Never has “pack light” been more of a mantra than when travelling on motorcycle tours. Over-packing not only makes your motorcycle heavy and handle badly, it can lead you to angrily rifling through all your belongings at the side of the road, searching for the one thing you need (then struggling to get it all back in). On the other hand, you can be so minimalistic that you only have the gear you are standing up in, a credit card and passport. We think there’s a healthy balance.
Below if our first ever overland trip, when keeping to budget was vital and camping was the norm. It’s not exactly how we’d do it now! There’s no surprise in knowing that the water bottle on the back did not make it very far!
Nowadays, we ride solo. Each of our bikes it set up with two aluminium side panniers, a small tank bag and tail bag. As a solo rider, two side panniers should be more than enough space for clothes, tools, electricals, medical and toiletries. We prefer to use the top loading aluminium panniers, and have been doing so since 1999, when we started with the original Touratech Zega Panniers (above). These days, there are loads of brands about, and we are now using the Givi Trekker Outback, as they are supplied with the Triumph Tiger. We use one pannier with an inner bag and that is the bag that we will take into the hotel at the end of each night. The other pannier will have other items that are not needed on a daily basis – such a tyre plugger kit & mini-compressor, first aid kit, tool kit roll, etc
Add a small tank bag (we love Giant Loop) or map case for documents, phone, money etc. and put any other small but daily essential items in your jacket pockets. That’s all the space you should need.
OK, yes, if you’re camping, you’ll need more. There is no doubt that if you chose to be self sufficient and want to camp, then there is the extra weight or all the camp gear. Then if you’re doing your own cooking, then more stuff for cooking and eating, and the food itself. We use a tough waterproof bag strapped on the back seat or rack, packed with our tent, sleeping bag, mat and cooking gear. This makes for a quick set-up.
Unless you’re two-up, we recommend that you avoid a top box; you will fill the space with something, adding more weight exactly where you don’t want it. If you really do need something extra, a small tail bag can do the trick. We do use them and they are specifically designated for waterproofs, and small essentials such as cable ties, duct tape etc.
This shows our current set up for luggage; we were not camping on this trip, so did not need extra bags for camping equipment.
Packing for two months is the same as packing for two weeks. The trick is to make lots of small adjustments. Leave behind heavy jeans or sweatshirts, in preference for taking lightweight, wick away base layers and synthetic fleeces. Make sure you go as multi-functional as possible – a mid-layer insulating jacket can used under your bike gear for extra warmth and to wear over a T-Shirt to the pub. Your waterproof over jacket can also be used off the bike, when its raining. And don’t take clothes “just in case”. If you’re staying in hotels or B&Bs, you can wash through smalls and light T-Shirts easily using the toiletries they provide.
We all know that shoes can be bulky. As well as you bike boots, only take one pair of sandals and one pair of light trekking / trainer. No more!
Other than tools, the heaviest/bulkiest items tend to be associated with electricals – batteries, chargers etc. Double up on devices where possible – a smartphone is a camera, laptop, and sat-nav all in one. Take a universal electrical adapter instead of carrying separate ones for different countries. Alternatively, free yourself of all the gadgets for a few weeks.
Be smart about what tools you take. Leave behind anything that you don’t know how to use. Only take the tools that fit your bike and not full sets. Slim down your toiletry bag by not taking items you can get free in hotels or share items with your partner.
Camping? If you’ve been using the same camp gear for a long time now, it might be worth checking out the latest stuff. The advance of technology for outdoors equipment and clothing in terms of making things smaller, lighter and yet more robust is amazing, so it might be worth investing in some new kit to get the kilos down.
Pack it in, properly
- When packing you need to have a working system. We wouldn’t travel without inner bags for the panniers, for example, as it’s easier than grappling with small bags or heavy metal boxes.
- Use compression sacks, packing cubes or zip lock bags to sort out clothing, toiletries and first aid.
- Aim for an even distribution of weight between your panniers, and keep the heavy items low and as far forward as possible.
- Items you need to hand (eg: rain suit) should be kept at the top of your panniers or in a handy tail bag. If in a pannier, put them in your left one (UK or other “drive on the left” countries) or your right (Europe or other “drive on the right” countries) so you’re not standing in traffic when you want to get it out.
- We have another mantra “everything has a place” and if where your packing goes becomes your daily routine, it really helps keep the stress levels sown!
- Finally, before you swing your leg over, always check everything is secure before you set off. We’ve seen many a pannier lid fly off down the road. Not great when you’ve put your travel documents at the top of your pannier and they a flying away too.
Five things to Leave behind!
- T-shirt Number 4, 5 and 6, just wash out T-Shirt 1, 2, and 3
- Tools you don’t know how to use, because what’s the point?
- Toiletries that you can pick up for free in hotels, unless you’re that particular about your favourite shampoo.
- Top box if you are riding solo, because you should have enough space with your side panniers
- Extra fuel cans, which look the part, but are rarely necessary if you plan your fuel properly
And it goes without saying, leave behind the stress of normal everyday life for the freedom of the open road 🙂
Five things never to leave without!
Yes there’s lots of stuff that could make this list, so you tell us what would make your top five . . .
- Custom earplugs, for long riding days and noisy camp sites and sharing a room with a snoring mate
- Tyre plugger kit and mini-compressor, because you’ll always have to fix one puncture
- Mobile/Cell phone, controversial maybe, but the reality is that it can do just so many things now
- Travel Insurance, because the worst can happen and without this, god knows how we would have sorted Kevin’s broken leg in Myanmar.
- Water bladder, so you can drink slow and often whilst you ride, rather than big slugs every few hours on a break.
Hope you’ve found the above fun and useful, but let us know if you think there is any top tips that should make this list by contacting us.