Motorcycle adventure guide part II: The big three of camping

This is the second part of a series of articles directed at aspiring riders who want to take their bike on an adventure in 2021. This part focuses on the gear you need to take in order to camp off your bike, specifically the tent, sleeping mat and sleeping bag.

I ended the last part with a warning that too much luggage capacity on a bike can make you take too much stuff. So even when your adventure is on the back of a large capacity motorcycle it’s important to keep your pack as light as possible and this guide will contain some tips to help you do that. I’m not a minimalist so I agree that KTM 1290 adventure riders can afford to carry a few extra kg’s without it being noticeable and I will not advise anyone to saw a toothbrush in half just to save a few grammes.

If you really want a camp chair or you like to take a bulky camera with you then I would even encourage you to take them because these parts are crucial assets for your type of adventure. And that’s all that matters. I should emphasize that this article is intended for those of you interested in travelling fast and light. If your style is to take a much gear as you can and enjoy playing with it than that is fine too. I’ve seen people with a Goldwing towing an actual trailer for all their gear. But let’s say that’s a different kind of hobby…

Tent

The fastest way to control the size of your pack is to look at the big three: Tent, sleeping mat and sleeping bag. As for tents: The size of your bike is more or less going to decide the maximum size of your tent. Guys (and gals!) on enduro bikes have to look at the smallest tents available while the GS owners amongst you will have enough space to take a cotton circus tent… But just like in part 1 I’m going to offer some resistance to those who might want to buy a big tent because even big bikes handle better with less weight. The desire for buying a bigger tent originates from the fantasies of all of the things travellers imagine they will be doing inside of the tent. People imagine themselves reading books and watching movies in it, for example. Or even editing videos for their social media on their macbooks (damn hipsters 😉) while they make a fancy coffee using their ‘Handpresso’. I can tell you in reality this is very rarely the case. Even when taking a LOT of crap with you it will still be a shitty experience. In reality travellers just sit in a bar or a cafe when they need some comfort. A simple chair and a table somewhere will offer more comfort than anything you can take with you. The coffee is going to be much better too and usually you will have the opportunity to charge your devices. All it takes is to stop and actually engage with the region you are visiting more instead of retreating alone in a canvas fortress. And those situations in which you have to camp in the wilderness people are inclined to just eat, sleep and leave the social media for later. I find that if I am camping rough I typically leave the site as soon as possible in the morning and just ride to the nearest place where I can have a sit and a brew. Even when in an area with no bars or cafe’s you can always find a picnic table, some logs or another cosy place to hang out. This it the truth: Your tent is just for eating, sleeping, managing gear and some privacy. It’s not a house and surely not ideal for entertainment purposes. (Although a times inside a tent can be enjoyable.) You don’t need a big tent unless your physical condition demands that you are able to stand up while changing for some reason.

The advice is simple: Solo campers require a tent with space for two mats. One place for you and one place to lay down your gear, particularly your biking jacket and trousers. In some cases such a tent is actually a ‘three man tent’ because tent manufacturers assume that all of their customers are skeletal wisps of human beings. Actual motorcycle adventurers with the thighs to kickstart a bike require a little more space.

So find a tent with space for two mats and find the most compact one within your budget. Small packed volume is more important to the motorcycle traveller then low weight as the bike carries the weight. In this range of tents the difference between a lighter and a heavier tent is about 800 grammes max., which won't make a difference. I’d gladly trade some weight for a more robust construction as long as the pack size remains small.

The Quechua Quickhiker tent in the picture is a great option for the more budget conscious. Other good tents are the MSR Hubba Hubba and the Nordisk Telemark 2 but these are both more expensive tents.

Sleeping mat

The advice here is similar: Don’t get the biggest without thinking about it and focus on pack volume, rather than weight. Because of the volume requirement inflatable type mats are always the best bet except when camping often in terrain with very sharp rocks where self inflatable might still be advisable. In all other cases: Get an inflatable mat. And most crucially: Get the highest quality mat you are willing to afford. Child toy like inflatable mats allow the air in them to circulate freely which makes the mat a convection heat exchanger sucking the heat out of your body. In other words: Cheap mats are very cold to sleep on. The more expensive ones offer more comfort, more warmth as they prevent free circulation of air and are much less prone to punctures.

All of the more expensive inflatable mats offer an good comfort to pack size ratio. The more compact, the less comfort you get. It’s up to you to choose where you want to compromise. An example of a very compact and light option is the Thermarest Neo Air. By contrast the Exped ‘Deepsleep mat 7.5 M’ is a much more comfortable, but much bulkier option. Exped makes the best mats, by the way, but they tend to be expensive. Thermarest is similar in terms of quality and price. I just use a simple inflatable one from Decathlon because I’m poor.

Sleeping bag

A choice of sleeping bag is a very personal one. But for those of you who are new to camping I will offer an overview. There are two categories of sleeping bags: Synthetic filled and down filled bags. Also: there are three dimensions of performance: Pack size, temperature level and weight. Again, we will not be looking at weight because all bags which are compact enough are light enough for your bike. As with the mats we will focus on pack volume.

Synthetic bags are cheaper and less delicate. Even when wet they will still offer some warmth. Down bags, by contrast, are more expensive and quite delicate: They need to be kept dry at all times because when wet they will no longer keep you warm. But down bags are much warmer which means the bag is more compact for the same temperature rating. This makes down bags the best choice for bike campers as we typically have much more elaborate means to protect the bag from water compared to backpackers. Our cases or tail packs are more likely to be able to keep a bag dry compare to a backpack with a fiddly rain cover.

You just have to choose a down bag with the right temperature rating that suits the environmental conditions you are likely to encounter. This is very brand dependant so if possible ask advice to a salesman for temperature ratings. Some sleeping bags, however, come with a low quality compression sack, which is an often overlooked but important part of your kit. Investing in a better one is a good idea because a quality compression sack will compress the bag further, reducing pack size and is far, far less likely to rip or tear when on the road. If you rip your sack (stop laughing at the back!) on the road you will have a big issue as it’s very difficult to find a replacement one, forcing you to buy a completely new sleeping bag.

Tech enthusiast and motorcycle traveler

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