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Are you planning a motorcycle trip, but struggling to fit everything? Welcome to my ultimate guide to ultralight motorcycle packing. I’m always shocked how quickly my saddlebags fill up. If I’ll be on the road for a while I try to carry a couple of changes of clothes. I also need some rain gear. There’s toiletries and my cellphone too. If I want the option of sleeping under the stars, I have to shoehorn some camping gear in there. And if I want any tools for my bike the amount of space I need adds up. It may seem counterintuitive to add more things to help organize your gear, but ultralight backpackers know that organizational tools such as packing cubes are well worth the space.

What is a packing cube?

A packing cube is a cloth bag that you pack clothes or other soft gear into. Packing cubes come in a variety of sizes and weights. Some packing cubes have compression straps or zippers so they take up less space. Others even have a compartment for dirty laundry.

Product photo of a set of packing cubes with a motorcycle printed on them, from Amazon.
Motorcycle print packing cube set | Amazon

Packing cubes were originally invented by air travelers with box-shaped carry-on luggage. They serve two purposes: You can store your clothes and other gear by category, so when you open your luggage, you aren’t dealing with everything tumbling around loose. You can also compress your loose clothing, so it takes up less space.

Even though packing cubes were invented for travel luggage, some come in sizes and shapes perfect for motorcycle side bags. Even if you keep a night bag in your side bags that you haul into your motels, organizing this bag with packing cubes can save you space and make it easier to sort through your stuff.

If you are attempting a motorcycle road trip with just a backpack, you definitely want to consider packing cubes. A couple of small packing cubes will compress your clothing enough that it can fit into your backpack. They will also keep your clothing in a square shape, adding some sturdiness to the load on your pack. While shifting around on a motorcycle, this can be especially important.

While living from a motorcycle, organization is your friend

Photo of two motorcyclists riding Harley Davidsons along a paved road at twilight.
Motorcycle trip | Harley Davidson via Unsplash

Backpackers have long known that every item needs a place. The same applies to living off your motorcycle–whether for an overnight or a few weeks.

For example, you don’t want your phone and charging cable and extra battery pack and headphones all loose in your saddlebags. Even if you’re tight on space, you have room for one zip-loc bag for all your electronics. This way, you won’t be looking for your things and they will be slightly better protected against the elements.

If you go into a bathroom to grab a shower and clean up, its important to have all your toiletries together in one bag. If you go to change or do laundry, grabbing your change of clothes without socks tumbling out on the pavement is certainly a luxury.

A word on backpacks

Two ultralight motorcycle travelers stop on a mountain road to take a photo during their camping road trip.
Motorcycle trip | Nomad Bikers via Unsplash

Does your motorcycle have no saddlebags? When you go on a trip longer than a day, do you just pack some things into a backpack and wear it while riding?

Firstly, know that a heavier backpack will limit your movement while your corner on your bike. For this reason, some riders insist on a saddlebag if carrying a lot of gear. If you have never ridden with a heavy pack, certainly take it slow until you are used to the change.

If you are shopping for the perfect backpack for your motorcycle trip, there are a few things to consider. The more square-shaped the backpack, the more gear it can fit–while keeping the weight as close to your body as possible.

A clamshell-style backpack hinges at the bottom, and the entire rear panel folds away to reveal all of your gear. This type of pack is especially helpful for staying organized and for carrying a lot.

Next, read why multi-use items are the key to ultralight packing or see packing cubes used for a motorcycle trip in the video below:


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