There are few things more therapeutic to me than packing some camping gear onto a motorcycle, pointing the front wheel away from civilization and hitting the road. The destination is usually secondary; it’s all about the ride, the solitude, the starry sky and crackling campfire. Also, it’s a cheap way to travel, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m cheap. Well, “frugal” sounds a little nicer.
Thankfully, I fit right in here at Rider, where we try to work an overnight camping trip into several of our comparison tests or bike reviews each year. The powers-that-be appreciate our cheapness—er, frugality—and we get some two-wheeled therapy sessions away from the bustle of the L.A. area. Every few years, we up the ante a bit and do one of our camping trips “challenge style”; the last one was way back in 2012, so we figured we’re due. This time, we worked it into our adventure-sport touring bike comparison (you can read it here), and each of us took on a personal challenge that reflects our unique approaches to moto-camping.
Personal challenges aside, our three-day, two-night trip presented us with the usual natural trials and tribulations. Triple-digit temperatures forced us to seek relief at a high-altitude campsite the first night and the cool Pacific coast the second night. Both sites were fairly primitive, with no potable water (which is why we each carried a 3-liter hydration pack), and curious critters meant any food (or anything that smelled like food) had to be locked away in the motorcycle side cases at night.
It’s true that moto-camping requires a bit more planning than just eating out and sleeping in a hotel every night, but once you’ve acquired the right gear and figured out your routine it’s not nearly as intimidating as you might think. Besides, adventure is a part of the camping experience—and it makes for a more interesting story when you return home!
Challenger No. 1: Mark – The Camp Gourmet
EIC Tuttle and his wife Genie are moto-camping vets, so he’s used to carrying enough supplies for two—a good thing, since he volunteered to haul most of our photographer’s camping gear and food. His challenge this trip was to be completely self-sufficient, with two people’s supply of food, water, and cooking and camping gear, plus “the football” (tools, flat kit, siphon hose, etc.), packed on the Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT.
“I think most motorcycle campers fit the quantity, cost and size of their camping gear to their bike and budget. Some bring the kitchen sink, others as little as possible—whatever makes you happy. I’m all for having to organize and pack as little as possible, but I also want to be able to cook anything I want from any store, fix the bike or a flat on my own, chop wood or hang food and be comfortable.
“I don’t mind doing a little cooking and cleanup, it’s part of the camping experience for me. Backpacking meals have come a long way, but they’re relatively expensive and the results can be hit-or-miss. This trip, I tried some new recipes for cheap, tasty dinners that can be bought in any store. My cooler system allows me to carry a couple dinners’ worth of food for two on bikes like these so that we don’t have to leave camp after setting up in the late afternoon/evening. Then we go shopping on day three. My trick for fresh chicken the first night: freeze it at home before you leave, then by the time you arrive at camp it’s thawed and ready to cook.”
Salami, Cheese, Olives
Hormel Turkey Chili and Fritos
Mexican Mac & Cheese w/Canned Chicken and Chiles
Eureka Backcountry 2-person tent
Wiggy’s Nautilus Lamilite 40-degree sleeping bag
Sea-to-Summit Reactor liner bag (subtract 20 degrees)
Big Agnes REM sleeping pad
MSR Superfly stove w/nesting pots/pans/handle
Fire Paste firestarter
Spare Rok Straps (for firewood/water)
Challenger No. 2 – Greg: The Minimalist
Senior Editor Drevenstedt has always preferred to pack as light and small as possible when moto-camping. Inspired by his recent spur-of-the-moment overnight camping trip on the BMW R nineT Pure, for this trip Greg decided his challenge would be to go as “ultralight” as possible—and we’d say he succeeded. He managed to fit all of his gear into one 39-liter Nelson-Rigg dry bag and one small duffel that fit into the V-Strom 1000’s 21-liter left saddlebag (the right saddlebag was filled with cleaning supplies for our photo shoot).
“Carrying a lot of heavy or bulky gear affects how a motorcycle handles, and it can be a real pain to pack, unpack and safely secure onto the bike. Lightweight backpacker gear tends to be more expensive than the run-of-the-mill stuff you buy at big box stores, but it is usually high-quality gear that will last for years. Freeze-dried, just-add-water meals don’t appeal to everyone, but they’re nonperishable, calorie-dense, surprisingly tasty and easy to prepare with no clean up. I prefer to spend my time at the campsite sitting around the fire sipping whiskey rather than prepping, cooking and cleaning.”
Food & Cooking:
Esbit pocket stove (3 oz.) with solid fuel tablets (0.5 oz. each)
Light My Fire knife with firestarter
Eversaw 8.0 folding saw
Vargo titanium spork (0.6 oz.)
Stansport cook pot with lid (8 oz.)
Primus insulated stainless steel mug (4 oz.)
Alpine Start instant coffee
Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry freeze-dried meals (Chili Mac with Beef, Chicken Fajita Bowl, Crème Brûlée, Granola with Milk and Bananas)
S’mores made with Reese’s peanut butter cups
Key Gear: (total weight: 9 lbs.)
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2-person tent with footprint (3 lbs.)
Katabatic Gear Palisades 30-degree quilt-style sleeping bag (1 lb., 10 oz.)
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max sleeping pad (1 lb., 8 oz.)
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Mini Pump with 2 AAA batteries (3 oz.)
Exped inflatable pillow (11 oz.)
Helinox folding chair (2 lbs.)
Challenger No. 3: Jenny – The Experimenter
Managing Editor Smith and her boyfriend Kurt love to camp in out-of-the-way places off their ADV bikes, but a limiting factor has always been refrigeration. In the past, they simply used freeze-dried backpacker meals—no muss, no fuss—but for this trip, Jenny decided her challenge would be trying something entirely different: cooking two fresh dinners (no cans, nothing pre-packaged) at the campsite. Easier said than done….
“I found a company called Ice Mule that makes collapsible coolers that they claim will keep ice for 24 hours. Into the Ice Mule went the smoked sausage and frozen peas for the first night, the chopped veggies for the second night and the fancy round ice cubes for Kurt’s Old Fashioneds (all in separate Ziploc bags), along with a lot more loose ice. It was pretty bulky once filled, but thanks to my small backpacker-quality camping gear, I had more than enough space in my Wolfman 47-liter Expedition dry bag. In fact, the only items in the dry bag were my tent (a 3-person, since Kurt was staying with me the first night) and the Ice Mule.
“The verdict? While I don’t think I’ll be giving up my lightweight, easy backpacker meals for most trips, the Ice Mule proved that cooking fresh on the trail is possible.”
Smoked sausage, red potatoes and peas in a campfire foil packet
Thai-style peanut noodles with lime, chopped red bell pepper and broccoli
Crushed red pepper for spice
Marmot Limelight 3-person tent with footprint
Nemo Rhumba 30-degree spoon-shaped down bag
Nemo Cosmo sleeping pad with built-in foot pump
Therm-A-Rest compressible pillow
Black Diamond Spot headlamp & Moji/Moji XP lanterns
Chopsticks & Gregory spork
Osprey Raptor hydration pack
Challenger No. 4: Kurt – The Celebrity Guest
Our special guest on this trip was Kurt Yaeger, actor, motorcyclist…and Jenny’s boyfriend, which was why we let him tag along for the first night. He showed up with just the basics: sleeping bag, clean underwear, a spork and four sparkling highball glasses. He then proceeded to whip out a bottle of High West whiskey and the fixings to make each of us an Old Fashioned. We decided it was a fair trade, and fed him well.
“I actually love to camp; it’s a great way to escape and unwind. And I’ve hosted the BMW GS Trophy twice now, which is a five-day adventure riding competition where we camp every night. But since Jenny would be carrying the tent and I was leaving after the first night, it seemed like a great opportunity to have a little fun. I thought, I wonder what would happen if I just showed up with nothing but some real glasses and a good bottle of whiskey—and a spork—and basically bribed my way into dinner? It worked! We all had a laugh and a nice drink by the fire, and I got a hot dinner and s’mores. How great is that?”
Gear: (yes, this is all he brought)
Marmot Trestles Surfboard 30-degree sleeping bag
Marmot Cirrus inflatable pillow
LayBag (inflatable chair)
Highball glasses x 4
Ingredients for Old Fashioneds: High West whiskey, bitters, simple syrup, orange
New to moto-camping and not sure where to start? Aerostich has a comprehensive collection of rider-tested camping gear in their catalog and online. You can also find great resources and plenty of gear at outdoor retailers like REI, Gander Mountain, Cabela’s, Backcountry.com and more.
Lastly, here are some Rider tips to help you get started:
- Checklists are your friends! I like to make two lists: one for food, including ingredients needed and prep work (if required), and one for gear.
- Bring a tent that’s sized for one person more than you need. For example, if it’s you and a partner, bring a 3-person tent. It won’t be much bigger than a 2-person when packed, but will give you added space inside for your gear.
- Pack heavy items low and forward on the bike. Keep breakable items like cameras and phones in your tank or tail bag, just in case the bike tips over.
- Use Ziploc bags. Ziploc bags are the secret weapon of the frugal camper: put your phone in one to keep it dry, keep food separated and organized, carry plates, cutlery and anything you want to keep clean…the uses are endless.
- A good night’s sleep is priceless. If you’re going to splurge on gear, anything related to making sure you get a good night’s sleep is the place to do it.
- Freeze foods that need to be refrigerated the night before you leave. That way, even if your cooler isn’t up to snuff, the food stays cold as it thaws throughout the day.
- Research campgrounds before you leave. It’s easier to do this online before you leave home, and in many cases you can even make reservations, ensuring you’re not left out in the cold when you arrive!
- Make sure you know how to set up your tent. Practice at home before you leave. It’s also better to find out you’re missing a part in your backyard, rather than in the dark at the campsite.
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