The Ultimate Guide To Packing Everything You Need in Your Motorcycle’s Side Bags–Or a Backpack

Are you planning a motorcycle trip and are wondering how to pack everything you need into your saddlebags–or just a backpack? Stopping at a laundromat or having to hunt down shampoo wherever you land can put a real damper on the adventure. But what if I told you that thanks to some modern technologies and trial-and-error by a tribe of ultralight world travelers, you can travel for weeks on end with just a saddlebag-full–or a backpack full–of stuff? Here’s my ultimate guide to packing everything you need for your next motorcycle trip.

How to use this guide

A motorcyclist wearing a backpack stands by their parked bike, looking at the ocean.
pelle martin via unsplash

RELATED: The Motorcycle Skills of Daniel Craig’s James Bond Impressed A Moto GP Champion

Our ultimate guide to ultralight packing for a motorcycle trip includes four major sections. You can keep scrolling to read them in the order I wrote them, or you can feel free to jump to any section first. If you do choose to jump around, you can find links to the rest of this guide at the end of every section.

The sections are:

If you’re curious about my story, or about the origins of ultralight packing, keep reading this introduction.

Ultralight packing: Reddit’s best-kept secret

An ultralight Harley-Davidson rider road trips with only a backpack.
Motorcycle rider | aditya chinchure via unsplash

RELATED: Texas Man Destroys the Cannonball Motorcycle Record on a $4,000 Yamaha FJR

Reddit is a huge online forum with thousands of specific landing pages called subreddits. Since 2014, Redditors interested in ultralight packing have congregated on a subreddit called OneBag.

These folks are united by a single goal: to travel with just one bag. For many, this bag is just a carry-on-sized backpack. Though OneBaggers focus on “urban travel,” many of them look to the outdoor backpacking community for high-performance materials well suited to long-term travel in a variety of climates.

One common post on Reddit.com/r/OneBag is a packing list for an upcoming trip. An even more helpful post is a report on how well said trip went, what gear performed as expected, and what things the traveler could have left home.

Some clever OneBag members have even begun to compile these packing lists, then create an “average” packing list. It is clear that as the members of OneBag each fine-tune their own packing list, they are learning from each other and arriving at an effective “standard kit” for ultralight long-term travel.

My own journey to ultralight packing

The author on a motorcycle trip, a bedroll tied to the back of his bike.
The author on a motocycle trip before his ultralight days | Henry Cesari via MotorBiscuit

RELATED: 5 Car Hacks: Use Household Items To Repair Your Vehicle

I have been riding a motorcycle since I was twenty years old. I have done long motorcycle camping trips and long motorcycle road trips. I have also done long-distance backpacking camping trips. But it wasn’t until I took a long trip to Europe that I stumbled on OneBag.

I jumped in with both feet: creating a full 27-liter kit for a multi-month trip. I would still be working as an automotive journalist so I included my computer. I also ensured enough technical clothing and gear to rent a motorcycle or take a long outdoor hike. Finally, I made sure to have some outfits that wouldn’t stand out in urban areas.

After several weeks of travel, I was amazed that I had everything I needed in a “daypack” sized backpack. Backpackers with huge packs often looked at my kit with envy. But I could not help thinking, this gear would have made motorcycle camping much easier. So I immediately began adapting my OneBag-style kit to my next motorcycle trip.

Want to know what I learned? Check out why swapping your cotton shirts for merino wool makes all the difference, or see the secrets of OneBag travel in the video below:

RELATED: Is Your Motorcycle’s Tire Pressure Tuned to Your Riding Style?