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Thread: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

  1. #1
    Administrator Mellow's Avatar
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    Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    Edit: I posted this originally on and thought I'd post here as well.

    People are always asking me why I like camping so much and how I can camp on the bike, what are the tips and tricks to it?

    Well, everyone is different and I can only provide the tricks that I've learned in the past few years that work for me.
    Remember, these are only MY personal preferences and can be used as a starting point for you to get into camping on a motorcycle,
    don't be afraid to change things that you feel will work for YOU.

    My Background:
    I only started riding since Dec 1999 and my camping experience on the bike only began in 2002 so roughly 10 years.

    I've developed my camping techniques over these past 10 years and camped on Goldwings, ST1300s and now Dual Sports - Super Tenere/VStrom.

    What is the bare minimum I need to camp?
    This is the 1 million dollar question. Well here ya go:

    1 - A tent
    2 - A sleeping bag
    3 - An air mattress
    4 - Waterproof bag(s)
    5 - Pillow - inflatable or compressible
    6 - Flashlight and/or Headlamp - preferably LED for long life

    That's it. Simple as that.

    Now, I'll expand on the items listed above a bit then talk about some alternatives that some prefer.

    The Tent:

    If you're only planning on camping a few times a year you can probably get by with a low-cost tent in the range of $100 or less. But, if you plan
    on doing a lot of camping then it may be beneficial to splurge for some name-brand equipment which may run in the $150+ range.

    Tents come in several types but we will only discuss a couple here.
    Bivy - These are typically one-person tents that have one or more poles that require being staked out with tent stakes in order to
    retain their shape/structure.

    Dome - A dome tent is typically a stand-alone tent where, once the tent poles are installed, will stand up on it's own without needing
    to be staked out. For me, THIS is the preferred type of tent for camping on a motorcycle.

    Many dome tents are configured with a front entry
    door or a side entry door. I find the side doors to be the easiest to crawl into/out of.

    Some of these tents also provide the option of 1 or 2
    vestibules - the area the rain fly covers that is not inside the tent. This allows for good additional storage space for those things you don't
    want or need inside the tent.

    Single or Double Walled?
    A single-walled tent incorporates the tent and rain fly into one. While this seems like a great approach it can be the source of condensation inside
    the tent. I prefer to stay away from this for motorcycle camping.

    A double-walled tent is simply a tent which has a separate rain fly. The tent will have some mesh to allow for ventilation and the rain fly, once set up,
    will not tough the inner tent. When it rains, the fly will divert the rain away from the tent.

    A 3-season tent is more than adequate for camping on a motorcycle. 4-Season tents are made for those thinking of camping in some
    pretty harsh environments including deep snow. If the weather or camping conditions are going to be that bad, you probably decided
    to stay home.

    Attic - An attic is some mesh material hanging from the top section of the inside of the tent. This is useful for placing lights, glasses, phones or whatever you find you want to keep off the floor of the tent. This is a very nice thing to have. Not all tents come with these and some will be
    included at extra cost.

    Footprint - Some believe a tent footprint are used to keep water out of a tent, however they are really only used to help protect the bottom
    of a tent from punctures or abrasions which would compromise the waterproof 'bathtub' design of the tent. Some tents will include a footprint
    and some are provided at extra cost but even a simple cheap tarp will provide as much protection.

    I always get a 2-person tent if there's only one person that will be camping the tent. This provides some extra space for gear, luggage or other
    items. Two people camping = 3-person tent.

    Packed Size
    I also always pay attention to the packed size specification for the tent. The long dimensions typically tell you how long the tent pole sections
    are. A tent stating a packed size of 24x7 usually means 2' tent pole sections and that makes it a bit tough to pack on a bike. A I personally try
    to find packed sizes in the 18" range as I can then pack the tent poles just about anywhere on the bike.

    A little tip here. If you look at backpacking or hiking equipment you'll find things that were designed to be smaller than the family-camping
    equipment where weight and size are of little concern.

    The Sleeping Bag
    How Cold

    This is a tough one. Some of this will be dictated by the air mattress you end up getting. If the mattress has little or no insulation properties
    then you may need a better sleeping bag. For me, a 20-40 degree bag is good enough for just about every temperature range you'll see on
    your typical motorcycle touring adventure.


    - These are pretty much what most people think about when they think sleeping bags. These provide the most shoulder room and area to move around.

    Mummy - These bags are great for cold weather as they allow you to tuck your head into the top section and they are tapered at the leg/feet
    section. This allows your body heat to warm up a minimal amount of area while also keeping your head covered. When sleeping in one of these
    you will have everything covered except for your nose/mouth area. Seems kinda strange at first but it works very well. You also don't want your
    mouth covered as the vapors you exhale will collect in the bag and make it damp.

    There are some bags on the market now that offer a rectangular shaped bag but a zip-off top shaped like a mummy.

    Down or Synthetic
    - the major advantage of a down bag is it will pack to a smaller size than a synthetic bag. The major advantage of a synthetic bag
    is it will dry out faster if it gets wet. Since packing size is my major concern I will typically go for a down sleeping bag.

    The Air Mattress
    Most don't think about air mattresses much when they think about camping, the tent and sleeping bag seem to get all the initial concern but the air
    mattress can be the most important part of all the gear.

    Remember, if you don't get a good night's sleep then you won't be 100% the next day when you get on the bike on public roads.

    When you lay on an air mattress there are 2 things happening. One is your body is trying to warm the air inside the mattress and the other thing is the
    ground is trying to cool the air in the mattress. If the mattress has low or no insulating properties then your body is fighting a loosing battle with the

    Some purchase very thick air mattresses with no insulation because they think it will be more comfortable but anything above 4 inches thick is just about
    impossible to warm with your body in cooler temps. Air mattresses in the 2 to 4 inch thick range but also with some type of internal insulation will provide
    the best night's sleep.

    The width of the air mattress is also an issue, many are 20 inches wide, seems wide enough but you want something at least 24 inches wide or you will
    be rolling off the mattress.

    With the thicker mattresses, I find it best to not inflate them 100% but more about 75%. That will mean less air to warm up but also you lay IN the
    mattress and seems to make them more comfortable.

    The Bags
    I like to keep the things I use for sleeping in a waterproof bag and the tent in a separate waterproof bag. This works well for a couple reasons. First, it
    keeps your wet tent away from the stuff you want dry and inside your tent. Second, it allows you to begin packing up your campsite while you're still
    inside your tent. Wake up and pack your air mattress and sleeping bag into one waterproof bag while inside your tent and even if it's raining, you've
    accomplished to keep your dry stuff dry and you're half done with packing.

    There are many waterproof bags on the market from $40 to well into the $100 range. You pretty much just need to search for 'dry bags' and you'll
    come up with many options. Try to find a bag that meets the min packed size of your tent unless you plan on storing the tent poles elsewhere.

    What about cooking
    I try to keep things simple. I have previously packed a backpacking stove and fuel so I can boil water for coffee/hot chocolate or warm up some food
    however I find it's too much of a hassle. It's something you need to decide how important it is to you. The purpose of this thread is to show you
    the bare minimum you need to camp on a motorcycle and be comfortable. There are many that will say what I bring is not the bare minimal and there
    are those that will bring a lot more gear including stoves, fuel and food.

    I feel that I'm almost always close enough to a town to eat before getting to a campground or head into town in the morning if I feel I want coffee and/or
    breakfast. So for me packing the extras needed for cooking are not that important.

    Useful Links:
    Below I have some links to gear that I either have or have used and I feel meet the requirements of what I've posted above:


    Sleeping Bags

    Air Mattresses

    Waterproof Bags



    I hope I've provided enough information based on my 10+ years of camping to make your choices for camping a little less painful. There are many out
    there that have camped much longer than I have and in more extreme environments than I have so I am far from an expert. I can only add that the
    techniques I describe above in picking my gear has worked very well for me and sometimes I feel more comfortable in my tent than I do at home in my
    bed. The whole point is to try and take the pain out of picking gear as there are so many options it's overwhelming at times. This may not work for
    everyone but does for me.

    Please post any comments and I'll do my best to address them.
    Don't sweat the small stuff, it's all small stuff"

  2. #2
    greatdanez's Avatar
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    Re: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    Very good information thank you
    Suzuki Gsx650f"Hustler"
    Ride safe Ride smart

  3. #3

    Re: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    I just tested the Kelty Coromell 25 degree Long at Reno...unfortunately, it only got down to 43....even at that I was comfortable with the zipper half open.
    It is duck down and I was so impressed with the room (38 inches across at the top) I ordered the Coromell 0 degree. I hate mummies but this is the biggest and
    roomiest one I have seen. You can see it in these photos how small the 25 degree is, next to the 10x 8 tent, 70 inches high for old people to get dressed in ....

    I have found after 45 years of bike touring that with only a few basic camping items weighing 110 lbs, like a 10 x 8 tent and an airbed, once can stay out for 9 nights and be completely comfortable.
    (My buddy brings my cooler, chairs, and kitchen sink to the races for me.)

  4. #4
    Rider Warren's Avatar
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    Nashville, TN
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    Re: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    Great info. Very helpful Mellow. I also find my ear plugs are essential. Noises at night can keep light sleepers up all night.
    2010 NT700V ABS Silver, #0225, "Arcee"
    1977 Yamaha XS650 (Sold)

  5. #5

    Re: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    Plus one on the ear plugs....especially at Reno....that and self medication...
    Hey, when did I get old? It seems I didnt need an 8x10 tent in the 1970s!

  6. #6
    Sailariel Bear's Avatar
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    Belfast, Maine
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    Re: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    Great info! Thanks a million. Now I can do some informed shopping for my trip to Spearfish.
    "Nothing is impossible--The impossible just takes a bit longer"
    ST-700 "Merlot", 1981 Yamaha XS650 Cafe Racer, 2007 Shelby GT
    AMA,United Bikers of Maine,Legion Riders,Patriot Guard Riders,Vintage Japanese MC.

  7. #7
    banjoboy's Avatar
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    Port Townsend, Washington
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    Re: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    Now I have to figure out if I really want to go camping as I haven't 'camped' in 30 years.


  8. #8
    Moderator tawilke46's Avatar
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    Baton Rouge, La
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    Re: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    Great job Joe! Thanks!
    Good info to start your own camping experience.
    2010 NT700V "PhaNTom" #1470
    2009 DL650 Wee (Phantom II)
    Vietnam Veterans of America Life Member
    NT Only

  9. #9
    Moderator Phil Tarman's Avatar
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    Greeley, CO
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    Re: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    I hadn't camped in close to 15 years when I got my Concours in '99. On my way to COG National Rallies, I carried a $50 REI tent, a sleeping bag, and a Thermarest. I camped maybe 3 nights in about 8 years.

    When I started thinking about and planning my Epic Post-Retirement Ride for the summer and early fall of 2013, I realized that staying in motels for 6-12 weeks was going to run up a pretty good tab. So, I decided to invest in better and more compact camping gear. I ended up spending close to $1000! Yikes!!!

    This is what I got:

    1) a REI Half-Dome + 2 tent: The Half-Dome 2 looked pretty good but the + 2 adds about a foot to length and width and doesn't add that much to packed size or weight. It's big enough to stand up in (bent over at about 90-degrees at the waist);

    2) a Luxury-Lite heavy-duty-cot that packs up small and gets me 6" off the ground (and with my knees, that 6" really helps when I get up);

    3) a Big Alice Buffalo Park +40F sleeping bag. It's a wide-footed mummy bag with a synthetic filling. Big Alice bags are sold as a system with their sleeping pads. The bags don't have any insulation on the bottom, but have a sleeve that the 3 1/2 thick pad slides into and then the pad has insulation -- an R-5 insulation value -- inside. I slept in temps down into the lower 30s in Rocky Mountain National Park and was plenty comfortable. Since then I've also gotten a silk liner bag (packs about fist-sized) that allegedly extends the comfort range down 5-10 degrees below the bag rating.

    4) two of the Exped air pillows that Mellow recommended -- one for my head, one for my top knee when I'm sleeping on my side)

    5) a Kermit chair ( The Kermit chair isn't cheap, but I think it'll be worth it. It packs small (maybe 4 1/2" X 22") and is very comfortable. Because of my decrepit knees, I got the leg extensions which make it easy to get out of, even for an old cripple. I also got the cup-holder, just because I could. :-)

    I was a little disappointed that, with the leg extensions on the chair, it's slightly too tall to use inside the tent. But in the event of rain, etc, I'll take the leg extensions off so I can sit and read in comfort. With my old, creaky body sitting on the ground just doesn't get it.

    All of this stuff, plus a Ray-O-Vac LED lantern packs in my:

    6) Dry-Spec bags from Twisted Throttle. The tent including the footprint, Kermit's leg extensions, and the lantern pack in the smaller Dry-Spec bag, so I can get the tent up, then put everything else inside the tent and finish getting ready for the night. And, come morning time, I can get all the stuff that I want to stay dry into the larger Dry-Spec bag, seal it against the elements and take the tent down for storage in the smaller bag, and be ready to go.

    I've got a little camp stove, but nothing else, not even a fuel cannister, to use in cooking. I'm guessing that most mornings, I'll be willing to ride to the first cup of coffee and breakfast.

    So, now, after spending $1000, I've camped five nights. One in RMNP, four at Spearfish. The second time I put the tent up, it went up way quicker than it did in RMNP, and came down reasonably rapidly. My guess is that I'll get setup/takedown time down a bit under 30 minutes fairly easily.

    I slept great in Spearfish except for one night when I had my rainfly rolled back and it rained. I managed to get the fly back into position to keep me dry and the rain stopped.

    The vestibules work well to keep somethings out of the tent.

    I think camping will get better as I travel and get more used to it. Right now, it's a $200/night proposition, but another gets it down to $50/night. From there on, it gets cheaper and cheaper compared to motel-ing it.

    If Rick and I camp 3 out of every 4 nights and if the Epic Ride takes two months, we'll camp 45 nights. Put that with the four nights we'll camp at Spearfish at the Rally before we start the actual trip, and I'll have 54 nights by the end of the trip. That gets it down to $18.50/night.

    Sounds like pretty good rationalization to me! :-)
    Phil Tarman
    Greeley, CO
    NT700VA 2010 SN #0079 -- "Dudley" -- 125,000+ Miles
    IBA # 5811: SS1000(X3), BB1500, BBG
    2013 Four Corners Tour Finisher # 70
    Read about the "Epic Ride" at:

  10. #10

    Re: Camping-The Basics - What do I need?

    In all seriousness (hard for me) that was a good report, Joe. I camp out 25-30 days a year (not all of which are on a bike)
    and I would add only a few things. The equipment you reccommend is very good and very expensive. Nothing wrong with that.
    But there is lots of inexpensive equipment out there that works very well and I would reccommend to anyone thinking of camping
    for the first time to go cheep after getting reccommendations from experienced folk...once they learn what they need to know, and they want to continue,
    they can buy the better stuff if they wish. Two, camp in your back yard first with your equipment. Maybe a headlight is all you need. Maybe you like a small
    led latern and a head light. If you are like me, you have a tiny LED latern, head light, and a flashlight that will project a spot on the moon. You will find out these
    things in the back yard if you camp there first. My wife is happy with a thermorest....
    there is no way I could use one and sleep. I gotta have an airbed. Its cheep, comfortable, inflates easily with an electric airpump, and if it gets
    a slow leak, it will usually still last the night. I also have found a real pillow, a soft airbed, and a warm comfortable bag make camping way more
    pleasant than a cold bag, air matress, and a pillow substitute. Lots of folk think they need a ground tarp. They are excellent for pooling water under the tent
    which you dont want. Most camp sites arent full of rocks and thorns...(Reno big exception) . Personally, I like to camp away from towns. I have four different types
    of camp stoves, but other than maybe scrambing eggs in a small modifyed teflon pan with a modified small spatula, I boil water and use freeze dried food and bars.
    If you look in the pic above with all of my junk I take to Reno, look to the left of the can of Slime and you will see a small square box made of aluminum. It is really a
    big pan with a small pan lid, a pan handle inside with a stove and a fuel bottle in there too. You can boil 16 oz. water in 1 minute at 5,000 ft and pour it into the freeze
    dried food bag. Eat out of the bag with a plastic spoon and throw the bag and spoon away. No dishes. If I am camped in one spot for awhile, I scramble eggs in a small
    teflon pan with the handle mostly cut off and a spatula with the handle mostly cut off and throw in some bacon bits and cheese. Add a big gooey sweet roll , an of juice and a bottle of
    Starbucks coffee and I am off to the races with just a spatula and pan to clean up. Some folks like MREs...everyone should eat one to try it. The main thing is, if you think you would like
    to try camping, do just might find out you like it!

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