The Motorcycle Camping Guide

Welcome to the Ultimate Motorcycle Camping Guide! Here you’ll find everything you need to know about how to go motorcycle camping, whether you’re on a weekend bike tour or riding round the world, this packed guide covers it all. Happy camping!

The Motorcycle Camping Guide Tajikistan
Camping along the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan

Adventure Motorcycle Camping

A Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Camping

Let’s start at the beginning. Camping on a motorcycle trip is incredibly rewarding and here’s why…

Riding a motorcycle is visceral and freeing. You’re exposed to the world and travel inside it – experiencing everything it has to offer as opposed to watching it go by from inside a box.

Camping is the same. It’s innate, raw and natural – anyone who’s pitched a tent under the stars and cooked up some grub on a flickering fire while watching the steam from their mug of tea float up into the nebula knows what I’m talking about.

And marrying the two together transforms camping into an extension of your motorcycle travels and turns the entire trip into something special – a different kind of liberating life experience…

But existentialism aside, there are loads of other (more practical) benefits to motorcycle camping dependent on what type of trip you’re on. And this guide’s job is to explain them and cover everything you might need to know about camping with a motorcycle to help you get out there and make the most of your travels. So let’s get to it!

Why go Motorcycle Camping?

Motorcycle camping on tours and weekend rides

There are loads of reasons why camping on a motorcycle tour or weekend blast is a great idea. Some of the best reasons are: you’ll save money on accommodation leaving more pennies to fill your fuel tank; you’re more likely to meet like-minded riders at biker friendly campsites; you can stay closer to your destination; and it’s fun!

Touring with a bunch of mates and stopping off at a campsite to cook your food over a fire with a few beers is what it’s all about. You don’t have to spend hundreds of pounds on hotel rooms, worry about parking and lugging your gear up umpteen flights of stairs either.  

If you’re camping on a motorcycle tour or weekend ride, it’s likely you’ll be staying at an official campsite. You can book these in advance or turn up. More on this below. 

Motorcycle camping for long distance motorcycle riders and RTW travellers

Camping is a huge part of motorcycle travel. Anyone on a seriously long-term trip and to far away corners of the earth will need to camp – (unless you’ve got gold bars stuffed into your panniers and can afford hotels every night).

Accommodation is one of your biggest expenses, and camping most nights saves a miniature fortune. Let’s say you’re on a year-long trip and somehow manage to find a hotel every night for only £25, you’re looking at £9,125 per year. Plus, dependent on where you go, you may not even find hotels and will need to camp anyway. There are plenty of official campsites throughout the world that are far cheaper than staying in hotels, but the best way to save money is by not spending any at all – and that means wild camping. Let’s move on to the differences…

READ MORE: How to Motorcycle Round the World

The Motorcycle Camping Guide Mongolia
Somewhere in Mongolia

How to go Motorcycle Camping?

Where to motorcycle camp?

Official motorcycle campsites

Official campsites are great. You’ve got security, running water, toilets, electricity (sometimes) and usually local amenities close by all for a small fee. In the UK, Europe and much of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. these are going to be easy to find as they’re well set-up and run businesses.

However, the prices range drastically and in some parts of Europe they charge close to a cheap motel. While in comparison, in countries like Japan there are hundreds of official campsites that are all free and always full of friendly bikers.

If you’re on a motorcycle tour or have limited time, it’s a good idea to go for official campsites so you don’t waste valuable time searching for somewhere to sleep each night.

For those who prefer to rough it and really sync up with nature or long-distance riders who aren’t going to be travelling in countries with an abundance of official sites – the alternative is to wild camp.

READ MORE: The Best Motorcycle Friendly Campsites in the UK
READ MORE: How to Motorcycle Camp in the UK

Motorcycle wild camping

Wild camping simply means to camp anywhere. You must check and research the laws of the country you’re camping in first, for example, it’s legal in Scotland and the USA but illegal in England and Australia. Or head to Asia and it’s completely fine in most countries. So, check first to make sure you’re not breaking any laws.

The most important thing to remember is to be respectful, ask permission if it’s clearly someone’s land, don’t be in anyone’s way and don’t leave a trace.

Motorcycle wild camping is an integral part of motorcycle travel and is also really fun and gets much easier the more you do it. The tricky bit is finding somewhere to pitch your tent. You’ve got two options:

Out of sight

The best, and usually easiest, way to wild camp is to find a river on your map/ navigation device in a wooded or secluded area and head for it. Having running water makes all the difference to a camp spot as you can use it to cook, clean and wash. But don’t setup too close to standing water as it attracts mosquitoes. Try and tuck yourself out of the way, out of sight and away from the main road so you don’t attract any unwanted attention. If it looks like private land, then ask the owner if you can.

The Motorcycle Camping Guide Russia
Tucked away somewhere in Russia

In sight

But wild camping doesn’t always mean traversing forests until you find an isolated spot. If you need to camp closer to civilisation, then locals are usually fine with wild campers so long as you don’t leave a trace, only set-up once the coast is clear and are gone early morning. Check for signs first because in some places you can’t camp on the beach for example.

I’ve wild camped in people’s back gardens (ask permission first, obviously), in greenhouses, next to restaurants, next to a football pitch during a game, in between trucks, farms, barns, abandoned cabins, car parks and even parks in city centres.

These experiences have led to some incredible nights and I made great friends just by knocking on a door and asking if I could sleep on a patch of grass. This can be an excellent option if you feel you need a bit of added security in the area you’re staying.

The Motorcycle Camping Guide
Wild camping in a city park in Japan

Motorcycle Camping Gear, Equipment, Packing and Luggage

Motorcycle camping gear

We have a dedicated guide listing everything you could possibly need on a motorcycle camping trip and why you might need it. It’s also all the camping gear we carry on our round the world ride. Pick and choose what items applies to you and your travels to help build your own camping kit bag. Check it out in the guide below.

And when you do make your own checklist, try and be strict about what you really need and will use. This is really hard to do when your stuff is splayed out over your living room floor. So, the best method is to go on a few mini weekend trips. Just go for a short tour in your home country and pitch up somewhere for the night. You’ll quickly realise what you do and don’t need.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Motorcycle Camping Gear Checklist

The Motorcycle Camping Guide Mongolia
Having the right gear can make or break a camping trip

How to pack for a motorcycle camping trip

Knowing what to take is one thing, but it’s also essential to figure what type of gear is best and how to pack it as well.

No matter if you’re off on a weekend blast to the Lake District or an epic journey to Mongolia, if you’re going to camp then your camping bag will be the biggest bag on your motorcycle. That’s because motorcycle camping gear is voluminous.

So, it’s far better to spend more money on camping gear that compresses and packs away as small as possible. Size is a more important consideration than weight when it comes to camping gear. But generally speaking, the more you spend, the smaller and lighter the gear will be – win.

READ MORE: How to Pack for a Motorcycle Adventure

The Motorcycle Camping Guide
It's far easier to have all your camping gear in one duffle bag

Motorcycle camping luggage

Now you know what camping gear you’re taking and that it needs to be both light and small in size. So now you need to figure out how you’ll store this kit. The best method is to keep your camping gear in one bag or pannier and not spread it around your bike.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it makes life easier when setting up and taking down your campsite as you can just whip one bag off and have everything you need in one. You’re also not rummaging around through your bags to find kit after a long day’s ride or if you’re late to stop and pitching in the dark. 

And secondly, camping gear can get wet, damp and smelly, so having it all together stops that spreading to your ‘uncontaminated’ gear. Taking flat packed and light dry bags is a big help on motorcycle camping tours because you can put your dirty laundry or damp items in there if you don’t have time to dry it out.

What we use

We use one 40 litre Lomo duffle bag to hold all our camping gear for two people. That makes it easier to set-up camp as we know where everything is, it’s far easier to pack up in the morning because we don’t need to wait for camping equipment to be stuffed into panniers first, and we can just leave this bag in a hotel/ motel/ guest house if we don’t need it for a few days and want to explore somewhere.

Of course, everyone’s motorcycle luggage set-up is different, so it depends how you want to pack your gear and where you’re going in the world will also make a difference. To help out with luggage, check out these guides below.

And whatever luggage system you go for, always remember that the heaviest items should be the lowest and closest to the centre of your bike.

READ MORE: The Motorcycle Luggage Guide
READ MORE: The Best Soft Panniers
READ MORE: The Best Hard Panniers

Motorcycle Travel in Laos
Keeping it lightweight in Laos

The Ultimate Minimal Motorcycle Camping Guide

Minimalist motorcycle camping

The three bulkiest items are your tent, sleeping bag and roll mat. And, these are the three things you can’t really do without (unless you’re using a bivvy bag or hammock, but more on that in a sec). These will take up the most room, so it’s important to go for low-volume and lightweight options that are compressible and can be packed away as small as possible. If you want to be minimal, these are all you need as they’re the essentials. Here’s what you need to know about them. 

Motorcycle camping essentials

Motorcycle camping tent

Your tent is the most important bit of gear if you’re serious about motorcycle camping and will be doing it often. There’s a lot that goes into choosing a great tent, it needs be the right shape, lightweight, low-volume, durable, have large enough vestibules to store your gear and other considerations dependent on where you’re going like being free standing.

Choosing a motorcycle camping tent is a whole guide in itself, and luckily, we’ve already got one for you! Check out our 10 best tent guides and you’ll find a detailed section explaining all of these factors, as well as a handy guide on how to pick the best tent, a bunch of top tips and the 10 best biker tents on the market today for motorcycle travellers.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Motorcycle Camping Tents

Motorcycle Camping Tents
Overlooking Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan... probably a bit too close to the edge!

Sleeping bag and roll mat

Unless you’re sleeping in extremely hot countries where you’re guaranteed hot weather throughout the night as well, you’re going to need both a sleeping bag and a mat too. The mat will stop you waking up as stiff as a board and is an important barrier between the cold ground soaking up into your body. You’ll find what lightweight kit we use below. But for an in-depth look at the different sleeping bag and mat options out there, check out our packed guide:

READ MORE: The Sleeping Mat and Bag Guide for Motorcycle Camping

MSR Freelite or Hubba Hubba Tent, £350

Packed size: 46x15cm Weight: 1.54kg

Mountain Warehouse Down Bag, £80

Packed size: 30x14cm Weight: 0.8kg

Thermarest Trail Pro Mat, £70

Packed size: 28x17cm Weight: 0.7kg

You can minimalist camp with just the three main bulky items (tent, sleeping bag and roll mat). You may want a few extra essentials like a torch, but that’s it. And that’s minimalist motorcycle camping! This is ideal for people who probably won’t camp much but need the kit just in case they get caught out and can’t find a hotel for a night or are too far away from civilisation. Or those who are on serious off-road trips and need to be as light as possible. If this sounds like you, you can go ultra minimalist by taking a bivvy bag or hammock. 

Hammocks and bivvy bags on motorcycle trips

Hammocks

Hammocks are cool. You can find them with raised insect covers that pack up tiny. These are great for motorcycle trips if you know exactly where you’ll be camping and are 100% sure you’ll be pitching up in an area with trees. It’s one thing thinking there’ll be posts or something you can tie it to – it’s another searching for posts far enough apart to hang your hammock in the dark and getting caught out. If you’re on a long-distance motorcycle trip where you’ll be traversing multiple countries, these just aren’t practical.

Bivvy bags

Bivvy bags are for the hardcore. It’s a tent, roll mat and sleeping bag all rolled into one. These aren’t for people who regularly camp – or those who are specifically going on a motorcycle trip with camping in mind. They’re more suited to travellers who may need to camp anywhere in an emergency. It is the ultimate in motorcycle camping minimalism.  

Camping Hammocks, £20-£150

Packed size: 20 x15cm Weight: 1.5kg

Bivvy Bag, £70-£100

Packed size: 16 x10cm Weight: 0.6kg

Motorcycle camping and cooking

If, however, you still want to be minimal, but also need extras to cook because you’re on a longer trip and will be camping more often, then here’s how to choose and pack cooking gear.

Camping Stove

Instead of taking a gas stove, opt for a multi-fuel stove like the MSR Dragon Fly. It packs up very small, is light and easy to refill because it runs on petrol (or diesel). For long distance riders and RTW travellers, once you’re out of Europe it’s extremely difficult to find gas canister replacements, so this makes a lot more sense.

READ MORE: MSR DragonFly Review

Camping in Japan at Takachiho Gorge
Preparing morning coffee with a view in Japan

Pots and Pans

It’s better to spend a little more when purchasing cooking equipment as there’s no other way to get smaller, lightweight and compactable pots and pans. The cheap stuff rusts quickly, you’ll spend your evenings and mornings scrubbing them, they’re heavier and you’ll also end up spending more money in the long run when you need to replace them. We use MSR’s Quick 2 System, it’s a little larger than other two-person sets, but we cook nearly every day and so it’s worth it for us. There are one-man options for solo travellers. And don’t forget lightweight but sturdy plastic cutlery.

Camping Extras

You’ll also need miscellaneous equipment for cooking including a decent knife, washbowl, tea towel, sponge, washing liquid and a mini chopping board. If you enjoy your food, it’s worth taking a small water-tight container for your favourite spices, salt, pepper and sugar.

You’ll also need something to sit on while preparing and eating your food. The options are to use your luggage (this can be a pain removing it from the bike each time and is uncomfortable), a small picnic blanket (for long term travellers this will most likely result in a bad back as it did with us) or to use a lightweight camping chair (very bulky and not absolutely necessary, but a real slice of luxury and worth it).

READ MORE: Helikon Camping Chair Review

A camping chair may add a bit of extra weight, but if you're camping often they're worth their weight in gold

Motorcycle camping food

Cooking on an open fire (or fuel stove) is what it’s all about. Some travellers are happy with a Pot Noodle or tin of bins while others go to town preparing steaks and smoking fish. It’s your call and depends on what type of equipment you have space for and want to take. If you do like the idea of going gourmet, check out our camping food guide below. It explains your motorcycle camping kitchen equipment choices and some tasty recipe ideas for outdoor foodies.

Whatever you’re cooking up though, it’s a good idea to carry an extra luggage bag for food (unless you’re planning on eating out for every meal, which will get expensive – fast). We use a Kriega US30 strapped to our crash bar to hold our food and day snacks. If you’re a solo traveller or don’t cook often, then go for a smaller Kriega US10 instead.

READ MORE: The Motorcycle Camping Food Guide (Gourmet Edition)

The Motorcycle Camping Food Guide Gourmet Edition
Food on a bike camping trip doesn't have to be bland and boring. Our Gourmet Guide shows you another way...

Motorcycle camping water

Water is very important when camping. You need it to cook with, wash your equipment with after, drink and wash your self – unless you’re not into that.

It’s safer to fill up a container and take water with you so you know where it’s come from. This may not always be possible and you might have to purify your own water.

We use a 6.6 litre Rotopax water container. This is enough to drink from during the day, for emergencies and to cook, wash and clean with. If you’re going to be off-roading most of the time, consider using a bladder pack. Depending on where you’re travelling, you could also take water purification tablets. If you’re not camping often then carrying water in bottles or expandable packs is another option.

We also carry a 6.6 litre Rotopax fuel container, which slots next to the water container. This was especially useful in Uzbekistan where we went hundreds of miles without a petrol station in sight.

Two up motorcycle camping

If you’re travelling two-up on one motorcycle and camping too (like we did for the first year of our round the world motorcycle trip from the UK to Japan) then you are going to need to take more. Two sleeping bags, two roll mats, a slightly larger tent, toiletries, cooking equipment and pack more food and water. The pack size difference can be large, so it’s even more important to opt for high-quality, low volume and lightweight kit that packs up extra small, can be compressed and stored away neatly.

Aside from the kit increase, it’s brilliant camping with either your partner or your mate. Cooking and cleaning times are halved and so is setting up your site. Many people also feel more secure camping with someone else, and it’s easier to keep your feet warm too!  

READ MORE: Tips for Motorcycle Travel with a Pillion

Uzbekistan Motorcycle Travel
Two up motorcycle camping doesn't mean you need carry loads of extras if you pack well (Uzbekistan)

Top Tips for Motorcycle Camping

Where to set up camp

Before deciding on a camping spot: look for any warning signs like animals, floods etc; check the ground for vehicle tracks to make sure you’re not on a used track; steer away from standing water because of mosquitoes; tree covered areas are great as you get extra protection from the elements, have more wood for your fire and will be more secluded; if you have to camp out in the open, try and find a large immovable object like a boulder to camp beside to act as a wind break.   

The Motorcycle Camping Guide
Washing, cooking and cleaning using running water makes a huge difference

When to set up camp

Try and stop earlier when camping. If you’re wild camping, it can take time to find a spot so you’ll need to allow for that, and for setting up and cooking. The last thing you want to do is be searching for a place in the dark. And cooking in the dark is a pain because your food will just taste of flying bugs that are drawn to it from your head torch. Set up early, cook and eat before it’s dark and enjoy the evening around a fire instead.

And it’s worth investing in a really good head torch – it’ll make all the difference.

Staying warm

Remember that in some parts of the world (especially desert areas), while it may be boiling hot when setting up your tent, it’s probably going to be freezing once the sun dips. So don’t forget to put your fly cover on.

A woolly hat or your bike snood/ scarf can make a big difference while you sleep as the majority of heat is lost from your head. Stuff clothes at the bottom of your bag so they’re warm for the morning as well.

Keep your kit clean

Silk sleeping bag liners are a brilliant. I’ve had mine for nearly 10 years now. It’s an ultra-tough, comfortable and quick drying liner that you pop into your sleeping bag. The benefits are that you’ll never need to wash your sleeping bag again! (well, do wash it again, but mainly just wash the liner), it keeps you warmer in winter and cooler in summer and can also be used as a sheet/ mini sleeping bag in suspect guest houses. Your sleeping bag is the hardest thing to clean so this really helps you keep on top of it. And it can be used on its own in very hot temperatures. 

Try and always put your tent away dry, or air it out at the next available opportunity. Let your sponge, towel, pots and pans dry before putting them away too.

Adv bike camping in Mongolia
Taking the time to dry your gear and clothes properly keeps everything fresher for longer

Motorcycle preparations

It’s a good idea to increase the surface area of your side stand plate. You can do this by buying a dedicated attachment or simply welding a larger plate on. This is handy for parking up off-road, but it also stops your bike sinking into soggy ground overnight if it rains.

Don’t park your bike in a way that it would land on your tent if the wind blew it over. Your motorcycle should always lean away from your tent.

READ MORE: How to Choose a Motorcycle for Travelling
READ MORE: Adventure Bike Reviews
READ MORE: How to Adventure Proof Your Motorcycle

Animals and insects

Carry insect repellent like DEET to keep those bugs away. Remember that insects are attracted to scents like deodorants and hand sanitisers.

Be careful in countries with dangerous wild animals and your food. You may need to hang food from a tree, but at the very least keep it in airtight ziplock bags. Animals can be a real danger when wild camping.

A handy tip is to slide your socks over the opening of your boots, this creates a lid and stops scorpions or other nasty insects from climbing in.

Stay happy

It’s easy to get caught up in the process of setting up, eating, washing and preparing for bed. Stopping early and getting these processes done will leave more time for you to enjoy your evening. Don’t forget to make time for that and really enjoy and appreciate where you are and what you’re doing.

Take something to keep you entertained and happy as well like a book, ukulele, whittling knife or even just a coffee aeropress. You’ll be surprised at how enjoyable little tasks like this become when laying back in your camping chair by a fire.

BMW R1200GSA and BMW G310GS motorcycles camping in Japan
Take the time to really enjoy what you're doing and where you are!

Conclusion

Adventure motorcycle camping is an incredible experience and you’re going to love it. It becomes so much easier the more you do it. Your kit and gear will reduce and compress as you soon realise what you can live without, you’ll set-up faster, cook better, learn new outdoor skills, will be able to spot what feels right and where to camp more easily and will be more comfortable in nature. It enhances a motorcycle trip like nothing else can.

Happy camping!

The Motorcycle Camping Guide Mongolia

Read more on Motorcycle Camping

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Are you planning a motorcycle camping trip or do you have any questions or anything you’d like to add? We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a comment below.

3 thoughts on “The Motorcycle Camping Guide”

  1. Lomo bags are ace and a great price…I also pack a foil car windshield cover to lay and sit on …makes for a much warmer sleep and dirt cheap 2 pounds…good article 👍

    Reply
    • Hi Gary,
      Yeah, definitely agree on the Lomo bags, can’t beat them for value for money!
      That’s a really good idea on the foil cover!!! Really like that. Wonder if I can pick up an Aldi special?
      Cheers and thanks for the tip!
      Andy

      Reply

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