There’s no better way to enjoy a ride on two wheels than to add a night under the stars to your road trip itinerary. Motorcycle camping is an intimate experience that adds an additional thrill to the ride. For me, it’s a way to connect with the world around me at a highly sensory and self-sufficient level.
The best part about motorcycle camping? There’s no wrong way to do it. Just like the variety in two-wheeled machines, there are different styles for the different wants and needs of the rider. Here are a few tips to help you plan your motorcycle camping trip.
1. Choose your type of motorcycle camping
Motorcycle camping can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like for it to be. So let’s start with understanding the different types of camping environments.
If you’re an experienced off-road rider or camper, dispersed or primitive motorcycle camping will likely be your preferred camping style for an off-the-grid night under the stars. Dispersed camping is typically bare bones, offering no amenities such as electric hookups, water, or restrooms. Oftentimes, you will find this type of camping on public lands such as those managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service. You’ll need to understand Leave no Trace principles and be self-sufficient when dispersed camping on a motorcycle.
The most common type of campsite used for motorcycle camping is an established campground. These are typically accessible by all styles of motorcycles. Amenities will vary depending on the location. Sometimes these sites include fire rings, electric hookups, and hot showers. Others may only offer vault toilets and potable water. Keep in mind that established campgrounds typically fill up by reservation weeks or months in advance, so plan ahead.
If you’re looking for a weekend getaway with a group of friends who want to get out of the city without the stress of packing up the bikes and setting up camp, a glamping experience could be a great choice. You’ll still get to enjoy a ride on two wheels with a night under the stars, just with less stress involved to accommodate everyone’s camping wants and needs. Glamping may involve staying in a yurt, teepee, or even a small cabin. The most you will typically need to pack is a sleeping bag or bedding, if these items aren’t already provided.
2. Pick a destination
Timing is everything when you’re going motorcycle camping. Choosing a destination and planning a route that gives you enough time to get to camp before dark is ideal. It’s much less stressful to set up camp at golden hour than it is to hang a hammock or set up a tent in the dark. When choosing a campground, try to pick a place that you can get to within 4 to 6 hours. You’ll want plenty of time to enjoy the ride along the way—that’s half the fun of being on a motorcycle trip in the first place, right?
These apps are helpful for finding motorcycle-friendly campsites:
- onX Offroad: Great for finding dispersed camping areas on public lands, in addition to planning off-road ride routes.
- Campendium: Offers first-hand reviews of primitive, established, and glamping-style campsites.
- Hip Camp: This app is great for reserving everything from basic tent camping to glamping experiences, like Airbnb but for camping on privately owned land.
- Recreation.gov: Most state and national parks utilize this app for their reservation systems.
3. Plan your trip
Whether you’re planning a weeklong trip or a simple overnighter, it’s helpful to have a route planned ahead of time, including alternatives. When planning my routes, I include gas stops, roadside attractions, and meals in my daily itinerary. Planning these stops helps me understand how much time I’ll need in order to get from my starting point to my destination.
Planning out my trips does not guarantee that they always go as planned, but having a genuine idea of where I need to be by a certain time definitely helps me stay on track and get the most out of my adventure. If you choose to hit the road without an agenda, that’s perfectly fine too.
4. Choose the right motorcycle camping gear for you
Different styles of camping will require different types of gear, but the basic principles are the same across the board: You need to find a setup that is comfortable and works for your needs. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find out what works best for you. Don’t assume that one size fits all when it comes to camping gear or motorcycle camping trips.
First, choose your desired form of shelter. A tent or hammock are the most common choices. However, some people choose to rough it with nothing but a sleeping pad and bag next to their bike. If you’re glamping, your shelter is already waiting for you at your destination.
Next, choose a proper sleep system that is suited for the environment you plan to camp in. At minimum, this includes a sleeping bag and pad. There’s nothing worse than shivering all night in frigid temperatures because you didn’t come prepared with appropriate gear. You can add in a camping pillow, or use your riding gear as your pillow for a more minimalistic approach.
Additional items to consider bringing include a headlamp, camp chair and table, external battery pack, and comfy shoes or sandals to wear at camp. Your list of wants and needs will change depending on your style—and how much room you have to fit it all onto your bike—so be sure to create a packing list of your own.
5. Cooking food at camp
For some, cooking their own meals at camp is a big part of the experience. Whether you just want to make s’mores with your friends, reheat a can of soup, or make a full feast over the fire, you’ll want to choose a camp kitchen set up that works best for you.
I prefer to keep things simple, and bring a backpacking-style Jetboil stove system and utensils for easy meal prep and cleanup. Additionally, I always bring at least 4 liters of water. Keep in mind that if you’re dispersed camping, you may have minimal access to clean water and may need to bring a filtration system.
Unlike camping in a car, van, or other hard-sided vehicle, motorcycle camping can leave you exposed to the elements—and wildlife. It’s important to practice Leave no Trace principles and understand that odors may attract unwanted furry visitors. Keep all scented items out of your tent and keep food stored properly.
6. Pack up your gear and hit the open road
Every motorcycle will have different luggage options for storing your camping gear, but a few key items are important to note no matter what type of bike you’re riding. First, keep your camping gear stored in waterproof bags so you don’t arrive with a damp sleeping bag or pad.
If you’re packing fuel canisters or other highly flammable items, make sure that they’re stored in luggage that sits away from your exhaust. In the event that your luggage shifts or your storage system fails, you don’t want these items heating up.
Lastly, make sure that your gear is safely mounted to your bike and that the weight distribution is fairly even. If possible, keep most of the weight on top of your bike rather than in bags on the sides. Once everything is safely secured, you’re ready to hit the open road and enjoy the ride.