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Sometimes we get questions about what to take on an Adventure Motorcycle trip and how to pack the bike. There's no one-size-fits-all answer for that, because every trip is different. For example I have 4 different camping kits that I use on three different bikes with at least five different luggage setups. That said, there's some stuff that comes on every trip no matter what.
In this post I’ll share exactly what Ash and I took on the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route last year. When we got home and unpacked our bags, we wrote down every single thing that came out. I think this is a reasonable starting point for someone building a motorcycle camping kit for the first time.
On this trip, Ash was riding a Honda 450L with a Reckless 40, and I was on a KTM 690 with a Reckless 80. Between us we shared things like a cook stove, cook pot, and tent, but we each took our own food. We stayed in a hotel one night and camped the rest. The Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route is mostly fast dirt/pavement with a few technical bits getting over various mountain passes.
At the end of the post, I’ll share some general packing tips from many trips on many continents over many years. After that I’ll share a video of how I packed for a very different kind of trip in Africa, where I didn’t know what kind of bike I’d be riding until I landed, found one, and bought it. I'll also post a video that outlines a scaled-down overnight packing scenario for camping off a dirt bike.
Here are the lists from the Colorado BDR.
(Mosko Reckless 40 with a Stinger 22 Tailbag and Pico Tank Bag on a Honda 450L)
Stinger 22 Tailbag – 1 Pants 2 Boxers 1 Tee 1 Thin heated/insulated jacket 1 Beanie 2 Socks Kindle Dop kit (incl cortisone, Advil, antacids, chapstick, zyzal, mini deet, sun lotion) Earplugs Patagonia long underwear New Balance Minimus packable shoes
2 sm molle pouches – 20 oz Thermos (coffee) 20 oz Water bottle (gatorade)
Rear Harness – 2L MSR Dromedary (water)
Lg MOLLE – Toilet paper Mosko Deuce Poop trowel MSR AutoFlow water filter
Nomad Tank Bag – 1.5l hydration reservoir Goal zero venture 70 battery pack MOLLE cell phone case Gerber center drive & bits Garmin inreach 66i Pen Spare batteries for headlamp aaa Petzl headlamp iPhone cable Kindle/inreach charge cable 1 usb wall plug Spare key iPhone dongle (x2) Mosko stickers Business cards Battery tender to USB adapter Spare cig lighter Sunglasses Custom molded in-ear headphones Rain cover
Fatty Tool Roll – Tow rope Zip ties Air pump (hand) Air gauge Spare front tube light duty Spare rear tube light duty Spare Fuses Tube patches, scrubber, glue Electrical tape Metric open ended wrenches 8-13 Ktm t-handle and sockets and torx Metric hex keys Ktm tire nut wrench Two trail tire irons Open ended adjustable wrench screwdriver reversible Loctite Bailing wire Mini vice grips Valve stem removal and tapping tool JB quick (in toothpaste holder) Mini chain lube Extra clutch plates Spare fuel pump Spare valve rockers
Navigation – iPhone (primary nav) Paper maps (backup) Inreach with maps (backup backup)
Bike – Drivers license Registration Insurance
Food List – Instant oatmeal flavored packs Peanut butter/honey packs Salami Individual Cheese sticks Flour tortillas Peanut & Mm mix Uncle bens 90 second rice bags Buffalo flavor chicken creations packs Dinty more beef stew Corned beef hash Dark chocolate bar Starbucks via coffee packs True lemon/lime/orange packs
Other – 2x voile straps for tool roll 2x voile straps for jacket Spare drysak for garbage
Ash and I keep our packing lists on our phones, so they’re always handy when we're headed out the door. Plus that way we can easily edit them when we think of something new. Most of our riding/camping gear is stored in three large plastic containers in the garage so it's very easy to pack.
There’s lots of packing advice available online. Here are some general packing tips from us. Take what works, leave what doesn't.
If we bought anything new – like accessories, racks, apparel, bags, electronics, skidplate, lights, etc – we try to install it long before our departure date. We enjoy tinkering with & installing new stuff as a casual evening project, but we hate doing it in a frenzy right before the trip.
When packing, we keep the weight as forward and as low as possible. We put our lightest stuff in the rear duffle (the highest and farthest back point on the bike) and our heaviest stuff at the bottom/front of the side bags (the lowest and most forward). Tools are an exception to that, because we need access to them during the day.
We store our liquids (water, gas) on the outside of our drybags whenever possible, either in external pockets or in MOLLE add-on bags. Something always ends up leaking, and we don't want it to soak through our clothes and/or sleeping bags.
Instead of one large water storage container, we use multiple smaller ones. Specifically we use the 2L MSR Dromedary bags, plus a 2L hydration reservoir in our Nomad tank bags or backpacks. That way we can spread the weight around the bike, keeping it as low as possible.
We bring a water filter so we can carry less water on the bike, as long as we’re riding somewhere that we can count on finding water. A water filter doesn't help if we’re in the desert and can't find a spring.
We pack more water in the desert than the mountains. In the mountains we carry 4L apiece plus a filter. In the Great Basin or Baja we carry 6L apiece, and we never skip an opportunity to refill. If we economize, that will last through two nights of dry camping including cooking/cleaning, and two days of warm weather riding.
Water is the heaviest thing we carry. It’s always tempting to take less, especially on a small bike. Sometimes we do at our own risk. If we breakdown or break a bone and there’s nowhere to filter – which has happened - the water goes fast.
If we're carrying extra gas, instead of one large storage container - like a 1 gallon Rotopax - we use multiple smaller containers - like 4 1L MSR or Primus fuel bottles - to spread the weight around the bike, and because the smaller containers are easier to pack.
If we know we'll be using our extra gas on a long stretch, we add it to the tank as soon as there's room. That reduces weight on the back of the bike for the rest of the day.'s riding.
Tools are heavy, but it’s a pain to store them at the bottom of a pannier, because they’re difficult to access when we need them. Instead we store our tools outside our bags, usually strapped directly to the rear luggage plate or grab handles.
It’s tempting to take less tools because of the weight, but we try not to skimp on tools. Sometimes we use the tools to fix someone else's bike, so it's not just our own bikes we think about when selecting tools.
We always take a tow strap on every kind of trip. If we forget to bring it, that'll be the trip where we need it. A tow strap can get a broken bike to a spot where you can load it in a truck, or a spot where you can hide it out of site, or even just the last few miles to a gas station or hotel. We've towed bikes for distances of 30 miles or more, across borders and sometimes out of very sticky situations.
We pack tent poles separate from the tent. It makes the tent much easier to pack when you separate the poles, and you can store them in a place where they're somewhat protected on the bike. A tent without poles can easily fit in a compression sack, which dramatically reduces its size.
Backpackers dislike compression sacks because they add a small amount of weight, and they turn soft things into hard things, which are noticeably more difficult to pack. On a motorcycle trip, we feel differently. In a bike, our packable space is limited and fixed, and a few extra ounces of material hardly matters. Compression sacks make it much easier to pack bulky but light items like a sleeping bag, tent, or puffy jacket.
When using compression sacks, we leave some items non-compressed, and we use them to fill the awkward gaps created between compression sacks in a pannier.
We invest in modern ultralight camping gear and we always look for ways to make things smaller, lighter, warmer, and tougher. Sleeping bags, pads, tents, chairs, and stoves are continually evolving. We buy the best gear we can afford.
We put as little in our tank bags as possible. Tank bags get messy, and big ones impede our ability to ride while standing. Passport, wallet, phone, charging cables, water, snacks, and a few other odds and ends is plenty for a tank bag. Everything else goes somewhere else on the bike.
We carry Gamin InReach communicators. We both have one. They're great for keeping in touch if we need to split up for some reason. Plus when we're injured, bleeding, or broken in crippling pain on the side of the road it's a lifeline.
We buy the GEOS evacuation insurance offered by Garmin along with the InReach, in addition to the standard travel insurance we buy when we're overseas (see below). There's some overlap in the coverage but we buy them both anyway. The Garmin plan only covers evacuation, whereas the travel insurance covers both evacuation and medical. The Gamin insurance is always active and it's covering us anytime we're at least 100 miles from home, whereas travel insurance is something we buy right before a specific trip to a specific country, and it only lasts for the duration of the trip.
In 2013 after a wreck, a $250 travel policy from TravelGuard Chiartis covered $190,000 in medical and transportation costs when I was evacuated from a remote part of Honduras for surgery. For most of us, it's not realistic to think that in a foreign country where we may not speak the language and may not have cell reception, we will be able to coordinate (or even convince) jeeps, helicopters, or medical jets to land at a remote location with GPS coordinates sent by an unknown stranger (us) as guidance, to transport a bleeding and/or broken person across international borders to the nearest western-standard medical care. That's where a satellite communicator like the InReach, and the logistics professionals at GEOS or TravelGuard can help.
When signing up for travel insurance, we don't buy the trip cancellation coverage, only medical coverage. The trip cancellation coverage is much more expensive than the medical. Travel insurance policies are priced for people going on cruise ships and guided bus tours, not riding motorcycles. That is why it's such a good deal for us moto folks. (It's worth checking to make sure that motorcycles are not specifically excluded on your policy. We've never seen it excluded, but we always check anyway).
On international trips we carry the antibiotic and food poisoning miracle cure Ciprofloxacin (aka 'cipro'). Cipro turns a 3 day bout of puking, shitting, and fever into a single night of the same. If there are several people traveling together for a week, sometimes half the trip can get burned up waiting for sick people to recover. Cipro solves that. We take two pills immediately after the first puke, so they get absorbed before the next round of puking hits. If we wait too long to take them, sometimes we can't keep them down.
After camping there’s always some garbage to deal with: cans, food scraps, etc. It’s handy to have a cheapo stuff sack or thin crushable bag to carry that stuff in. We dump it at our next gas stop.
When camping in remote areas, we dig a 6” hole to poop in. Then we replace the soil after and put a rock on top if there's one handy. If it's not sufficiently covered, animals and the wind/weather will spread it around after we leave. We’ve seen many nice campsites on public land, ruined by other people's poop and paper.
We try to pack out a little more than we packed in. It feels good to pickup trash when we see it.
For something different, here’s that video I mentioned earlier, about packing for a small bike trip in Africa.
Here’s another video of packing for a small-bike camping trip at home, with a greatly scaled-down camping kit.
Packing lists remind me of things like rules and chores: i.e. things I mostly hate. However it sure does make things easier and less stressful, to know we're not forgetting something obvious. On the other hand there's also something to be said for just tossing whatever on a bike and heading out the door. You chose :)