Motorcycle camping is one of my favourite things to do. Despite being British I have a fascination with the old west and have a collection of Zane Grey and Louis L’amour books big enough to fill a book shop. My motorcycle road trips are the closest I will get to mimicking the fictional adventures of those lone riders and outlaws on horseback.
As for whether your motorcycle is up for the job, you only need to do a quick google search to see that even the smallest of motorcycles are capable of some big road trips. Che Guevara’s ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ is a great start point for showing small bikes up for big adventures. Che and friend Alberto Grandado rode across South America on a Norton Model 18, 500cc motorcycle, two-up, part of the journey with a dog too.
All motorcycles are built for adventures and as a minimum there is nothing that a few bungee cords can’t strap your gear too. So settle in and let me take you through everything you need to know to plan a great motorcycle camping trip.
Planning Ahead – things to consider before you set off
So, you want to go motorcycle camping, but that is as far as you have got, just a simple idea. The following points will help you take that humble idea and turn it into a reality.
Go where the wind takes you or fine detail planning?
There are two types of people in the world, those that go with the flow, and those that have to meticulously plan every single detail. Neither is particularly right or wrong but I will say this, for those that like to go where the wind blows, doing a solid foundation of preparation will ensure your trip is as seamless as can be.
I am the first to get my bike and take off, but there have been times when I have been caught short when out riding, in situations when the weather has changed, my tire has burst, my exhaust fell off and many more. The fact is with a bit of prep, you are equipped to handle anything, but that doesn’t mean you have to get every single detail written down either, there can be a healthy balance.
For those that do like to plan everything, be prepared for things to change when out on the road, you may find yourself spending more time at one attraction than expected, don’t allow a stringent schedule to spoil the fun of the trip. Flexibility and a sense of humour are key traits to get you through a motorcycle camping trip.
How far do you want to travel and how long do you plan to be away for?
It is very important to think about how long you want to go away for and the kind of distance you want to cover. Are you used to doing long riding days and do you have the stamina to do that a few days in a row? Or would you prefer to have shorter riding days with time to explore the destination when you arrive?
Are you planning on camping at several different stops, or do you want to ride to one place, set up camp, and ride out from that base each day? Determining the distance and length of your trip will give you a guide as to what you need to pack, whether it is an overnight bag, or you need full luggage to accommodate for a week or two.
If it is your first trip, you may be best picking a destination not too far away and setting up a base camp, where you can spend a few days and ride out each day in the surrounding area. If you are up for a bit more of an adventure then you could book several campsites for different nights and travel that bit further.
The most important factor is determining how far you can ride in a day comfortably. You should think about this while taking into consideration that if riding for several days there will be extra fatigue compared to when you just go out for a day ride; so make your daily distances reasonable.
After all of that you need to consider the fact you will have to set up camp at your destination, this is a lot easier in daylight. If wild camping you will want to allow some time to find the perfect spot too, so make sure you factor this into your planning.
Is your motorcycle up to the task?
Having a trouble-free motorcycle is going to make your trip a whole lot easier. Is your bike reliable and issue-free? Of course you can’t account for the unexpected things that pop up, but you can make a sensible decision based on the bikes day-day reliability.
You need to start from the tires and work your way up. Basic maintenance skills are easy to learn but priceless when it comes down to it out on the road. The following are good starting points:
- Have your tires got enough tread to ride the distance you want to do?
- Do you know how to check and adjust air pressure?
- Can you adjust your chain (if applicable)?
- Do you know how to check all fluids and when they need topping up?
- Can you change a tire tube or plug a tire if you have tubeless rims?
Knowing just the basics and the way round your motorcycle will help you out when something goes wrong. Of course having a policy with a good recovery/breakdown service is a good idea, so you can leave it to the mechanics to fix anything that you can’t handle.
If heading off-grid though it is useful to be able to do the minimum just to get you back to civilization if necessary. Often overlooked is the comfort factor for long trips.
- Is your seat good enough or would you benefit from something like a gel seat pad?
- Are your bars in a neutral position or are you riding with clip ons that have you hunched over?
- Are heated grips worth the investment?
After a certain point the majority of motorcycles are going to prove uncomfortable but the little adjustments that can be made do make the world of difference.
Finding Suitable Campgrounds
An absolute must is making sure you find the right campgrounds for your road trip and that it has all the facilities you need; whether that means being fully kitted out with private bathrooms or very minimalistic.
Motorcycle campers in the US are blessed with all types and sizes across State and National Parks along with the abundance of private camp sites so you won’t struggle to find places to stay.
State, National Park and National Forest Campgrounds
There are hundreds of sites across National Parks and Forests. The first thing you need to be aware of is that some take reservations ahead of time whereas others operate on a first come, first serve basis. It is important to note that many sites in popular areas will book up by 7am on the first come first served basis, so get there early to avoid disappointment.
For example Elkmont Campground, 8 miles outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee has 200 drive-up sites and you can make your reservation online here. Yosemite National Park has 13 sites, which caters to everyone from those with RV’s to those looking for something more remote near rock-climbing attractions.
Prices vary significantly depending on your camping option selected and location from around $15-$25 a night and shoot all the way up to $450 per night. You can opt for sites with no facilities or for one kitted out with shared toilet facilities, washing areas, showers etc.
Some National Parks will have a tourist area with a bar, shops, restaurants etc. which will cater for all of their campsites in the area. You also have the option of booking luxury camping with huge pre-built canvas tents, double-beds and private bathrooms such as Under The Canvas camping in Zion National Park.
Forest Camping is an awesome site that lists lots of places in all the National Forests with information such as opening hours, costs and number of sites and you can search by State or Forest.
Unless stated otherwise you can wild camp in any National Forest. This is sometimes called dispersed camping and the general rule is that when you leave, there should be no trace of you left behind. You can also wild camp in the “backcountry” of State and National Parks but you are required to have a permit and there are regulations to follow.
Private campgrounds are a good choice for those who really want to tailor their trip to their wants and needs. You will find a massive variety of different types of sites owned privately, some will have their own niche to lure you in and others are as free and wild as can be. Some good places to start looking for private camp sites (and all other types) are as follows:
Be sure to check out the reviews of different campgrounds, google reviews are always a great start point. Google Street View is a good way to see what a campground looks like or at least what the area around it is like. Prices at private campgrounds can start from as little as $5 a night and go up to in excess of $75 a night.
Reserving a specific site ahead will allow you to pick and choose where you want to be and how close to the amenities and other people you are. Otherwise you can also run the risk of turning up on the day and hope there is a spot, as many private campgrounds will run on a first come, first served basis too.
In the UK you have only one choice for camping and that is to use private campsites as you only have the right to camp on land where you have the permission of the landowner. This excludes Scotland where you can wild camp and we will take a look at this in the next section.
There are a few different types of campsite that you can use though; those that are owned by big companies that will run several sites across the country, then there are smaller independent run sites. Prices will vary from £5 a night to £50 a night for a pitch.
If you are looking for something more luxurious there are plenty of options for pre-built tents that are all singing and dancing but these can start from £150 a night.
Planning a camping trip to the Isle of Man for the racing? Read my TT visitors guide here.
If wild camping is more up your street, then you need to know what you are getting yourself into. Let’s start by looking at the benefits of wild camping:
- Ultimate freedom – go where you like, do what you like, have complete peace and quiet and pick your spot
- You can go further off the beaten track and stay in places away from the tourist hotspots
- Don’t need to pay for a site so you can save that money for fuel and extend your adventure
- Immerse yourself into nature and enjoy priceless experiences
Now for some downsides:
- You may feel more secure at a campground with other people, rather than being isolated by yourself or with just a few of you
- If something goes wrong you may struggle to get help to a more isolated spot
- Need to be largely self-reliant
- No conveniences of toilets, showers, places to eat etc.
You need to be more prepared when heading out into the wild. You need to know what wildlife is about locally, plants to avoid and be aware of the type of environment you are staying in. Last thing you want is a bear hunting through your food supplies, before spotting you on the menu.
By getting clued up on basic knowledge of wild camping, survival skills and basic first aid you will be more than prepared to take on nature.
USA Wild Camping
So you have the option to wild camp in State and National Parks, the National Forests and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land too where it is suitable for camping. With National Forests and BLM land you are free to wild camp as much as you like but there are some regulations and recommendations to adhere to:
- Bring water or a means to purify your water to avoid illness when drinking or washing
- You may need a fire permit in certain places, and the fire should always be fully extinguished before leaving the site
- Firewood should only be obtained from dead and down material
- Human Waste needs to be buried properly to be disposed of
- Food storage regulations apply across different locations, so check where you are going for the rules in that area to keep you and the wildlife safe
- Fireworks and firearms are governed by the U.S.F.S rules
- If roads and trails are marked as closed, abide by the signs and head somewhere else
You can wild camp in the backcountry of National Parks but you may be required to obtain some permits or passes for this. Check out exactly where you are going and so you know what you need to do beforehand.
Recreation.gov will help you figure out what you need, for example Yellowstone you need to buy an entrance pass before you can even consider camping. What you need to follow most of all in the US when wild camping is follow the Leave No Trace Principles wherever you choose to stay.
The 7 principles are as follows:
- Plan and ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimise campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Canada Wild Camping
Canada is great for wild camping with many recreational sites having been set up for this purpose, these are free camp sites that usually are equipped with a fire pit, picnic table and outhouse. Canadian citizens can camp for free on Crown land for up to 21 days, non-Canadian citizens have to buy a permit for this.
There are different laws and regulations across the different provinces and territories so you should check for specifics before heading out. Many recreational sites will be found on provincial and territory land.
Wild camping is permitted at most of the National Parks in Canada but you are required to get a permit for this. Most backcountry sites however, will be very off-road and need you to hike in so may not be the most suitable options for getting your motorcycle there.
Backroad Mapbooks is a good resource to get you set up for the Canadian wilderness.
Following the same leave no trace principles as in the US would be a good idea too especially if heading out into the real backcountry.
Scotland Wild Camping
As part of Scotland’s access legislation, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, you are allowed to camp on most unenclosed land. However, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is subject to wild camping byelaws which require you to only camp at a designated campsite or to have a permit.
The first thing you should do is check out the Guide to Safety Outdoors and Scottish Outdoors Access Code which lays out what is expected of you when wild camping. You can do that here.
Motorcycle Camping Gear
There are a couple of items that are absolutely essential for motorcycle camping, those being a decent tent and a quality sleeping bag. Staying warm, dry, comfortable and getting a good night’s rest after a long day in the saddle is essential. The other essential piece of camping kit is quality cookware and utensils that can be packed down small but do the job for you to heat things up and get you fed.
3 Motorcycle Camping Tents
The best tip you will ever get when it comes to buying a tent for a motorcycle road trip is to shoot for a 2-3 man tent instead of a 1 man. Having the extra space to stow gear, and stretch out is a benefit that can’t be underestimated.
While 1 man tents are super small, compact and lightweight, remember that they are designed for hikers who need to keep the weight to a minimum when carrying their load. With a motorcycle, the bike does the heavy lifting so you don’t have to, and the tent bag can form a foundation for you to strap your other luggage to.
Let’s take a look at a few good options.
Best Budget Tent
This Coleman igloo shaped 2-man is an excellent choice for those on a budget. It only takes 10 minutes to set up and is a one-person job. Getting it back in the bag is also an easy job despite the fact it is a nice compact package.
Having an easy tent to set up and pack away takes a lot of stress away from the camping experience. It is a one room tent that is plenty spacious for all your gear and is waterproof. The tent will also withstand moderate winds so if the weather does turn on you, it means you and your gear will be protected.
Alps Mountaineering are a quality tent brand and the Alpine is their best seller. It's not surprising either as this is a lot of tent for your money. Erects in under 5 minutes and a popular choice with bikers
The Lynx 2-man tent is a 2 pole design so it is super easy to set up with it being ready to go in about 5 minutes. The tent is mostly mesh which allows a lot of air flow through and you can actually sleep under the stars at night looking out.
However, you do have a rain cover sheet and so it is brilliantly waterproof and windproof withstanding some of the toughest conditions. Not that you intentionally want to be motorcycle camping in that kind of weather.
The rain and fly sheet is big enough for you to leave your boots outside the inner tent but still within reach. It packs down as easily as it goes up.
Retro Biker Tent
Built with the retro motorcyclist firmly in mind, this rip stop canvas tent comes with a built in sleeping bag and foam mattress included - just unroll it and climb in.
Shipped worldwide but be aware there is usually a waiting list so you will need to plan ahead.
The Goose is made by British company ‘Wingman of the Road” and is designed for speed and convenience. While it’s pretty bulky when packed at 25″ by 13″ it has a mattress and sleeping bag inside.
It also has an optional awning that can be attached to your bike to create a porch for your riding gear. The canvas is heavy duty 420g and has been treated to further improve the materials natural waterproofing abilities.
This is not the smallest or lightest motorcycle camping tent you will find but being made from canvas it will last you a lifetime if you look after it and treat it every couple of years with fresh waterproofer. It also looks pretty cool!
Compact cookware and stove
This kit packs down really well and includes a bag for storage. Includes everything you need to make yourself a brew and something to eat after a long day in the saddle.
If you are heading off-grid or even just want to be able to cook your own food and not rely on burger joints for your sustenance then you are going to want quality cookware and a small stove. Of course you can rely on building a fire but do you really want that hassle every time when you could just pack a small gas stove?
The Odoland cooking kit shown above has all you need to cook some of the best camping dinners you can think up. It includes:
- 2 Pots
- 1 Cup
- 1 Mini Stove
- 1 Tank Holder
- 2 Carry Bags
A set like this takes up hardly any space, but is the most useful bit of kit you could pack.
Like your tent, when it comes to a sleeping bag you want the best you can afford. A poor nights sleep will ruin ruin your day. The other major key is picking one suitable for the time of year. You don’t want one too heavy for the Summer or too light for the Winter.
Finally, make sure to check the size in the ‘about this product’ section. To keep the weight down many manufacturers keep the size of the bag to the bare minimum.
If you're over 6ft or a restless sleeper you should go for a bag designed for tall adults.
Click the appropriate button to see the current selection of extra large bags.
You also need to go for one that is nice and compact and one that will go back in its bag easily enough. Choosing one based on the pack size is easy enough but how do you pick one that is appropriate for the climate? Well, a 4 season rating has been established to make that a little bit easier too:
1 Season – Ideal for Summer
2 Season – Ideal for mild temperatures
3 Season – Ideal for cold nights with no frost
4 Season – Ideal for Winter conditions where temperatures can drop below zero
It may mean you need a sleeping bag for more than 1 season if you plan to do lots of motorcycle camping but it is worth the investment so you have the right gear at the right time.
Motorcycle Camping Packing List
Camping gear for you:
- Cookware (including mini stove)
- Fire Starters
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Mess Kit
- Camping Knife
- Water Bottle
- First Aid Kit
- Shower Bag
- Spare Clothes
- Walking Shoes
- Bag for Dirty Clothes
- Water Purifier/Filters
- Battery Pack for Electronics
Gear for the bike:
- Motorcycle lock
- USB port
- Heated grips
- Motorcycle Sat Nav or maps (read —> worlds best motorcycle Sat Nav)
- Phone mount
- Spare tire tubes (repair kit)
- Spark plugs
- Basic tool kit
Choosing which luggage system for your bike and how to load it is very important. Do you want hard luggage or soft? Should you use a backpack? How should you pack your panniers or saddlebags?
To start with before things spiral out of control you need to think about the motorcycle you are riding. If you have an adventure motorcycle it is likely that hard luggage is the way forward as most are built for hard luggage with rear racks and pannier racks. On more street style motorcycles soft luggage is more versatile and can be positioned to suit you.
Ultimately it is all about what suits you best. What you must consider as a priority however, is dry bags to keep your clothes and supplies dry. Most hard luggage is fully waterproof, but not all soft luggage is, so if your luggage isn’t pick up some dry bags to stuff inside which will protect your gear, even plastic bags work in a pinch.
A backpack on long trips will soon get tiresome if you are using it to carry all your kit, so that is best avoided. If you are using a backpack it might be best to just use it for your essentials, like phone, money, snacks etc, mainly the things you want quick access too, and keep it lightweight.
The key note for packing your bags, is to keep the things you want access to the most at the top of the bags. Also, make sure any valuables are somewhere safe or on your person. Lastly, be sure to save a space for dirty washing separate from other items.
Top Tips for a Trouble Free Motorcycle Camping Trip
- Get to know your motorcycle – a trouble free bike means a trouble free road trip (mostly)
- Knowledge of basic maintenance is key
- Invest in good gear for both motorcycle and your camp, pay once and it will last a lifetime
- Don’t overpack but remember essentials
- Pack correctly – weight distribution is important so your bike doesn’t feel too heavy on one side
- Choose campsites appropriately and to suit your needs
- Check bike over when you stop
- Get to grips with camp basics – how to start a fire, use a hunting knife etc.
- Be aware of any animals and pests in the area so you are prepared and know how to handle any arising situations
- Food – remember supplies, if you are like me your happiest when your belly is full
- Prepare for the weather and be aware of it ahead of time
Motorcycle Camping FAQ
Motorcycle camping is something that I absolutely love and have no intention of stopping doing. It truly is the best way to spend your time.
If you get to grips with your preparation and do a little planning you will have the best time whether you head off into the deepest wild forest on a trail or the top of a hill in a glamping pod, it is guaranteed to create awesome memories.