In July 2017, I took an 8,000 mile solo trip across the country on my Suzuki TU250X. I started in College Park, MD, and almost ten days later I found myself across the country at the Santa Monica pier in Los Angeles. Another two weeks and 23 states later, and I found myself back home.
Before this trip, I had little to no camping experience, and certainly zero experience camping alone. I had just under 500 miles of total motorcycle riding experience under my belt, and only a motorcycle permit to my name. Most of my friends and family probably would not describe me as adventurous in any way. Needless to say, but I had quite a difficult time explaining to anyone that I had really thought this plan through.
I actually had already done a significant amount of planning at that point though — I spent months going over every possible situation, and learning everything I might need to know. I spent weeks looking for the best equipment for my situation and how I would even get all this crap on my bike safely.
But mostly, I spent those final weeks leading up to my trip just riding and anticipating what it would feel like once I actually got going. At some point, when people asked me questions about how I would do certain things or whether I had thought about certain scenarios, I had an answer for everything because I had already considered their question hundreds of times myself. That’s when I knew I was ready, and I could only feel excited about the trip ahead of me.
The purpose of this post is to help you plan and figure out ahead of time so you too can have an unforgettable trip. I’ll go over route planning, bike maintenance, packing lists, weather related advice, camping tips — everything I’m glad I knew going into this trip, and some things I know now after 8,000 miles on the road!
Route Planning and Maps
This one should be be easy — just hop on to Google Maps and plug in all the places you’d like to see, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. If you’re planning on going on a lengthy trip. Google Maps limits your route search to a starting point, a destination, and 9 waypoints in between. So, for any multi-state motorcycle camping journey, you’re probably out of luck.
The best option for this is a website called Furkot — the main advantage is that you can map as many waypoints as you’d like. It does come with a number of other features, but honestly I didn’t really use them too much. It suggests lodging along the way, and I couldn’t really customize that as much as I liked, so my map has a bunch of inaccurate lodging waypoints.
With Furkot, you can at least get a baseline estimate of what kind of mileage you’re looking at and how many miles you’ll have to average each day. It’s also very easy to switch things up. With a live-updating mileage count, you’ll find it a lot easier to narrow down the places you absolutely have to see, and which places might not be worth your time.
One of the most important things to consider here is how many miles per day you plan to ride. After I planned my route, I found out that in order to do it in time, I’d need to ride at least 270 miles per day. That might not sound like a lot when you have all day to ride, but trust me, it’s not always a walk in the park. One day I rode nearly all day and did about 900 miles, but another day I think I only went 100 miles before I had to call it in. Most people who have done long touring trips like this will agree that 300 miles per day is what you should shoot for, even if you’re riding an extremely comfortable touring bike. Some days you’ll need to stop more frequently to rest, or you’ll want to stop and check out the sights more, etc.
Here is a list of everything you should be thinking about in terms of what to pack for camping and what to gear your bike up with, along with some other miscellaneous things you might not be thinking of. Definitely keep in mind that this is really just a recommendation list — you might want to pack more minimally, and there are definitely ways to do that. I tried to make the list as comprehensive as possible so that you might change the list by subtracting what you don’t need, instead of relying on my list and forgetting lots of things that you probably should have brought with you.
Camping Stove – This is an essential item if you want to do any cooking at your campsite. So, if you’re looking to save a lot of money like I did, this could be one way to do that. It’s also a great feeling to kick back and enjoy a camp meal after a long day on the road. Canned chili will never taste as good as it does next to a relaxing campfire.
These are also really inexpensive — the one I bought from Etekcity was well worth the cost and I consider it an indispensible tool. You’ll also want to purchase a fuel canister with the right size nozzle to match your stove. This canister will match the Etekcity stove.
Cooking Utensils – You’ll need some cookware to actually cook your food in, but bringing along your standard kitchen pots and pans might not be reasonable. A camping cookware set is made to be extremely lightweight, versatile, and compact.
The set linked here is the exact same that I took on my trip across the country and I never found it to be lacking anything. Just make sure you clean and dry it after every use! Once the cookware and utensil set is re-assembled into its compact state, bacteria can grow very quickly. The set comes with a cleaning sponge, but I also highly recommend some camp suds to aid in this process. Your camp suds can also be used for hygiene purposes.
Camelbak Reservoir – A Camelbak certainly isn’t an essential addition to everyone’s packing list, but it was easily one of the most useful things I brought along with me. If you’re looking to do a lot of mileage in one day, you’re going to get tired, and thirsty. Staying hydrated and eating healthy are the two best ways to maintain a high level of mileage per day. This becomes especially important in more dry climates.
For me, trying to pour water in to my mouth through my helmet is a bit too dangerous to do repeatedly over the course of the trip. You have to take one hand off the handlebars, and you lose vision while you drink, alongside an increased risk of eye damage while your visor is tipped up. The only safe way to do it is to pull over which will add lots of time to your trip — you’ll end up foregoing water breaks and becoming more dehydrated. A Camelbak eliminates all of these problems. I recommend buying just the Reservoir (and not the backpack as well) as you should attach it to your existing load somehow — you shouldn’t have any extra strain on your back.
Headlamp – While I recommend getting to your campsite and setting everything up well before the sun sets, that doesn’t always happen. Not to mention, leaving your tent to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night will also be a lot less unnerving with an illuminated field of view. For times like these, the night becomes a lot easier to handle with a simple camping headlamp. Flashlights work, of course, but these headlamps are so inexpensive it’s almost a no-brainer to get one for your trip.
Sleeping Bag – This is an obvious one — you need somewhere to sleep! I used a conventional, roll-up sleeping bag that took up way too much space on my luggage rack. If I were to take this trip again, I would definitely invest a bit more on a highly compressible sleeping bag that I could just throw into my tail bag as opposed to ratcheted down on my luggage rack. Something like this would be perfect.
Getting a good night’s rest is probably one of the most critical aspects of putting in some serious mileage, along with staying hydrated. There are a few additional products I would recommend in this department that might make this easier if you have the room to bring them: A sleeping bag liner to keep you cool, comfortable and free of bug bites, a camp pillow if your sleeping bag doesn’t have one, and a small sleeping pad to get you off the ground somewhat. I brought all three, but some would call them optional, so its your call!
Tent – This one should be obvious, although some do prefer to go it without a tent. Ryan, of FortNine, goes with the hammock and tarp combo, which I really respect. I’d like to try it sometime, but for my trip I decided to go with a tent due to the variety of terrain on my planned route and the sheer amount of nights I planned to spend camping.
You should look for a very small, one or two person tent such as this one. You don’t want to find out two days into your trip that you bought a crappy tent, so make sure you read some reviews before purchasing. I’d also recommend picking up a simple tarp to put down before the tent as an additional shield from moisture.
Wet Fire Starter – This may seem trivial, but arriving to your campsite and finding that you can’t have a fire after a long day riding can be really disappointing. Occasionally your campsite will be wet from some prior rain and starting a fire can be nearly impossible in those conditions. Of course, it’s certainly possible to bring out your inner boy-scout and make do with those conditions, but some wet fire starter is so cheap and quick, it’s a no-brainer in my opinion.
Knife – It probably goes without saying, but a reliable knife that won’t break on you halfway through your trip is an essential. From gathering kindling, to whittling yourself some camp souvenirs, a knife will obviously come in handy in many different ways. You probably don’t need anything too fancy though, a simple folding knife that has good reviews on Amazon should be more than enough.
Hiking Boots – While you might be able to find yourself a versatile set of motorcycle riding boots, finding a happy medium between comfort and safety may be difficult. I typically tried to only bring items that could be useful in many different scenarios, but I did go with some comfortable hiking boots for when I wasn’t riding. Not to mention, you’ll definitely want to do some hiking at any beautiful National or State Parks you might come across.
Gear and Tools
Kevlar Protective Jeans – These are a godsend for a motorcycle camping trip. When you are riding for a significant amount of mileage, it can be daunting to think about the amount of mileage you will be riding, and naturally, safety will come to mind. While riding a motorcycle will never be a completely safe activity, there are always ways you can reduce your chances of crashing or being injured. Wearing the right gear is paramount to both your general safety, and will do wonders to your peace of mind.
Kevlar jeans are fantastic for this kind of trip because you can wear them comfortably everywhere — at your campsite, a restaurant, etc. Packing minimally is key, so the more categories one item covers, the better, and that’s why I loved my kevlar jeans. Here is the exact pair I bought. Fortunately I haven’t crash tested them, but they are as durable as any protective riding pants you could buy, and they have served me well in every climate I encountered.
Rain Gear – Although it is probably best to avoid ever riding in the rain, it’s likely inevitable that you will find yourself having to ride through some wet conditions at some point. During my trip, I found myself with no option but to ride through the rain only a couple of times. Staying dry is obviously preferable, and motorcycle rain gear is designed to keep you 100% dry and visible to other drivers during a rainstorm. I used this obnoxious highlighter yellow rain gear from Nelson-Rigg — it goes right over your standard riding gear and in my experience, keeps you completely dry!
Waterproof Riding Boots – You know what’s worse than getting stuck in a rainstorm during monsoon season in Arizona? Realizing that your boots are absolutely not waterproof. While a quick solution of plastic bags from Dollar General temporarily solved this problem, I’ll definitely make sure I pick up some waterproof riding boots before I set off on my next motorcycle camping trip.
The de-facto standard for these so-called “Adventure” or Off-Road boots, is the FORMA Adventure boot. I’ve never heard of anyone not completely loving these boots. They are pricey, but the level of protection offered is second to none, and they do look pretty cool.
GoPro – A trip like this will be unforgettable for sure, but reliving these memories again with video is priceless. I personally recorded several hundred gigabytes worth of footage during my trip. I mounted the GoPro to my helmet and I just had to press the record button whenever I rode past something interesting.
I went with an older model GoPro than I should have. While the quality was fine, for just a bit more money, I could have had full 4K HD video of the whole trip and there are definitely some clips that I look back on and wish I had a higher resolution. I’d recommend the new GoPro HERO7 which features 4K resolution and some impressive image stabilization which will make a huge difference.
Saddlebags – Saddlebags, or panniers, offer an additional compartment in which to store your belongings. Saddlebags come in all shapes and sizes, so you will want to get a general idea of the amount of cargo you will be bringing along before making a decision. The most affordable saddlebags tend to be a simple throw-over setup. These will generally be waterproof and lightweight, although they may be lacking a bit in the security and style departments.
You can also purchase lockable “hard” saddlebags which will be more expensive and will only work with certain motorcycles or mounting racks, so you’ll have to research the best choice for your particular setup. These are a great option as you can walk away without having to worry about anyone rifling through your luggage, at least in the short term.
I personally went with a Nelson-Rigg product for this as well. I purchased a set of their ‘Survivor’ saddlebags. For a simple setup, you really can’t beat the price. They were extremely durable and did not let a single drop of water in for 8,000 miles. You can also purchase them in bright colors to make yourself a bit more visible on the road.
Tail Bag – For additional space, you can also purchase a tail bag to sit on top of your rear fender. Like saddlebags, you’ll have a lot of different options in terms of security, style, visibility, etc. I also opted for a simple, waterproof ‘soft’ bag instead of a more expensive, lockable hard bag. I personally used a tail bag, but a lot of people recommend a tank bag instead to reduce weight on the rear wheel. That’s definitely something you should look into, but I’ll talk more about loading your bike later on in this post.
ROK Straps – If you’re planning on just strapping all of your gear and luggage down with some bungee cords, you should probably reconsider. Securing down your luggage is one of the most important recommendations I can give you — ignoring this can be extremely dangerous for you and everyone else on the road. Bungee cords have been known to snap and with enough vibration, they will lose tensile strength and eventually become useless. Rok Straps are a safe alternative. They do feature an elastic section, but there is also an adjustable section so you always have the proper amount of tension for whatever you are trying to strap down.
Luggage Rack – If your motorcycle does not come with a built in luggage rack, you will most likely need to purchase one to store all of this luggage on. There is no such thing as a universal luggage rack, so you will have to purchase one that is specifically built for the model of motorcycle you own. These can run a little pricey, especially if you own an obscure motorcycle, but be sure to check eBay. As an absolute last resort, it might be possible to fabricate one yourself.
Headset Intercom – This one is essential if you will be traveling with a group or even just a partner. Being able to call one another on the fly and actually communicate is invaluable. These bluetooth headsets also hook up to your phone so you can take actual phone calls from family and friends who might be wondering what state you’re even in! The only issue with the headset intercoms I have tried is that the speakers are simply too weak and you can’t hear much with the wind rushing at high speeds. The next product recommendation here solves that problem though!
I personally use a brand called FreedConn and it served me well, but the best headset on the market is made by Sena. They have a huge variety of products so make sure that what you’re buying is compatible with your particular setup. Sena headsets are definitely pricey, but communication is an understandable category to splurge a bit in.
Plugphones– In my opinion, any extensive motorcycle trip is incomplete without a reliable playlist. Like I said in my discussion of headset intercoms, sometimes you just can’t hear anything with standard speakers when you’re on a windy highway road. Plugphones are an amazing and affordable product. As the name suggests, they combine regular headphones/earbuds with an earplug design so you hear less of the road, and more of your music. I was originally afraid that this would be an unsafe purchase and I wouldn’t hear things I should be paying attention to, but you can still hear other cars and the environment well enough to be attentive.
Phone Mount – Of course, you’ll notice that a lot of my recommendations here center around taking advantage of your smartphone. From GPS, to bluetooth headsets, to Spotify, you’ll probably be using your phone a lot. If your motorcycle does not have a built in phone mount, you’ll need to find a place to mount it. The simplest is usually right on the handlebar and that gives you a few different options in terms of where exactly your phone will be located. Make sure you get something durable — this is probably not the time to buy the cheap plastic option. As a final tip, you can bring along a sandwich bag to wrap your phone in when it starts to rain. That way you can still use your GPS.
USB Port Mount – Another thing to mount to your handlebars… a place to charge your devices! This is more important than you might think. Obviously, you probably won’t be able to get away with a single charge all day on your phone. You can also use this to charge your GoPro so you never miss a moment due to a dead battery. I even brought along a little USB powered battery bank that I kept fully charged at all times in case of emergencies.
General Tools – Be sure to bring along some standard tools in case you find yourself broken down. Unfortunately most break-downs will not be anything you will be able to fix on the side of the road, but who knows, maybe you’ll just need to clean and rebuild your carburetors — you certainly wouldn’t be the first one to do that repair off the side of a highway! I also did all oil changes myself to save a bit of money. Most auto repair places would be happy to lend you tools, but I didn’t want to bank on that. Just a simple toolkit is a smart thing to bring along. You might also want to check to make sure your motorcycle doesn’t already come with a toolkit under the seat!
Fluids – Make sure you bring some chain lube and some WD-40 (for general repair and use), brake fluid and coolant if applicable, and some oil to top off with. I don’t think it’s worth lugging around 2-3 quarts of oil or whatever your motorcycle requires. If you need to do an oil change just stop and do it in an auto-shop parking lot where you can buy the oil and perhaps the filter as well.
Tire Plug Kit – This is something I would 100% recommend. Fortunately for me, I never ended up needing to use my tire plug kit — I never even took it out of its original packaging! However, the peace of mind that came from knowing a flat tire would be an annoyance and not a huge problem was fantastic. I’d highly recommend you pick one up before leaving for your trip!
I’ll do my best to list the clothing I brought with me and would still recommend, but this will be different for everyone. I brought the standard collection: t-shirts, a button down flannel, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, a hoodie, and a baseball cap. Of course this is also alongside all of my motorcycle gear. The pair of long pants I mentioned was actually my kevlar jeans — they are low profile enough to wear while you’re not riding.
Another recommendation for clothing I would give you is to look into a compression fit sweat-wicking layer, especially if you are going to be riding in the summer. This was a last minute purchase for me, but it definitely helped me stay comfortable as I refused to ever ride without my jacket. In fact, I subscribe to the AGATT (All Gear All The Time) way of thinking, so sometimes it can be hard to stay cool. A compression baselayer like this one from +MD Clothing is perfect.
In the name of making this as complete a packing list as possible, here are some final miscellaneous items that you should consider bringing:
- Duct Tape
- Bug spray
- Instant coffee
- Basic toiletries
- Toilet paper
- Garbage bags
- First aid kit
- A good book
Subscriptions and Accounts
This isn’t necessarily a list of things to pack per-se, but here are some services and accounts I highly recommend you look into before departing for your trip.
Unlimited Mobile Data – If you plan on using your phone as your one-stop-shop for all technology needs, then you absolutely need to upgrade to an unlimited data plan for the duration of your trip. You will be using an absurd amount of data on GPS, music services, communication, browsing during your down-time, etc. Running out of data would be a real day-ruiner, and perhaps dangerous if you run out when you need GPS. As affordable as unlimited data is for just one month, I see this as a no-brainer for any lengthy motocamping trip.
Spotify Premium – I know there are other streaming services out there (Apple Music is pretty popular these days) but I’ve been a loyal Spotify fan for years now, so I have to recommend them here! The free version of Spotify works great, but the ads can be annoying. I recommend the Premium version just for the ad-free listening experience, so on a long road-trip I also think this is a non-negotiable.
America the Beautiful Pass – If you plan on camping in any National Parks during your trip, or really at any time during the year, then you should look into purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass. National Park admission fees can really add up if you’re going from one park to another. Yosemite now costs $30 for a single motorcycle to enter! At a price of $80 for a yearly pass, the America the Beautiful Pass is an unbeatable deal. You can purchase one from the USGS website or at the entrance of any National Park.
Airbnb – Make sure you sign up for an Airbnb account and add your payment details ahead of time so you don’t have to do it on the road. You may not end up using it all that much — this is a motorcycle camping trip after all! Not to mention, I noticed motels can be cheaper in some areas of the U.S., but a lot of that probably had to do with me trying to book last minute. There are definitely great Airbnb deals around the country, and they can be a relaxing break from the usual camping and motel experience.
AAA Card – While you should definitely be prepared to do some routine maintenance yourself, such as changing your oil and filter or spark plugs, you shouldn’t expect to repair a catastrophic problem yourself. Furthermore, you shouldn’t be stranded on the highway due to these problems. A membership with AAA will alleviate all of these problems, and any stress you might have about being stranded on the side of the road.
Budgeting and other financial matters
In total, my day-to-day expenses during my month-long trip were about $1,200 in total, or $40 per day. Note that this doesn’t include a lot of expenses I paid prior to the trip, like the $80 I spent on an America the Beautiful Pass which I definitely used throughout the trip. Your trip might be more or less expensive depending on how similar it is to mine, so I’ll just explain the categories I spent money in. Here’s how it all breaks down:
- Fuel ($17.50/day) – With my TU250X, I sometimes got almost 70 MPG, even with all the crap I made it carry! Of course, some days required more overall acceleration, hill climbs, etc. and I did not average quite that much. Gas costs a lot more in some states (looking at you, California!) but generally you can last a long time on a tank of gas with most motorcycles. Figure out what kind of gas mileage you can expect with your motorcycle, and the mileage you plan on riding, and you should have a pretty good idea of how much you’ll be spending here.
- Food ($10.00/day) – Yup, you read that correctly. I saved a lot of money by eating like, well.. someone with no money, who also doesn’t care about their digestive system or health in general. My trip was filled with a lot of $0.99 cans of beans or soup at the campfire, a pastry and a banana for breakfast. Overall, most of my meals were just about the cheapest thing you could find at a gas station. I did splurge from time to time on barbeque, but who can resist a Southern BBQ joint after a long day? I also was treated to a meal or two almost every time I visited a friend or relative along the way, which I genuinely appreciated.
- Lodging ($10.00/day) – Another $10 average per day was spent on lodging. This might not sound right, but it is an average over 30 days. Most nights, I camped or stayed with friends and family along the way. Some nights I stayed in a cheap motel or Airbnb though, so I have to factor that in here. The reality is that this should definitely be in your budget. You’re probably not going to want to camp out every night.
- Miscellaneous ($2.50/day) – Again, this is an average based on the course of my whole trip. Because I planned relatively well, there were few things I really needed to go out and buy. I had to go buy a new cord for my GoPro when mine broke, but I really can’t think of anything I had to buy again. Of course, this cost also includes what I spent on oil and filters for regular oil changes.
Getting your motorcycle ready
As suggested in the packing list, you should complete any additions you plan on making to your motorcycle well in advance of the trip. Need a luggage rack, windshield, highway pegs? Buy the parts long before you plan on departing and make sure you are happy with how they install and feel.
The most important of these additions is probably the luggage rack, as once that is installed you can begin to test different ways to organize your luggage. You should try to find the best solution which will allow you to pack everything you need without hindering your mobility.
This is one area that I definitely did not do such a good job in. I rode a Suzuki TU250X, and honestly, I packed way more than I should’ve on the back of that small motorcycle. The good news was that it really wasn’t as heavy as it looked, but I definitely could’ve done a better job of refining my packing list down to the absolute essentials and focused more on using smaller variants of the items I deemed essential. For example, my sleeping bag was massive, and it took up an absurd amount of space compared to the rest of my luggage.
Make sure that your load is as centered as possible. At high speeds, an unbalanced load can be dangerous. This is why it is important to make sure you are loading everything securely to prevent the load from shifting into an unbalanced position, or worse, eventually your luggage might fly off into the road behind you.
Lots of motocampers recommend purchasing a tank bag to reduce the amount of luggage you keep on your rear axle. I personally didn’t go with a tank bag, but I would actually strongly recommend you look into it. Even a small amount of weight shifted off of your rear axle and onto the center of your motorcycle can give you a noticeable improvement in handling and maneuverability.
You might be considering wearing a backpack to alleviate space on your luggage rack. Please, do not do this. Your back will thank you for relegating the task of carrying your luggage, to a luggage rack. Riding hundreds of miles each day for days on end is extremely tiring and will test you physically — there’s no need to add more stress to this equation.
Another often-ignored tip is that you should consider the impact of handlebar vibration on your hands. This is not something I even thought about prior to my trip, but after the first couple hundred miles, I started to notice my right (throttle) hand falling asleep due to all the vibration. When I woke up the next day, I noticed that my hand still felt a little numb, which was pretty concerning. Not all motorcycles will produce such severe vibration, but my TU250X is such a high-revving motorcycle on the highway, so it made some sense. I made do with zip-tying a t-shirt around my handlebar, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about anti-vibration handlebar attachments which you might want to look into.
Finally, make sure you do a solid test run before you depart on any long motocamping journey. You need to spot any potential problems with your motorcycle, your luggage, your camping equipment, etc. well in advance of your trip. Not to mention, this test run will serve as an enjoyable preview of what the ‘real’ trip will have in store for you!
Thanks for reading, and best of luck on your next motocamping adventure!