I could write for hours about what you should do if you want the perfect motorcycle camping trip. I’ve ridden and camped off a dozen bikes in as many countries on four continents. But that sounds a bit pretentious, and more importantly, the mishaps and bungles are what end up teaching lessons. I’ve had far more botched motorcycle trips than I have perfect ones. I’ve made just about every mistake you can make while camping on a bike.
Instead, I’m writing about what not to do. Here are the four biggest mistakes I’ve made motorcycle camping. Hopefully, now you can avoid them. (If not at least maybe you’ll garner a good story.)
1. Too Much Gear, Too Little Juice
Everything you need for motorcycle camping (and camping in general) can be broken into two categories. Gear and juice. Gear is what you’ll still have at the end of your trip. The non-consumables. Your tent, clothes, stove, mattress, sleeping bag, and headlamp are examples. Juice is what you’ll use along the way. The consumables. Food, water, firewood, matches, gas for your bike, propane for your stove, and so on.
Bringing too much gear is a pain in the ass, because you can’t get rid of it. Camping gear is expensive—and unless you’re Musk or Zuckerberg, you can’t go around chucking excess gear en route. You’re stuck with it until you’re back home. The beauty of juice is that you lighten your load as you go along. Besides, you can always cut it loose if you have too much. I’ve never once been irked that I brought an extra liter of water, can of chili, or bundle of firewood. If you don’t need that extra water, pour it on some plants on the side of the road. Too stuffed for more chili? Feed a stray dog. Too much firewood? Leave it by the firepit for the next camper. Go light on gear if you need to. But don’t worry about going heavy on juice.
2. Half-Assing Your Tie-Downs
There’s nothing worse than having supplies fall off your bike mid-ride (except perhaps going down because you’re trying to stop the supplies from falling off in the first place). Sure, it’s easy to be serious about securing your gear when you start your trip. But if you’re making last-minute stops—perhaps jetting into a gas station to pick up extra food or firewood—and running behind, maybe trying to outrun darkness or a rainstorm—then it’s easy to get lazy. It might seem convenient to carry firewood between your knees, sling a grocery bag over your handlebars, or lash a six-pack of beer to your rear rack with a single fraying cord, but avoid the impulse, even if you only have a few miles left.
The last few miles to a campsite are often off-road, involving tight turns, rugged terrain, and route-finding. In short, it’s the last time you want to be wobbling around with loose gear. Take time to lock down your stash before you hit the road, even if you’re close to your campsite. If you’re a bit soft on knots and lashings, check out Knots 3D, a compendium of dozens of helpful knots and lashings. I wrote about this little app in “My 5 Favorite Apps For Motorcycle Travel.”
3. Skimping on Comfort
I didn’t get really psyched about motorcycles until my early 20s, but I was backpacking and rock climbing from a young age. So I came to bikes already having experience in the outdoors. When you’re backpacking or climbing, you’re uber-conscious of weight and packability. After all, you’re carrying everything on your back. You have to make tough calls. A lighter sleeping pad might be less comfortable, but it’s easier to carry for 20 miles. Not bringing a camping pillow might leave you with a crick in your neck, but you can ball up a hoodie and you’ll be alright.
One of the best things about camping on a motorcycle is that your bike is carrying the weight for you. Sure, packability remains a concern, and yes, it’s always better to bring more juice than gear (see above). But generally, you don’t have to worry about weight. Particularly if you come from an outdoors background—resist the urge to go “ultralight” on your next motorcycle trip. Skimping on comfort makes no sense when you’re on a motorcycle. Bring that warmer sleeping bag. Stow that Bluetooth speaker. Haul that deck of cards or chess set. Pack those burly steel stakes, not the flimsy aluminum ones.
4. Not Using a Stand Plate
This one can be a killer. Literally. A 250cc enduro might just bust a few ribs if falls in the night while you’re in a tent beneath it. If you’re riding a liter bike, your skull could pop like a watermelon if that sucker comes down. Almost all of the tents I use for moto camping are attached to the motorcycle itself (like Abel Brown’s Nomad 4 and Wingman of the Road’s Goose), so this is a very real danger. But even if you’re using a standalone tent, hammock, or bivvy sack, having your ride go down in the night because it rained and the ground became soggy is an easily—and completely preventable—hazard.
Bring a metal stand plate or use a piece of plywood to make sure your bike is secure when kicking it up on dirt, grass, sand, fine gravel, or another unstable surface. It’ll definitely save you from dealing with snapped shifter pegs, busted mirrors, and bent clutch levers. But it could save you from far worse if you’re camped beneath it.