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ADV NewsPack Smarter and Lighter for Your Next Adventure Ride

Pack Smarter and Lighter for Your Next Adventure Ride

Tips to help you bring everything you need, and nothing else.

Published on 06.30.2021

How much do you need to pack for an adventure ride? Exactly what you need, and not one ounce more. Too much weight will make your sleek adventure bike handle like a tractor and tiring to pick up when, not if, you drop it. Your tires will wear faster, your gas mileage will drop, your frame and racks will be stressed and you’ll quickly find yourself looking for the “easy” routes to avoid problems caused by lugging all that luggage.

Start with the mindset of only bringing what you really need, not what will fit, and you’ll actually enjoy the ride. Here are a few tips to get you started. 

Adventure Motorcycle Packing

Clothing

Clothing isn’t the heaviest thing you’ll carry, but it can be the bulkiest. Cut the bulk by bringing less. Scrutinize fabrics. Dress in layers. Be prepared to do laundry from time to time if on a longer journey.

The minimum you’ll need is something to change into when you’re out of your riding gear off the bike: a single shirt, pants, shoes, socks, underwear. Few riders achieve that level of minimalism, though. Most will opt for at least two changes of off-bike garb. The exact number is a personal choice, just try to bring items that do double duty in some way. A light base layer, for example, helps keep you warm and reduces the need to bring a bulky jacket. A light rain shell that fits over your riding gear squeezes down smaller than a dedicated rainsuit and also serves as a great windbreaker. A packable down jacket compresses small and serves as both a camp jacket and an insulated riding layer. Pants with zip off legs are pants, shorts, swim trunks and a liner under your riding pants.

Adventure Motorcycle Packing

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Look for fabrics that wick moisture from your skin. Cotton does the opposite, so avoid it. Merino or smart wool is an excellent choice for socks, base layers and shirts. It adapts, keeping you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot. It still insulates when wet. But perhaps the biggest benefit is that wool is more stain and odor resistant than most fabrics. Cheaper polyester base layers are effective at removing moisture from your skin, but you’ll soon smell like a bear. When your clothes don’t stink you don’t have to change them as often, which means you don’t need as much in the first place.

If you are on a longer journey, be prepared to do laundry every few days or so to cut down on the amount of clean clothes you need to carry. A small plastic container of powdered laundry detergent will last for weeks. Or skip the detergent and use hand soap. Synthetics have the advantage here as they dry quickly, but wool is still miles better than cotton. As an option, use the tow strap in your tool kit as a clothes line.

Packing Tips

You’ll need a pair of footwear besides your riding boots, but choose carefully. Shoes take a lot of space and the wrong material, such as leather, can take forever to dry. Many adventure bikers strap a pair of sandals outside their bags, a solid choice if you don’t mind your toes being exposed (you can always wear your wool socks in cold weather). Closed-toe river shoes or light canvas slip-ons are another popular option.

Food

Motorcycling is not backpacking. On most trips, you will be visiting civilization on a regular basis to fuel up your bike, and where there’s gas there’s usually food. So maybe you don’t need to pack five days worth of freeze-dried meals. Buying food along the way at roadside stands and stores also gives you more chances to interact with the locals, and isn’t that what adventure riding is all about?

Packing Tips

Some handy, calorie-dense snacks like nuts and protein bars are a lot lighter and can double as a meal in a pinch. Hoard condiment packets from fast-food restaurants to dress up simple meals. When you stop for gas, pick up something you can cook easily over a fire or with a small camp stove. A frozen steak packed in the morning will be ready to cook by the time you’ve put in a hard day’s riding. If you do pick up unfrozen meat, try to do it near the end of the day so you minimize its time in your bag. Root vegetables are nutritious, travel well and can be boiled or wrapped in foil to cook over a fire. A small thermos keeps your morning coffee warm and your afternoon beer cold.

Camping Equipment

Selecting camping gear could be a book in itself. But if you’re new to motorcycle travel the simple rule of thumb is to do what the backpackers do. No one understands how ounces make pounds better than the person who has to carry it all on his back.

Helinox Swivel camping chair

Shelters are a good example. A minimalist backpacking bivy might weigh a pound and roll into the size of a sausage. A hammock packs down to the size of a softball and weighs about two pounds. Some full-featured backpacking tents weigh less than three pounds, while your average box-store cheapo tent can weigh six pounds plus. Try and choose a tent with poles that fold to under 20 inches so they fit in your panniers.

Many minimalists don’t carry stoves; they cook over a fire. But sometimes it rains or you camp in places with fire bans and need a stove. Canister stoves are the lightest option, but not necessarily the best for all moto adventurers. For one, they may be hard to source in remote areas. Also, why pack butane canisters when you’re already carrying gasoline that can power a multi-fuel stove? And the fuel bottle doubles as a splash of emergency gas for the bike. Even a pint of fuel can save 10 miles of walking. For cookware, consider an all-in-one collapsible mess kit.

Get a compression sack for your sleeping bag to pack it down as tightly as possible. There are also camping pillows that compress down to about fist sized, or consider skipping a pillow altogether and just roll up some laundry to put under your head at night.

If you can do without a chair, turning your bike’s front wheel all the way left makes a nice backrest — but some people insist. If you’re one of them and want something compact, find a folding backpacker’s chair or a sling that converts your sleeping pad into a chair.

Minimalist Packing

Tools and Spares

This is where things get heavy so make sure you only bring what you need and that everything does double duty. For example, tire spoons that double as axle wrenches, a multipurpose knife that has screwdriver and torx bits, a trail tool that includes several socket sizes and a ratchet handle.

Minimalist Packing

As for spares, bring only what’s likely to break. You can’t predict the future of course, but you can take an educated guess. If your chain and sprockets are high quality and in good shape when you leave, for example, they’re unlikely to cause trouble on the road so skip the chain breaker and extra links. Do you need a spark plug socket if you’ve recently changed your plug(s)?

Run an extra clutch or throttle cable alongside the one on your bike and it will be where you need it when you need it and not take up room in your panniers. Run heavy duty tubes in your tires and bring a standard 19-inch tube as a spare. It will stretch to fit a 21-inch tire and also work fine in an 18-inch tire temporarily. And of course, bring a patch kit.

Organization

Even if you pack light you’ll have a variety of stuff. Keeping it organized will save time and frustration for you and the folks you’re riding with.

Roll your clothes to save space, and consider packing cubes or vacuum-seal storage bags to keep things organized. Though the cubes or bags themselves take up a small amount of precious space, they’re easy to slide into tight spaces in your panniers and they’ll save you a lot of time digging around looking for that pair of socks you stuffed in the coffee pot.

Minimalist Packing
Minimalist Packing

Pack in categories. For example tools, air compressor, oil, spare bolts and tubes would all live in close proximity to one another, as would maps, chapstick, cash for tolls, a microfiber rag, ear plugs, snacks and headlamp. Everything you take into the tent at night (sleeping bag, pad, pillow, lamp) should be grouped together. Everything you need for cold or rainy weather (rain shell, thermal liner) should also be in one place, and all electronic goodies (cables, camera, powerbank, etc.) should also be in one place. All your (travel-size) toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, medications, etc.) should stay in one easy-to-grab bag.

Weight Distribution

Keep weight centered, low and forward as much as possible. Too much weight above the bike’s center of gravity or behind the back wheel will negatively affect the handling, especially off road. We’ve all seen the rider with bags piled high on a rear rack. Do not be that rider.

In practice this means splitting up tools and spare parts between bags and putting them down low. Lighter items such as camping gear and clothes go up high, and things you might need to grab quickly, like a rain jacket, goes on top.

Light is Right

Once you start looking for ways to lighten the load, you’ll see them everywhere. Consider it a challenge. Pack your bike for a trip and weigh it, then see how much you can shave off. Five pounds? Ten? Fifteen pounds isn’t out of the question. Soon you’ll be cutting down your toothbrush handle, shaving your head so you don’t need a brush and sleeping in your riding gear. Or maybe you won’t take it that far, but at least you’ll understand how ounces make pounds, and fewer pounds make an adventure ride a lot more fun.

Photos: Stephen Gregory, Joseph McKimmy and Spencer Hill.

Author: Bob Whitby

Bob has been riding motorcycles since age 19 and working as a journalist since he was 24, which was a long time ago, let’s put it that way. He quit for the better part of a decade to raise a family, then rediscovered adventure, dual sport and enduro riding in the early 2000s. He lives in Arkansas, America’s best-kept secret when it comes to riding destinations, and travels far and wide in search of dirt roads and trails.

Author: Bob Whitby
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8 thoughts on “Pack Smarter and Lighter for Your Next Adventure Ride

  1. Great write up, Bob! Thanks for sharing! One invaluable piece of gear the army so lovingly bequeathed me with is the field jacket liner – affectionately known as the smoking jacket. It is a very multi-use item. It serves as a mid insulating layer when the temps get cooler. After a hard, hot day when the riding gear is off, it’s a great way to cool off while drying off while not getting too chilly when the sun sets and the temp starts dropping. It can be a nice insulating layer in the campsite in cooler temps and then, take it off and stuff everything into one sleeve and it’s your pillow.

  2. Great article. Spot on. Don’t be a “Kitchen Sink” rider. My gear list starts with the way I gear up for solo backpacking. The pack list also multi-tasks for bikepacking and car-camping in addition to ADV touring. The only add-ons for the motorcycle are essential tools and a few other bike care items. A couple of my favorite pieces of equipment: The large Tusk Camp Chair (incredibly light, compact, and strong) and a Cabela’s 7-piece Stowaway fly rod.

  3. watching more than a few round the world riders on Youtube…this is a lost concept. While we don’t go on months long journeys, my wife and I go on multi-week tours with two saddlebags, one top case, and a tank bag. And not even full at that. You don’t need as much “stuff” as you think you do.

  4. Umm, you forgot the most important item, water. How to carry what you need and source it on the way? What kind of filtration systems? Pros and cons of each, etc..

    • A key consideration. Hydration packs multi-task for carrying water, and other items depending on size. I use a Camelbak Ratchet for day rides or on longer rides where water is easy to come by for refills. Packs with higher capacity reservoirs are available in many designs and brands. There are a great many options. The RotoPax system accommodates additional fuel and water for a variety of on-bike configurations. As far as water filtration goes, you have to ask yourself: How much protection do I need based on likely water sources where I am going to be travelling? As far as filtration design, there are many which have a variety of intended uses and features. An hour of internet research will present a lot of information and options.

  5. I agree to the article, but have to admit I carry on long trips three items that add significant weight:
    -cooking gear (two titanium puts and a pan, gasoline stove running on white fuel) because I like doing outdoor cooking.
    – a 500g folding chair (I am slowly getting too old to spend my evenings sitting on the ground with folded legs all the time)
    – a 500g Catadyn pumping filter to clean my drinking water. I once lost a week lifetime to some bacteria, which was a very unpleasant time for my stomach, moving for days between bed and toilet. Never again. All natural water gets filtered and with this filter I can clean virtually unlimited volumes.
    All this adds about 4kg. On weekend trips with just one, two night out those stay st home, I can life a few days with sitting on the ground, eating freezedried and find tab water for a day (which means I need to carry more water).
    No single trail or real offroad/terrain riding, so slightöy more weight is not such a big deal.

  6. As far as what tools to bring, get out your riding tools you plan on bringing. Change a tire, change the oil, adjust the chain, etc. The tools you use are what you need to bring, what you don’t use, leave at home. Also, baby wipes make great cleanup wipes after a tire change or an unexpected trip into the woods when nature calls and take very little room.

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