Saturday, April 12, 2008

Motorcycle Camping - How To

motorcycle campingPitching a tent has never been something I looked forward to. I guess in all of my cityboyishness, I saw camping as a curiosity; I never saw the virtues of trying to adapt to nature the way wild animals do.

But then again, the reason why many of us ride motorcycles is to experience the freedom of the open road, to get just a little bit closer to nature than we could in a car, and to shed ourselves from much of the technology that protects us and makes our lives more comfortable.

So it stands to reason that if you take a road trip on your two-wheeled contraption, you'd sleep under the stars, and experience the ultimate of freedom. Besides, if you want to become a "tough as nails" biker, then what better way is there than to rough it?

Such as what I did on my last road trip with Brian. Brian is big on camping; it's practically a requirement for him. I don't mind camping, but given a choice, I'd take the motel. But because money has been tight for me lately, camping provides an economic advantage.

Two of the places we planned to camp at, the Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park, were forecast to get really cold at night. I'm talking below freezing, like in the 20s. I knew that my cheap $20 flannel sleeping bag wasn't going to cut it. So I went to several sporting good stores to find something warmer, but all the sleeping bags rated for 20 or 30 degrees were too bulky. I didn't want to pack something that big on my Electra Glide.

So I ended up buying a second $20 flannel sleeping bag with the idea of bringing both, and doubling them up. Each one squeezes down to a really small size. My wife convinced me to at least take a blanket with me as well.

I also packed up my tent, air mattress, and two fold-up chairs. In addition, I had my T-Bag filled with a few days of clothing and toiletries. I also brought my rain pants because the weather forecast called for rain on one of the days. Then there were the little things, like a flashlight, matches, and extra batteries.

So when we finally got to the Grand Canyon, it was already really cold, probably in the 40s, and still not quite dark yet. When I crawled into the tent to go to sleep, I was wearing my t-shirt with a sweatshirt over that. I was in one of the sleeping bags, with the second sleeping bag over that. Then I had my blanket over that, and my leather jacket over my feet.

And I was still cold.

Part of the problem was the damn air mattress. It seems the air inside the mattress was the same temperature as the outdoors. It was like sleeping on an ice cube, and trying to pile on as many covers to keep myself warm. Pretty much a lost cause.

There were times, however, that I was able to drift off to sleep. But it wouldn't be for long. I was probably awake more often than asleep.

I think it would have better to get a foam-style pad that you can fold or roll up. It's also better to just get a thermal sleeping bag, one rated for 20 degrees, and that rolls up as small as you can get it.

The other problem is that I don't have a rack on the TourPak of my Electra Glide. That's really a big must for road trips. I kinda like the look of the TourPak without the rack. But then again, the Glide is a bike made for travelling. I wonder why Harley just didn't make it standard.

You'll also want to get a large piece of plastic sheeting, about 8 feet by 8 feet. Lay that down on the ground first, before laying your tent. It'll make the tent a lot less dirty when folding the tent back up.

If you buy a cord of firewood at a nearby store, buy about three cords. These days, the wood they use for firewood burns really fast, and lasts only for about 45 minutes.

My buddy Brian brought all his food with him. I didn't. I like to sample the local fare. I went to some cool places, like Speedy B's in St. John's, AZ; get their Spanish Omelette. Or also try KC's BBQ and Grill, in Kanab, UT for their seafood sampler. I guess can't understand a road trip where you don't get to discover what the locals eat.

As far as campgrounds go, we stayed at various State and National Parks. State Parks usually don't have an entrance fee, just a camping fee. National Parks, however, charge you to enter, and to camp. In that case, get yourself a National Park Pass. They cost $80.00 per year, compared to paying $25.00 each time you enter a park, and they'll get into any National Park.

The cool thing about a National Park Pass is they can extend to a second motorcycle. The Feds consider a second motorcycle to be the equivalent of a second person inside of a car. However, in order to make this work, the person riding the second motorcycle must also sign their name on the back of the Park Pass. In that case, the Park Pass will only apply to the persons who've signed it.

Most campgrounds have showers. State Parks tend to offer free showers, while the National Parks will ream you. At the Grand Canyon, the shower facilities are rigged up to coin-op machines. For eight quarters, you get eight minutes. Make sure to bring lots of quarters, or find yourself a change machine before you get naked. At the Grand Canyon, they had separate men's and women's shower rooms. While at Lyman Lake, a State Park, they had just one co-ed shower room.

In all the places we camped, people kept complimenting us for our guts to travel on a motorcycle, and camp outdoors. Some of them said that just camping alone was trying enough, and that they would never risk riding a motorcycle. And thus to combine both was really inspiring. I wasn't sure how to respond. Motorcycle camping really isn't that tough.

This wasn't my first time camping on a motorcycle, I've done it on other road trips. And it's been "ok". But this last time did shake some of the "cityboyishness" from my mind. It actually does feel good to sleep outdoors.


  1. Great post. I'm planning a cross country motorcycle trip this summer from DC to San Fran to Seattle and back to DC.
    I'll be camping out a lot so it was interesting to get your take on it.

    here's my blog post about it.

  2. I've been advised to get a pad for sleeping.

  3. Get yourself a gokot at I got the one with the thermarest included.

  4. I did this for two months last summer... My advice is to get at least a 20degree bag, don't worry about a pad or matress, make yourself a sleeping pad with leaves, tall grass and sticks if you must. You could even just use your boots to flatten your sleeping area and clear if of rocks but grasses and sticks help with warmth and don't require that space on your bike. You'll want that extra space for survival gear, tools, spare parts and food. Ditch the chairs too, sit on a log or something.

  5. Also, I decided to leave the tent at home. I used some rope and a tarp to make shelter when it rained. There's something very gratifying about surviving minimalistically, that is why we choose to travel on motorcycles after all.

  6. Good info about Moto camping. My wife and I are leaving in a week on a 2 week Oregon coast camping trip, two up on a BMW R1200RT.

    Two up moto camping is a challenge!

  7. thanks. the "old man" wants to buy a trike and pop-up camper and go up calif coast and end up in oregon. he wont admit it, but being from anaheim, he's more citified than i am. id be happy with my 4 man tent. alr have warm sl bags and such. what about cooking?

  8. Fun read. good tips to get folks interested in moto-camping. Come on out to the California's Songdog Ranch moto-campground if you want to try out other camping tricks for motorcyclists.

  9. Hoping to go MC camping for the 2nd time in the next few months. I realize this is an old blog but sense I found it under a quick google search I am sure future riders will be here as well.

    Tips - Like the OP stated air mattresses are COLD. The best setup would be a Thermarest style foam pad for warmth and then a spendy but comfy Thermarest NEOAIR camper series. I have the Trekker series that I so I could use it both hiking and MC camping. If warm out then leave the foam pad at home or get the warmer rated pads in the NEOAIR lineup.

    Next watch for sales on REI outlet,, steep &, etc. Find a good deal on a 650-800fill down sleeping bag. Pack up super small, lightweight and very warm. Downsides are the cost which is why you wait and shop sales.

    If you are a side sleeper like me, the NEOAIR camper series is 3" thick compared to 2.5" NEOAIR. Also get a roomier sleeping bag even though heavier and bulkier you will have more room to turn inside the bag. MC camping is a compromise between comfort and storage capacity. Weight is far less of a concern on a MC. Consider you uses, is it solely for MC camping or will you want to use it in a backpack trip someday?? If so lighter and more expensive will help in the hiking realm.
    Have fun!!!


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)