It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents…” Ah, my ol’ pal Snoopy. He was always writing those wicked tales of adventure in his little tent. He and I have long been kindred spirits and have spent many a night together in the wilderness.
I remember my old not-so-trusty sleeping bag clearly. The material was a red cotton print with a vibrant blend of primary colors. A unique variety of scenes and quotes printed on the useless fabric made me smile through my misery. One scene shows Snoopy on top of his doghouse. “There’s nothing cozier than a sleeping bag,” he said. The scene where snoopy uses his dog dish as a pillow, as he lays peacefully looking up at the sky, was my favorite. I imagined he was probably dreaming about his cool, fedora-wearing, desert-dwelling older brother, Spike.
After one too many bike camping trips that resulted in me shivering under a picnic table with nothing but a drenched cocoon for protection, I upgraded from my cotton death trap to more modern camping supplies. Instead of waking up miserable before a 600-mile ride, I now sleep in comfort. Instead of having my childhood sleeping bag strapped to my bars I am now able to fit and protect all of my camping gear and extras inside weatherproof hard saddlebags.
Toph, the editor of this fine magazine, and I set out on a two-week camping-riding adventure and tested some camping equipment for our readers. We dealt with rain, wind, heat, cold, bugs, and even some gnarly drunk women while on the couple-thousand-mile trip. No hotels, motels, no real plan—just two Harley and Victory baggers, two men, supplies, and a desire to explore. We hit bike rallies, national parks, little known gems, and met great people along the way.
Here’s a good place to start for your camping adventure, whether it be overnight or a cross-country tour. We also consulted with Joel Felty of Moto-Camp for advice and must-have camping necessities. There are a few key elements to look for while shopping for motorcycle camping gear. You want something small enough to easily fit in your bags and something light enough as to not affect the handling of the bike. This is not a full packing list. This is just stuff we tested and liked. Prices are listed with both suggested retail and the best price we found while shopping around.
Clothes are your choice but remember that nearly every burg in America has a laundromat or a store so you don’t have to pack much.
A good sleeping bag is vital. Your crappy Dora the Explorer cotton sleeping bag from the kid’s section at Walmart just won’t cut it. Pull out your wallet and spend some of your hard working money for a hard-working sleeping bag.
There are two choices in bag fill/insulation: synthetic or down. A down bag will be lighter than a synthetic and takes up less space so you have more room for other crap. Mother Nature is a fickle beast and rain does happen. Down loses most of its insulation capacity when wet, synthetics don’t. Baggers recommends down bags since we have a tent or tarp during most of our trips. But with today’s advanced materials, you can’t go wrong with either type of quality-made gear.
Choose a bag rated for the coldest temperature you expect to encounter. Bag temp ratings are at the lowest temperature that will keep the average person comfortable. Some people sleep colder than others. The temp ratings are made up by each individual manufacturer that serve as a guide and not a guarantee. Recently, the outdoor gear industry has adopted the European Norm (EN) test process that provides a standardized laboratory test for all sleeping bags so consumers can make relative comparisons of the insulating value of different bags. Not all sleeping bag manufactures have adopted the EN ratings yet.
Tip: Store your sleeping bags in the provided storage sack while not in use, to prevent a bag’s insulation from becoming permanently compressed. Repeated and long-term compression wears out a sleeping bag faster than anything else.
Sierra Designs Vapor Light 2 Man Tent (Packed size: 6 x 20 inches; Weight: 3 pounds 11 ounces; $299): I love the Vapor Light series by Sierra Designs. Most ultra-light tents lack the durability and weatherproofing that the Vapor Light 2 offers. The walls of the freestanding tent are steeper than most, which maximizes the usable interior space. The 8-square-foot vestibule is just enough for your boots and helmet. It’s quick and easy to set up; less than three or four minutes when you learn how to do it. Being macho biker types, we brought along two tents. The other was the Vapor Light 1 that’s a little smaller (Packed Size: 4 x 19 inches; Weight: 3 pounds 3 ounces; $250). If you want to go even lighter, buy the one-man version, which was still long enough for my 6-foot 2-inch frame, but offers no internal storage (still enough room for boots under the vestibule). The Vapor Light series has plenty of pockets and places to store gear and hang a light.
Sierra Designs Ridge Runner 30 (Packed size: 7x16 inches; Weight: 2 pounds 2 ounces; Fill: 600 Fill-Power Down; $169): The three-season Ridge Runner sleeping bag has an EN rating of 30 degrees. It also comes in 15- and 0-degree models which are a bit bulkier. It has most of the features we look for in a good bag: snag-free zippers, ergonomic hood and footbox with a zipper draft tube, and enough room in it to keep you warm without feeling overly claustrophobic. Sierra Designs has been making bags since 1965 and have won many awards in leading outdoor magazines.
Kelty Light Year 20 Down Long (Packed size: 8x15 inches; Weight: 3 pounds 2 ounces; Fill: 600 Fill-Power Down; $189, +$10 for Long version): This mummy bag is temperature rated at 20 degrees (EN tested). It is a great deal for a three-season bag rated at this temp. It adds tons of features without the weight. A contoured hood with an insulated baffle, an insulated top baffle collar, and a draft tube behind the hip-length zipper combine to further insulate against the cold. It also has a handy zippered chest pocket to store money, keys, or anything else you may need to keep close. The included compression sack has straps to cinch the bag down even smaller than most.
Kelty Recluse 2.5 NI (Non-Insulated) Self Inflating Sleeping Pad (Packed size: 11 x 6 inches; Weight: 1 pound 15 ounces; $69.95): We have always been fans of the thin semi-self inflating Therm-a-Rest pads, but things have changed in the past few years and this new pad provides more comfort while camping. The Kelty Recluse is a quick-pump-inflating air-channel-designed pad that deflates in seconds. The last thing we want to do after a long day of riding is to spend 10 minutes blowing up an air mattress. The pump is built into the actual pad so it won’t get lost. It features the comfort and small packaged size expected of a warm-weather inflatable pad. The mummy-cut makes the Recluse 2.5 ideal for warm weather. It comes with a stuff sack and a repair kit. We suggest buying an insulated version for about $10 more if you plan to camp on colder nights. The only drawback is that the insulated version does not pack as small. It takes less than two minutes to pump up the Recluse.
There is nothing like sleeping under the stars. When I am sure it will not rain, I sleep without a tent. We always carry some sort of shelter in case of rain or for some privacy on the rare nights we get lucky. When looking for a tent you want something that is light, packs small, and is quick to set up. The key features are size and weight, a full-rain fly, durable materials, waterproof-ness, and ventilation. A tent should have enough room under its vestibule, similar to a covered porch, to store your boots and helmet when it rains.
Having an extra piece of material, a tarp or footprint, will make your tent last longer. Just make sure that your ground covering does not extend past the bottom of the tent. Otherwise, the tarp will collect water and you will end up sleeping in a puddle. A one-man tent is extra light and packs smaller than a two man. A two-man tent has more room for gear, but adds weight and size. A good tent will keep you dry and keep the bugs out.
Tip: when in bear country DO NOT store any food in your tent. You will get eaten.
Tip: Make sure your tent is completely dry before putting it away in storage or mildew will form.
Grub and Cooking
If you really need to bring a cooler full of food, then use the minivan or get a trailer. It is just too easy to stop by a store before setting up camp at night. Not bringing food leaves more room for all your other stuff. There tons of options on the road: get a loaf of bread and peanut butter and jelly, cold cuts, hot dogs—whatever is easily packed and won’t spoil easily. Cooking is optional but it brings so much pleasure when camping. The best beans or oatmeal in your life are cooked next your bike under the stars or rising sun. Fire and a grill of some sort works, but fires aren’t always permitted and they can be dangerous. It’s never a good idea to leave anywhere, even a campground with dedicated fire pit, with hot coals or fire left behind. It’s just too easy for wind to carry an ember and then Smokey (the bear) will hunt you for the rest of your life. It’s time-consuming too and wood takes up a lot of space and weighs a lot. For fire, it’s best to mooch off of camping neighbors. It’s always good to arrive at other’s campsites with food or drink in hand.
It’s much more fun and space-saving to get a good camping stove. Modern stoves can run on just about any flammable liquid or gas; even gasoline from your bike’s gas tank in a pinch.
Primus ExpressSpider Stove (Weight: 7 ounces; Boil time: 4.5 minutes; $60): This stove is tiny and super effective. A heat exchanger on the bottom makes boiling water about 50 percent faster than lesser quality stoves. It heats up morning coffee ultra-fast in combination with the Primus EtaPower Pot. We went with liquid white gas and a separate fuel bottle, so we also got the ErgoPump ($64) that fits fuel bottles from different manufacturers.
Primus EtaPower 1.0 (Holds: 1 liter; Weight: 38.8 ounces; $60): Primus EtaPower pots are made of hard-anodized aluminum with a multi-layer titanium nonstick surface on the inside. The pots have lids and pot grippers, and are equipped with a heat exchanger on the bottom, which makes your stove approximately 50 percent faster and more efficient. It can be used with most existing LP gas or multi-fuel burners on the market. It comes in a practical net stuff sack. It’s easy to clean with a sturdy non-stick surface that is hard to chip like some cheaper pots
MSR fuel bottle (Holds: 11 ounces; $14.95, Moto-Camp): Why you need it: nothing sucks more than leaking fuel near a hot engine. As stated, one bottle is easily enough for a multi-week trip. It can also be used as an emergency gas container We’ve tried others, and the MSR seems the least likely to leak.
Cook Kit—Non Stick Black Granite—Two Person: ($22.95, Moto-Camp): This compact cook set is only 7¼ inches in diameter and 3½ inches tall when packed. The nested pots, pan, and cup are conveniently stored in the included fishnet bag. The steel construction will last for many seasons, while the non-stick finish makes cooking and cleanup a breeze. Each pot is easy to handle, with swing-out insulated handles on pots and pans. Included are a 1-quart boiling pot with lid, 1½-quart boiling pot with lid, one frying pan, and two plastic measuring/drinking cups.
Utensils and More
There is no need to carry a full set of dining wear. Moto-Camp offers durable, heavy-duty plastic/Lexan eating utensil sets (knife, fork, spoon) for less than three bucks. You only need to carry one set and they’re easy to clean and durable. They are good for environment too. Tip: To avoid unwanted visits from animals, keep food stored away or hang above ground level.
9-Pack Soft Cooler, Black ($32.95, Moto-Camp): On a hot day it’s not always fun to take a swig off of a 128-degree beverage. This polyester canvas, soft-seeded cooler features a vinyl (not plastic) interior that’s leak-proof (guaranteed by American Outdoors) and keeps food and drinks cold longer. It can be used with or without ice. The moldable cooler takes up less space than a hard cooler and has ¾ inch of high-density closed cell foam insulation. A removable shoulder strap is included as well.
Coffee Maker ($N/A, Moto-Camp): This nifty little unit folds flat when not in use then expands to hold a full-sized coffee filter. It’s a simple, foolproof, gravity-fed coffee maker. You just boil water, fill the filter with some coffee, and pour in water. Let it drip through and enjoy. There’s nothing like a hot cup of camp coffee on a chilly morning. Tip: for manly brew, reheat the first pass coffee and put through the same filter and coffee grinds. Yum!
Paper Shower, Six Pack ($7.50): Showering during trips is for wimps. However, the showers at most truck stops are surprisingly clean, much cleaner than my tub at home. It is not necessary to shower every day but most medical professionals would suggest keeping the essentials fairly clean.
For when you don’t have access to a real shower and it’s date night, you gotta keep your boys clean. These combination wet and dry body-wipe packs include six wet/dry towelette pairs and make for a quick shower. Make sure to start from the top and end up at your bottom. Face, hands, pits, genitals, butt; use another for feet—in that order.
Mini Tissue, Compressed Napkin (Eight Pack, Small; $2.95; Moto-Camp): These cool little pill-shaped compressed napkins take up barely any space, stay clean, and come in handy when you need a napkin.
Atwater Carey Personal First Aid Kit (Dimensions: 5½ x 1 x 4 inches; Weight: 15 ounces; $13.95, Moto-Camp): Because stuff happens on the road, you need a medical kit. This little kit, endorsed by the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS, is perfect for solo overnight trips. The red kit is easily found in your bag. Tip: Don’t forget any of your prescriptions or other essential items like sunscreen, eye drops, and lip balm.
Gerber Freehand Multitool (Closed length: 5.25 inches; Open length: 7 inches; Weight: 18 ounces; $137): From cutting a stick to roasting marshmallows to handling the common drunk biker as well as an axe murderer of naked co-eds camping at Grandma’s cabin, this multitool can do it all. Made from stainless steel, this tool features thick locking blades and a thumb stud for easy one-hand opening. Unlike many other multitools, it has full-sized pliers that actually work when you need it. It comes with a ballistic nylon sheath.
Brunton Pioneer 26DNL Compass ($23): Getting lost is easy and GPSs can break, run out of batteries, or be inaccurate when off the beaten path or dirt road. This simple compass floats, doesn’t need batteries, and always works when you need it. The only downside is you need to know how to use it.
Primus PrimeLite CA ($78): Equipped with six white LEDs and one super-bright Luxeon diode, the compact PrimeLite headlamp provides plenty of usable light for almost any after-dark activity. With five brightness levels including a flash mode, you can choose between a variety of light intensities depending on specific needs. Full power will throw a beam of light more than 80 yards. The headlamp body will clip off the headband and is compatible with the Primus Bike Mount, a bicycle handlebar mount sold separately for $10. The PrimeLite runs on three AAA batteries and comes with a light-diffusing stuff sack that allows the lamp to be used as a lantern.
Traveler Ultra-Light Guitar and Mini Fender Amplifier ($284.95; $35.95; Moto-Camp): See Baggers Tested at the front of this issue for full review.
Brunton Echo 10x25 Compact Binoculars (Weight: 38 ounces; $120): It’s nice to stop and smell the flowers while out on the road. This compact, waterproof binocular with 15x power has great optics, fits in your pocket, and allows you to check out the wildlife or hot babe at the rally. There’s individual eye adjustment to dial in crystal-clear images. It comes with a neck strap and nylon belt case.
Candle Lantern ($18.95; Moto-Camp): Don’t let its small size fool you; the Candle Lantern is an absolute must for any camping enthusiast. Its collapsible design protects the glass. Candles are made from a proprietary design that doesn’t mess up the lantern with goopy wax. In addition, each candle lasts up to nine hours. It’s windproof and really works. We hung it from our tent at night and it was bright enough to read by. It’s safe, with no combustible fuels, no complicated starting procedures, and reliable with no batteries to fail and replace, and no bulbs to break. We got the Candle Lantern Cocoon protective sheath ($8.95) as well as three spare candles ($5.95). Toph still has and uses a Candle Lantern he bought in Jersey in 1984 and it works as well as the day he got it.
The Moto-Camp website has a very handy and thorough camping checklist. It’s useful to use before you leave just to stay organized. After a trip or two on the bike, you’ll quickly realize what you need and what you don’t. Thankfully the backpacking industry and its research greatly benefit motorcyclists. The new-age gear is light, durable, and easy to set up and use. Although some of the gear presented here is more expensive than what you’ll get at Wally World or K-Mart, these products, if treated well, will most likely last an entire lifetime. Prices presented here are mostly MSRP (except Moto-Camp’s, which are actual discounted prices) and many products can be found at half the suggested price.
Good, quality gear can make the difference between having a great time that encourages more adventure or having a miserable time that discourages future camping trips. Trust us, spend once and enjoy the benefits. You really get what you pay for here. B