How to Pack for a Motorcycle Tour

How to Pack for a Motorcycle Tour

What to take and how to pack it will have been the source of personal consideration for the solo rider and possibly fractious discussion by a two up crew. So here are my considered thoughts after many years of solo and two up travelling in the UK and abroad including New Zealand, the USA five times, Canada and Alaska, Morocco, Thailand and most of Europe.

Key considerations are;

How long is the trip is going to be? The likely climate/weather conditions you may experience? Is it is camping, hotel or B&B/ Pension/Frendem zimmer based? It’s not a cruise so no need for a host of different outfits each day, cocktails and dinner. Comfortable, practical, easy to wash and quick to dry should be the bottom line. I’m ignoring the riding gear of course, but I prefer modern textile riding gear to leathers.

Any motorcycle has a published limit on its storage and max weight capacity which should never be ignored hence the solo rider can take more than a couple, however, does a solo actually need more, just because they can. Who is going to note someone being the best dressed on the campsite? So, where do you start? Well, irrespective of the number of days / weeks allotted for the trip the first important decision would be on whether it is to be camping or hard accommodation; hotel / B&B / Pension etc. Camping means a certain minimum amount of essential extra kit to be carried. The tent, sleeping bags, mats / lilos, cooking equipment and food will seriously impact the amount of clothes / luxury items to pack. I use compression sacks particularly for sleeping bags because once stuffed in a compression sack will reduce the sleeping bag volume by at least a further third. Even the latest tents and associated light weight equipment make a considerable package to accommodate on the chosen machine. I always pack the camping kit in waterproof roll bags to be strapped across the rear carrier frame leaving the panniers for personal clothing and washing kit. Of course, if you are travelling in Europe you will also need to take account of the need to carry a regulation First Aid kit, Hi-Viz waistcoat per person and a spare bulb kit.

Let’s get down to the packing. A good friend having given a talk on his travels was once asked what and how much clothing and equipment he took on his trips, to which he solemnly replied “if you’re going for three days, pack for three days, if you’re going for three weeks, pack for three days and if you’re going for three months, pack for three days!”. Whilst this may seem harsh and a bit of a joke it is certainly worth greater consideration. Ask yourself how many times in your travels you have returned home with items of clothing that were never actually worn? A decent Tank Bag is the best place for the First Aid kit, Hi-Viz waistcoat per person, spare bulb kit, vehicle and travel documentation, passports, money / credit cards for toll fees, sunglasses, spare gloves, sun cream and lip salve etc.

If its camping, then as I’ve said such equipment needs to be consolidated into waterproof roll bags and strapped across the rear carrier. If its hard accommodation, then the addition of a top box is where I would stow the lightweight waterproofs and any snacks or drinks for the journey for quick and easy access. The remaining space is your choice perhaps for the luxury items or the overnight essentials bag for the journey to your chosen destination. The panniers are where the majority of clothes, footwear end up and where the machine will dictate the bag size. Waterproof bags are always my choice because I’ve never had a pannier that didn’t leak at some point. Guess who gets the smaller one on a GS!?

Over the years I have refined and paired down my choices and to a degree successfully encouraged Mo to do the same (I’ll tell you how later). On an average holiday trip I always have a lightweight fleece, several modern synthetic material T shirts, a couple of casual shirts for evenings, three pairs of underpants and socks and two pairs of combination trousers that unzip to become shorts. Swimming costume and a travel towel included just in case when in hard accommodation. I choose the materials for ease of washing and drying. I prefer to roll my clothes and place them in different colour synthetic bags to layer them in the main bag then I can quickly identify the bag I need at any time and it’s easier to repack. However, M&S now sell re-usable veg bags and these are ideal to replace my coloured bags because you can see what’s in them.

My past in the military taught me to change when I needed to and repack ready to move at a moment’s notice. If it isn’t possible to wash the clothes travelled in on the day they go in a net laundry bag for the next available opportunity. This of course is dependent upon facilities at the scheduled itinerary. Once you have arrived at the overnight stop, booked in the accommodation or sorted out your tent etc., the next item is a shower and that is when I take the opportunity to wash the clothes of the day in the shower. Simple and easy to do which with luck will be dry in the morning ready to repack.

How did I influence Mo’s packing? Well, many years ago when our mortgage shot up as a result of the interest rate moving from 9% to 15.5%, a holiday was unaffordable for four of us, but I suggested we could just afford a walking, camping holiday. The Southwest Coastal path had just been fully completed and that was the objective, well, at least part of it was. We already had camping gear and we could travel down to Minehead by train at a reasonable cost. So the packing was a discussion to be had. The boys could each carry their own sleeping bags and Mo would carry her clothes sleeping bag, roll mat and the flysheet of the small tent plus a water bottle. With a larger Bergen I’d carry my own clothes, tent, poles, pegs, cooking equip, food, plates, cutlery, mugs each and water bottles and clothes for each lad. Once Mo had sorted what she wanted to take, I packed her smaller Bergen and got her to put it on to adjust the fitting. As she slowly sank to her knees I suggested that maybe she could do with a few less clothes to lighten the load. Message received and we did have a great holiday! Occasionally I need to remind her of that experience!

Ian Dobie


Author: drdrsteve