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Motorcycle Camping – Tents

By Ryan William Cantrell

Motorcycle camping can be one of the most enjoyably addicting actives in which to engage (in a good way). Having the ability to camp off your bike provides you with an ability to go farther from the cities (where the hotels are, of course), and get deeper into the back-country during multi‐day rides than trying to do just day‐rides. If you so choose, you can literally go days without seeing another soul as you ride through Idaho’s back-country.

When packing your bike for a multi‐day ride, make an effort to pack light. Why? Because the lighter the load on your bike, the less energy you will expend navigating it… the longer you can ride… and the safer you will ride. When you pack heavy, you overload your suspension so that it does not function as it was intended. This decreases the handling capability of your bike and increases the amount of effort and energy you have to expend to navigate it.

Since there are many items to consider when packing for your trip – too many to discuss in one newsletter, we’ll start with the most basic item this time – tents. In planning any camping trip, the first thing that you should consider is your protection from the elements. Here the choices are nearly endless, but we’ll cover a few options here. One is a small tent. When choosing a tent, consider its pack size (volume), weight, ability to withstand weather and assembled size (volume inside the tent where you sleep). My tent of choice is the Eureka Solitaire because of its weatherproof design (bathtub floor), excellent rain fly, cost (under $70 most places), light (just over 2.5 lbs) and small pack size (4” x 17”). The downside is its smaller assembled size (about 21 cubic feet), lower ceiling height (only 2ft tall), and it’s not free‐standing (it must be staked out). In the summer the rain fly can be rolled back so you are sleeping under the stars with a bug net in place to keep off the creepy‐crawlies. Eureka has excellent customer service with a lifetime warranty, and has been a pleasure to deal with when I need to get replacement parts for my tent.

Other riders like a tent that is a little larger like the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight, which is tall enough in which to sit up, pull your gear into if it’s raining (but really… how often does it rain? We’re in a desert climate here in Boise…) and has considerably more floor space in which to move around. Its downsides include expensive (more than twice the cost of the Eureka Solitaire), weighs more and larger pack size.

Finding a tent that is right for you is as complex as finding a motorcycle that’s right for you. Consider your options, know what you want from your tent, and then try one out.

Other options are available which pack down even smaller than a one‐man tent such as a tarp (packs down to the size of two softballs), a bivy bag (packs down to the size of one softball), a hammock (packs down to the size of a softball, and negates the need for a mattress), and then there is using only a footprint and sleeping under then stars. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. In the hot summer months I’m almost exclusively in a bivy bag or hammock. Heath loves his tarp and Tom often just sleeps on his footprint.

A tarp does little more than keep the dew and rain off you. It helps to have a tree handy, but it can also provide shelter by hanging it off your bike’s handlebars. They small, light, quick to set up and easy to carry in your pack.

A bivy bag is the quickest of the group to set up, since it simply consists of rolling it out on the ground or a footprint (a foot print is highly recommended, since the dirt will cause the bag to eventually leak). If you choose a bivy bag, try to get one that zips over your head in case you’re caught in a storm, and one that has mosquito netting to keep the bugs out of your bag at night.

If you travel north of Boise, you’re almost certainly going to be riding in trees. I’ve never taken a hammock and not been able to find trees to which I can tie it. I sleep very well in hammocks, but I know they’re not for everyone. I like them because I don’t have to take my mattress with me (which saves space and weight), it keeps be off the ground (away from critters), and it sets up in about two minutes. Make sure you take some extra string with you incase you end up having to string it out further than expected. Some hammocks pack small (softball size) and offer no weather protections, while others (like a Hennessy) are larger (basketball sized) and offer rain protection.

That concludes this edition’s review of tents. Regardless of your gear… get out and camp. The best way to get to know your gear and what works well for you is to camp often… as you do, you’ll develop a greater sense for what system works best for your situation.

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