So you’ve decided to take the plunge into the exciting world of camping off of your motorcycle? That’s awesome! So many amazing adventures both awesome and challenging are in your future!
Like any learning process, there are a few common pitfalls that new motorcycle campers can fall into as they’re getting started. Having recently just made the transition from “beginner” to “mildly confident amateur” motocamper myself, I’d love to maybe save you some time and accelerate your learning process by hopefully helping you avoid some of the missteps I made when I was first starting out.
#1 Mistake: Taking too much stuff.
Coming from car camping I was very accustomed to bringing a lot of “just in case” stuff with me on every trip. I had a camping box that I’d just grab every time, and inside was lots of extra paper plates, towels, hot dog sticks, hot chocolate mix, cups, extra batteries, spare plastic utensils, a “grappling hook” my daughter made when she was 8 (seriously)... the list goes on and on. I used this stuff occasionally, but most of the time it just took up extra space in the box.
When I transitioned into the world of motorcycle camping, this habit did not serve me well. Space is far more limited when you’re carrying everything on your bike, and you just don’t have room for a bunch of stuff you might not even use. I still carry a few essential “just in case” items like extra toilet paper and batteries, but for the most part if I’m not at least 90% sure I’ll need something on a particular trip, I leave it at home.
2 Mistake: Not taking enough stuff.
I realize it sounds like I’m contradicting my own first point here, but in this case I’m referring more to those that subscribe to the super minimal “all I need is a pointy stick and a tarp” school of motorcycle camping.
There are some people that firmly believe the more you suffer on a trip, the more “pure” the experience is. I personally have never understood that philosophy. I don’t take an entire Harry Potter tent filled with luxuries with me, but I do understand the value of being as comfortable as possible. You can fit a full camping kit (tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and yes, even a pillow) on just about any motorcycle. I routinely take even a chair and table with me. Just because your kit needs to be smaller than on a car camping trip doesn’t mean that you can’t still bring everything you need.
When you’re just getting started, it’s important to ensure that your first trips are as successful and comfortable as possible. That way you come home well-rested and excited for the next trip, rather than exhausted, hungry, and ready to throw all your camping gear in the nearest dumpster.
#3 Mistake: Not planning ahead.
There are a lot of variables that go into any camping trip. One of the best ways for a new motorcycle camper (or any camper, really) to feel more in control of those variables (and therefore more relaxed overall) is to have thought through and planned for as many of them as possible ahead of time.
One of the best things you can do to ensure that your first motorcycle camping trip is a success is to actually go out and scout the campground or area where you’ll be camping. Even better is being able to check out the actual spot where you’ll be cooking, sleeping, and building your campfire (assuming it’s not fire season). Visiting ahead of time will go a long way towards making you feel prepared for your trip and give you a much clearer idea of what you need to bring with you.
Whenever you can, try to have answers to these common questions before you go:
- Where will you get firewood (bring with, harvest, or not necessary because of fire season)?
- Where will you get water? Will you need to bring it with you?
- What will you cook? How will you cook it?
- What is the temperature going to be (both during the day and overnight)? What clothing and bedding do you need to be comfortable in those temps?
- What if it rains?
- What amenities are nearby? Does the campground have a bathroom? Is there a camp host? Is there a town nearby where you can get anything you might have forgotten?
That may seem like a lot to consider…but I can tell you from experience that it’s a whole lot better to have some idea what you’re getting into than it is to have to figure it out on the fly when you get there and find yourself unprepared.
#4 Mistake: Not testing your gear and setup before you go.
This one has two parts. The first is testing your setup on the bike. By this I mean actually strapping all of your bags or boxes on your motorcycle, loading them with either your actual camping gear or something with similar bulk and weight, and going for a ride.
It’s really helpful to know how your luggage and gear behaves on the bike while you’re riding. Likewise, your bike will handle differently with the extra weight, and it’s really good to get a feel for it before you take off on your first long trip.
After a while, stop and check your straps and other attachment points. Are your bags rubbing anywhere? Are they making contact with your hot exhaust? Has anything come loose? It’s far better to discover a little bit of heat or friction damage on a short ride than it is to arrive at your destination and find that you’ve burned a hole through your luggage and sleeping bag (don’t ask me how I know).
The second part of testing your gear is to do what I like to call a “shakedown run.” Head out on an overnight camping trip somewhere close to home (or even in your own backyard). It’s just really great to get a sense for how all of your gear sets up, how it sleeps, and how it all packs back up on the bike (always more complicated than loading up at home) somewhere with resources nearby so that the consequences for failure are minimal. If you live too far from any available camping, then pick a campground close to a town you can run into to buy anything you forgot.
Testing your gear and knowing that both your bag setup and camping setup are dialed in will give you a ton of peace of mind when you head out on your first big motorcycle camping adventure.
#5 Mistake: Camping alone the first time.
I totally get that not everyone has people to camp with, and camping alone is far better than not camping at all, but having other people with you is a great way to deal with some of the anxieties and common problems that new motorcycle campers face.
If you have a companion (or companions) with you, then there’s a good chance that someone else will have that thing you forgot to pack. It’s also super helpful to be able to share camp chores like harvesting and/or prepping firewood. You only need one fire, so splitting (pun intended) the work means you only have to do half as much.
Camping with someone else can also help you deal with some of the anxieties that come with being in the woods at night. It’s great to have someone to talk to and share the trip with, and those weird forest night noises are a lot less scary when you know you have a buddy sleeping in a tent nearby.
Camping alone has its charms and I love it as much as I love camping with others, but it’s really nice to have backup on your first few forays into the world of motorcycle camping.
BONUS #6 Mistake: Not cooking.
A warm meal, even a hot dog cooked over the fire on a stick, is WAY Better than any dehydrated meal I’ve ever had. Many people think camp cooking is a pain in the ass that takes a lot of space and prep work and that can be true, but you can seriously bring something as simple as a package of hot dogs or pre-cooked brats and have a delicious warm meal with minimal effort. I get that cooking is not always possible, but when it is, I’d encourage you to find a way to make a hot meal while you’re out there.
Motorcycle camping can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it you’ll find each trip getting easier and going more smoothly than the last. Hopefully you can avoid some of these common pitfalls and reach that point faster than I did. Good luck, and have a great time out there!
Looking for more info on these common beginner motorcycle camper mistakes? I also made a video about this (complete with a BONUS BONUS 7th mistake new campers make) that you can check out here.