There are few things in this world that can match the incredible feeling of riding a motorcycle along Highway 1. Your senses are overwhelmed by the blurring greenery, salt-tinged ocean air, twisting concrete roads, and perfect harmony of twin exhausts shrieking above the wind.
Over Memorial Day weekend, I booked a last-minute solo motorcycle camping trip to a spot near Pescadero in a forest of redwood trees. I departed SF in the afternoon, reached the campsite in the evening, enjoyed dinner while meeting fellow campers, and ended the night reading in my tent nestled among the redwoods.
It was almost 3 years to the day since my first epic motorcycle camping trip to Big Sur. Why do I do it? Solo motorcycle camping is a great opportunity to enjoy the best parts of riding while also spending quality time in the outdoors. It’s the age-old formula – throw some gear onto a motorcycle and go out exploring!
In this post, I’ll cover how to plan your own motorcycle camping trip, highlighting the main things to bring, how I book campsites, and some tips for the big trip. Keep in mind that this type of motorcycle camping is more of a short-term urban experience. It’s for those moments when quiet time away from the hustle and bustle of the city is needed, while still having the flexibility to return after a day or two.
What to Bring
One of the things I love about solo motorcycle camping is that it forces me to pack light – just the bare minimum needed for the trip that can fit on the motorcycle. I’ll list out the major items below, along with some notes and my own gear:
- Motorcycle – For shorter trips I think most bikes can do the job. We’re not talking about multi-day jungle treks here. I ride a Ducati Monster M620 and it has enough space in the back to fit a tail bag. That’s pretty much all the luggage space I need.
- Tent – A solo or two-person backpacking tent should do the trick. I specify backpacking tent here because those are lightweight and pack much smaller than car camping tents. I own the REI Passage 1.
- Sleeping bag – A solid 3-season sleeping bag from any of the major outdoor companies will work. Look for a bag that can be compressed into a smaller size. Down-filled bags are more expensive but super compressible, plus they’re a good investment as an all-around sleeping bag. I use The North Face Blue Kazoo.
- Camping essentials – No need to bring much – I usually throw in a portable lantern, headlamp, phone power bank, my Kindle, toothbrush, and I’m good to go.
- Food – Food can be tricky. The easiest option is to bring an already-prepped meal (such as grabbing a sandwich on the way). This last trip I brought my Pocket Rocket stove, a camping pot, and freeze-dried food, but keep in mind this option requires a bit more packing space.
- Sleeping pad (optional) – It’s possible to sleep without one but you won’t be as comfortable. I’d consider inflatable pads instead of foam ones, because they pack much smaller. I use the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus.
- Motorcycle bag (optional) – I recommend a larger tail bag that will be able to fit all your gear. Keep in mind you’ll be packing a tent, sleeping bag, and some food at the bare minimum. I put this as optional because the first time I took this trip, I brought a normal duffle bag, stacked my other gear on top, and used a bungee net to secure everything to the bike. Having a tail bag will make life much easier. I own the Mototrek Roll Tail Bag – it fits all my gear perfectly and attaches directly to the bike.
For clothing, I’ll wear one set of clothes if it’s a one-night trip. I’ll also reuse my motorcycle apparel so I don’t have to pack an extra jacket or pillow.
Keep in mind that I already use a lot of my gear for my regular camping & backpacking trips. It’s possible to purchase entry-level items for a fraction of the cost that will still work well for a motorcycle camping trip.
How to Book a Campsite
Booking a campsite is a pretty standard process but can be surprisingly headache-inducing, especially for last-minute spots in the Bay Area. Since this is more of an urban camping experience, looking for established campgrounds is a good bet for motorcycle camping, since you won’t need to worry about rough terrain or lugging gear around without a backpack.
Recreation.gov is your best resource for booking a campsite – it’s the reservation system used to book camping in national parks, so pretty much all the major campgrounds can be found on this site. However, many of these spots are booked months in advance, and the user interface isn’t the easiest to use.
I highly recommend a site called Hipcamp, which is like the Airbnb of campsites (without the housing supply controversies). This past trip, I booked a campsite on Hipcamp a couple days before a major holiday and had an amazing experience – the campground owner greeted me in person when I arrived and the entire place was beautifully maintained. I also met some other cool Hipcampers, enjoying dinner together around the communal campfire, swapping stories, and trying the delicious steak one of the campers cooked.
Feel free to use my referral link for $20 in credit for a Hipcamp booking!
What to Do
The best part of a motorcycle camping trip? After all the prep work, you’re free to focus on both the journey and the destination. Have a blast riding some backroads or twisties to get to the campground. After you set up camp, the possibilities are many. Explore the campgrounds, go on a hike, meet other campers, cook a hot meal, or read, to list a few ideas.
What I love most about the entire process is that it gives me time to recharge from hectic city living and slows the pace down a bit so that I can reflect. I’m always in better spirits heading back from a camping trip – nature has a way of dissipating a lot of built-up stress.
On the ride back home, don’t forget to treat yourself to a delicious meal. I love picking out a diner or restaurant along the way, and I haven’t been disappointed yet!