Motorcycle Camping For Beginners: The Basics

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Most people don’t like to combine the words ‘motorcycle’ and ‘camping.’

And I get that.

You see, the reason I get that is because I’m one of them!

In general, I’m (unashamedly) a hotel sort of guy. I like a bed, I enjoy food on demand, I love a bit of comfort and unlimited use of WiFi.

But I also love nature. And the way it makes me feel when I fully immerse myself in it.

Rocks, Rivers & Sheep Shit

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a landscape photographer. I haul my arse up mountains in unGodly conditions at 3 am, just so I can take a picture of a sunrise.

I fall over rocks.

Invariably, I slip in sheep shit.

At some point, I’ll get wet trying to cross a river.

And I’ll sprain my ankle for the 16th time having fallen down yet another rabbit hole.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret.

Despite all the effort of getting there, capturing the photograph is only about 10% of the goal. The other 90% of the enjoyment comes from simply being there. Of being out.

It’s about adventure, and about enjoying nature.

tent in field of flowers overlooking mountain range - motorcycle camping
Motorcycle camping is worth the effort!

It’s Not All About The Riding

When we plan for a tour, we make it all about the riding. We chose our bike, our equipment, and we plan the roads (or trails) we want to ride.

And that’s great.

But it doesn’t end there, because there are two elements to the trip.

The first is riding. But the second is nature. And it’s about getting the most from your outdoor experience just as much as it is about getting the most out of your riding.

The meditative nature of the trees. The tingly feeling you get when you clear your mind and listen to the birdsong. The feel of the fresh, morning air when you inhale.

The Unwavering Presence Of Nature

You can’t see mountains in the darkness. But they have a presence.

The same can be said for the ocean. You can’t see it, but you can hear it. You can feel it.

It’s unbelievably powerful. And it feels like a honour to be a part of it.

And yes, you have to suffer to get an invite to the party. But the hike up there in the darkness is worth it for the reward.

tent in the mountains at sunrise - motorcycle camping
Nature makes you work for the invite to watch the sunrise! (Image via Guillaume Gouin)

Finding Your Own Motorcycle Camping Setup

Being the outdoorsy sort of person I am, I expected motorcycle camping to be an extension of the above enjoyment.

But the first couple of times I camped was with a friend. And because I didn’t have any camping kit, he let me borrow his.

And this is fine. Except his setup was just that.

His.

My setup (for my own preferences) would have been different. And because of this, I found it all to be a bit of a faff.

When it comes to motorcycle camping, you need your own setup.

You need your own bike and your own luggage. Because then you have a sense of capacity which informs your decisions on what to take.

Devise Your Motorcycle Camping Setup

If you’re new to motorcycle camping, I recommend committing to it for a set number of trips. Let’s say five trips for the sake of argument.

Buy a load of cheap kit, and see what does/doesn’t work for you.

If you go out and buy all the best and most expensive kit, and then it doesn’t work, you’ll lack motivation to give it a proper go.

Buy cheap and assess what works.

After each experience, you’ll become more informed. And from here, you can spend money on the bits that are important to you whilst saving money on the bits that are less important to you.

As you build out (and swap out) your kit, you’ll end up with a setup that is personal to you.

And from here, you can start to enjoy the gift of motorcycle camping.

group of friends, motorcycle and tent at sunset
Take the time to devise your own motorcycle camping setup

Buy A Cheap Motorcycle Camping Setup

“Buy cheap, buy twice.”

We’ve all heard this mantra, right?

And in general, I have to agree with its principle. I’m a big advocate of spending more money on fewer, better quality items.

But in the case of earning your motorcycle camping stripes, I wholeheartedly recommend you buy cheap and buy twice!

Figure Out Your Motorcycle Camping Compromises

Buy the cheapest of everything. Because you might find that you’re fine with a cheaper tent, as long as you have a quality ground mat.

You might find that you’re happy to sacrifice a bit of warmth with a lighter, thinner sleeping bag. But you might find that you can’t sleep without a pillow.

It’s all a case of trial and error. So for the rest of this post, we’ll set out some motorcycle camping basics.

The kit recommended below is not the best that money can buy by any stretch of the imagination!

But they make a good starting point to begin to find the basis of your own motorcycle camping setup.

Related: The Cost Of Motorcycle Touring

motorcycle camping setup
Start cheap, and build a motorcycle camping setup that works for you (Image via BMW)

Tent

If you’ve never shopped for a tent before, prepare yourself for the shock of the price tags!

If you want a proper expedition tent that is waterproof, insulated, and engineered to withstand high winds, then you can expect to spend four figures.

I shit you not.

But you’re not going on an expedition. You’re going on a test trip to the middle of Snowdonia. Or the Surrey Hills.

Stick with something simple and accessible like a Back Packing or Hiking tent. They’re smaller, lighter, easier to erect and fit in your luggage.

Tunnel vs Dome

If you’re more interested in ventilation and wind protection, try a tunnel-type tent.

Try a dome-style tent if you prefer more headroom for getting changed and want something that’s easy to pitch.

Something like the Vango Nova 200 2-person tent is a tunnel tent. It comes with an integrated fly net (massively important!), and offers waterproofing between the tent and the ground.

It’s lightweight, compact, easy to pitch, and easy to stow.

Whilst it isn’t the most weatherproof of tents, it does have raining sealing and tapered seams to keep the rain out. And it goes to reasonably good lengths to protect against the wind.

It weighs 2.5 kg and packs up into a compact size.

Vango Nova 200 2-person tent - motorcycle camping
Vango Nova 200 2-person tent. (Image via Vango)

Sleeping Bag

Believe it or not, sleeping bags are a minefield. They come in a whole manner of insulations and materials. And many people have different sleeping bags for different times of the year.

For now, go for a 3-season sleeping bag that should be fine for everything bar the coldest winter months.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if you buy a traditional ‘square’ shaped sleeping bag or a ‘mummy’ bag.

Mummy vs Square

Personally, I find the mummy bags to be warmer and more comfortable. But I know plenty of people who find them to be too warm and too claustrophobic.

Choose whichever you think will suit your needs the best, and see how you get on.

This Berghaus Transition 300 3-season sleeping bag is synthetic and lightweight. It’s insulated, and designed to be comfortable on the skin.

Berghaus Transition 300 sleeping bag
Berghaus Transition 300 sleeping bag. (Image via Berghaus)

Roll Mat

Don’t ignore the powers of a roll mat!

It’s so easy to think you don’t need one. But trust me, a half-decent roll mat makes the world of difference.

Find one that inflates quickly and with few breaths. And one that rolls away neatly into a compact little tube in your pannier.

The ones from companies such as Thermarest are excellent, but they come at a hefty price tag. In the meantime, a roll mat such as the Vango Trek 3 is cheap, self-inflating, durable, and packs up into a compact size.

Vango Trek 3 roll mat, red - motorcycle camping
Vango Trek 3 roll mat. (Image via Vango)

Cooking Equipment

There are two ways you can go when it comes to cooking.

The first is to take cooking kit, and all the food you want to make. Which is fine.

The second option is to take minimal cooking kit. Take enough to make coffee and some dehydrated food and then eat out for the majority of your meals.

For the first time, I’d recommend eating out. If you stop on a campsite, most of them have restaurants that serve hearty, warm, evening meals and breakfasts.

As you start to find your feet, try bringing along a cooking kit and making some of your own meals.

Jet Boil Flash stove
Jet Boil Flash stove. (Image via Jet Boil)

Again, start easy. A jet boil and some pre-packed, dehydrated adventure meals are easy to make.

If you find you enjoy this aspect of motorcycle camping, then you can start to expand your cooking equipment and utensils.

When it comes to jet boils, there is no better than the Jetboil Flash Stove.

Boil-in-the-bag camping meals are available all over the place. They’re usually rank, but occasionally you’ll find one you like! It’s a case of trial and error.

Wayfayrer or Trekmates Adventure Food is as good a place to start as any.

Wayfayer adventure meal - motorcycle camping
Wayfayer adventure meals can be cooked in a Jet Boil. (Image via Go Outdoors)

Other Motorcycle Camping Accessories

From here, everything else depends on where you’re going, how long for, and your personal preferences!

But we’d recommend considering the following:

  • Pillow
  • Riding snood for bedtime
  • Other cooking utensils (such as cutlery and mess tins)
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Ground mat and/or tarpaulin
  • Headtorch
  • Wet wipes
  • Personal wash kit
  • Multitool
  • Water bladder or filtration system

Motorcycle Camping: Conclusion

I know it all seems like a bit of a mission. And yet more expense!

But going to sleep having watched the twinkling stars in a clear night skies makes it all worth while.

And waking up to the sound of birds or the breathtaking scenery of nature is something no hotel can rival.

Don’t forget, campsites can take away a lot of the hassle of camping. They provide you with power and a safe place to pitch your tent. They offer up restaurants, toilets, and shower facilities.

Don’t be afraid to use them! Because all of this means less stuff on your bike. And it’s an easier way to transition from hotels to camping.

Embrace it. Enjoy it. And make the most of this wonderful new experience.

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