Motorcycle Camping and Adventure Gear Buyers Guide
It’s been a great day on the road––or off it––and as the sun heads for the horizon you’re thinking about where to bed down for the night. You could look for another stuffy motel room with questionable sheets and a constant drip from the shower, but somehow that doesn’t go with the adventure you’ve been having. Why not bed down under the stars instead, with the universe for a ceiling and crickets as your only neighbors?
If the last time you went camping was with your parents, and you struggled to set up a huge canvas tent and shivered the night away in flimsy cotton sleeping bags, you’ll be happy to hear camping gear has improved a lot over the years. Motorcycle campers especially have benefitted from the development of small, lightweight gear originally designed for backpackers, as well as from a raft of products made specifically for motorcyclists. Here are some tips on choosing the right gear for your next––or even your first––stay at the Milky Way Motel.
Tents vary by size, shape, occupancy and the range of conditions they’re designed for, but one feature is non-negotiable––water-tightness. Before you trust a tent to the outdoors, practice setting it up and leave it set up in your backyard for a while in the rain to make sure no water gets in.
A three-season tent should be fine in most conditions you’re likely to camp in. A four-season tent, designed to withstand not only wind and rain but the weight of snow, will be sturdier but probably won’t ventilate as well, and will be heavier and bulkier to pack.
A free-standing tent with aluminum poles––the fiberglass ones can break––can be moved once you set it up in case you find a spot you like better, or one the bugs like less. Get a tent rated for one more person than will be sleeping in it––a two-person tent for one camper, a three-person for two.
Sleeping bags are rated according to the lowest temperature they’re suitable for, but experts say you should buy a bag that’s rated for lower temps than you expect to encounter, since it’s easier to cool off than it is to get warmer.
Most sleeping bags use either goose down or a synthetic material for insulation. Goose down is light and compressible so it packs well, but it doesn’t insulate as well as synthetic when it’s wet. Synthetic bags tend to be heavier and bulkier than goose-down bags of the same temperature rating.
Mummy bags, which taper toward the foot area, heat up faster when you crawl in, but they’re more confining than rectangular bags, which let you move around but take longer for your body heat to warm up. Don’t forget a fleece, foam- or down-filled, or inflatable pillow, and a sleeping mat to go under the bag to insulate you from the cold ground. If you choose an inflatable mat make sure you have good lungs, or a hand pump or one that runs off your bike’s battery.
Some experienced moto-campers suggest first-timers shouldn’t worry about cooking full meals until they have the rest of their act together, but a small stove to heat coffee water or make ramen soup is handy. So is a collapsible water container you can fill and carry back to your campsite.
If you don’t want to bother with cooking, but want something more substantial than cheese and crackers for dinner, consider MREs (meals, ready to eat). Civilian versions of these military ration packs are available from most outdoor outlets and have a shelf life measured in years. The menus are surprisingly varied, typically including an entrée, a side dish, dessert, condiments, instant coffee and a wet nap. Many brands of MREs can be ordered with water-activated heaters for a hot (more or less) meal with minimal fuss.
Sitting in the dirt is no fun, so bring along a collapsible chair or folding stool you can settle into when the campfire is lit and story time begins. Pack a roll of toilet paper along with your other personal stuff in case the campsite is the very definition of primitive, and find room for a utility knife, some matches and sunscreen. And don’t forget a collapsible wide-brimmed hat, with a bug net where applicable.
A flashlight is a must, as is a first-aid kit. Pack spare batteries and bulbs, and remember there’s not much point to bringing a first-aid kit if you don’t know how to perform first aid. Take a Red Cross course so you know not only what’s in the kit, but how to use it. Finally, remember to bring tools and spares for your motorcycle.
Eureka Backcountry 1 Tent
The Backcountry 1 ($199) sleeps one person and has a floor that measures 8 x 3 feet. Mesh panels and a rear wall vent aid ventilation, and the super-sized side opening door has twin-track zippers and an offset window. Inside are two storage pockets, four gear loops and a flashlight loop. A two-man version is also available that packs down to a manageable size for motorcycling.
Cosmo Air Sleeping Pad
The Cosmo Air ($139.95) is a lightweight sleeping pad with a built-in pump. The pad is 3 inches thick and weighs about 2 pounds. It measures 25 x 76 inches inflated, and packs down to 13 x 4.5 inches.
Dirt Riding Skills DVD
Sometimes getting to the campsite can be more challenging than setting up camp. This video ($29.95) covers dirt riding techniques like Use of Controls, Seated Riding, Seated Turning, Sections and Lines, Riding While Standing, Challenging Terrain and Flowing. It also includes a printed Field Guide to use while practicing exercises.
DrySpec D28 Bag
The D28 bag ($69.99) has a dual-end roll-top design that lets you get into either end of the bag without taking it off the bike. It attaches to the bike with a four-point quick-connect soft-tie system and can be used with or without a luggage rack. It’s 100 percent waterproof, has a capacity of 28-30 liters and measures 9 x 9 x 32 inches fully packed. Twisted Throttle
Giant Loop Great Basin Saddlebag
The water-resistant Great Basin ($439) holds 50 liters of gear and doesn’t require a rack or mounting plate. It’s made of 22-ounce vinyl-coated polyester and is sewn with military-grade thread. It has two integrated 1-liter bottle carriers, an integrated zippered top case and two zippered removable pannier pods. Fully packed, it measures 55 inches from the bottom of one side up over the top to the bottom of the other side;
9 inches high in the top center; and 12 inches front to back at the top center.
The FireBox portable camp stove ($47.99) is made of 18-gauge stainless steel and burns anything flammable––charcoal briquettes, wood pellets or scraps, solid fuel tablets or Sterno. It weighs 2.2 pounds and folds flat for easy packing. It measures 5 x 5 x 7 inches opened up, and 5 x 7 x 1.5 inches folded flat.
The Kermit chair ($139) is made of oak and aluminum structural elements and Cordura fabric. It weighs 5 pounds, packs into a 4 x 6 x 23 inch bag, and can be set up in under a minute, adding a touch of class to any campsite. It’s available in blue, green, burgundy or black.
Lost Ranger Sleeping Bag
The goose down-insulated Lost Ranger ($239.95-$259.95) is rated at 15 degrees, but is comfortable in temperatures from the mid-30s to low 50s. It has an integrated sleeve for a sleeping pad, a no-draft yoke around the neck, a sewn-in pillow pocket and a rectangular shape. A cotton storage sack and a nylon stuff sack are included. The bag weighs about 3 pounds and compresses to 8 x 8.5 inches.
Full Throttle Camping
MSR Hoop Tent
The MSR Hoop two-person, three-plus-season tent ($349.95) is sized to accommodate two Therm-a-rest mattresses with room to spare for gear. Standard features include a taped, DuraShield-coated fly and bathtub floor, two doors with large vestibules, a gear loft and four internal mesh storage pockets. Its stout geometry handles light snow and robust winds and its fabric canopy cuts down on drafts, while mesh windows and fly vents minimize condensation. Packaged weight is 6 pounds, 9 ounces and interior height at the peak is 45 inches.
Ortlieb Folding Basin
For primitive campgrounds with no facilities for washing faces or dishes, the folding basin from Ortlieb ($28) brings a touch of home. It’s made of the same waterproof material as Ortlieb dry bags and saddlebags and folds up small so you can stow it away easily. It measures 11 inches square by 5 inches deep and holds 10 liters.
Redverz Expedition II Tent
To protect not only yourself but your bike and gear from the elements, the Redverz Expedition II tent ($449) has a garage bay where you can also sit, cook or store gear. It’s made of expedition-grade ripstop nylon and has a double-wall design in the sleeping bay that helps eliminate condensation. The tent sleeps two, and has enough headroom to stand up and change clothes. It packs down to 9 inches by 20 inches and weighs 13 pounds.
RotopaX gas and liquid packs are rotationally molded for superior strength and a leak-proof design compared to traditional blow-molded carriers such as cheap gas cans. They have thick, solid walls and extra threads with sure-seal gaskets so they won’t leak. Their modular mounting system allows for a range of combinations and mounting choices. RotopaX ($79.97 shown, mounts extra) attach to a wide array of OEM and aftermarket mounting brackets and use their own RotopaX mounts for a tight and secure attachment. The 3-gallon Gasoline Pack measures 16 inches long, 15 inches wide and 4.5 inches high, and weighs 6.5 pounds.
ROK straps are what bungee cords want to be when they grow up. These flat stretchable straps ($18.00-$24.60) are made specifically for motorcycles and come in adjustable or tailored lengths. They’ll secure cargo to a motorcycle without scratching and are less likely to slip or roll than round bungees.
Stainless Solo Cooking Kit
Fancy camp food doesn’t require fancy cookware. This minimalist cooking kit ($27) is made of stainless steel and includes a 24-ounce pot, a 20-ounce pot and a 5.5-inch fry pan, all with folding stay-cool handles and copper bottoms for even heat distribution. There’s also an 8-ounce plastic cup. Everything together weighs 1.5 pounds and packs neatly into a nylon pouch.
Zega Pro Table
You won’t find many picnic tables off the beaten path, so bring one along with the Zega Pro Table ($54.40). Designed to work with Zega Pro panniers, the Pro Table spans the panniers and gives you a convenient place to cook, clean gear, entertain guests or check maps. It stores easily in the pannier.
(This Camping and Adventure Gear Buyers Guide was published in the September 2012 issue of Rider.)