- March 28th, 2013
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.
Locked '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.
This was good for a 2-week trip. I'd eat breakfast and dinner in camp, then lunch on the road.
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.
Camping at a fancy KOA in Washington state.
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.
The 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.