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Beginner's Guide to Motorcycle Camping: Moto-Camping 101

How to Plan, How to Pack, and What Bikes Work Best


A lone biker sets up camp in the middle of the desert - his motorcycle parked next to a small tent, with a fire blazing nearby. The sun sets brilliantly in the distance over the cracked scorched earth

Motorcycle Camping in the Desert - Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop


 

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After almost two whole years stuck inside, I was ready to get back on my motorcycle and ride off to my favorite camping spots once again. Just the thought of the wind in my face, miles upon miles of highway stretching out in front of me, with blue skies on the horizon was making me giddy.


I couldn’t wait to set up camp and get in touch with Mother Nature. Daydreams of fireside chats with friends, stargazing on a clear night, and walking barefoot on forest floors punctuated my daily routine.


It was settled. We were going motorcycle camping again!


An orange tent set up in the forest with a beautiful Triumph motorcycle parked beside it

Going Motorcycle Camping Again! - Photo Credit: Rohan Makhecha



While I won’t go into how awesome the last trip was, and all the shenanigans my friends and I got up to (that’s a story for another time), I did have one particular experience which motivated me to write this article.


On the trip, we met a couple who also happened to be camping via motorcycle. As we talked with them, it quickly became evident that they were moto-camping first-timers. In fact, as we would come to find over the next few days, they were rather ill-equipped first-timers.


We were more than happy to lend them any gear, advice, and even supplies that we could spare. But the fact was that they had neglected to plan out their trip properly, and their weekend ended up being a bust - even with our assistance.


So here I am, offering what little guidance I can muster. I aim to ensure you don’t end up swearing off motorcycle camping forever like that poor couple did. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but after numerous camping jaunts, hundreds of thousands of miles in the saddle, and a couple of successful trips around the world, you pick up a few things worth sharing.


Enough preamble. Let’s dive right into the beginner’s guide to motorcycle camping.


A man poses in front of his bike equipped for motorcycle camping at the border crossing between China and Pakistan - one of the highest border crossings in the entire world by altitude

Moto-Camping Pit Stop at the Pakistan/China Border - Photo Credit: Hugo Alais



Planning The Trip


So let’s get started with what you’ll need to plan your trip. Ideally, you’ve done some sort of camping before. If not, don’t fret. This is a beginner’s guide, after all.


The first thing I recommend doing is deciding on a destination. You might be tempted to go camping in the most remote places on the planet. You might want to set up camp atop the highest peaks, or in the lowest valleys.


The thing about motorcycle camping for beginners is that your destinations will be limited by where your motorcycle can go. More importantly, they’ll be limited by where you feel comfortable taking the bike.


For your first ever moto-camping trip, I would recommend somewhere close to home. A local campground or other open space is ideal. Camping here will help you learn the ropes in a low-risk environment, while still making for quite a fun adventure.


A tent set up on the shores of Loon Lake in Eldorado National Forest, California

Camping in Eldorado National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue



I would warn beginners against routes and destinations that involve a lot of off-roading and ‘technical riding.’ For the uninitiated, ‘technical riding’ refers to riding a motorcycle in rough, uneven terrain, where you will need to exercise a lot more control and finesse just to keep the thing upright.


Pick an easy-to-navigate route for your first trip, and you’ll be doing gnarly off-road paths in no time at all!


Next, you’ll want to decide on when to go. I find that in general, camping in late September and early October is a good idea if you want pleasant weather that is neither too hot nor too cold. This will of course vary based on what part of the world you call home, but generally, it works for the majority of regions and climates.


Avoid moto-camping in the rain. Rainy weather while camping is bad enough, but rain while riding a motorcycle is a different story altogether!


A complete setup of backpacking gear necessary for a successful motorcycle camping trip

Moto-Camping Gear - Photo Credit: Karson Chan



What You’ll Need To Pack


Now, let’s get into the good stuff. The first thing you want to remember while camping on a motorcycle is to pack light. As light as possible. No, seriously. LIGHT!


If you’ve ever been backpacking, you’ll be familiar with the workout your body gets just by lugging around camping gear and supplies. Now imagine maneuvering a heavy motorcycle through tricky paths and up steep hills with all of that equipment strapped to your back!


Packing light means you only have space for the absolute essentials. That means lightweight, non-bulky camping gear - tents, sleeping bags, mess kits, camping stoves, and the like. Besides that, you only need food, water, and the clothes on your back. A first aid kit doesn’t hurt - and is certainly helpful for when YOU do!


It goes without saying that you should also have some basic tools for troubleshooting any mechanical issues with your bike, just in case.


Feel free to add to the list. Just remember that moto-camping is easier when you pack the ‘need to haves’ and leave the ‘nice to haves’ at home., depending on how badly you need something. One of the cool things about motorcycle camping is that the limited space forces you to be more conservative (or at the very least, more creative) with your luggage.


But as a rule of thumb, pack only the bare necessities, and ditch the limited edition, collectible action figures. I don’t care how much sentimental value they hold!


A Japanese dual sport motorcycle parked on a hill

The elusive Japanese dual-sport motorcycle in the wild - Photo Credit: Stephen Andrews



Choosing A Motorcycle


OK, so maybe this one should have been higher on the list, but we aren’t exactly going in order here. After all, what motorcycle you choose will probably determine where you can go, how comfortable you’ll be, and also how much stuff you can take with you.


My personal choice is a dual-sport type motorcycle with a larger displacement engine. This type of bike pretty much gives you the best of all worlds. They are comfortable, fast, and have plenty of ground clearance if your trip involves any off-roading. They also come with special suspension and tires that can be set up to favor comfort on the street or performance in the dirt, depending on your needs at any given time.


If you plan on braving the wilderness and the winding, rocky paths of the world, dual-sports are some of the lightest motorcycles on the market - which will work to your advantage, especially while off-roading. Lighter motorcycles are easier to maneuver, more ‘flick-able’ in the corners, and hurt a lot less when you inevitably drop them on yourself!


An ADV motorcycle with accessories needed for motorcycle camping

ADV motorcycle outfitted with panniers and a top box - Photo Credit: Adam Rhodes



Other worthy considerations for moto-camping bikes include large ADV motorcycles. Expensive though they may be, they are supremely comfortable, have decent off-road capabilities, and are packed to the gills with awesome features like cruise control, adjustable windscreens, GPS navigation, and adaptive suspension.


These bells and whistles might seem like overkill to the layman, but to a seasoned moto-camper, they are indispensable.

  • Cruise control allows you to take a load off after 10 hours of constant riding, while also improving fuel efficiency.

  • Adjustable windscreens add wind protection, no matter your height. And take my word for it, when you’re doing 100 miles per hour on the freeway, you’ll need that wind protection.

  • GPS navigation has saved my bacon on more than a few occasions when I got lost trying to be Columbus.

  • Similarly, adaptive suspension may be a bit pricey, but it’ll make sure you get a plush ride, both on and off the beaten path.


A dirt bike with a helmet hanging from the handlebars, parked in front of a setting sun

A dirt bike, basking in the sun - Photo Credit: Taras Chernus



Dirt bikes can be outfitted to perform quite well for moto-camping applications. You can add some panniers and top boxes for your luggage, opt for tires that split the difference between on- and off-road, and maybe throw in some crash-guards for the occasional spill. With these additions, you’ll be pretty much set to conquer entire continents.


The drawback is that dirt-bikes won’t be particularly well-suited to highway riding. They lack the large fairings that allow dual-sports and ADVs to stay stable at highway speed. That’s assuming the dirt bike’s engine even has enough power to get up to highway speeds (odds are it does not).


A bulky highway touring bike, covered in plastic fairings - great for the road, not so much for off road

Honda’s mighty GoldWing. The perfect highway touring bike; useless off-road Photo Credit: Mehmet Talha Onuk



Cruisers and touring bikes have the opposite problem. They are the gold standard for highway riding, but their off-road capabilities are virtually non-existent. They're made for soaking up long miles, not bumps off-road.


A red sport bike that can race for miles on flat road, but don't let it hit a rock

Sportbike: Stiff suspension, aggressive seating position, built for 200mph on the track, not 2mph on the trail - Photo Credit: Alex D



Sportbikes are obviously the worst choice for this type of riding, though some mavericks of the motorcycle camping community have gone far and wide on sport and sport-touring models. But unless you have a lower back made of concrete, I wouldn’t recommend it!


No matter which motorcycle you choose, proper riding gear is a must. Helmets, gloves, elbow/knee pads, and riding boots are non-negotiable. Gear such as riding jackets, pants, and the like are also nice if your budget allows for them. If you need recommendations for the best riding gear and motorcycle parts, check out my blog.



So there you have it, folks! That’s a pretty basic look at what you need to get going on your very first motorcycle camping trip. I hope I’ve answered some of your questions and also inspired you to take the plunge into the world of motorcycle camping. And this might sound cliche, but just remember that at the end of the day, it’s all about having a fun experience. If you’re pulling out your hair trying to plan a moto-camping trip, you’re already doing something wrong!


 

Guest Blogger Hugo Alais is a motorcycle enthusiast, first and foremost. Over the years, he has also set up resources that help people find the best gear and equipment for a variety of needs, from headlights, to motorcycle exhausts, and so much more.

 

Find a dispersed campsite near National Park land. Learn a new camping recipe, or get tips to enhance your thruhiking. Be among the first to get exclusive stories, trail reports and more from our growing team of experienced campers, backpackers, thru hikers, and fellow adventure lovers.



 

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