Motorcycle Camping in Los Padres National Forest (Reyes Peak Campground), Near Ojai, California

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Motorcycle Camping Food: What's to Eat?

Unless you are apt to go hunting, fishing, searching for berries, or grubbing for bugs, in most camping situations, you are going to have to bring something to eat. (You can also camp in recreational areas that have small grocery stores and cafes. I guess some would question whether that's really "camping" or not -- but there's no reason you cannot enjoy a wide range of riding experiences where you get to enjoy the great outdoors.)

Let's start with the basics...

Basics

Water

We gotta eat. And we gotta drink. But that comprises a wide range of acceptable standards for any one individual.

Regardless of whether you are camping for the purpose of simply grabbing an economical night's rest before hitting the road early in the AM for other locations, or if your current camping location is the primary feature for your adventure, we need water.

In fact, we need water more than we need food. We can survive several weeks without food (I don't know if "I" could, but supposedly we are innately capable of doing so). However, we are dead in several days without water.

But water is heavy and not very compact.

So, you either need to bring your own water, or buy it near your camping destination, or both.

Depending upon the nature of my adventure, I will usually have several small water bottles stashed in my tank bag and saddlebags. I also bring along a collapsible, 2-gallon, empty container that I fill at, or near, my camping destination.

And don't forget about a hydration pack (such as made by Camelback) that you can sip via an over-the-shoulder tube while riding. This is equally handy on a hike and is an extra water container around camp.

Perishables

On a motorcycle you won't be hauling around a large cooler (unless you are pulling a motorcycle trailer). However, you may find room on your bike for a small cooler. In which case you can bring perishable food for a day or so, depending upon how available ice is to keep things cool and/or what the temperatures are in general. Spring or fall camping may yield some chilly evenings and your need for ice will be less than in the summer. Also, if you are caught out in a rainy spell, you can get away with less ice for a longer period.

For longer periods on the road, you can bring a small cooler and replenish your perishables and ice as needed.

Regardless, your use of perishable food boils down to how long you can store it. If you are camping in a remote area for a weekend, and depending upon the temperatures and availability of local ice, you can probably get by with having perishable foods for Friday evening and Saturday. But you may also make it all the way to Sunday without any problems. Of course if you are not even bringing a small cooler, than you have already cast your vote for either having non-perishable foods, or buying prepared food on the road and/or dining out for most of your eating needs.

Non-Perishables

Freeze-dried meals may be what comes to mind for a number of campers and hikers when they think in terms of non-perishable eating. There is certainly a large selection to satisfy most palates. The idea of compact and lightweight food that is very portable is epitomized with this option.

Dehydrated vegetables are another lightweight and very portable non-perishable food item.

Dried fruits such have raisins, dates and prunes have been around for centuries and can be eaten on the go. And of course nuts are a good source of protein and do not need to be kept cool.

There is also canned food and packaged snack bars, as well as pasta, crackers, tunafish, pancake mix and oatmeal to name a few of the routine staples you might already have in your at-home kitchen.

The point is that there is quite a bit of eating choices you have for food that is is readily packaged on your motorcycle that will not require a cooler.

Cooking (or not)

Unless you are also storing a microwave and electric generator on your motorcycles, you will either cook over an open campfire or a cooking stove. (Or maybe you can cook your foil-wrapped steak, potatoes and carrots on your motorcycle engine -- just kidding). See further below for cooking over a campfire but more likely than not, you will be cooking over a stove.

Camping stoves come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For a motorcycle camper, a compact stove that burns either liquid fuel or pressurized gas will be your best options. Single-burner stoves are the smallest.

Liquid fuel stoves, like the well-known Coleman stoves, are economical and the fuel is readily available. A disadvantage for a motorcycle rider is storing a flamable liquid on your bike, which could become especially hazardous in a crash. And of course you will need to be very careful to enclose the fuel in resealable bags so the liquid does not leak into any of your clothes, food or gear. Also, this fuel is often sold in gallon-size containers which is a large container to carry on a motorcycle. (You'd be better off finding a smaller, appropriate fuel container).
Small propane stoves, or small stoves that use any kind of pressurized gas, such as butane, isobutane or some other blend, are better suited to a motorcycle camper, since the fuel containers are more compact, leakproof, and the stoves are even easier to use than liquid fuel ones. You may want to carry an extra gas container.

Of course you don't have to cook at all! You can bring along snacks, sandwiches, home prepared meals, or you can buy prepared food on the road and/or you can dine out. If your campground has a store, or you are out on the road for the day and not actually spending all your time in the wilderness, you can replenish your needs by grabbing prepared or cooked food to bring back to camp for dinner. In more remote campgrounds, this may not be viable. But you can mix and match any of these options. The more you know about what your opportunities for food will be near your camping destination, the better.

Having said all that, I have found that I can keep things real simple by always having some non-perishable food with me (for example, a large bag of nuts and several high-protein snack bars), so that even if there is nothing to eat (or open) nearby wherever I end up camping, I'll always have something to keep me nourished stashed on my bike. And even when I'm traveling across unfamiliar and very rural expanses of the continent, out on lesser used roads, if there is nothing to eat at a gas station, often there will be some place that sells food not far from the gas station. Stated differently, if you are flexible with your eating requirements, and you keep some food with you, going hungry just isn't a problem, even traveling coast-to-coast across North America along a lot of backroads.

Campfire

Cooking over a fire conjures up some of the most romantic camping imagery. But believe it or not, there are some campgrounds that do not allow campfires at all, especially during the seasons when forest fire risk is at its highest.

Add to that the fact that some campgrounds that do allow campfires don't allow you to gather firewood. Often in those circumstances you can purchase pre-cut firewood locally, and in some cases, you can purchase it right in the campground.

Additionally, in some campgrounds, there is no camping wood available, simply because it's not a forested area, or because it's late in the season and all the readily gatherable firewood has already been gathered and burned.

Regardless, there are plenty of campgrounds across North America where you can enjoy cooking over a campfire, especially when you purchase firewood or can gather it early in the camping season. (However, it is easier, faster and cleaner to cook over a propane stove).

Cleaning

Some campgrounds provide water pumps or specific locations for cleaning dishes and cooking gear. Even without such advantages, you can clean your eating and cooking gear with a little water and dirt. (I'm not kidding). Sand, in particular, is very good as an abrasive to wipe away cooking debris. Just add a little water to rinse. Even without water you can clean the sand or dirt off with a camp towel.

Alternatively, you can bring along a small inflatable tub to clean utensils. If you have brought along a compactable plastic water container, and obtained some water locally, you can also keep enough water handy for your outdoor kitchen cleaning needs.

And of course if you are the kind of camper that does minimal cooking, then you will also have minimal cleaning chores.

Trash

The ideal motorcycle camper will leave his or her camping spot cleaner when departing than when arriving. That means not only disposing of all trash in a proper waste receptacle, it also includes not leaving cans, bottles, or other debris in the fire-ring. This is not only good camping etiquette, but removing all trash is vital to proper wildlife management. Particularly bad is leaving food stuff around which attracts animals and contributes towards making them unnaturally reliant upon human negligence, instead of their innate food gathering skills. Also, wild animals can become aggressive to people after they have become accustomed to eating human foods.

In a number of camping areas where bears are prevalent, it is especially irresponsible to leave food stuff and trash around because you are endangering other campers in the future, and you are even endangering the local bears, because they are then put down after they become aggressive to people, and that usually begins with their exposure to human food.

If there is no trash receptacle in your immediate environment -- and some campgrounds, especially primitive ones don't -- then it is your responsibility to pack up your trash on your motorcycle and take it with you until you can find a proper trash receptacle to dispose of it.

Take responsibility for the environments you camp in and leave them cleaner than when you arrived.

Motorcycle Safety

Eating is a pretty basic necessity for everyone. But for a motorcycle camping rider, exercising vigilant motorcycle safety awareness and intelligence are just as fundamental. Receive a "Motorcycles Only" reference card of "Motorcycle Safety Tips" to keep in your tankbag or in your motorcycle jacket.

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Basics