As the Magpie Flies: On Packing for a Moto Trip


Quite a while ago, a little over a year ago actually, I wrote a quickie how to pack guide for a friend, after only completing one 1,000 mi trip. After completing three 1,500+ mile trips since then, I think it’s a good time to update that guide. 

In order to make it more readable, I’ve broken it up to look kind of like notes. 

Just a note that you can now get this cute illustration as prints. 

WEIGHT PLACEMENT.

 It’s important to make sure everything heavy is as low on the bike as possible. The taller you stack of stuff, the more you’re going to mess with your handling going down the road -not to mention possibly bend your frame. 

Solution: Pair down and keep heavy things in saddle bags and low on the passenger seat. Try to keep your luggage from being taller than you. Note that most luggage racks have a max weight limit between 10-20lbs and weight adds up quickly!

Try to think like you’re going backpacking. Pretend you have to carry all of that luggage on your own back. Looking at backpacking websites and how to keep things ‘ultralight’ is very useful. Resources: 1 2 

PROTECTIVE GEAR.

If you’re taking my advice, I’m going to tell you that I’m an All Gear All the Time kind of person. Even when it was 100*F going through the Gorge I still had Helmet, Jacket, and my Chaps on. It was hot as hell, but when it’s that hot it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, it’s still going to be hot as hell. When it’s cold I’m a layer queen (ie. long underwear, sweater under a shirt, thin gloves inside my waterproof gloves, two pairs of socks and hand warmers everywhere! Those things are my life savers in the winter time, or even just cold summer nights.) 

There are a lot of options when it comes to helmets, jackets, pants, gloves and boots with vents  meant for air ventilation and under armor to keep your core cool, while also keeping you protected. Note: I also recommend either making sure your jacket and pants are waterproof, or opting for a cheap over the clothes wet suit you can pull out if you need to. I have one that belonged to my grandpa from the American Fishing Association. Shh don’t tell the big fancy companies.

LUGGAGE.

1. Starting with what kind of Saddle Bags (panniers) should you get? Well I have two sets of leather saddlebags that have served me well. However, I put everything that goes into my saddle bags in trash bags to keep them from getting wet. It’s a good cheap way to make a cheap set of bags waterproof. ( After one excursion and a bad experience trying to dry out a soaked sketchbook, I’m seriously considering the pros of getting a set of soft waterproof panniers -even though the price point tends to be a little steep, it might be worth it.) 

I also tend to lean towards the soft or leather saddle bags as opposed to aluminum or hard panniers. Just because of the stories I’ve heard about leg injuries when people have gone down, and their panniers got ‘em good. That said, they do have a higher volume capacity (if you’re thinking about doing a multiple week trip through an underpopulated area, I could see how the pros outweigh the cons.)  As always, it totally depends on your preference and what kind of trips you’re planning. A set of small cheap leather saddle bags are more than ok for one or two week trips. 

2. Tank Bags are one of the best investments in luggage out there, in my opinion. You can get a good one for between $20-50 and all the important things that can’t fit in your jacket goes in it. Not only does it help with weight distribution, it’s also the easiest to pull off your bike and take with you when you don’t want to unload your bike. (ie. going into a restaurant, or going for a short hike and you want to keep your valuables with you.)  

Tank Bags are also great for quick day trips, when you would probably take a back pack. Let the bike carry the weight instead of your shoulders, so you can enjoy your ride.

3. Water Proof Duffel Bags  are amazing, durable and versatile. Period. 

4. A Windshield/Handle Bar Bag is great for putting your tools in to keep them accessible and free up space in your other luggage. They are also easily attainable and fairly low on the price scale compared to the other bags. 

5. Bungee chords and Net bungee chords. Say it with me: Bunngeeeee Chords. Always bring a few more than you think you need, because you will inevitably come back with a little more than you left with. Also, not everything is going to go back on the bike exactly the way you packed it when you left. It’s just a fact of life. 

PACKING THE STUFF.

1. Saddlebags. 

I put all my clothes in the left saddlebag, and books, toiletries, wet suit etc in the right. The reason for this is you (-me, really-are more likely to drop the bike on the left side. ( For example, forgetting to put the kickstand down before letting the bike rest, or just putting the kickstand down on mud or soft ground and it collapses. It happens.) 

  a. Let’s take a second to talk about the clothes. Take it from me, you’re going to want a clean shirt and a clean pair of underwear for every day you’re going to be gone. (Or if you’re going to be gone for more than one-two weeks, one for everyday of the week and an extra for laundry day.) Unless you’re staying in hotels a lot, you’re most likely not going to get to take a shower everyday, and not having to wear dirty clothes keeps the smell down and the moral up.

My thoughts on pants are as follows: One pair of pants can last up to three-four days if you’re not doing a lot (aka sitting on your but going down the road.) If you’re hiking, being active, playing with animals one pair might last two days if you’re lucky. So plan appropriately. 

  b. Do not forget extra socks. 

  c. Bring at least one sweater or flannel even if you think it’s going to be hot the whole time. 

  d. Miscellaneous in the right saddle bag: 

  • The Manual for your Bike (or the Chilton book)
  • Toiletries (ie. toothbrush, shampoo, soap, toilet paper) 
  • Waterproof Gloves 
  • Wet Suit
  • Towel
  • Hand Towel
  • Hair Brush
  • my 35 mm camera, because it’s a little big to keep in my Tank Bag. 

2. Tank Bang. 

  a. Basically All Electronics and Valuables too big for your coat

  • All chargers
  • Video camera when it’s not on my helmet
  • Small flash light
  • Tripod
  • Tablet
  • Sketchbook/notebook
  • Pencil bag
  • Cardboard cutter
  • Hand warmers
  • Some kind of snack that’s not messy (ie Nutrigrain bar, Powerbar, Nature Valley Bar, something if you get stuck between towns

  b. I can not put a big enough emphasis on having a Physical Map of where you’re going (if you’re going somewhere new/unfamiliar). Batteries die. Batteries will die in the most inconvenient places imaginable. If you’re relying on your phone, not only will the battery die but god knows if you’ll be able to get a signal. (Or in my case, have your phone decide that you’re roaming and shut off all network connections all the way through Idaho and Eastern Oregon.)  GPS devises are nice and all if you have the money, but I also don’t trust them as far as I can throw them. (That’s just my opinion though, if you like your GPS that’s awesome, I just prefer more old school methods that don’t involve depending on batteries and satellites.)

3. Duffel Bag. 

 My Duffel Bag is essentially my Camp Bag. It includes; 

  • Small tent preferably waterproof with excellent ventilation
  • Tarp to protect the tent from the ground
  • Collapsible camp seat (it’s nice to not have to sit on the ground sometimes
  • Little led lamp
  • Small mess kit and pot to cook with
  • Small Propane or Butane Camp Stove and Fuel
  • Camp pillow
  • Air pump 
  • Air mattress. (You can scoff at my air mattress but it’s nice to not have to sleep on the hard ground when your body is tired from riding all day. Whether you use a camp mat or an air mattress, it’s just nice.) 

4. Sleeping Bag.

I recommend either getting a stuff sack for your sleeping bag if it didn’t come with one, or keeping it in a trash bag. ( Thanks to a little adventure where I had to go an extra 200 miles in the dark to get somewhere to stay the night, because a freak rain storm soaked my sleeping bag, has taught me my lesson.)

5. Your Jacket. 

Do not underestimate how much stuff you can put in a good coat. 

  • Driver’s License
  • Registration
  • Insurance
  • Debit Card
  • CASH
  • Point and Shoot Camera
  • Bandana (the do-all accessory for every biker)
  • Sharpie/Pen
  • Headphones
  • A cigarette/Pack of cigarettes (tobacco&spit is my fix for bee stings/bug bites,  also conversations with someone who smokes about how I don’t smoke but I carry cigarettes is fun
  • Chapstick (you may not think you need it but you will)
  • Small Comb (calm your helmet hair without having to pull out your hair brush
  • Phone
  • Keys
  • Pocket Knife

6. Water.

A water bottle with a carabiner that can hook on the duffel bag or the bungee nets is my go to.(Also, I have recently been gifted a camelback and I’m excited to experiment with it.) Having water is not an option, it is a necessity

THE END.

Keep in mind this is how I pack just running around, and for my trips from Oregon to Montana and back. This isn’t necessarily how you would pack for a big huge cross country trip or a trip through hugely underpopulated areas. For example; I’ve opted to leave behind my cooler most of the time now because it’s just easier (and lessens my load), to stop at grocery stores and restaurants on the way for food. 

It’s important to experiment with what feels right to you, and what you need personally to stay comfortable. 

Thank you for reading, and I hope this helps a few people. 

Happy Riding.