While much of the country has put their bikes away for storage during the winter season, there’s still a rugged subset of ADV riders who refuse to let the cold weather slow them down.
If that describes you, then we applaud your dedication to two wheels and the experiences adventure riding can provide.
If you’re willing to brave the elements, then cold weather moto camping has the potential to be one of the most fulfilling ways to see the country.
Odds are you’ll see the beauty of nature covered with snow, and best of all, you’ll hardly see another person to interrupt your experience.
However, we don’t need to tell you winter moto camping comes with its own set of challenges and risks.
Obviously, staying warm will be the name of the game. Here, we’ve put together five tips to help you stay comfortable during moto camping in cold weather.
We’ll assume your motorcycle is in good condition and is ready to handle the trip. For now, we’re going to focus on what happens after you stop for the day and how to enjoy a restful night.
Before we really get started, the overall theme here will sound familiar: preparation.
Being prepared ahead of time for the conditions ahead will help ensure you have a good experience. This is extra important on a motorcycle since you have very limited space.
Everything you bring has to be able to serve multiple purposes and stow away easily.
Got it? Good. Now, let’s begin.
1. Your Tent Is Everything
As your home away from home, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your tent. Make sure you pick one that’s suitable for the job.
Since you’re traveling via motorcycle and cargo space is tight, pick one that’s the smallest available that will still fit your needs. Fortunately, tents pack up rather small. So don’t stress on the size thing too much.
What’s more important is picking one that’s suitable for the conditions. There are a lot of tents available on the market.
You want one capable of handling winter weather – that means looking for labels stating it’s a 4-season tent.
You’ll find a lot of tents with 3-season labels on them. Unfortunately, the season it leaves out is – you guessed it – winter.
Four-season tents typically don’t have mesh windows (to keep out the cold) and are built with more durable materials (also to better keep out the cold).
Not sure where to look for a tent? You’re in luck; our MotoTent makes for a great 4-season tent.
2. Proper Tent Setup
A great tent isn’t being used to its full potential if the ground you’re sleeping on isn’t properly groomed for the task.
Since it’s cold where you are, we need to take a few more steps to ensure a good night’s rest. However, these steps are useful no matter what time of the year it is.
First up, choose a location that’s dry, flat, and preferably protected by the elements as much as possible. If you can find a location with tree growth to provide a natural roof of sorts, even better.
What you want is to put your tent down on flat dirt, so clear away any obstacles like leaves, rocks, and especially snow. Doing this will also prep the surface by making it flat.
3. Pack Smart – But Light
Since space is limited on a motorcycle, you need to pack smart. Once you’ve got your tent set up and prepared, the attention turns to what goes inside it.
One of the keys to staying comfortable overnight in cold weather is to have a good, cold-weather sleeping bag.
Sleeping bags have different temperature ratings, so go on the safe side and pick a bag that can safely keep you warm in conditions far below what you’ll be experiencing.
This will give you a nice buffer in case of the weather shifts unexpectedly.
The decision to choose down versus synthetic fibers is a controversial one. Down packs light and small, but becomes useless once it’s wet. Synthetic fibers handle the wet better, dry quicker, and can still keep you warm.
If you choose natural down, be sure to keep it in a protective bag where it can’t get wet during transport. Alternatively, you can also get a sleeping bag liner to add extra warmth. These pack light, but it’s also one more thing to keep track of while you’re traveling.
Some think with the right sleeping bag you can sleep in the nude. In reality, you need insulating layers in cold weather to stay warm while sleeping.
The good news is you’ve already brought some, in the form of the base layers you’ve been wearing under your riding gear all day (you ARE wearing base layers, right?).
Granted, you might want to pack separate base layers for sleeping as opposed to riding, but that’s up to you.
Next up is a sleeping pad. Even though you’ve prepped the area under your tent to be as flat as possible, there’s no getting around the fact you’re sleeping on dirt. A sleeping pad will keep you far more comfortable.
Plus, it will add an insulating barrier between you and the cold ground. Sleeping pads are rated with an R-value that determines what kind of weather it’s meant for.
The higher the number, the more it’s insulated. So choose wisely for the conditions. As a general rule for colder conditions, you want an R-value of at least 4.
Don’t forget to keep your riding gear inside the tent, too. You don’t want those things getting colder than necessary while you sleep. Lay them out along your floor space to help keep the cold air out for as long as possible.
And while we’re talking about gear, it’s a good idea to bring a camping stove with you, too. Besides being able to provide you with a hot meal, you can melt snow and/or boil it for drinking water.
You can also warm up some water to stick in a bottle and keep with you in your sleeping bag for a little extra warmth while you sleep.
4. Layer Up
It was mentioned briefly before, but wearing layers will help you immensely when it comes to staying warm and comfortable.
The good news is that you’re already wearing base layers since you’ve been riding in the cold weather. But there’s more to consider when it comes to layers. As the name implies, the base layer is the one closest to your skin.
It’ll help wick sweat away and keep a small layer of air between your skin. The middle layer is the one primarily responsible for keeping you warm and trapping warm air so it stays against your body.
The third layer, or the outer layer, keeps the elements out. Whether you’re camping, riding, or just generally spending any time in cold environments, this is useful information to know.
5. Don’t Forget The Small Stuff
By small stuff we mean the intangibles. Stay fed and hydrated. Ideally, you’d eat before bed so your body can start the warming process by burning off the calories you just ate. Despite the cold weather, staying hydrated is vital no matter the temperature.
Check – and re-check – the weather before you go. Make sure you’re as ready as possible for the conditions. Tell a friend or family member where you’re going and/or when you’ll be back. Having some sort of GPS tracker for emergencies is a good idea, too.
As you can probably tell, moto camping in cold weather is entirely doable and can even be a great time.
But like many things in life, success comes down to preparation. Make sure you’re ready to for the conditions. and also make sure your motorcycle is ready for the conditions, too.
Beyond that, pack as light as possible, be smart about your campsite and sleeping arrangements and learn to trust your gut. If a situation doesn’t seem right, then don’t do it.
With proper planning, creative packing skills, and a little bit of common sense, moto camping in cold weather has the potential to be an excellent experience on two wheels.