How to Pack
Packing your bike effectively will require experience as you figure out what is important to have easily accessible and how your bags are most efficiently packed. General principles are to keep the weight low and inside and balanced between front and rear. Here is how I organize my bike.
I have a reasonably large tank bag that expands somewhat. I don’t fill it to the brim so I have some flexibility during the day. The only things that go in the tank bag are things I need quick access to. Each morning I’ll review the contents to ensure I’m not having to dig through a pile of junk. I do use a few Ziploc bags to organize small related items together.
My bike has hard clam shell style bags with no dividers. So I have had the wonderful experience of opening the pannier and having most of the contents dump out into the parking lot. I did recently purchase inserts that match the shape of my pannier which has largely solved that problem. Heavy items go in first (low and inside). Next I’ll pack several clothing items in a small kitchen garbage bag (to keep them together as well as some water resistance when I open the panniers. Lastly I add items I don’t need in my tank bag, but might need reasonably quickly.
I don’t have or use a tail bag, mostly because I don’t need one. However, when we plan on camping I do strap the larger items onto the passenger seat using home-made straps. They are modeled after Rockstraps which I would have used, but I couldn’t find any in the time allotted (we leave tomorrow!) and I had the materials handy. I will also strap my regular or mesh jacket here as well. No I don’t ride without a jacket, rather in the matter of an afternoon we can go from cold and cloudy on the Pacific coast to 90+ in the interior to snow on the pass.
Truly Minimal List
It has been suggested that the most minimal list is a credit card and a cell phone. However, I recommend at least:
- Documentation (see below)
- Emergency supplies (see below)
- The Basics (see below)
Remember that tank bags, tail bags and strap on luggage can be stolen quickly, so don’t rely on these location to keep important papers. Also when asked for your information try handing over the copies first and only hand over the originals if required.
In your pocket
- Drivers License
- Proof of vehicle insurance
- Emergency contact numbers
- Passport (if crossing borders)
- Roadside service card
- Medical tag (if you have one)
- Medical insurance card
- Proof of insurance
A number of these can also be in your smartphone, but be aware of what would happen if your phone isn’t working or is missing.
- Drivers license
- Proof of insurance
- Credit cards (both sides)
- Emergency contact numbers
- Passport (if crossing borders)
- Roadside service card
- List of motorcycle dealers along the route (phone # & address)
- First Aid kit
- Emergency blanket
Additionally I like to add the following:
- Spare key (I wear mine on a lanyard around my neck and under my shirt, both ignition and pannier)
- Spare credit card (not in your wallet)
These things might be obvious, but forgetting them will send you back home to get them.
- Motorcycle gloves (I always take a heavier and a lighter pair)
- Motorcycle jacket
- Motorcycle pants (yes we believe in ATGATT)
- Motorcycle boots (waterproof)
- Eye protection (if not using a face shield)
- Credit card
- Cash (in case plastic is not accepted)
- Cell phone & charger
- Water bottle
- Paper maps
- Phone number and address for all reservations and scheduled stops
I like to bring these things along to make the trip just a little more comfortable with minimal weight and bulk.
- Mini flashlight or headlamp (the LED ones work great and are very small)
- Ziploc bags
- Lip balm
- Earplugs (I prefer riding with disposable earplugs and they’re useful at night)
- Prescription medicines (if needed)
- Tire repair kit (make sure you know how to use it, maybe even practice on an old tire)
- Extra fuses (you only have to get stranded once to know how important these can be)
- Chain lube (if needed)
- Spray on plastic cleaner & cloth (the fastest way to clean off all those bugs from your face shield)
- Assorted zip ties
- Tire pressure gauge
- SPF-15 sunblock
- Baby wipes
- Toothbrush, paste & floss
- Camping towel
- Travel pack of tissue
- Notebook & pen
- Hand sanitizer
- Basic toolkit
- Bug spray
- A couple of plastic shopping bags (for packing wet/dirty/nasty things)
- Toilet paper (emergency backup supply, just unroll some and put it in a ziplock)
- Small pocket knife
- Contact lens stuff + small mirror (if needed)
- Metal spoon or spork (you never know what you’ll find in the grocery store that looks good)
- Needle & thread
- Digital camera with extra memory card (or smartphone)
- Small tripod (especially useful if you want to be in your own pictures)
- iPod/MP3 player (or smartphone)
- Compact binoculars
- Small crescent wrench
- Paperback book
- Razor (I typically just don’t shave)
- Cable lock
- Intercom (if traveling with others)
- Multi-outlet (if you have lots of electronics)
- Bottle Cozy (keeps your water cooler longer and I tend to buy an adult beverage at the last gas stop of the day and the cozy keeps it cool until I’m ready for it)
- Hat with brim (for sun and/or rain). I like the ones you can roll up and doesn’t matter if it gets crushed.
Luckily the bad old days of having a different charger for everything is almost behind us. Save yourself some grief and buy an adapter for your Powerlet or cigarette power port that converts to standard USB. Also buy the same thing for a standard wall socket. Depending on the number of gadgets you have, one or 2 USB cables will keep everything charged for your enjoyment. If you’re handy you can wire in a USB connection and skip the adapters.
My choice of camera has changed over the years although in all cases I prefer digital over film. For a couple of years I tried using a POV camera like the GoPro thinking I could get some nice action video. However, I ended up with hours of dull to watch video and looked like a goofball with a camera attached to my helmet. Although the GoPro did its job amazingly well.
Currently I just use my iPhone. The downside is that it is difficult to get any “action” photos. I have used a small camera that I can keep strapped to my left wrist and just flip into my hand when safe to do so. The only downside is that cameras are designed for right handed use so I have to press the shutter with my thumb and all the pictures are upside down.
I though a camera with a pistol style grip like the Panasonic HX-WA10 would do the job, but it turns out that the image stabilization is poor, and it turns itself off too quickly and powering on is difficult with gloves.
My current “action” solution is a Polaroid Cube. I can wear it on a lanyard and it is fairly easy to turn on left handed with gloves. It does power off so getting a quick snap off isn’t something you can really do. Also the telltale light is hard to see, so you’re never really sure if it is on or in photo or video mode. Especially in bright light.
Clothing is obviously highly related to weather, length of trip and the off-bike activities. Here are the things we at least consider for our style of touring which is mostly on bike and various dive eateries. We don’t tend to do off bike activities that require fancy (or even clean) clothes.
My overall guideline is multiple use and quick dry. Some of the modern fabrics can be rinsed out in the sink/stream and air dried in a couple of hours. This lets you pack fewer clothes regardless of the length of the trip.
Cotton is definitely not on the list (jeans, tee shirts, underwear etc.) as it soaks up water (rain, sweat) and won’t dry causing all sorts of chafing issues.
Layering is your friend if you are expecting temperature variations.
- 2 short sleeve shirts (1 to wear, 1 for a spare)
- 1 long sleeve shirt (Merino wool if you can afford it)
- 2 pair compression shorts (used as underwear, also helps with backside comfort)
- 1 pair long pants (ones that convert to shorts are nice)
- 1 pair shorts (shorts that double as swim trunks are nice)
- 3-4 pairs of socks (I always like to change socks after riding all day)
- Bandanna or do-rag (dew rag, doo rag, du rag, or any other variant)
- Light jacket (preferably wind and waterproof. Find one that will fit under your armored jacket)
- Rain gear
- Long underwear
- Stocking cap
- Cooling vest
- Sneakers/sandals (I prefer sandals since they pack better and if they are waterproof you can use them in the shower)
- Boxers (despite my resistance to cotton sometimes it is nice to change into boxers after a long hot ride)
Yes food is on my packing list. Having a small variety of fun and healthy snacks available not only helps when you’re taking a break it also gives you flexibility with regards to meal timing. We’ve often had a quick breakfast in our room or at the campsite out of our snack supplies in order to save time or allow us to get to the fabulous restaurant for an early lunch.
I like to go to Costco and browse for whatever strikes me. I usually end up with some form of trail mix, energy bars and something else. I look for items that won’t crush or melt so they can be easily eaten with my fingers.
I always repackage into smaller bags so I can control the amount I have in my tank bag vs. in my pannier plus I don’t have the bulk of the original packaging.
I’m somewhat mechanically capable, but I am not mechanic so I don’t bring enough tools to do a full engine rebuild. My goal is to fix whatever is wrong long enough to get to someone who knows what they’re doing. My ultimate tool is my cell phone and roadside assistance.
The OEM Kit: I have upgraded a few of the tools in the little bag, but have left it basically as is. I have done light maintenance with just the tools in the kit so I know I can on the side of the road.
Stuff I always bring
- OEM toolkit
- Small vice grips
- Allen wrenches (multiple sizes that all fold back into the handle)
- Electrical tape
Stuff I’ve considering bringing
The only other thing I’ve considered revolves around changing the tire. Having a new tire to replace one that shredded is only useful if you can get the old one off and the new one on.
- Tire irons
- Wrench to fit axle nut
- Air pump
I didn’t include a bead breaker because of the several low tech ways of breaking the bead such as the kickstand method.
I haven’t actually taken any tire changing equipment for several years as a puncture kit will fix most issues and the hassle of getting a new tire back to the bike is about the same as getting the bike to the shop. This is especially true in rural areas, as they are unlikely to have the tire you want in stock and I’d rather the bike spend the night in a locked shop than on the side of the road.
We alternate between camping and cheap motels depending on a variety of factors. And even when we do camp we usually have a night in a hotel every few days and get the majority of our meals in restaurants. Based on this style of camping we’re aren’t equipped to spend months in the outback. In fact we don’t even bring cooking/kitchen equipment.
It is up to You
Ultimately you will develop your own list which will change over time based on trip length, passenger or not, bike changes, old age, number of other bikes, terrain etc.
My best advice is to not stress about it and enjoy the ride. That is why you ride a motorcycle in the first place isn’t it?