Camping on a motorcycle can be magnificent if done correctly. It’s a unique combination of two activities that place you far away from the grind. But making sure that you don’t end up cold and hungry in the middle of the woods with no shelter is the real key to enjoying it. Starting any camping trip off on the wrong foot can cause an unpleasant night or weekend, and with the added complexity that can be created by riding a motorcycle to your camping site, being prepared, as they say in boy scouts, is an important factor in being able to fully enjoy it.
The first guidance I would offer is to start small. Don’t plan a trip 100 miles from the nearest town for your first trip. Go to a primitive camping site or a national park where assistance and supplies are not far off, then build up to bigger, better, and more daring trips.
For the ride out to your site, the one trick of the trade is taken directly from the world of dirt bike racing. If you know you’ll be tight for time on the ride, or simply want to avoid unnecessary/numerous stops, you can use a great trick that dirt bike riders have used for decades: tear-away strips. These are clear plastic strips that are layered on top of each other, and placed on a dirt bike or motorcycle visor. As you ride and the visor on your helmet gets dirty, simply remove one layer of the plastic strips and the result is a perfectly clear view of the road, all without having to stop. This can be especially helpful when riding in the wilderness where bugs are heavy and obscure your vision quickly. These strips can be purchased specific to this purpose, or easily made by hand at home. To make them, obtain some clear flexible plastic that can be cut into a rectangle, or to fit the shape of your visor. Secure the strips with packing tape one by one over the visor on your helmet. Make sure that each strip has a tab specific to only one strip, such that you will be able to grab each tab individually while riding. You may want to place the tabs so that the first strip you remove has a tab at the top of your visor, the next strip has a tab that is second highest, so that you can simply work your way down the side of your visor as you remove the tear-away strips. The strips you’ve removed can be simply put in your pocket or to be cleaned at the next stop and used again.
Another key to a good motorcycle camping trip is to make sure you plan your destination with your motorcycle in mind. If you are planning on hiking into the woods and leaving your motorcycle parked near the road or in a parking lot, don’t also plan to leave half of your gear strapped to your bike unattended. If you do not want to carry all of your supplies with you when you go to set up camp, be sure you’ll be able to park your bike near your camping site. And if you do plan on leaving supplies on your bike, be sure that you’ll be parking your bike in an area that is safe to do so. The first moto-camping trip I went on made me realize the importance of this. Not having planned out the specifics, and I had to carry a lot of extra gear a mile into the woods because I didn’t feel it was safe just sitting on the rear of my bike. Unless you can securely lock your supplies and equipment in saddle bags or other safe storage on your motorcycle, there are two easy options for avoiding any issues with this: 1) pack light and plan, no matter what, to be able to carry all of your gear to your camping site with you; or 2) know the specifics of your camping site ahead of time and plan to sleep within sight of your motorcycle.
Another quick hint to remember is that in cold weather, if it becomes necessary it is possible to start your bike, run it until it’s hot stay close by to stay warm. If rough weather strikes, you may be able to use it as a type of shelter as well. Creating a lean-to with your bike is not out of the question if extreme weather calls for it.
Lastly, be sure to bring simple, but very helpful items with such as a small container with perhaps a half-gallon of gas in case you find yourself 30 miles from a gas station with an empty tank. A rag or handkerchief for wiping bugs off of your visor on your helmet is always helpful. A flattened soda can for your kickstand in case you have to park your bike on soft dirt, and an extra lighter for that comforting fire that you’ll want to start after a long day of riding. Also, you may want to pack some food or snacks at least – hungry evenings make for long nights.
The remaining hints and tips on camping on a motorcycle for the most part apply to camping in general. Pack the appropriate clothing for the weather, bring a quality, light-weight tent, know how to start a fire, know how to maintain your orientation in the woods. If you can do these things, you’re already on your way.