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Motorcycling Guide: Camping by Motorcycle

Updated: Feb 2



Do you like the idea of saddling up and heading off on a camping adventure on your bike like Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, but don't know where to start? We've taken care of compiling the basics you need to know so you can head off on the highway looking for adventure.


As the meme goes, camping adventures with a motorcycle tend to be the best way to spend heaps of money to look homeless (or something like that), but in truth this is only if you throw your money at the local camping store and wander out with whatever those dollar bills land on.


If you're smart about things, plan your gear and your ride accordingly, you can avoid looking like you've been kicked out of the house and save yourself a lot of unnecessary weight in the process.


But why do motorcycles and camping go hand in hand in the first place?


Well, there’s nothing quite like the freedom you get with a motorcycle and day tripping on a whim to a new and exciting locale and this is always a highlight to any adventurous soul. But what if you want to make that day trip into an overnighter? Sure, you can bed down at the local motel, but bang for buck our preferred way to stay the night is heading to the local camp ground (or a bit of cheeky freedom camping) under the stars. You just can’t beat it!


So what do you need to keep in mind if, like us, you want to ‘rough it’ for a night or two on your next bike trip?


A Roof Over Your Head

First off, you’ll need to get a roof to put over your head. While in theory you have a few options ranging in price from a couple of dollars for a tarpaulin to hundreds of dollars for the latest lightweight hiking tent you don’t want to start out at either extreme in the beginning only to find out you don’t actually enjoy moto camping.


While going cheap with a tarp can work, there are plenty of negatives that mean it isn’t something we recommend. Just a couple being the bulky nature of a tarp and the noise created when the tarp moves.


Thats why we recommend starting out with a cheap tent which includes a waterproof fly cover.


Sure, your tent won’t be a palace, or even a marginally nice house for that matter, but before you commit to that flash tent from the high end glamping store it’s important you give camping by bike a crack with something less expensive. I’ve found that my $35 Navigator South tent from The Warehouse has done the trick on multiple occasions and after surviving the rain (amongst other things) during the Cold Kiwi Rally I reckon it proves you don’t need to spend big money for a bikeable tent.


Once you’ve decided camping by bike is for you, you can then look at upgrading to a lighter weight and even more compact tent to make packing your bike easier. Remember, when it comes to bike camping lighter is better.



Bedding Down

This is often the deal breaker for many when it comes to camping. Giving up your cushy bed and duvet for the harsh ground and a sleeping bag admittedly doesn’t sound comfortable, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Not by a long shot!


These days getting a self-inflating camp mattress is an easy way to get a reasonably good night’s sleep under the stars. Sure, you can take an army style stretcher or large foam roll on the back of your bike, but remember you have to have enough room on your bike for everything, not just your tent and bed!


Don’t skimp on your sleeping bag either, as when it gets dark and cold out, the last thing you want is to be shivering in a ‘bag designed more for couch surfing than camping.


Food and Drink

There are two schools of thought here for our purposes – unless you think the lesser known third option of carting around a bag of nutritious ready-to-eat baby food is a viable option for your culinary needs...


Firstly, you can skip packing your own meals entirely and rely on the local takeaway options near your destination. The benefits are obvious, no need to carry around food on the bike or a camp cooker, but there are a couple of negatives to this approach. You’ll need to be sure that there will be something near your destination and that it will be open during your visit, and if you’re heading off the beaten track there may be nothing within a reasonable distance.


Personally, I prefer the second option which offers far more flexibility, and that’s cooking my own meals at camp. It doesn’t take much to prepare a half-decent meal and it definitely adds to the experience.


The trick here – as always – is good planning and packing only the essentials. You don’t want to take a 2-litre bottle of milk for it to go off in your luggage on the ride!


Dry foods such as noodles, MREs and other lightweight boilables such as pasta are always a great option, as they are lightweight and pack down easily In theory you could even pack a bag full of baby food pouches which don’t need cooking on a stove. That said, With the wide range of cookers available in a range of sizes, you can get a setup that suits you without too much trouble.


Creature Comforts

Admittedly there aren’t too many creature comforts when it comes to lightweight camping setups, but there are a few things you can sneak into your kit that will make the experience just that little bit better.


A small travel pillow will go a long way to helping you sleep easier, while a set of warm clothes is essential – especially if the weather hasn’t been playing ball - you also need suitable footwear for around your campsite at the end of the day. The last thing you will want is to walk around in your boots on a hot summers evening.


Don’t forget one of the most practical creature comforts of all – a towel* with a microfibre towel not only being a fast drying item but also compact as well.


*For multiple handy towel uses please refer to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams.


Other Essentials

A hand torch is all good for lighting your way on the long walk to the loo (we’ve all been there) in the middle of the night, but they are often bulkier than necessary. A head mounted LED lamp not only shines where you’re looking, it also frees up your hands for cooking, cleaning, or holding your favourite after dark beverage by the campfire.


Now unless you’ve included squabs in your panniers, you’ll need something to sit on, as sitting on panniers for any length of time soon becomes a chore. It’s definitely worth taking a cheap foldable chair if you’ve got the space. I’m not talking a $120 luxury camping chair here either, as a general rule of thumb is that the more features a foldable chair has, the heavier it is.


Playing Bike Tetris

It’s one thing to have your checklist fully ticked off with all your camping gear, but a completely different thing to actually get it all to fit on your bike.


Keep in in mind that your bike is a dynamic machine and you want to keep the weight balanced, as too much weight to one side or behind the rear wheel can drastically alter your bike’s handling.


If you don’t have panniers or a top box to slide everything in to, you can easily tie everything to most bikes with a set of bungees and a couple of small tie downs. Bungees are handy to keep your gear in one place for a short trip, but it pays to strap down anything on your bike more securely with tie downs when it comes to carting camping gear around. The last thing you want is to lose your load all over the highway…


PROS VS CONS

Still tossing up whether you want your next weekend getaway to have a camping element? Here are the hard and fast pros and cons about camping by bike.


PROS

It’s Cheap

Sure, it’s not glamourous, but you’ll have more money for fuel and fun if you don’t have to spend big on a crummy motel room.

It’s an Adventure

Let’s face it, nobody ever tells a great adventure story that starts with: “I went and stayed in this hotel down in…”

Flexibility

During peak season getting into a hotel in that special spot becomes a nightmare. DOC Camps require no bookings more often than not, but are a first come, first served basis. Way off the beaten track freedom camping may be an option, but ensure you abide by local bylaws lest you wake up with an angry mob outside your tent.

It’s close to nature

If you like that sort of thing…

CONS

Set-up Costs

Getting the right setup can be both time consuming and a bit of a money pit as you try out new setups and find out what works for you.

Rain

Riding in the rain sucks, and there’s nothing worse than getting off your bike dripping wet and then having to set up a tent in the rain.

Comfort

Or lack thereof…

Too close to nature

It’s true, you can be too close to nature. Mozzies, sandflies and all manner of bugs can make your experience an annoying mix of itchy and scratchy. Add to the mix cheeky possum’s who raid any food left out of your tent and it can be a less than ideal experience for camping novices.