Motorcycle camping can be a troublesome affair – with limited packing space and without the built-in comforts of a car, spending a night in the great outdoors with only your motorcycle as company might deter the average rider. But fear not! With a little bit of forward planning, a bit of careful consideration, and after throwing quite a bit of cash at the problem, you can get one step closer to fulfilling that bizarre “Ewan and Charley” fantasy of yours.
Regular camping gear is pretty pricey, and motorcycle camping gear is even more so. High quality, waterproof goods that pack small and weigh nothing shouldn’t be cheap, so don’t be surprised that many of the products we mention below are a little on the expensive side. However, necessity is the mother of invention, and there have been times when we’ve been on the road and needed to make do with cheaper alternatives, so we’ve listed a cheapo substitute for those products that are out of your logical financial reach. We’re not including your spare parts, riding gear, rain gear, emergency tools, first aid kit, solar charger, and insect repellent stuff – this is more about the actual art of camping. Ish.
We’re not including tents, because that’s just a whole other can of camping related worms that we’re not prepared to deal with. If we wanted the comfort of a tent, then we probably wouldn’t go touring on a motorcycle, would we? So, tent-not-included disclaimer aside, let’s get down to business…
Ranking The Top 10 Bare Essentials!
# 01 – The Kickstand Pad
If you’re going to be camping on uneven ground and under temperamental lookin’ skies, then equipping your motorcycle with a kickstand pad is an absolute essential. All you have to do is attach one of these little devices to the bottom of your kickstand, which helps it distribute your bike’s weight a little better. On soft ground, these pads stop your side stand from either sinking into the dirt, and keep it upright. They’re cheap and easy to install – you can pick up branded gear like the KiWAV pad for around $8, or you can go for something like Revzilla’s own brand pad for as little as $5. Both are fantastic options that will come in handy when you’re out for a weekend of camping but you’ll be surprised how useful they are when you’re just trying to find a stable parking spot around town too.
The cheapskate alternative? A flattened beer can/slab of stone/bit of wood…
For real die hard camping enthusiasts who like to live off of the fat of the land, you could just use something that you find laying around. It does the same job but you’re at the mercy of nature…or the local litterer.
# 02 – Nelson-Rigg Saddlebags
Unless you’ve bought a motorcycle that’s a dedicated dual-sport touring machine with all of the adventure touring catalog upgrades, the chances are that your regular ride doesn’t come with much hard luggage or in the way of storage space. One of the most important things in your motorcycle camping gear arsenal is your hard luggage, but if that’s not an option then a set of decent soft (but dry and waterproof) saddle bags are essential. Nelson-Rigg have some great options, but our favorite has to be their $200 “Deluxe Adventure Motorcycle Saddlebags” – this hard luggage set is100% waterproof, formed with aircraft quality aluminum, is easy to mount, and comes with a life-time warranty. These are what you need if you’re a casual tourer.
The cheapskate alternative? A backpack and bungee cords…
You can definitely get away with a few straps and your ol’ faithful backpack, but expect to travel light. Since you’ll be limited to the width of your saddle or storage rack, you probably won’t be packing much more than a spare pair of clothes and a few hand tools. And of course, those backpacks that are 100% waterproof when you’re strolling around town admiring the local architecture in light rain are 100% useless when strapped to the back of a motorcycle at 60mph in a heavy downpour. It sucks getting soaked on a motorcycle. It’s even worse when your spare clothes are even wetter, though.
# 03 – Drybags
Here’s one situation where the cheapo version is actually better value for money than the expensive, purpose built option. You could go and buy motorcycle specific dry bags, and you would enjoy the peace of mind that should your saddlebags fail, your clothes and goods will still remain dry. But you’d also spend way too much money. We’ve always used diver’s bags and they are available at a fraction of the cost. Even if you have unwavering faith in your hard luggage and saddlebags, it’s always worth taking a few dry bags along on a trip – if you need to free up space, you can fill them and strap them to your saddle without worrying about the rain. Even better, you can put your wet clothes in them and keep them sealed away from your dry stuff. They’re an invaluable tool in your traveling arsenal, and we swear by them. You could buy that motorcycle branded dry bag for $150…or you could buy a diver’s bag for around $15. You do the math.
The cheapskate alternative? Garbage bags…
You can use garbage bags to do the same job as a dry bag, but they really aren’t the right tool for the job. They’ll do if you want to stop yesterday’s underwear from getting too friendly with tomorrow’s, but they’re not built to keep the elements out. They do have their uses though, so keep a few packed just in case.
# 04 – BioLite Cooking Stove
Real motorcycle camping is all about staying out in the wild. While it’s nice to check into a motel whenever you can, there are going to be times when you’re going to have to spend the night in the great outdoors. If you can’t find somewhere to spend the night, the chances are that you’re not going to be able to find somewhere to enjoy a hot meal either. Enter the BioLite cooking stove. It’s got to be one of the most comprehensive cooking stoves on the market. It has a rather steep price tag of around $130, but it’s easy to set up, packs small, can boil water in minutes, burns wood, and check this out: it also functions as a kinetic phone charger. With space at a premium, this is the best bet for a travel stove. Don’t expect to cook five course meals though, but when you’re in the wild, a pack of ramen noodles and a coffee will do just fine.
The cheapskate alternative? A good ol’ bonfire.
While making a big ol’ bonfire is a great way to keep wild animals at bay, provide warmth, and show off your macho skills, they’re not really the best tool for rustling up a quick cup of coffee. They can also be pretty dangerous too, and many a forest fire has been started with the best intentions. If you’re at a designated camp ground that allows open fires, then build one up and have it roaring while you cook on your stove.
# 05 – Sea To Summit X-Pot
You won’t be able to cook on your stove without some proper kitchen hardware though, and portable kitchen goods should be a staple part of gear. Since space is at a premium in your saddlebags, you’re going to want something versatile like the Sea To Summit “X-Pot.” Available in three useful sizes (1.4, 2.8 and 4 liters) the Sea To Summit’s X-Pots are flat pack cooking pots made from cooking grade silicon with aluminum bases – and they come with handy built in strainers too. While the cooking pot doesn’t come with the same kind of sex appeal as the rest of the camping gear on the list, whatever you do, don’t forget to pack one…because they really are that important. If you don’t want to pay the $45 asking fee for this top of the range dish, you could always bring something from home instead…but you’ll regret that decision.
The cheapskate alternative? A cooking pot from your own kitchen.
While it’s almost certainly going to be made of sturdy, hard-wearing materials, that stainless steel saucepan from your kitchen is definitely the wrong traveling companion on this kind of trip. A regular family sized cooking pot is going to be far too bulky and way too heavy to be practical. It’s just overkill, even if you can afford the space.
# 06 – Kitchen Essentials
The MSR Alpine Deluxe Kitchen Set is an “essential camping gear list” mainstay on almost any type of outdoor website and it’s not hard to see why. It literally has everything you need in one small and easy to pack unit. Sure, you can probably source similar tools and make your own set for a cheaper price, but this is a no hassle, all-inclusive, flat-pack alternative. With a price tag of around $55, the Alpine Deluxe Kitchen Set is ideal for camping. It features plastic containers, a chopping board, a proper cutting knife, a freakin’ cheese grater, a cork-screw and more. And it weighs in at a measly 1 lb 6 oz, which is great for keeping your packing weight to the bare minimum.
The cheapskate alternative? A spork and a tin can.
We’ve got nothing against the spork – it’s a fine piece of engineering. However, if you’re planning on enjoying something a little more decadent than a bowl of noodles or a tin of beans, having a few extra utensils in your bag can go a long way. Good luck grating cheese with your Leatherman tool.
# 07 – CRKT Guppie Multitool
When you’re packing your gear, you might want to pack a proper survival knife and a multitool – but in reality, you’re probably going to need one more than the other. Since your kitchen goods should come with a decent knife anyway, it’s better to invest in a decent multitool instead. We like the CRKT Guppie. Our reasoning? First of all, CKRT know how to make a blade, and the Guppie comes with a useful high carbon knife blade if you need to do something a little more heavy duty than your cooking knife can handle. Secondly, it comes with some very practical motorcycle camping related tools. Shaped like a carabiner, the Guppie boasts an adjustable wrench, a selection of bit drivers, an all-important bottle opener, and an LED light. It’s a nice and tidy package for $69.99 – and it doesn’t pretend to me more than it is, unlike a lot of multitools.
The cheapskate alternative? A cheap $10 multitool
If you want something that can’t cut sh*t, will strip every nut and screw head it encounters, and will definitely fail at opening a bottle, then get yourself a cheap multitool. To be perfectly honest, even an expensive multitool is no substitute for the proper tool, but they will definitely help in a bind. A poor quality tool, on the other hand, may even do more harm than good in the long run.
# 08 – NEMO Astro Air Lite Sleeping Pad
No one wants to sleep on the floor, and that’s why sleeping pads were invented. After a long day in the saddle, the last thing you’re going to need is an uncomfortable night’s sleep, so do yourself a favor and invest in some padding. The NEMO Astro Air Lite Sleeping Pad is exactly what the doctor ordered. Weighing in at less than 14 oz and boasting 3.5 inches of thickness, this offering from NEMO is what you need and it provides more than enough comfort to help you relax. And that’s not even the best part. When it’s deflated, the NEMO Astro Lite packs down to a tiny 4 x 8 inches. Now, there are some downsides, such as the fact that it doesn’t come with a pump (though you don’t really need one) and it does have a steep price tag of around $130…but they are small issues, and the product is worth the money – you’ll agree when you’re out in the wild!
The cheapskate alternative? An old yoga mat.
Pretty much every garage, closet, or forgotten corner has a sports mat tucked away in it somewhere, and you might be tempted to pull one out and use it as a sleeping mat. It’s a mistake. While yoga mats are great for when you’re jogging on the spot, they’re not made for giving you a quality night of sleep. They don’t even pack down small either. Just forget that idea, okay?
# 09 – Sea To Summit Spark SpI Sleeping Bag
This is an expensive sleeping bag, but it’s completely worth it. While we’re specifically talking about motorcycle camping gear here, sleeping bags like this are great for anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors. It’s an incredibly small and lightweight bag that weighs a minuscule 12.3 oz, and has the same dimensions as an average grapefruit when it’s packed – which is ideal for motorcycle camping. It’s a mummy shaped sleeping bag with a full hood that wraps around your head, with a moisture resistant materials that help keep you comfortable and warm to temperatures as low as 45° F and further down the scale. Again, it’s not a particularly cheap option when compared to others on the market, but if you want something that does its job, packs down to a laughably small size, and comes with a lifetime warranty from the manufacturer, then $298.95 should be an acceptable price to pay.
The cheapskate alternative? A $20 sleeping bag.
You definitely can get good sleeping bags for $20, but you’ve got to ask yourself “why was this sleeping bag only $20?” The answer is probably something along the lines of: it’s useless outdoors. Cheap sleeping bags are great for crashing on the couch in, but they’re not going to be much use to you in the great outdoors. They’re not going to pack down to an acceptable size either…so think about how you’re going to pack it when you’re making your sleeping bag selection.
# 10 – Stay Exposed Motorcycle Bivouac
Tents are a real pain to carry around on a motorcycle, and unless you’re being followed by a support car, or one of your fellow riders has just lost a serious bet, the chances are that you’re not going to be riding around with a dedicated motorcycle or backpacking tent. But that’s ok. In the good old days, people would be happy with a make-do shelter, and that would be part of the fun. And that’s where the Motorcycle Bivouac from Stay Exposed comes in handy. In essence, it’s a cloth shelter that can give you and your bike a bit of protection from the elements. It’s not a motorcycle tent, but it kind of is since it uses your bike as part of the framework. It’s made from 500 Denier Cordura and comes with vegetable tanned straps, so you can rest assured that the best materials were used putting it together. Available in three sizes, these Bivouacs are made to fit practically any type of motorcycle. It’s tough, protective, easy to set, and easy to transport. It’s not particularly cheap for a motorcycle camping tent…but it’s pretty cool, so at $450, it’s worth the money for the cool-ness factor alone.
The cheapskate alternative? A tarp.
Or you could just buy yourself a tarp and not care about how nicely your luggage packs down. Don’t forget that a tarp will essentially do the same job, but without the huge price tag. Talking of price tag, at $450 for the motorcycle tent Bivouac thing, you could just not stay in the wild and check yourself into somewhere with a buffet breakfast and a hot tub. But that’s not really the point of motorcycle camping, is it? If you’re left stuck at the side of the road and the rain starts to come down, you’ll quickly learn that your riding gear (even top tier rain gear) isn’t as waterproof as it could be. Getting under a tarp is always better than getting wet. Fact.