Bill Johns' Excellent Motorcycle Camping Guide

Stolen from 
Written by  Bill Johns

This document was begun to prepare camping newbies for the first annual Greater Pacific Northwest Dryside Gather. I've been updating ever since. Many folks have offered valuable input, including, but not limited to JonM, !dk, Jeff Earls, Vic Swan, Guy Pace, Dave Svoboda. Possibly more, I've forgotten. 

Hey troops, we're putting on teacher's cap now and gonna chat about camping out. More than one person asked about various camping techniques. Invariably all these requests start off with "Help! I've never camped out and need some advice with......." We'll share some ideas with you, ideas that we've learned over years of hiking/backpacking/touring. This document is written in first person singular, yet a bunch of guys have had input. Ideas were individual ideas, and always writing _we_ got a bit clumsy. This is a group effort, all those contributing are acknowledged at the end. When you read that differences of opinion about anything start off with I, chalk it up to the vagaries of the English language. As my daughter would say, "Deal with it!"

This write-up is primarily aimed at folks who will be camping out while touring. If you're planning on just cruising motels, adjust accordingly.

If you want to learn about equipment and techniques, a good place to start is in books about back packing. Back packers are very careful about what they have to carry. Weight is all important and every item should have 2-3 uses to justify being carried on a trip. In bike packing, weight isn't all that important, but I find that bulk is. Small, tight luggage makes for pleasant riding, and better mileage.


Hard Bags or Soft Bags

Some folks like hard luggage, and other like soft. There is a case for both. Good, well-designed hard luggage, such as GIVIs for the BMWs, make excellent repositories for your gear. They keep your stuff dry and take more of a beating than soft luggage. However, the cost can be a major roadblock to some. Of course, the hard bag manufacturer has to have the right stuff for your particular bike--like frames and mounting gear. When you take the bags off the bike, though, you have a bike with mounting brackets sticking out all over the place. Hard bags can be painted to match your bike, if they aren't color-matched already. TEAL is always the color of preference.

Some folks like soft luggage. I'm one. I like the fact that when you take the gear off the bike, you have a bike ready for some unburdened, fun riding. No brackets sticking out to catch clothing or whatever. Soft bags are the color you get when you buy them. You can't change that.

Good soft bags keep your gear pretty dry. Sometimes things will get a little wet, but outside of a monsoon-like downpour they stay dry. Soft bags can be packed away into a small space (one of the bags, for instance) when not needed. Also, some sets come with a tank bag. Some people don't like tank bags, but they have their purpose. They can hold a dry map for ready reference in a top pocket, coins for the toll booth in a side pocket, extra batteries for he fuzz buster in another side pocket, first aid kit, rain gear, extra gloves, tools and other handy items.

Other Luggage

Also really handy are a good tail pack (not much harder to make than a stuff sack, just use heavier material) and a tank bag.


Tents or Other Shelter

When people think of camping, the first thing they think of is a tent. Actually, a tent is probably one of the least important items. A tent offers two things well; privacy and bug protection. Privacy is not that big a deal in that you can always change clothes inside of a good sleeping bag or the local toilet if need be. Judicious selection of a sleeping spot _is_ important. For rain protection, a large plastic sheet is far handier than a tent and more enjoyable when you are stuck in an all-day drizzle.

Yes, I use a tent. What can I say, I'm getting soft in my old age. I also go to commercial camp-sites a bunch while on the road and the privacy issue does become important. When using a tent, make sure that you have enough room so that you do not touch the inside of the tent while in your bag, even with a lot of enthusiastic thrashing about. Good tents invariably have a breathable inner shell and a rain fly (DON'T BUY A WATERPROOF TENT). Even so, natural condensation on the inside of the tent will cause it to become very damp. Leaning on this with your sleeping bag will cause wicking and your bag will get wet. That makes for uncomfortable sleeping. Not fun.

Get a _big_ tent, as big as you can afford. Avoid tents with fiberglass poles. They break with alarming regularity. If you do, make sure that replacement poles are available at nominal cost. Aluminum poles cost a bit more, but are worth it.

Good tents invariably have screened windows/doors for cross- ventilation and a few hanging pockets for glasses and watches. Avoid tents with interior poles. Tents which hang from some sort of external framework are nice. Dome tents are nice in this respect and there are a bunch of them on the market.

Always use a good ground "cloth" or ground sheet with a tent. This is nothing more than a heavy duty piece of plastic, but it will dramatically increase the life of the tent. It'll also make the inside of the tent a bit drier.

Sleeping Bags

Now here is an important item. Go by the philosophy that if you can get a good night's sleep, you can put up with a world of grief during the day. A good sleeping bag and sleeping pad or mattress are vital.

There are lots of good bags on the market at reasonable prices. Goose down use to be the only way to go. I've got one I never use. If it gets damp, you're gonna be uncomfortable. Go with one of the new fibers, I use Holo-Fil II. I have two bags. When space is not an issue and I am not worried about bulk I use the biggest I could find, a rectangular model that can open into a comforter for a king size bed. For trips where bulk is an issue or I want to easily get the bag inside of a smallish stuff sack inside my luggage, I got a high quality REI bag. Sale price was about $75.

A bag with nylon inside and out is easier to maintain. A damp rag will wipe down the inside of the bag and 15 minutes in strong sunlight will do wonders to freshen the bag up. Plus, it makes washing and drying back home easier.

Mattresses or Pads

This is also vital stuff as far as my tired old bones are concerned. You tough, young kids can sleep on the ground, but I want _comfort_. If it is warm, a standard air mattress will be just fine. In cold weather they act like a heat pump, circulating warm air into ground contact and make for a cold bag. I now use a self-inflating, insulating air mattress and love it. These are not cheap, mine cost something on the order of $50, but did come with a 3-year warranty. Lots of them are available for far less. Newer options for the self- inflating air mattresses are a range of thicknesses. For bike touring, get the thickest you can afford. Also a good option, but far bulkier are the foam rubber pads. I understand that they can be even more comfortable, and warmer, and are less expensive. They don't pack down as well. Take your pick.

Hint on using any self-inflating air mattress. Store it open. When you use it, unwrap it and give it a chance to inflate by itself. Sometimes it will take 20 minutes or so. When setting up camp, I will set up the tent, and then unroll and start the air mattress inflating. Blowing into the air mattress to inflate it will introduce moisture into the air mattress which can lead to cold sleeping if enough gets inside.

Stuff Sacks

Handy as anything you can take. Make them, don't buy them. Purchased they cost about $5 to $8 or more. With material, on almost any sewing machine, I can make one in about 2 minutes or less. Nylon is nice, but old denim (I use the legs from my cut-off's jeans) also works well...and looks mellow. What! You don't know how to use a sewing machine! Shame.


Stoves are handy. Don't plan on cooking over an open fire. It might be raining, it is slow and fire restrictions may forbid it, it leaves unsightly scars on the ground and it attracts lions and tigers and bears (Oh My!).

There are bunches and bunches available. I use a Coleman model that burns unleaded regular. It is easy to fill at gas stops and has saved Vic's butt once. A good stove can boil water faster than you can use it and is handy as all get-out. Makes morning coffee a meaningful experience. I even got an espresso maker that works over a small camp stove. Right up there with pneumatic tires, I tell you!

Other types of stoves are available. Using unleaded gas can be tricky, if you aren't used to it. I prefer to use stoves that burn butane or propane. I have a butane stove that folds into a pouch no larger than a cigarette box. The butane cans are about the size of a coke can. The butane can be had for about $3.00 per can. You can get these stoves from outdoor outfitters for about $15 to $20.

Propane stoves (Coleman makes a nice single-burner for about $15.) are another alternative. Propane cans are larger, and disposable, and cost about $4 to $5--depending on source. These stoves are nice for a hot fire and even, reliable cooking. The propane stove and fuel can are no larger than a 32-ounce drink from Taco Time.

What I like about butane and propane stoves is that a can of fuel lasts a long time. I've cooked over one can of butane--meals for two--for three days, and still had fuel.

When packing a gas-fueled stove for travel, depressurize the fuel. Also make sure that it's never more than about 3/4 full. The heat of the day and altitude changes might otherwise make for a nasty surprise.

Unless you're riding a bike with easy access to the petcock hose, carry spare fuel. Get a good backpacking gas container. Do not skimp here. You can get a good one, anodized red, from REI for about $10. Make sure you mark it's contents with a big black indelible marker. It's also much handier to fill a bottle at a pump than it is to try to fill the stove from the pump nozzle.

What? You were thinking about a camp stove that only burns white gas or butane? Shame.

(ed. comments. See, I told you this would happen.)


Here is where a lot of folks go way overboard. You need surprisingly little. I have a very elaborate kit consisting of 2 nesting pots (stainless steel- a SIG Tourister model), one cup (plastic insulated) and a spoon. Yes, I always carry a knife, but rarely use one for cooking.

A scrub pad, a small bottle of dish soap, and a small device to lift hot metal pots (came with the cook kit) rounds out this part.


I am having a hard time shaking off my old back-packing habits here. When back packing you have to learn to carry everything, not so bike camping. When I started moto-touring, I packed as though back-packing. I quickly learned that is dumb. It is no big deal to carry little if any food. Buy what you need as you go. There are any number of great, one pot meals that can be had in modern markets. If you need meat, there are lots of small tins of various types available, otherwise boxes of one pot casseroles, cheese and noodle mixes, etc. are always handy. I found that Top Raman or other dehydrated soup, in mixture with instant lentils or beans or some such dish is filling, easy to cook and tastes pretty good. Explore any good supermarket for ideas, remembering to keep it simple.

I must fully admit the more bike touring I do, the less cooking I do. Lately I've taken to getting up early, and after perhaps a cup of coffee I break camp and try to get on the road by 6:45-7. I ride until 10:30 or so and find a smallish town with a little cafe that normally serves the local farmers. I've had great meals well prepared and relatively low prices. Hitting places like that at odd hours puts you there between local peaks and assures (usually) good service. I will then ride until maybe 4-5 and hit someplace with a salad bar. A bowl of soup/can of ravioli or some other such one-pot meal in the evening ends the day.

Don't forget a Bic lighter or equivalent for lighting your stove. I gave up on matches a long time ago.


Always an exciting topic. After a day on the roads with temps in the 90's in the shade and no shade, a shower or bath is essential. In many campsite these days showers are available. Not in others. We do _not_ have one at most GPNDGs. When out camping I will invariably change into my cut-off's, or swim suit, get my largest pot and grab some soap and towel and head out for the nearest pump. Knowing that the water coming out of the ground is usually about 32.0001 F, I simply screw up the courage, pump out a pot full of water and pour it over my head. I keep doing that until I stop screaming. Then you soap up and do it again until you are rinsed off. The bright blue color tends to frighten off the mosquitoes. We have also gone swimming in local lakes or streams.
Another consideration: When you use soap, you're generating wastewater, and most water sources at campsites are NOT set up to handle the wastewater generated by lots of campers. The basic rule is to dump wastewater (generated by cleaning your body, washing your dishes, etc) at least 100 feet from a water source. That includes the stream that Bill likes to camp nearby, and that includes the common-use water pump in the campsite.

This makes a certain amount of sense. The dump-a-bucket-on-your-head strategy is perhaps appropriate when using those regular faucet-type water sources you find on concrete aprons at most camp grounds these days.

You could also think about using an environmentally friendly soap. It's hard to believe that anyone will actually walk 100 feet for every bucket of water they will need to wash. Also in some popular campgrounds 100 feet from one water source puts you within 100 feet of another. Since many of them are simply underground pipes coming from a pump house someplace, I'm not convinced this is always or absolutely needed. Use good judgement and remember to pay attention to the environmental concerns.

If you accept the simple fact that you might not have the same opportunity for cleanliness that you have at home, you can stay quite comfortable on a camping trip. I don't think I have ever had to walk more than 100 yds for water. I carry several water bottles with me on each ride (several are easier to pack and if one leaks, you can chuck it and still have water.) I found a plastic coated folding bucket is handy for washing people, bikes, clothes. Avoid the canvas models as they can take awhile to dry.

I also have been carrying a product called Baby Wipes with me. These come in a rectangular plastic box available in every super market I've been in, near other baby and child care products. These are damp paper towelettes, moistened with water and other soft things. They are great for a last wipe-down of arm pits and other vitals before crawling into a sleeping bag. Your sleeping bag will love you if you do. They are also hand when using outdoor toilets. Invariably these outdoor potties have something akin to wax paper for TP. Using Baby Wipes makes life mellower. The moisturizers/lubricants also makes sitting on a bike for miles a bit easier to take.

Of course you should also take a towel with you in any case. It is the single most important piece of traveling gear you can name. :-) HINT: When using an outdoor toilet, always tap on the seat before you sit down. On one occasion I did this and a _large_ juicy spider came running up to the seat rim expecting its next dinner. Gave me a moment's pause.


I try to have everything in a bag of some sort. Strapping a sleeping bag or pad open to the wind and rain is _asking_ for trouble. Waterproof/coated nylon is cheap. Custom made stuff sacks are easily made. In a pinch, heavy duty plastic garbage bags will protect gear, but will shred with time at speed. Go to someplace like Costco and buy their box of 24 bungee cords for $8. Use lots of bungee cords and strap everything _to the bike_. Do NOT bungee one bundle to another bundle. Make sure everything is super solid. It won't matter most of the time, but that one time when you gotta do a hard swerve to avoid a chunk of debris, or stupid cager, or hit a rock or some gravel or sand, it will. If you make a hard move with a loosely bound load, it shifts and you go down. Not fun.

Make sure that your seams are not pointing into the rain and that your rain suit and camera is somewhere near the top of something.

Put anything that will be ruined by water into baggies of some sort. The style designed for freezer storage are made out of a heavier, more durable polyethylene.

Finally, you might want to pack all your bags about 3/4th or 4/5th full (you were planning on taking too much stuff anyway). Then, when out in the field you can repack easily. You can never repack as carefully out in the field as you can in your living room. I like the _Toss and Stir_ method of filling bags.


Camping is where you find it. National Parks are beautiful to ride through, but a zoo. It was only a miracle that in 1993 after the Joust, Blaine, Vic and I found a spot a short walk away from a magnificent stream in the bottom of Zion NP. Usually, reservations are necessary well in advance. Forest Service campsites may charge, and then again they may not. Charges are typically $5-$8 per site. In some locations they limit the number of vehicles per site. Usually 2-4. It is nice to pick a campsite that is off the beaten path to anywhere. You do not want to be between a bus full of kids and the only toilet or water pump in the camp grounds. I like campsites next to a stream. The sound will muffle other noises of the campsite and aid in a good night's sleep. State and county parks are a gamble. Sometimes they're great, and sometimes they're a dive.

I generally plan on spending 2-3 nights in forest service camp grounds and then hit a KOA or similar commercial spot. They have laundry, showers, swimming pools, pool tables, beer, and other things that are real nice to visit/use while on the road. Often KOA's are a couple of bucks more expensive, but with the discount card you can get via AMA (cost $3 and provides a 10% discount) plus their usually higher standards of cleanliness and maintenance and the _unlimited_ hot shower time, they are worth it. Typical KOA charges are $14-$18 before discount.

Maybe once every 7-10 days or so, crashing in a motel, sleeping in a real bed is a nice reality check. Hard rain and cold weather will drive me into a motel so fast it ain't funny.


You gotta have'em. I finally found a good source of cheap maps. Many of the discount stores like COSTCO will sell you the latest US Road Atlas by AAA or Rand McNally for about $6. Buy two. Use one by the home toilet for dreaming. From the other cut the maps you need for any particular trip. On the road maps will cost you $2 each. The Road Atlas will also list all the toll free phone numbers for the tourist bureaus for each state. Call for the tourist package which most always includes the official state map. Some state maps are great, Utah's is in a class by itself. Some are useless.


A really handy option for folks who are doing any sort of touring is MTS--Motorcycle Touring Service. This is a road-side emergency service designed for and run by riders. They guarantee help anywhere in the US with any sort of mechanical problem. I've had to deal with them on the road. They are good.

MTS breakdown insurance: $49/year 1-800-999-7064


May 26, 1992 I was motoring along at about 5500 feet elevation in Utah. I came to one of those marvelous "scenic byways" that fill that state. I started up over a local mountain range. I left early summer and immediately hit late spring, then mid spring then early spring. Soon I was at the very first days of spring. The aspen were giving forth the leaves, that with the light from a setting sun glowing through them looks like they were all a fluorescent yellow-green. They were all waving in the gentle breeze as I headed up into winter. It was cold at 10,000+ feet. The road was lined with snow and I had everything I brought with me on and the heated grips on high and still felt the bite of the wind. After about 10 miles across the top, I started down the other side, once again greeting a new spring day, then mid spring. I camped in late spring next to a small stream and slept well.

I've seen the sun set from 9,600 feet in the Sierra Nevada's and watched the alpenglow in the Bitterroots.

If you gotta ask more, I'm not sure I can explain.

Ride Free,

The fine Folks of WetLeather & GPNDG!

Bill Johns (> Fri, 06 Jan 95 10:13:07 PST

This list was compiled by Vic Swan with input from  It is
as big a is as I've seen, yet I doubt that it is necessarily
complete for _you_.  There is no suggestion that each person take
everything on this list for each trip.  This is a list of all the possible
things you may be interested in taking.  It is formatted so that you
can print it off and use it as a check-list.  I invariably will print off
the list and, working with the whole list, decide what I want to take.
Next I will prepare a smaller list and work with that as I pack.


The Categories of Items



___ air mattress
___ bivouac bag/sack
___ candle lantern
___ candle lantern candles (spares)
___ compass
___ ear plugs
___ feces shovel
___ flashlight
___ flashlights (magnilites (2))
___ flashlight batteries (spares)
___ ground tarps (1 per 2 days - split and trash 1/2 each day)
___ knife (Buck)
___ knife sharpener
___ nylon cord
___ pillow (travel)
___ poncho liner & stuff sack
___ sleeping bag
___ sleeping bag waterproof-bag
___ sleeping hood (hat)
___ sleeping pad (insulated)
___ sleeping pad chair/sling
___ sven saw
___ tent
___ tent rain fly
___ tent waterproof-bag
___ waterproofing spray and seamlock


___ bags (plastic large garbage)
___ bags (plastic small trash, 1 for every 4-5 days)
___ can opener
___ cup & spoon
___ cup/beer stein
___ dish towel
___ food
        ___ coffee bags
        ___ coffee creamer
        ___ coffee mug (insulated)
        ___ coffee sugar
        ___ energy bars/raisins
        ___ soy (2-3 small boxes)
___ fork
___ jack knife
___ knife
___ match case
___ matches (farmers)
___ matches (in sealed plastic bag/bottle)
___ matches (waterproof)
___ napkins
___ paper towels
___ pepper
___ plate
___ pot gripper
___ pots
___ salt
___ soap/scrubber pads
___ spoon(s)
___ stove
___ stove gas (white gas)
___ stove wind screen
___ water bottle(s) (2)
___ water carrier (1 gallon)


___ Riding Gear

        ___ boot sock liners
        ___ boots (canvas mukluks or rubber type)
        ___ chaps
        ___ gators
        ___ gauntlets
        ___ gloves (cold weather)
        ___ gloves (electric & wire harness)
        ___ gloves (hot weather)
        ___ gloves (rubber)
        ___ gloves (wool liners and dish washing rain gloves)
        ___ hat (wool)
        ___ helmet
        ___ jacket
        ___ jacket (polypro ski)
        ___ jacket (wind breaker)
        ___ jacket liner & stuff sack
        ___ neck warmer/long scarf
        ___ pants (leather)
        ___ pants for riding (Levis)
        ___ rain gear (boots, vest, etc.)
        ___ rain totes & stuff sack
        ___ rain suit
        ___ sailor hat for riding without a helmet on hot days
        ___ shirts (long-sleeve, turtle-neck T-shirts)
        ___ ski goggles for riding without a helmet
        ___ ski warm-ups
        ___ socks (cotton)
        ___ socks (neoprene)
        ___ socks (wool)
        ___ spandex shorts
        ___ sunglasses
        ___ sunglasses (spare)
        ___ underwear (insulated, long johns)

___ Camp Clothes

        ___ camp shoes/slippers
        ___ changes of clothes (3-5, rolled up)
        ___ down vest
        ___ jeans
        ___ jeans jacket
        ___ laundry soap
        ___ layers of clothing (like cross country skiing)
        ___ moosehead hat
        ___ pants
        ___ shorts
        ___ socks
        ___ sweat shirt
        ___ sweater
        ___ swimming suit
        ___ T-shirts
        ___ underwear
        ___ warm clothes for evenings/nights
        ___ washing shorts
        ___ wind breaker


___ backpack (small)
___ book (paperback)
___ camera & film
___ campground guides
___ chapstick
___ cigarettes
___ contact lens stuff
___ DoD lighter & fluid
___ ear plugs
___ electric razor
___ fanny pack
___ first aid kit
___ fishing gear
___ grease pencil
___ hand cream
___ hand soap
___ hand/nail brush
___ hi-liter
___ insect repellent/bug spray
___ knife
___ maps & magnifier
___ prescription medicines
___ membership cards (AMA, VRC, RPAA, Parks, campgrounds, etc.)
___ negotiables
        ___ cash ($25-$30/day/person)
        ___ checkbook
        ___ credit cards (gas)
        ___ credit cards (MC/Visa/AmEx/Discover/etc.)
        ___ travellers checks
___ pen
___ pencil
___ post-it's
___ radios/tape players with mini speakers
___ radios/tape players batteries (extras)
___ reading glasses (if you are over 40)
___ sewing kit
___ shampoo
___ skin moisturizers
___ sun glasses
___ sun screen/block/lotion
___ tapes
___ toilet kit
___ toilet paper in sealed plastic bag
___ toiletries
___ tooth brush & paste
___ toothbrush
___ towel
___ visine
___ wash cloth
___ watch
___ weapon (optional)
___ weather radio


___ anti-fogger (detergent)
___ bags (large ziplock garbage)
___ bike rain cover
___ bug rag
___ bungee cargo net
___ bungee cords
___ chain lock
___ chain lock key (extra)
___ chain lub
___ chain masterlink
___ chamois (to clean windshield)
___ cloth rags
___ communicators (bike-to-bike radios)
___ duct tape
___ emergency equipment
___ fork protectors
___ fuel bottle (backpacking type, 2-quart filled with extra gasoline)
___ glue (gorilla snot)
___ glue (super)
___ helmet face shield/visors (clear, tinted, & extras)
___ ignition key (extra)
___ insurance certificate (for Canadian travel)
___ insurance papers & info
___ lamp, headlight (spare No. ______)
___ lamp, instrument panel (spare No. ______)
___ lamp, taillight (spare No. ______)
___ lamp, turn signals (spare No. ______)
___ maps
___ padlocks & cables
___ radar detector & extra batteries
___ rain-x
___ saddlebag key (extra)
___ seatcover (sheep skin)
___ seat rain cover
___ shoe laces (leather -- loop at one end for strapping)
___ sidestand plates
___ stuff sacks (weather-proof)
___ tank bag
___ tarp (small reinforced or rain parka) (for gear during storms)
___ vehicle registration
___ windshield polish


___ duct tape (flatten the spool)
___ electrical system schematic
___ electrical tape
___ emergency blanket (Space Blanket)
___ emergency warning light (trouble light)
___ fuses (extra)
___ Leatherman Tool
___ multimeter
___ pliers (channel locks, aka water-pump pliers)
___ pliers (needle nose)
___ pliers (standard)
___ screwdrivers (assorted or set)
___ socket set
___ suspension adjustment tool
___ tire inflator
___ tire patch/plug kit
___ tire pressure gauge
___ tire pump (small hand/foot)
___ vise grips
___ wire & alligator clip
___ wrenches (combination)
___ wrenches (crescent 4" and 10"; good ones)
___ wrenches (metric Allen)
___ wrench (spark plug)
___ gas-fired soldering iron
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