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Packing For Weekend Adventure: What’s In My Panniers?

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For those new to adventure motorcycling and particularly moto-camping, one of the first questions they inevitably ask is, “what do I pack?”. While some of us may pack light, and others pack everything under their roof, the challenge is to find just the right balance. Do you really need that 750ml bottle of whiskey? No. Do you really want it, though? Rhetorical question. In a much more utilitarian sense, one might ask if they really need to bring, perhaps, an axe if they don’t anticipate processing dead wood found around the campsite. With most campgrounds offering bundles of firewood between $5 to $6, it saves you the time and the energy, especially if you’re within an hour or two of the sun setting. Or perhaps you’re like me, and don’t mind putting in the labor and the sweat to save yourself $10 – $20. Afterall, the whiskey certainly tastes better after all that work. Before going into what’s in my kit and why it works for me, it’s best to take a simpler look at what should be considered essential to a moto-camping pack out.

We’ll take a look at five essential items to motocamping:


Unless you want to go full Survivorman and construct your shelter with the detritus and woods around you (don’t worry, I won’t judge you. I might be impressed), what you’re going to sleep and stay dry in is definitely number one. Most adventure riders pack at least a two-person tent. The two-person tent will give you some wiggle room, and space to unload your panniers. Consider the two-person tent realistically as a one-person tent with comfort. For riders who either intend to pack light, or perhaps do a lot of hiking, a one-person tent or bivy may suffice, or even a tarp setup. Considering there are dozens of ways to setup and fold a tarp, it is generally one of the most affordable and most versatile shelter systems available. Still, I prefer to have an entirely enclosed shelter with a floor, venting, and a ground sheet as an extra barrier against the wet, and less openings for noctural critters to curiously sniff around.

River Country Products Trekker 2.2 Tent
Trekker 2.2 tent

Depending on your budget, a two-person tent can pack fairly small (perhaps 10″ x 10″ x10″, give or take), and easily be under 4 lbs. If lightweight and small packing is what you’re after, I would suggest the River Country Products Trekker Tent 2.2. This tent is priced under $60, is simple to setup, and weighs 3lbs and 5oz, with floorspace of 7′ by 5′, and a height of 42″. Important to note: this tent does not come with poles, as it is intended to be propped up with trekking poles.

However, when I want to pack light, I use this tent and then simply cut some straight branches to about 42″ in length and at least an inch and a half thick. I then sharpen the top of the two branches to a point, which goes through the tents metal eyelet. Or, you can simply purchase a set of tent poles, connect them to their total length, and cut each to size (42″ to 43″). This tent would be recommended for temperatures above 40F, as it is well ventilated on both sides. While it does not include a ground sheet, I have not had any rain ingress with this tent. The included aluminum stakes are not your basic, steel or aluminum rod type. They are cross-sectional, and quite rigid, so they are not easy to bend when staking the tent.

Sleep System

Putting together an effective sleep system will likely be a bit of trial-and-error and a bit of an expense, but the benefit of having a couple different setups will become apparent when the weather changes. Pay close attention to the warmth rating of your sleeping bag, since they are typically criminally under-rated. A sleeping bag rated for 30F may be survivable, but the general rule of thumb for comfort, is to add 15 to 20 degrees extra to the rating. In this scenario, that 30F bag is better suited for 45F to 50F. If you make a mistake and purchase a sleeping bag that just didn’t keep you warm enough in the Fall, keep it for late Spring or Summer. There’s no true four-season sleeping bag out there, so rotating through at least two different ratings will ensure your comfort through at least two to three seasons. For colder months, I chose the Big Agnes Lost Dog 15, a bag which is suitable for three seasons, and rated for 15F. Realistically, I have comfortably used this bag in 30F to 40F. Weight just over 3lbs, it also features a secure sleeve to slide your inflatable mattress into, ensuring you don’t roll off it in the middle of the night. This one feature is a big reason I made the purchase, in addition to the more open foot box, and “pillow barn” pouch.

Between a foldable cot, an accordion-style folding insulated pad, or an inflatable mattress, you have a few choices for the kind of sleep comfort and weight you’re after.

Redcell Closed Cell Foam Pad

While some foldable cots are made smaller and more portable, they don’t necessarily lend themselves well to motorcycle travel (unless, perhaps, you’re pulling a trailer). An ultralight and effortless option would be the accordion-style thermal pad, like Thermarest makes. While very light, they do take up more space than an inflatable mattress pad. I really only use the budget option Redcamp Closed Cell Foam Pad as an extra barrier between the ground and the air-filled mattress in much colder seasons (30F – 35F).

Trekology UL80 Mattress

On top of the closed cell foam pad, I currently use a Trekology UL80 ultralight inflatable mattress. Since I’ve purchased it, they seem to have replaced it with another model. You can inflate the mattress by breath, or with an included pump bag which you manually capture air in by hand. Then, you squeeze the air from the pump bag into the mattress, saving your breath.

Another item to consider is a sleeping bag liner. This will prevent you from sweating up the inside of your sleeping bag, and add another layer of insulation in colder months, or as a very light cover in warmer temperatures. By doing this, you really only should need to wash the liner and not the sleeping bag nearly as often. I have the VeMee sleeping bag liner, which measures 83″ x 45″.

Trekology Ultralight Pillow

Lastly, unless you’re going to keep your clothing bunched in a bag, you won’t want to forget a pillow. Considering the pillow is one of the biggest factors in sleep comfort, you may even opt to just bring a standard bed pillow. But, if space and weight is of concern, an inflatable pillow will definitely suffice. While they do come in different shapes and sizes, one of the most common is a bean-shaped inflatable pillow. These typically pack down to less than the size of a 12oz soda can. I use another Trekology product, their Ultralight Inflatable Camping Pillow, weighing in just under 4oz.


Mountain House
Mountain House (source: Mountain House)

Unless you’re fine subsisting off days-old McDonald’s hamburgers and chicken nuggets, you’ve probably got a pinch of good taste and like to prepare your own meals. At the very least, if you want minimal preparation but a decent meal, you can consider freeze-dried packs such as Mountain House. With nearly 40 entrees alone (not including breakfast), Mountain House is a very popular brand you should be able to find at your local sporting goods or Wal-Mart. While they tend to be a little pricey, consider the amount of prep work that’s been done for you. Simply add hot water, seal and shake the bag around, and wait. They may not be gourmet flavor, but they’re not exactly dog food, either. Other popular brands include Backpacker’s Pantry, Readywise, and Peak Refuel.

Since I prefer to cook most of my food, I keep it simple. Generally I’ll buy 3 to 4 bags of instant rice or ready pasta in a variety of flavors, which also goes well with chunky soups. You can cut down on the bulk of soup cans by pouring it into a double Ziploc bag, and then bagging that inside another. This way the food can be compressed flat and packed in layers, and easily labeled. On occasion, I may bring eggs and bacon if I know I’m going to eat them once I arrive to my first camp spot. Breakfast has also consisted of instant oatmeal or Clif bars.

Absolutely do not forget to bring water! Whether you use a hydration bladder backpack (or a bladder compatible riding jacket), or store larger capacity water bottles, you will eventually wear yourself out with camp chores. The first thing you’ll be reaching for is a drink, so make room for one of life’s necessities.


No camper would be complete without a cook kit, and there is an abundance of options between portable backpacking stoves, propane ranges, and gas-canister powered portable induction stovetops. For motorcycle camping, the lightest and smallest packing option is a white gas stove. These use readily-available white gas canisters (typically iso-butane) which are lightweight and not too big, and cost about $5 to $12. While I typically have used the medium sized canisters (about 230 grams), I have found they last me several camping trips if not a dozen. So to further save space for a weekend camp, you could opt for the smaller 100 gram canisters.

White gas powered stove

If you’re looking for a well known, quality brand of stoves and canisters, Jetboil is one of the most popular, offering button-ignite stoves with canisters. MSR is another popular brand. Generally, these screw-on jet stoves are all compatible with any brand of white gas canisters that have pressurized threading at the top. I currently use a cheap $20 stove and canister set from a local sporting goods store, and while I have to use a lighter to get the flame lit, it has worked just fine for me. Options like the Jetboil Fastboil, however, are more finely tuned to heat and cook faster, be more resilient to wind, and pack neatly and compactly as an all-in-one unit.

Don’t forget what you’re actually deciding to cook your food in. Consider the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set, which features a 20oz pot, including two nesting cups. I’ve been very happy with Stanley products, I’ve even added in their Stanley Adventure Stainless Steel 9-piece Pan Set.

Lastly, you can’t forget utensils and compact dishes. Sea to Summit offer not only camping gear such as stuff sacks and pillows, but a variety of cookware and collapsible dishware such as bowls and even pots. Make sure to add in some form of eating utensil, such as this Hikenture folding set that comes with a spoon, a fork, and a knife with a built in bottle opener.


If you’re a motorcylist, you probably don’t mind getting your hands dirty. We like to work with our hands and use tools, accomplishing tasks little and big. The campsite always has enough work to do, at least in the preparation, such as processing firewood and starting the fire. While there are many resources for bushcraft and fire building and starting available on Youtube, I’m just going to cover some of the tools I use, and suggestions I have.

Fiskars axe and saw

Most obvious of all tools would be an axe, or at the very least a hatchet. While I have used an excellent Husqvarna 20″ wooden handle axe, I decided to switch to something smaller and lighter with the Fiskars 17″ axe with FiberComp composite handle. I also use the Fiskars 7″ folding saw for sawing most branches and logs under 6″ in diameter. Both of these are remarkably packable, enough that I took them through a five mile hike attached to my backpack. If you anticipate sawing a lot more wood, and bigger diameters, consider the ultra compact, light weight, Sven folding saw.

The camp knife is one of the most versatile and important tools to have at your side. A good knife will become a companion (cue Tom Hanks yelling “WILSOOOON!”), and not only will prepare your food, cut paracord, and whittle wood, but can actually help process firewood. In the absence of an axe, you can split some smaller diameters logs and branches by whacking the knife into the top of the branch or log. This method is known as batoning [Youtube link], and as long as your knife has a good bevel (like a Scandinavian grind), it will split much like an axe, just with more effort required. I’ve used and recommended the Gerber Strongarm, a dependable, grippable and stout knife with 4.8″ blade. When I want to go for a lighter and slightly smaller knife, the Morakniv Kansbol has been excellent as well.

Of important note, without question, add in a first-aid kit, just in case you accidentally swing the axe and knick your leg, or cut yourself with the knife. Consider going for a more robust first-aid kit that includes a tourniquet and blood clotting items. Chances are you won’t be within miles of emergency services, so go in prepared and leave camp as calmly as possible if need be.

If ticks are a concern in the wooded areas of your location, add in a set of tick twisters. I also absolutely recommend a bottle of permetherin, which is an insect repellent that is only meant to be applied to clothing or outside surfaces, such as sleeping bags and backpacks. Once a tick makes contact with permetherin, it usually dies on contact. I have consistently used permetherin in all of my camp trips, and after double checking, have never brought a tick home with me. The spray application will last several wash cycles on your clothes, and is marked as generally safe for dogs. For more information on permetherin, visit Sawyer’s website.

Consider what you will use for lighting. Don’t depend on just the campfire, or your bikes headlight for the occasional light! Grab a light, compact LED lantern, but absolutely buy a quality brand headlamp with the capability to be recharged from an external USB power bank, or bring extra batteries. A good headlamp such as the Petzl Tactikka has kept me on paths at night, and allowed me to work with the axe or knife in dark hours when needed.

Lastly, what good is a campfire you’ve just spent the last hour preparing if you can’t light it? Consider what ignition sources you want to use. Some people like the convenience and expediency of firestarters and a lighter. Others such as myself, for whatever reason like a little more traditional method with a ferro rod and striker (or the spine of my knife). I suppose there’s much more satisfaction when I can strike a spark into a pile of tinder I created, watching the flame consume it all up to the kindling, that I just can’t get from a lighter and some newspaper.

What’s In My Panniers?

If you’ve read this far, I hope you got some insight and considered my product suggestions. Regardless of whether you choose to purchase them, I hope you at least came away with more ideas to explore. Below is a photo of a camp packout from last year. Some of these items are not current at the time of this writing (notably the black REI backpack, which I returned because of incompatible fitment). Just as well, not all of these items are packed all of the time, and some may go in and out of rotation as I eventually look to lighten my load. Everything you see below, can be tossed into my Givi Dolomiti aluminum top and side cases.

From left-to-right, top-to-bottom:

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