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


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Camping: How Much Stuff Can I Bring?

For some folks, the most essential thing needed will be a new viewpoint: A viewpoint of simplicity.

Have you been "car camping"? You will be carrying less on your bike.

However, have you ever been backpacking? You probably already realize you can carry more.

Have you enjoyed camping on a bicycle? Motorcycle camping is much easier. Not only can you carry even more gear on a motorcycle - you can carry an extra passenger with his or her gear!

On the other hand, if you are accustomed to "camping" in an will likely need to adjust your ideas about "camping" in general. You won't be bringing a couch and TV along. (Although you could bring a motorcycle trailer, but that's a different story). Having said that, there is no reason why should endure any deprivation. The point is to have fun!

You may be surprised at how much stuff you can carry on your motorcycle. And depending upon how "simple" your outdoor viewpoint is, you may choose to bring the maximum your bike can carry, or in fact, you may elect to carry considerably less.

Let's start with the basics...



Some hardy souls will roll out a ground cloth, plop their sleeping bag on top of that, and doze off to sleep while gazing at the stars (hopefully it won't rain). Although I've infrequently done the same, most campers will prefer some protection from the elements and most modern tents will keep you dry, isolated from bugs, small critters, excess sun, cold wind, etc. (Motorcycle tent trailers are another option, but beyond the scope of this "Basics" format).

There are many varieties of tents. The main considerations for a motorcycle camper are these: It should be compact and lightweight and easy to set up and take down. (And for many of us, "cost" will be an important variable as well).

I recommend a freestanding tent that is self-supported with flexible poles. The poles themselves are attached with shock-cords so they are easily assembled and taken apart. The main tent body hangs from the over-arching poles. All else being equal, better tents typically use aluminum or some kind of metal-alloy poles, and less expensive tents use fiberglass poles. Metal poles are less likely to break.

A freestanding tent ("dome" styles are popular) can even be readily relocated, after it's set up, if needed. It can also be easily tipped on its side for cleaning the inside floor and/or for drying the bottom in the open air or sun before packing it up. Freestanding tents can be secured with stakes. And if it's at all windy, use those tent stakes! Believe it or not, a good enough gust of wind can blow your freestanding tent away, even with your gear inside.

A better tent also has a rain fly, which is like an additional protective cover for your tent. The main body of a good tent will be breathable and will not be waterproof by itself. The fly that easily attaches a few inches over your tent is what protects the tent from rain, bird droppings, tree sap, and ultraviolet damage from the sun.

But how compact and how lightweight should a tent be?

Only you will be able to answer this for your individual requirements. You can get a 1-person tent, 2-person tent, 3-person tent, or much larger. But every upgrade in size will effect those "compact" and "lightweight"factors.

Before purchasing your tent, be sure to physically review its packed size, and also its size set up and ready for use. Certain camping suppliers will have displays with tents already set up, or will allow you to set one up on premises. The last time I bought a tent, I selected several candidates based on their packed size and set them up right in the store. This way I experienced the size of the usable space, as well as how easy each tent was to set up and take down. On this occasion I found that I liked a clever 3-pole freestanding design that had generous usable space, but since I could more quickly set up and take down another tent that had a more conventional 2-pole structure, I bought the latter simply because it was easier and faster to assemble and take down. The point is, check it out! Make your selection on your preferences.

Oh! One more thing. Get a groundcloth. This is a tarp that goes under your tent. It's extra protection for the bottom of your tent and additional waterproofing. It's much easier and less expensive to replace a groundcloth after a few years than the bottom of your tent that got damaged from a few well-placed sharp stones.

Sleeping Bag

Yes, there are lots of different sleeping bag options. And they do vary considerably in cost. Some primary considerations will be how warm and comfortable it will keep you, and if it's the right size. Of course you'll also need to review how compact it is when it's ready to be stowed on your bike.

This is a piece of gear where you probably will not want to consider the least expensive options. (Nor will you need the most expensive options.) Inexpensive rectangular bags are too large when it comes to motorcycle storage. They are also not that warm.

A "mummy" style sleeping bag either with goosedown or a synthetic, high-tech, efficient insulation should be among your main choices.

Sleeping bags are usually rated by temperature. For example, 20 degrees, 30 degrees, 40 degrees etc. Those are supposed to be the cold end of the temperature scale that the bag will keep you warm in. Use those numbers for comparison purposes, but also consider them with a grain of salt. Just because a bag is rated at 30 degrees, does not mean you will be warm and cozy at 30 degrees in that bag. Some people simply require a greater degree of insulation at the same outside temperature to be comfortable.

Also, even if you only intend to camp in warm, summer weather, you would be well advised to consider a sleeping bag that will keep you warm in much cooler temperatures. Not only might you find yourself camping on an unusually cool night early or late in the season, but if you are camping anywhere in high-elevation areas, even in the middle of summer, you can still find yourself sleeping outside on a night with unexpected cooler weather. Bottom line: get a warmer sleeping bag than you think you will need.

Sleeping bags come in different lengths, often measured in inches. Be sure your sleeping bag is big enough! Most stores will let you try it out right there to verify its fit.

Moderately priced sleeping bags will keep you warmer and will be more compact than the least expensive ones. And a good night's sleep can make all the difference regarding your outdoor enjoyment when you are motorcycle camping.

One more thing. You will want to consider a sleeping pad of some sort to give you more separation from the ground to keep you more comfortable. Here are your main options:

A sleeping pad of some sort will result in a better rest for most people. Your requirement for personal comfort weighed against your available motorcycle storage capacity will determine what will be best for you.


Like everything else that you will carry on your motorcycle, weight and compactness will be factors regarding how much and which clothing to bring.

An operative term when it comes to clothes and the outdoors is "layers." Having a variety of thin layers of clothes that you can add or remove to adjust for different temperatures and how active you are gives a great deal of outdoor flexibility regarding your personal comfort.

Ideally, your base layer, or inner-most layer, will wick away moisture which is an important factor in your comfort in hot or cold weather. The middle layer(s) will be for insulation and the outermost layer will be determined by the elements, such as wind, cold, rain, etc.

Sporting goods stores have a selection of "wicking" undergarments that will keep you warmer in cooler weather and cooler in warmer weather. Does that mean they are battery operated and thermostatically controlled? Although you certainly can purchase heated apparel, specifically for motorcycling, in this case, wicking undergarments simply keep you more comfortable by moving moisture away from your skin.

You can also use such clothing for casual apparel to put over your undergarments for your middle layers. Additional advantages for these wicking fabrics are that they are lightweight, compact, resistant to wrinkles, comfortable and they are quick to dry when you wash them.

Wool and modern synthetic polar fleece are good insulation layers. Polar fleece in particular has some of wool's finest qualities but weighs a fraction of the lightest available woolens. Depending upon the temperature, fleece could be your best outer layer, as well.

Rain gear should be part of your outer layer options. Although you may get away with using your motorcycle riding rain gear while camping, that may be too bulky and may not breathe well enough for walking or hiking in inclement weather. If you want to be even better prepared, consider a separate, lightweight rain suit for use while not on your motorcycle.

Proper footwear is an important factor regarding your camping enjoyment. Your motorcycle boots may be too heavy for walking or hiking. In an ideal world you would bring hiking boots, sneakers and perhaps some sandals. But in keeping with the storage capacity of your bike, you will probably need to make some choices regarding what is the most vital for your needs.

Bottom line: Bring enough of the right layers to keep you comfortable in a wider degree of temperature extremes than you expect for your trip.

Let There Be Light

Jeez. Everyone is familiar with flashlights. What's there to say that isn't already obvious?

As a motorcycle camper you will benefit from several smaller light sources than the larger lanterns you might bring if you were camping by car or truck. In fact, what I have found to be indispensable for motorcycle camping are hands-free head lamps. These are elastic headbands with lightweight and adjustable LED lights that illuminate wherever you are looking. I still keep a few other micro flashlights handy, but the LED head lights just make illumination so easy, that I usually keep one in my tank bag all year around for whenever I may need to light anything up.

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