Introduction to motorcycle camping featured image of motorcycle and a tent
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An Introduction to Motorcycle Camping

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We like to introduce our readers to new ways of adventure. Whether that involves hiking, climbing, kayaking, or camping, we want to give you the best advice.

But there are some things that we simply have no expertise in. So, we rely on guest authors to give us some insight to new ways to get outside.

This month our contributing writer is Hugo Alais, a camping and motorcycle enthusiast. We tap into his extensive knowledge to bring you this introduction to motorcycle camping.

It’s time to start your engines…Let’s go!

What You’ll Need for Your First Motorcycle Camping Adventure

by Hugo Alais

Look at you, planning your first ever motorcycle camping trip. As a lifelong motorcycle touring and camping enthusiast, I couldn’t be happier to welcome another addition to our ranks. Right off the bat, I can tell you that the coming weeks will have some of the most fun and memorable experiences of your life!

But before we delve into the finer details of motorcycle camping, some introductions are in order. My name is Hugo, and I live and breathe all things’ motorcycle’. That includes getting off the beaten path and exploring the world, two-wheel style. I also run bikesfuture.com, a blog for motorcycle enthusiasts!

Over the years, I’ve had a bunch of exciting camping adventures astride my trusty motorcycle. But today, I’ll be referencing my very first outing (mainly as an example of what not to do!) and all the things I wish I knew back then. 

So without further ado, let’s dig into the wonderful world of motorcycle camping. PS bring bug spray. Lots of it. 

The Essentials

First, let’s dispel some common misconceptions about motorcycle camping. I get a lot of folks asking me stuff like, ‘Will I need an expensive ADV motorcycle to go camping?’, ‘Should I buy *insert unnecessary camping gear* just to be safe?’, or my personal favorite, ‘Will I get attacked by a mama grizzly bear in the dead of night?!’

Folks, as a rule of thumb, if you have to think that much about your first camping trip, you’re already doing something wrong. This is supposed to be a learning experience, and if you make a couple mistakes along the way, that’s part of the fun!

My first motorcycle adventure was a spur-of-the-moment decision to go camping for the weekend. Even then, my 150-cc dirt bike was over a decade old. My friends and I bought used camping gear. We spent less than $200 for a weekend’s worth of supplies. 

And never in my 15+ years of camping have I ever encountered any bears, save for the ones made of jelly that we took with us on our first trip (other nutrient-rich foods we packed included potato chips, soda, and some leftover pizza). 

For sentimental reasons, I wouldn’t change a single thing about that trip because it is one of my fondest memories. But unless starving in the cold for two days straight interests you, I would definitely make a few adjustments. 

Here are the absolutely essential items you should have if you want to go on a motorcycle camping adventure. 

1. A motorcycle

It’s in the name, people. Can’t have a motorcycle adventure without a motorcycle. But what type of motorcycle? 

I am a huge proponent of using what you have rather than going out and buying something new, but if what you have is a track-ready supersport or a big, thumping cruiser, you’re gonna wanna get something else. 

You want a motorcycle that can pull double duty on the street and the dirt. That doesn’t mean you have to shell out $20,000 for a literbike ADV with all the bells and whistles. A small-cc dual-sport or even dirt bike will suffice. 

Just make sure it has the necessary suspension and tires to go off-road. Granted, you won’t be traversing the Amazon for your first motorcycle adventure, but it helps to have something that is more confident on loose dirt and uneven terrain. 

It goes without saying, but proper motorcycle gear is essential, including a helmet, appropriate riding attire, and the like. You might also need to make some modifications to your motorcycle in order to get the most out of it. Check out some of my gear reviews for more information here: https://www.bikesfuture.com/parts/exhausts/ 

2. Camping supplies

A lot of what you bring with you on your motorcycle camping adventure is dictated by how much you can bring. The cardinal rule of motorcycle touring is ‘keep it light.’ If you thought your bike was heavy, imagine having all your gear and supplies loaded up on the back while trying to navigate some twisty forest path. 

For beginners, I would recommend a tent, a sleeping bag, and a mess kit. That and food are all you REALLY need. Again, keep it as light as possible while still ticking off the important stuff. 

For the tent, it is crucial to get one with a full rain fly. On our first trip, my friends and I, in the infinite wisdom of four twentysomethings, decided to forgo the rain fly. We cited clear skies and the word of hitherto unknown meteorologists. Had it not been for our morbid sense of humor and newly discovered camaraderie, we would have written off that rain-soaked weekend as a complete loss. 

A tent with a rainfly in cold weather

A tent with a rainfly

Moving on to the sleeping bag, you should get one that fits the weather. There’s two main types of sleeping bags: synthetic and down. Synthetic sleeping bags are ideal for most conditions, but down sleeping bags keep you warm in the coldest of cold weather. Moreover, down sleeping bags offer a lighter, more easily packable sleeping bag solution. 

introduction to motorcycle camping includes a Down Sleeping bag

My down sleeping bag of choice, compact, lightweight, very warm!

The tradeoff with down sleeping bags is that they are not best suited for wet or humid conditions. Which of the two you choose will depend on where you plan on going and the weather. 

The next essential on our list is a mess kit that you will use for cooking and serving meals. There are a ton of mess kits on the market, and you can choose one depending on the type of meals you plan on cooking and how many people you’ll be cooking for. Furthermore, you might want a camp stove or something similar for cooking. 

Cooking kit for motorcycle camping

Mess kit for one

My friends and I fancied ourselves seasoned outdoorsmen, thinking we could build a fire from scratch. Many jokes were made about how fire brought primitive man into the modern age and how it would instinctively just come to us. The designated Neanderthal of the group assured us that he would be able to accomplish the task without much hassle. 

Thankfully, potato chips don’t need to be cooked, and pizza is just as good cold as it is warm, or we really would have starved.  

Invest in a nice camping stove if you aren’t confident building a fire. There are many affordable options out there, and if you can spend a bit more, a quality camping stove will serve you for years to come. 

portable camp stove is essential part of introduction to motorcycle camping

Camping stove

3.Tools and more

Tools are another one of those essentials that you should have with you on a motorcycle camping trip. Besides the most basic tools for working on your motorcycle, it’s a good idea to pack a small pocket knife, duct tape, a compass, a tent repair kit, some length of rope or bungee cords, and batteries.

Add a bright and powerful lamp to your kit, and you’re pretty much set. Solar-powered lamps can be re-charged on the go and provide pretty bright lighting for when you need them. Speaking of charging, you will want some kind of battery bank for any devices you plan on taking with you. 

Personally, I’m all about the tech-free camping style. I find it helps me enjoy the moment more and have a better camping experience. However, even I have invested in a portable, solar-powered battery bank to charge small devices like phones, GPS, and other stuff that I might need. 

Solar battery bank for motorcycle camping

Solar-powered battery bank for recharging electronics

A jerrycan should also be pretty high up on your list of things to pack. Believe me, you’ll need one. 

Lastly, you should always carry a first aid kit. It is one of the most invaluable camping supplies you can have and has saved my bacon on more than a few occasions. 

4.The little stuff

Finally, you’ve got the little stuff. I wasn’t kidding about the bug spray. Sunscreen is a must. A mosquito net will let you stay out stargazing for longer. A hat and a raincoat make you all but completely impervious to the elements, and a pair of binoculars might be in order if you’re into birding. A foldable chair and small camping table will make setting up and cooking much easier. Oh, and toilet paper. Don’t forget the toilet paper.

Really, this is where you are free to pick and choose and customize your own list based on your unique needs. Someone camping on the humid first floor will want this, while someone camping in the mountains will need that. Again, as long as you can carry it on your motorcycle comfortably, go for it!

Where Should You Go For Your First Motorcycle Camping Adventure?

For your first ever motorcycle camping adventure, you want to take things easy. Again, it’s supposed to be a learning experience. 

A lot of you might want to take a trip out into the boonies. Away from civilization, just you and the motorcycle, living off the land, the whole shebang. Not so fast, Ewan McGregor! Odds are if you are reading this article, you’ve never taken your motorcycle off the street. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that off-road motorcycle riding differs greatly from street riding. 

For your first trip, look for local camping grounds. You don’t need to go halfway around the world to have fun on a motorcycle trip. Next, you want to find a spot that won’t require a lot of ‘technical riding’. 

For the uninitiated, technical riding refers to riding a motorcycle in uneven, hard-to-navigate terrain. Think rocky, bumpy roads, loose dirt and gravel, and frequent changes in elevation. Now imagine your heavy motorcycle, fully loaded up with camping supplies and gear trying to go over such terrain with you at the helm. 

Technical riding can be fun and rewarding, but it takes a certain finesse and a ton of experience to do properly, hence the name. Overly confident though we were, my friends and I still had the good sense to stay clear of places where a lot of technical riding would be required. 

Introduction to motorcycle camping technical riding

Technical riding in a nutshell: uneven, rocky terrain, slight hill, water and a bunch of logs!

And don’t let anyone tell you that you have to go into the most remote regions of the world just to camp on your motorcycle. My first couple trips were to a local campsite and the closest 7-Eleven was a 20 minute ride from our location!

Going It Alone vs. Group Riding

Over the years, I have gone on many solo adventures and group rides alike. There’s pros and cons to each, but for your first couple trips, group riding is the way to go. 

In recent years, I have come to prefer the solitude and self-sufficient nature of camping alone. I find it gives me more opportunity to reflect and refocus after a few weeks of nothing but work. It is also easier to get out on the trail when you don’t have any conflicting schedules to worry about. 

Open road solo camping with a motorcycle

Not to mention, solo camping is more challenging and helps you hone your skills, whether that’s troubleshooting mechanical issues, setting up camp, prepping food, or whatever. 

That’s not to say that group rides aren’t fun. In fact, I still try to go camping with a group every once in a while. And my very first camping trips were exclusively with a group. Group riding helps beginners figure out problems more easily. It helps to have someone to lean on when you make a mistake or can’t figure something out. 

Motorcycle camping challenge!

Teamwork making the dream work

Another big reason people prefer group riding is just to meet new people. I met a lot of my friends for the first time on a camping trip or motorcycle adventure. Plus, camping with more experienced riders is the fast track to motorcycle camping prowess.

So for first-timers like yourself, grab a couple buddies, hang out by the fire and swap stories. Once you get some more experience under your belt, feel free to go it alone. 

Introduction to motorcycle camping with good friends

What Type of Motorcycle Should I Get?

We touched on this briefly, but now let’s take a look at some more specific models. 

Remember, the rule of thumb for motorcycle camping is ‘keep it light’. The more weight you save on your bike, the less weight you have to worry about falling on top of you!

Dirt bikes are the obvious first choice, given that they are lightweight and supremely confident off-road. However, this is a bit of a double-edged sword, as the light weight and off-road capabilities don’t really translate well for street use. 

If you plan to ride on the street just as much as the dirt, dirt bikes aren’t particularly comfortable. Dirt bikes will require some modifications to be considered street legal, and if your adventure has a lot of highway riding on the itinerary, don’t even think of getting a dirt bike. 

The next possible choice is a dual-sport type motorcycle. This will still be a fairly lightweight motorcycle that is easy to maneuver and handle off-road. But the engine will have a bit more displacement than a true dirt bike, which, combined with some extra fairing bits and more street-friendly suspension, gives you much better on-road performance. The biggest benefit of dual sports is that they offer a nice balance between on-road and off-road performance, even if they don’t excel at either. 

Another popular choice is sport-touring bikes. These will have the most power out of all the bikes on this list, as well as features made specifically for touring. Large windshields, dedicated luggage such as side cases and top boxes, comfortable suspension and seats for longer journeys, and smoother power delivery. 

At the same time, you get better handling and highway performance than most other types of motorcycles. If your route features curvy back roads and mountain passes, long highway stretches, and nothing but paved roads, sport-touring bikes are the go-to.

The tradeoff is hefty kerb weight and non-existent off-road capabilities. These also tend to be the most expensive options of the lot. Overall, these types of bikes are only really suited to camping adventures where you can park the bike and go off on foot for the actual ‘camping’ portion of the trip. 

And finally, we have the gold standard for motorcycle camping. ADVs, or adventure bikes as they are called, combine the best of dual sports and sport-touring motorcycles. These models offer great performance both on and off-road. They can be outfitted with as much or as little luggage as you need. 

They have all the features you expect from a sport touring bike, such as cruise control, adjustable suspension, heated grips, adjustable windshields, GPS navigation, and the list goes on. But they also allow you to go off-road, thanks to unique suspension setups, specifically designed tires, and high ground clearance. 

As for tradeoffs, ADVs are right up there with sport-touring bikes in terms of weight and price. Moreover, these are enthusiast machines that will require a lot of experience to fully utilize. I personally ride an ADV, and it’s awesome! But it was only after years of riding other bikes that I became confident enough to swing a leg over one of these bad boys. 

So which of these would I recommend to beginners? Simply put, sport-touring and ADV bikes are too large and expensive for most riders looking to go on a motorcycle camping adventure. Dirt bikes are fine if you just want to do off-road stuff, but fall short on the street. Plus, they aren’t the most comfortable or luggage-friendly. 

That leaves the winner by elimination, dual-sport motorcycles. I rode a dual-sport for almost a decade before switching to an ADV, and to be honest, I miss it sometimes. Sure, dual-sports aren’t as feature rich or as capable on the street as the more expensive models, but they weigh next to nothing, are infinitely customizable, and don’t cost as much! 

Dual-sports for the win! 

Still, if you plan accordingly, you can also opt for any of the other bikes on this list, or even ones that aren’t featured here. 

How Much Does Motorcycle Camping Cost?

The beauty of motorcycle camping is that it fits your particular budget, whatever it may be. Some costs, you just can’t get around. Your motorcycle will take up the bulk of your budget, and some camping supplies can run into the hundreds of dollars. 

But that’s assuming you don’t already have a motorcycle, and any expensive supplies you buy are probably ones you can use for many camping trips to come. 

For your first camping trip, you shouldn’t splurge on any one thing. Instead, keep your own budget in mind and spend only what you absolutely need to. If all goes well on this first trip, you’ll be spending a lot more down the line!

Conclusion

Well, there you have it, folks. That’s pretty much all you need to get going on your very first motorcycle camping adventure. If it seems a bit basic, that’s because it is meant to be. Your first motorcycle camping adventure, you should be looking to dip your toe in the water, not swan dive into the deep end. 

If you make mistakes or forget something, it is better to do so on a weekend trip to the local camping grounds than on a multi-week adventure on the other side of the world. 

You will learn as you go and adjust the plan of action for future outings. That’s how my friends and I did it. The important thing is to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day (nor was our tent the first time we went camping!).

With that, I hope I’ve helped you start planning your very first motorcycle camping adventure. Oh, and if you were actually concerned about the grizzlies, here’s the age-old way to deal with them, courtesy of the Boy Scouts of America themselves:

‘Rangers advise hikers to be alert for bears and take precautions to avoid an encounter.

Park visitors should wear small bells so the bears can hear them coming and not be startled by a hiker accidentally sneaking up on them. This might cause a bear to charge.

Visitors should also carry pepper spray just in case a bear is encountered. Spraying the pepper into the air will irritate the bear’s sensitive nose, and it will run away.

It is also a good idea to keep an eye out for fresh bear scat, so you have an idea if bears are in the area. People should be able to recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat.

Black bear droppings are smaller and often contain berries, leaves, and possibly bits of fur. Grizzly bear droppings tend to contain small bells and smell of pepper.’

About the Author

Hugo Alais has been riding motorcycles all his life. What started out as a hobby slowly became an obsession. Today, he travels all over the world on his motorcycle, and uses his blog to help other enthusiasts pick the best gear and parts for their bikes. You can find out more about Hugo and get his recommendations here.