How Do You Go Camping on a Motorcycle?

With camping’s recent popularity explosion, it’s little wonder some want to pair it with another excellent social-distancing activity: riding motorcycles. But just like car camping, motorcycle camping requires a fair bit of prep work. However, as with off-roading on 2 wheels, with careful planning, it doesn’t have to be intimidating or expensive.

What kind of motorcycle camping are you planning on doing?

Before you look at gear or bikes, it’s important to know what kind of motorcycle camping you want to do.

2020 Yamaha XT250
2020 Yamaha XT250 | Yamaha

If you’re planning on going deep into the wilderness, you’ll need a dual-sport or adventure bike, Cycle World reports. They come with features like skid plates, extra suspension travel, off-road tires, and high ground clearance. And riding one of these effectively off-pavement requires a certain set of skills and careful gear packing.   

A red cruiser motorcycle parked next to a green camping tent in a grassy field
A biker camps outside Sturgis, South Dakota during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally August 6, 2003 | Scott Olson/Getty Images

But people buy touring motorcycles and cruisers expressly for traveling long distances comfortably. And if your camping trip involves setting up at dedicated campsites with little-to-no off-pavement time, there’s no reason you can’t ride them.

Plus, if you have a sufficiently powerful engine, you can tow a motorcycle camper trailer, Cycle World reports. That gives you more space for essential gear and/or luxury items.

However, regardless of which type of motorcycle camping you’re doing, some of the essential gear remains the same.

Motorcycle camping gear essentials

You don’t need a lot of gear to go motorcycle camping, Outside reports.

The most basic equipment is a waterproof tent, a sleeping bag and pad, and a camping stove or burner with utensils, RideApart, and Motorcyclist report. And if you’re taking electronics—such as your phone for emergency calls, maps, and so on—you’ll need a solar charger or at least a power bank, Motorcyclist and Revzilla reports. Plus, food and water containers, preferably metal flasks.

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Speaking of safety, it’s also recommended that you pack a first-aid kit as well as a bike tool kit in case of accidents. A decent multi-tool also comes in handy. And I’ve backpacked enough to know to bring along a headlamp because inevitably you’ll be setting up camp at dusk. Plus, no one wants to do motorcycle maintenance without light.

A Cardo Packtalk Bold Bluetooth-and-mesh communication headset mounted on a white motorcycle helmet
Cardo Packtalk Bold motorcycle helmet communication headset | Cardo via Instagram

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Naturally, since motorcycle camping involves riding a motorcycle, you’ll need your usual safety gear. That includes a helmet, gloves, over-the-ankle and/or armored boots, jacket, and abrasion-resistant pants. And if you’re going off-road, you’ll need specific gear for that.

However, what you wear underneath all that is just as important for long rides, KOA and The Drive explain. A wool or synthetic base-layer wicks away sweat to keep you comfortable, and a mid-layer acts as insulation. And if you think there’s a chance of rain, you’ll need good waterproof rain gear, Cycle World reports.

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Finally, there’s the question of storing all of this motorcycle camping gear. Some bikes come standard with bags, or you can purchase your own. Hard panniers are pricier, but they’re also waterproof and don’t take up seat space. However, textile and leather bags don’t require dedicated racks, and won’t break if they fall. But they can be harder to mount than hard-sided ones, Revzilla reports.

Riding and packing tips

Admittedly, there’s more gear you can take with you on your motorcycle camping trip, Motorcyclist and Cycle World report. Camping chairs, coffee presses, hammocks, and clotheslines can all be welcome additions to your gear list. Especially the clothesline, Motorcyclist reports.

However, you have to be able to fit it all in your luggage or strap it to your bike, Rider explains. It’s helpful to invest in compression bags or foldable gear, Motorcyclist explains, for this exact reason.

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But once you have your motorcycle camping gear organized, you can’t just throw it all on your bike. If you do that, there’s a very real chance you could fall over or get into an accident due to a higher center-of-gravity and poor weight distribution. So, make sure you back your heaviest gear low, and evenly distribute the weight on both sides of the bike. And don’t attach anything to flexing suspension components.

Using a motorcycle camper trailer does give you more space, but it also has its own safety requirements, RideApart and Bushtec report. As with a truck or car, a trailer essentially lengthens your bike—so keep it in mind when you’re turning or reversing. And just like any other trailer, it’s important not to over-pack it, Bushtec reports. Generally speaking, the weight of the trailer and gear shouldn’t be more than half the weight of your bike.

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