It’s that time of year again when the daylight gets shorter, and the temperatures start descending.
For many, this is the time of year when those precious motorcycles get drained of their fluids, batteries get connected to chargers, and hibernation (and possibly a laundry list of upgrades) begins.
Contrary to popular belief, winter doesn’t mean riding has to end—you just have to do it differently. You need to account for the cold weather and embrace it. If you do, you might find the experience to be just as enjoyable as moto camping at any other time of the year.
But the experience does require a certain amount of preparation. Specifically, things to take with you to make winter camping possible (and even enjoyable).
This will be our focus for this blog—the top seven items to add to your winter motorcycle camping trip. There are many other topics to discuss when it comes to moto camping in cold weather, and we’ve covered those topics in previous posts.
This one’s all about the stuff to bring. Some of these items may not pertain to you and/or where you’re going, so use your best judgment in those situations.
It all starts with your tent. 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.
The important thing is picking one that’s suitable for the conditions. Since it’s going to be cold, 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. Sleeping pad
A sleeping pad might be optional when the weather is better (although we’d still prefer to have it), but in the winter, having a barrier between you and the ground while you’re sleeping is mandatory.
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.
3. Sleeping bag
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 the weather shifts unexpectedly.
The decision to choose down versus synthetic fibers is a controversial one. Down packs light and small but become useless once it’s wet. Synthetic fibers handle the wet better, dry quicker, and can still keep you warm.
If you choose natural down, keep it in a protective bag where it can’t get wet during transport. Alternatively, you can get a sleeping bag liner to add warmth. These pack light, but it’s also one more thing to keep track of while you’re traveling.
With the right sleeping bag, you can sleep in the nude. 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?)
As a side note, now is a good time to talk about keeping warm. Not just for you, but for inanimate objects, too. Specifically, water and batteries. This is often overlooked, but sometimes you spend so much time focusing on keeping yourself warm that your drinks and devices get neglected.
As far as the devices go, if you can take the batteries out of them, then do so. The device itself usually is capable of handling whatever conditions you’re subjecting yourself to (there are more specific tasks to consider with your electronic equipment, but we won’t get into those here).
Place the batteries inside a sealable plastic bag. Once you’re bundled up inside your tent with all your insulating layers, lying on an insulated sleeping pad, the best place to keep drinks and batteries from freezing is right there with you in your sleeping bag.
If you’re really worried about keeping them from freezing, then you can put them against your skin—against your chest, near your groin, or in your armpits. Anywhere your body accumulates heat.
As for yourself, before you get bundled up inside your sleeping bag, layer up, keep warm water inside the bag, and even use heat packs if you need to. All of these things are mentioned below in more detail.
4. Base layers
We already mentioned it above, but you *are* wearing base layers, aren’t you? You’re going to be riding in the cold. It goes without saying you’ll need to layer up.
Granted, you might want to pack separate base layers for sleeping instead of riding, but that’s up to you.
A camping stove has so many uses it’s worth finding a place to pack it on your bike. Besides the obvious cooking uses, a stove is a great tool for melting snow and/or boiling water to drink, and you can also put some of that hot water in a bottle (or two) and keep it in your sleeping bag for extra warmth as you’re sleeping. If things get desperate, it can come in handy when building a fire, too.
6. Hand/Foot warmers
Your extremities get cold quickly and easily. If you need a quick burst of warmth, air-activated chemical packs pack away small and emit plenty of heat. Keep some in your boots, gloves, sleeping bag, wherever. Frostbite is no joke.
7. Fire kit
Building a fire is important no matter when you’re moto camping, but it’s especially important during the winter. So be sure to earmark space for it. The good news is that the essential gear you need to make a fire is minimal and pack away nicely.
You can choose to go at it the old-fashioned way with a wooden bow drill, or striking steel on flint, or even using a magnifying glass, but unless you just really like struggling, we suggest easier methods of fire making. A heat source and tinder are the basics. There are several options out there for both. You can easily source a kit from any outdoor store and build a DIY kit.
This probably goes without saying, but lighter and waterproof matches are mandatory. If you have old inner tubes laying around, those also work great since they’re highly flammable.
Just to recap, this post is NOT meant to be a guide for everything you need to pack for a winter motorcycle camping trip.
Instead, it’s meant to highlight some important items to take with you or even easily forgettable yet very vital pieces of gear that will make the experience much more enjoyable – and potentially even life-saving.
You can add or subtract this list as you see fit and for your specific scenario, but if you’re planning on embarking on winter motorcycle camping for the first time, this is a great base to start from and modify as you go.