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A Getting Started Guide to Motorcycle Camping

Guest Author: John Lesser

About the Author: John Lesser is retired from a Fortune 500 Company. He is an avid motorcycle rider and former pilot.

As I sit on my deck, I look to the trees and bushes for the signs that the seasons are changing. Finally, slow signs of spring are before my eyes. Birds singing, the sea grasses turning green, and my thoughts go to another riding season and another season of motorcycle camping. Camping while touring on a motorcycle is a great way to visit new and exciting places. But, before you venture out into the world of motorcycle camping there are some things you need to know before you hit the trail.

Let’s break down the elements of this fun and exciting opportunity to become one with nature, meet new friends and bring home a lifetime of memories that can’t be matched.

Shelter, clothing, food, and motorcycle; when you boil it down these are the main ingredients that will determine if your experience on the open road is a success or a dismal disaster. Let’s take a look at each element individually and then put it all together to give you the basic roadmap for success while motorcycle camping.

Shelter- Tents

Shelter is defined as something that covers or affords protection. The shelter that you use for camping can be nothing, just you under the stars, or a tent.

When considering a tent for motorcycle camping, look for a small light weight tent. The simplest and time tested option is a tarp and some rope. If you string your rope between two stationary objects (two trees, two motorcycles or a tree and a motorcycle) and drape the tarp over it, you have the foundation for a tent. Tie the corners down and you have a basic shelter. In the summer months this may be a good choice. The air flows through and provides ventilation and some summer cooling.

A-frame tent.
A-frame style tent.
Beyond the rope and tarp method, there are all types of tents available for camping. The most versatile is any tent that is designed for all four seasons. These tents are designed for all weather and retain your body heat in the winter and fall months. In the spring and summer they provide a pass through for air. Just a note of caution, they can be a little warmer in the warmer months. Four season tents are a more expensive alternative, but will last a lifetime if properly cared for. These types of tents are light, made for backpacking, and very compact. An excellent choice if you find that motorcycle camping is your real passion.

Typical all season tent.
Typical all season tent.
Regardless of what your preferred method of shelter is, you should be concerned about selecting a good camp site. You will need to survey the selected site and ensure that it is on level ground or a slight slope. Look around your perspective site for evidence of flooding or pooling of water. Ensure that there is good drainage in your site. You don’t want to set up your camp in an area that may flood in a sudden rain storm. A flooded camp site will cure your desire to ever camp again! Most importantly, look over head. Make sure that there are no overhanging limbs, branches or dead trees around. These can make a very bad night if one of them decides to fall while you are under it. Most of important of all: do not keep food in your shelter. If there is any wildlife in the area, uninvited and unwanted visitors in your shelter will not be a good experience…it will provide you with a great camping tale, but not a good experience. Your shelter is for you to sleep in and provide a refuge in the event of liquid sunshine (rain, or worse, snow).

Let’s talk about ground cloth, or the floor of the tent. If you use the tarp and rope method or a simple A-frame tent, make sure that you are not directly sleeping on the earth beneath the tent. The earth will simply suck the body heat out of you. Making you cold or worse develop hypothermia. Hypothermia (even in summer months) is caused by the rapid cooling of your body temperature. This will happen if you sleep directly on the earth. Always put a blanket or some form of insulation between you and the earth, your bed roll on top of the insulation. You’ll sleep much better and be rested when you awake. Believe me when I say there is nothing worse in the camping business as going to bed cold and waking up cold. This simple fact will ruin you appreciation for the great outdoors and camping in general.

Thinsulate sleeping bag lable.
One of the many types of Thinsulate sleeping bags available today.
This is a good place for a quick word about bed rolls or sleeping bags. With the use of “Thinsulate” thermal insulating material, modern sleeping bags are very small and light weight easily fitting into your saddle bag. This type of bag will keep you warm and comfortable in temperatures down to about 45ºF. This makes it an excellent choice for your summer motorcycle camping tour. Early spring and fall camping require different types of bedding materials that are for the more advanced campers and we just won’t go there here.

After all of that, we can boil down the real facts about this subject in a Do’s and Don’ts list.


  • Select a shelter that, either tarp and rope, A-Frame tent, or expedition type tent.
  • Select a level or slightly sloped camp site.
  • Look for signs of flooding or pooling water.
  • Look for a site that has good drainage.
  • Pick a camp site that has dead limbs, branches or trees overhead.
  • Keep food in you shelter.
  • Sleep on un-insulated earth.
  • Ignore signs of Hypothermia.


The second basic element of camping consideration is clothing. In addition to your riding clothes, you’re going to have to bring at least one change of clothes for fun or lounging around the camp site.

You are going to know best what your destination activities will be and the clothing that you are going to need. So we are going to just talk about basics. To maximize comfort while motorcycle camping – dress in layers. You can always take clothes off, but if you don’t have the clothes on to take off, well, it can be an uncomfortable experience. When the day starts out cool and ends up warm, a typical layering could be a T-shirt, sweat shirt and jacket. As the day warms up, start to shed the layers. Without going into a lot of detail, here is my suggested packing list for clothing that I take with me:

Clothes to Pack
Clothes to pack for your adventure. Space pak to save space.
Organized for packing in "Space Pak" Packed clothes.
Clothes packed in "Space Pak"
My typical tour pack is two changes of underwear, two pairs of socks, three shirts (one long sleeve, one short sleeve and one sleeveless), one lite jacket, sweatshirt, a pair of shorts, a pair of long pants, wool stocking cap and comfortable camp shoes (flip-flops or sneakers).  Does something in this list seam not quite right? Well, it may be the wool stocking cap. Even in summer, the human body loses body heat. Your body can lose up to 75% body heat through the top of your head during winter months. During the late spring and summer it can be as much as 45%. A wool stocking cap keeps the body heat in. The wool wicks the moisture away and is an excellent insulator. Wool will also keep you warm even when you’re wet.

In addition to all of that, you will need a choice of sleeping clothes. “Sleeping Clothes” are used exclusively for sleeping. Using sleeping clothes only for sleeping ensures that there is no food odor on your clothes. Food odor on your clothes will guarantee that if there is hungry wildlife around your camp site, you will be visited during the night.

We have talked about clothes for when everything goes right. Let’s talk about the unlikely event that all of your planning overlooked the fact that there was rain in the forecast. When motorcycle camping, you have two options, ride in the rain or sit it out. Either way, you will need rain gear. The best that I can tell you about rain gear is simply, get the best you can afford. Your rain gear should be strong, breathable and waterproof. Being dry in the wild is the key to happiness and enjoyment while camping.

All of this stuff gets packed into one of the fabulous space bags. You know the ones? The bags that reduce the size by removing the air by rolling the bags and sealing them. These are excellent waterproof containers for your camping adventures. They are easy to pack and reusable. You can use zip lock storage bags, but the space bags are heaver and made a little more durable.

Just a short diversion from our Primer, I would like to give you one example of a personal experience of how quickly the weather can change. While touring in New Mexico, crossing the San De Cristo Mountains, the day was warm and sunny in the mid 70’s. After a quiet evening around the campfire and everything secure for the night, I crawled into my tent only to be awakened, wet, freezing and frantically putting on clothes trying to get warm  and digging my way out of my tent through three inches of snow. The morel of the story, the weather can change quickly and if you’re not ready for those quick changes you could be in serious trouble and facing the early and dangerous stages of hypothermia. “Be Prepared” my fellow campers.

We can now break down all of this information into a manageable Do and Don’t list.


  • Pack extra clothes.
  • Dress in layers.
  • Choose wool clothes.
  • Pack your clothes in space bags to save room.
  • Sleep in the clothes that you cooked food in.
  • Forget a wool stocking cap.
  • Forget your rain gear.
  • Ignore the conditions or signs of hypothermia.


MotoWanderer says:

I was just talking to my wife today that it time to start going through our camping gear. Great info here. A hammock is also a great alternative to tent camping, though there is a learning curve to getting it all just right.
Thu Sep 17, 2020 at 7:49 PM

jimmycruze says:

Good point about sleeping in the clothes that you cooked in. Never would have thought about that!
Sun Apr 15, 2018 at 11:09 PM

hwbevins says:

very informative! Thank you
Fri Nov 10, 2017 at 9:01 PM

bulldawg says:

Good article, I hope to go Motorcycle camping this year.
Wed Jun 15, 2016 at 4:27 PM

Ady3cb says:

I really appreciated this article. Lots of important information. My first camping/ long distance trip is in March. Lots of stuff to prepare for so I might as well get started. 1/19/2016

Tue Jan 19, 2016 at 3:16 PM

hermotorcycle says:

We are heading to colorado from ohio on the bikes this summer and camping. I appreciate the article. Wondering how I am going to pac it on my bike?!
Tue Jan 27, 2015 at 6:44 PM

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