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Motorcycle Camping ...no, really

motorcycle-camping

I’m not fully domesticated. Oh, I don’t pee on the rug —I am housebroken— but when it comes to picking up after myself, keeping the weeds to a navigable level, and checking off items on the “Honey Do” list, well, let’s leave it with I’ll never be a finalist for “HOTY” (Husband Of The Year).

Oddly enough, where I do become all orderly and adult-like is when I’m motorcycle camping. I guess the main reason for this is because you can’t be any other way. I mean, it’d difficult to ride with camping gear strewn haphazardly about your motorcycle. And having too much stuff (my #1 problem) just doesn’t work when you’re sleeping in a one-man tent.  Since I really enjoy camping (for reasons that would fill another blog), I’ve been forced to do it efficiently.

motorcycle-camping2Locked 'n loaded... ready to fire.

Motorcycle camping can be a real pain in the butt…and the back, and various other body parts. While the romance of the road, and communing with nature has wide appeal among riders, the reality is that when you suggest a camping trip, most will find reasons to quickly be somewhere else. The reason for this love/hate relationship with camping can be tied to a single factor: comfort or, more correctly, the lack of it. And I know why camping riders are uncomfortable: they are doing it wrong.

motorcycle-camping3This was good for a 2-week trip. I'd eat breakfast and dinner in camp, then lunch on the road.

TENTS

Doing it right starts long before you leave home, and begins with the purchase of a tent, because that is where you’ll be spending about one-third of your camping day. It needs to protect from the elements, be just large enough, and pack small enough for a motorcycle. Good tents are categorized as either “three season” or “four season,” with the latter used for the more extreme conditions. Three season tents work just fine for me. (Let me back up a bit… I camp in reasonably mild weather; sun, fog, rain, and chilly nights. The equipment I use reflects these conditions; so if you’re thinking of a trek through the Andes, move along, there’s nothing to see here.) Tent construction falls under “cabin,” “dome,” and “hoop” headings. Cabin tents are too large for motorcycle camping, but worthy candidates can be found with dome or hoop designs, with dome tents generally being the larger of the two. As a rule of thumb, if two of you will be sleeping in the tent you’ll probably want a dome style, or be 18 years old and in heat. In either case, you’ll want “windows.” These are mesh panels that provide needed ventilation, particularly in warm and hot weather. Unless you’ve perfected the art of holding your breath all night, you’ll be dealing with the condensation issue. The air we breathe out has a relative humidity of 100 percent. Put another way, if your mouth was big enough, you could make it rain. It also has a temperature close to that of your body (98.6 degrees). On a cool night this wet hot breath of yours will hit the tent walls, condense, and then it will run down the tent sides and make wet anything near the tent edges. Your tent needs to be large enough to allow for a buffer between the tent walls and anything inside it. Or, do like I do and use waterproof bags.

motorcycle-camping4Camping at a fancy KOA in Washington state.

SLEEPING

The tent will offer privacy and protect from the harsher elements, but the problem of getting a good night’s sleep is where most of the camping whiners concentrate.

As with tents, do it right and it’s not a problem. There are two sleep issues: comfort and warmth. And there are dozens of ways to solve these problems. My solution has evolved over time and uses a cot, a foam pad, a sleeping bag, and an inflatable pillow.

For comfort, I prefer a cot to an air mattress because it suspends me from the ground, thus isolating me from cold transfer and/or heat drain, and I don’t need to blow it up. It also keeps me away from the condensation noted above. There are several different aluminum folding cots available that are reasonably priced in the $35 to $60 range. The problem here is there folded length is around three feet, a bit much to carry on a motorcycle. My solution is the “High Tech Cot” from Aerostich (http://www.aerostich.com/high-tech-cot.html). This is an expensive unit at $218, but it works excellently and packs down to a 16-inch length. The drawback here (other than cost) is that it is narrow at 25-inches. If you have a wide body, this may not work for you.

motorcycle-camping5The key to comfort is this suspended cot.

Because I’ve managed to abuse my body a bit too much over the years, I put a foam pad atop the cot for a bit of extra comfort. They’re cheap, light, and roll down to a small size.

Warmth is the primary responsibility of your sleeping bag, a subject that can fill many pages.  I’ll simplify it for you. The first thing you need to know is that the temperature rating you’ll find on each bag is a bit misleading. For example, a bag might be rated at “20° - 40°.” What that lower number means is that you won’t actually die if the temperature gets that low, but you will not have a comfortable night. The higher number is supposed to indicate use of the bag above that temperature might be too warm for you. My thought is that if you’re too warm, well, unzip the bag and throw back the cover. So then, what temperature range should you buy? I’ve settled upon a “30° - 50°” bag. This has worked well until the temp edges into the lower 40’s. At that point I resort to long underwear and that takes care of the problem (Gator Skins, if you must know. http://www.gator-skins.com).

The second thing you need to know about sleeping bags is that they are available in two distinct designs: What I call “square-cut,” and “mummy.” Mummy bags are generally used in colder conditions, and where weight —as in backpacking—is a concern. I don’t like mummy bags. Yes, they are light, and pack down quite small, but they also turn with you, rather than allowing you to turn over, or on your side, in the bag. By morning I actually feel like a mummy. So, I use a square-cut bag as I find it more comfortable. The downside here is that it’s a bit heavier, doesn’t pack as small, and must be tightly rolled to fit in its bag, whereas with a mummy, you just stuff it in its sack.

OK, that’s a very basic look at comfortable motorcycle camping. If you buy your equipment carefully there is no reason for motorcycle camping to be a pain in the butt …or anywhere else.

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Comments   

 
# Jeff Giese 2013-03-28 15:33
Hi Reg:
What, if any, precautions do you take for security (i.E.: locking up your bike, stowing your gear, etc? And also, do you cary a small stove or some means of heating a meal?

Good article,
Jeff Giese
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# Reg Kittrelle 2013-03-29 09:56
I've never had any sort of a security problem because I keep myself hyper-aware of my surroundings. Generally, I camp at KOAs; they're clean, numerous and patrolled. Ideally, I'd prefer small Mom & Pop-owned campgrounds, but they can be hard to find, and even more difficult to as re making advanced reservation. I've had some great "wilderness" camping experiences, but I'll only do that with at least one other person. Momma didn't raise no fool.

Often the biggest nuisance-factor are other (non-riding) campers wanting to talk about how they really want to do what I do

...and to answer the unasked question; no, I don't carry a gun, but have been surprised about how many other motorcycle campers are armed.
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# Reg Kittrelle 2013-03-29 10:00
"...heating a meal?"
But of course, some of the best moments camping have been that first morning coffee and a filling evening meal. In the center of the third picture down you'll see a black canister. That is my "Jet Boil" stove, a marvel of cooking ingenuity.

Dried foods have made huge strides in taste and quality; some are actually very good. Context is everything with these foods. What is delicious by the campfire would be unacceptable at home.
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# Ron Hilliard 2013-03-29 11:34
I pretty much camp with the same philosophy except the bag and pad. Although, after looking at that cot.... I may have just been converted. I do love my down mummy for moto camping though. The advancement in dried camp foods has been amazing and has really helped me to enjoy camping much more.
Thanks for all the advise!
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# Reg Kittrelle 2013-03-29 12:19
I have a mummy bag, but only use it in conjunction with my square bag when it's very cold. The cot is great, but small. I'm barely 5'8" and it's just right. If you're too much taller than that, you might have a problem.
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# Ron Hilliard 2013-03-29 12:57
You and I pretty close to the same size then. Should work great. Another thing I forgot to mention is that I love my camp seat. http://www.rei.com/product/829239/rei-flex-lite-chair
Very comfy and packs up nice and small.
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# Reg Kittrelle 2013-03-29 13:56
That's something I've been debating buying. On one hand, the campsites have tables, but sometimes I want to be closer to the fire, out by a lake, etc.
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# Marc 2013-04-24 11:31
Reg,
Great talking to you last weekend at the Austin MotoGP. You've motivated me to try a little camping on my bike trips. Great articles.
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# Reg Kittrelle 2013-04-24 12:49
Great to hear that, Marc. Keep in mind that a great camping trip starts before you leave. Let me know if you'd like the benefit of my past mistakes.
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# Dave 2013-05-29 03:10
http://www.amazon.com/GCI-Outdoor-PICO-Chair-Midnight/dp/B000OT58C2

I use this chair and carry it on my bike is the size of a laptop really 9 lbs and so comfortable. Great around a fire too.
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