge canvas tent and shivered the night away in flimsy cotton sleeping bags, you’ll be happy to hear camping gear has improved a lot over the years. Motorcycle campers especially have benefitted from the development of small, lightweight gear originally designed for backpackers, as well as from a raft of products made specifically for motorcyclists. Here are some tips on choosing the right gear for your next––or even your first––stay at the Milky Way Motel.
Tents vary by size, shape, occupancy and the range of conditions they’re designed for, but one feature is non-negotiable––water-tightness. Before you trust a tent to the outdoors, practice setting it up and leave it set up in your backyard for a while in the rain to make sure no water gets in.
A three-season tent should be fine in most conditions you’re likely to camp in. A four-season tent, designed to withstand not only wind and rain but the weight of snow, will be sturdier but probably won’t ventilate as well, and will be heavier and bulkier to pack.
A free-standing tent with aluminum poles––the fiberglass ones can break––can be moved once you set it up in case you find a spot you like better, or one the bugs like less. Get a tent rated for one more person than will be sleeping in it––a two-person tent for one camper, a three-person for two.
Sleeping bags are rated according to the lowest temperature they’re suitable for, but experts say you should buy a bag that’s rated for lower temps than you expect to encounter, since it’s easier to cool off than it is to get warmer.
Most sleeping bags use either goose down or a synthetic material for insulation. Goose down is light and compressible so it packs well, but it doesn’t insulate as well as synthetic when it’s wet. Synthetic bags tend to be heavier and bulkier than goose-down bags of the same temperature rating.
Mummy bags, which taper toward the foot area, heat up faster when you crawl in, but they’re more confining than rectangular bags, which let you move around but take longer for your body heat to warm up. And then there are quilt-style bags that are a cross between a mummy bag (lower leg portion) and a blanket (upper body portion).
Don’t forget a fleece, foam- or down-filled, or inflatable pillow, and a sleeping pad go under the bag to insulate you from the cold ground. If you choose an inflatable mat make sure you have good lungs, or a hand pump or one that runs off your bike’s battery.
Some experienced moto-campers suggest first-timers shouldn’t worry about cooking full meals until they have the rest of their act together, but a small stove to heat coffee water or make ramen soup is handy. So is a collapsible water container you can fill and carry back to your campsite.
If you don’t want to bother with cooking, but want something more substantial than cheese and crackers for dinner, consider MREs (meals, ready to eat). Civilian versions of these military ration packs are available from most outdoor outlets and have a shelf life measured in years. The menus are surprisingly varied, typically including an entrée, a side dish, dessert, condiments, instant coffee and a wet nap. Many brands of MREs can be ordered with water-activated heaters for a hot (more or less) meal with minimal fuss.
Sitting in the dirt is no fun, so bring along a collapsible chair or folding stool you can settle into when the campfire is lit and story time begins. Pack a roll of toilet paper along with your other personal stuff in case the campsite is the very definition of primitive, and find room for a utility knife, some matches and sunscreen. And don’t forget a collapsible wide-brimmed hat, with a bug net where applicable.
A flashlight is a must, as is a first-aid kit. Pack spare batteries and bulbs, and remember there’s not much point to bringing a first-aid kit if you don’t know how to perform first aid. Take a Red Cross course so you know not only what’s in the kit, but how to use it. Finally, remember to bring tools and spares for your motorcycle.
(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2012. The buyers guide that follows was updated in January 2019 with new products and pricing to reflect current availability.)
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent
The Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent ($449.95 for the tent, $70 for the footprint) is ideal for solo motorcycle campers because it is ultra-light (that’s what “UL” stands for; it weighs just 3 pounds), has room for two people (that’s what the “2” is for) or one person and their gear, and it has a high-volume design (that’s what “HV” stands for; it has 29 square feet of floor space and 40 inches of interior height). It has two doors, a waterproof floor and fly, and a “4-way high volume hub pole design.”
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max Air Mattress
The NeoAir XTherm Max (starting at $199.95) air mattress claims to offer the highest warmth-to-weight ratio available of any air mattress you can buy, with a softer, textured no-slip fabric for better next-to-skin comfort and a quieter rest. Multiple, reflective ThermaCapture layers give the XTherm true four-season warmth without excessive weight or bulk. Stuff sack and repair kit included. The XTherm Max Regular weighs 1 pound, 1 ounce, measures 20 x 72 x 2.5 inches inflated, and packs down to 9 x 4 inches.The XTherm Max Large weighs 1 pound, 7 ounces, measures 25 x 77 x 2.5 inches inflated, and packs down to 11 x 4.5 inches. Add the 2.3-ounce NeoAir Mini Pump, which runs on 2 AA batteries, for $39.95.
DrySpec D28 Dual-End Dry Bag
Twisted Throttle’s DrySpec D28 bag ($76.99) has a dual-end roll-top design that lets you get into either end of the bag without taking it off the bike. It attaches to the bike with a four-point quick-connect soft-tie system and can be used with or without a luggage rack. Includes four straps, a carry handle and a daisy chain mounting strip for attaching other items to the bag. It’s 100 percent waterproof, has a capacity of 28 liters and measures 9 x 9 x 32 inches fully packed. Available in black, orange or gray, and it can be used in a modular configuration with D20 and D38 bags.
Giant Loop Great Basin Saddlebag
The water-resistant Great Basin ($450) holds 50 liters of gear and doesn’t require a rack or mounting plate. It’s made of 22-ounce vinyl-coated polyester and is sewn with military-grade thread. It has two integrated 1-liter bottle carriers, an integrated zippered top case and two zippered removable pannier pods. Fully packed, it measures 55 inches from the bottom of one side up over the top to the bottom of the other side; 9 inches high in the top center; and 12 inches front to back at the top center.
FireBox Folding Stove
When it comes to cooking food while camping, versatility can make things easier. The FireBox Gen2 portable camp stove ($59.99) is made of 18-gauge stainless steel and burns anything flammable––charcoal briquettes, wood pellets or scraps, solid fuel tablets or Sterno. It requires no assembly and has a hinge construction. It weighs 2 pounds and folds flat for easy packing, measuring 5 x 5 x 7.5 inches when opened up and 5 x 7 x 1.5 inches when folded flat. Includes one ash pan and two fire sticks.
The Kermit chair (starting at $189) is made of oak or walnut, aluminum and stainless steel structural elements, and water-resistant Cordura fabric. It weighs 5.5 pounds, has a capacity of 350 pounds, packs into a 4 x 6 x 22 inch bag, and can be set up in under a minute, adding a touch of class to any campsite. It’s made in the U.S.A., comes with a five-year warranty and is available in six colors (black, burgundy, green, navy, red or tan). Available accessories include leg extensions, a cup holder and a matching table.
Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 Sleeping Quilt
When weight is at a premium, its hard to beat Katabatic Gear’s Palisade quilt-style sleeping bag, which weighs as little as 16.4 ounces depending on size and type of fill. As a quilt, it foregoes the zipper and wraps over the body like a blanket but has a fully enclosed “box” for the lower legs and feet. It features elastic binding around the bottom opening, a differential cut to ensure maximum loft of the goose down fill and continuous baffles to down can be adjusted as needed. The Palisade is rated to a low as 30 degrees F, and its patented pad attachment system secures the quilt to a sleeping pad to prevent drafts. In warmer weather it can be used without a sleeping pad for the ultimate in minimalist motorcycle camping. A cotton storage sack and a nylon stuff sack are included, and the quilt compresses to 10 x 5.5 inches. Available in five sizes (small to long wide) and three types of fill.
“Motorcycle Camping Made Easy” Book
There’s more to motorcycle camping than just gear. “Motorcycle Camping Made Easy” ($19.95) by Bob Woofter has information about evaluating your bike for load-carrying, planning your trip and packing for it, finding motorcycle-only campgrounds, what to expect at the campsite, and a directory of camping resources to find out more about gear, luggage, clothing and even trailers. Paperback, 200 pages. Originally published by Whitehorse Press, “Motorcycle Camping Made Easy” (and many other Whitehorse Press titles) is now available through Quarto/Motorbooks.
MSR Hubba Tour Tent
The MSR Hubba Tour tent, available in 1-person ($549.95) and 2-person ($649.95) sizes, features an extended, covered vestibule for stashing your gear, lounging during foul weather or changing clothes with a little privacy. The Hubba Tour has a unique exoskeleton frame and a unified waterproof body and fly with an Xtreme Shield coating that is said to last up to three times longer than standard waterproof coatings. It features two easy-access entrances, multiple gear storage solutions and an internal glow-in-the-dark zipper. Packed weight is 4 lbs., 7 oz. for the Tour 1 and 5 lbs., 4 oz. for the Tour 2, and the packed size is 21 x 7 inches. Tent volume is 27 cu. ft. for the Tour 1 and 45 cu. ft. for the Tour 2, and the vestibule has 25 sq. ft. of floor space.
Ortlieb Folding Basin
For primitive campgrounds with no facilities for washing faces or dishes, the folding basin from Ortlieb ($55) brings a touch of home. It’s made of the same waterproof material as Ortlieb dry bags and saddlebags and folds up small so you can stow it away easily. It measures 11 inches square by 5 inches deep and holds 10 liters.
Redverz Atacama Expedition Tent
To protect not only yourself but your bike and gear from the elements, the Redverz Atacama Expedition tent ($599) has a garage bay where you can also sit, cook or store gear. It’s made of expedition-grade ripstop nylon and has a double-wall design in the sleeping bay that helps eliminate condensation. The tent sleeps up to three people, and has enough headroom to stand up and change clothes. It packs down to 10 inches by 21 inches and weighs 14 pounds.
RotopaX gas and liquid packs are rotationally molded for superior strength and a leak-proof design compared to traditional blow-molded carriers such as cheap gas cans. They have thick, solid walls and extra threads with sure-seal gaskets so they won’t leak. Their modular mounting system allows for a range of combinations and mounting choices. RotopaX attach to a wide array of OEM and aftermarket mounting brackets and use their own RotopaX mounts for a tight and secure attachment. The 1.5-gallon FuelpaX costs $59.99 (comes with a RotoaX mount), measures 14 x 14 x 3.5 inches and comes with a 5-year warranty. FuelpaX, Water Packs and Road+Trail Emergency Packs (for storing supplies) come in various sizes. All RotoPax products are made in the U.S.A.
Rok straps are what bungee cords want to be when they grow up. These flat stretchable straps (starting at $18, available in various widths, lengths and colors) are made specifically for motorcycles and come in adjustable or tailored lengths. They’ll secure cargo to a motorcycle without scratching and are less likely to slip or roll than round bungees.
Stainless Solo Cook Kit
Fancy camp food doesn’t require fancy cookware. This minimalist cooking kit ($27) is made of stainless steel and includes a 24-ounce pot, a 20-ounce pot and a 5.5-inch fry pan, all with folding stay-cool handles and copper bottoms for even heat distribution. There’s also an 8-ounce plastic cup. Everything together weighs 1.5 pounds and packs neatly into a nylon pouch.
Zega Pro Table
You won’t find many picnic tables off the beaten path, so bring one along with the Zega Pro Table ($69.95). Designed to work with Touratech’s Zega Pro panniers, the Pro Table spans the panniers and gives you a convenient place to cook, clean gear, entertain guests or check maps. It stores easily in the pannier.