Here's a resource for you that kind of lists everything I take on a motorcycle trip, downloadable checklist coming soon, and a few extra tips while travelling.
TIPS for Packing your Motorcycle
I'm going to start with the most painfully obvious advice, Make a List. I mean it. It sounds absurd, and you're probably like, duh Amanda. But then you get busy and then your trip is right around the corner and you're trying to fling everything into your bags the night before you leave and you realize 300 miles from home that you didn't bring a lighter, tent pegs, or your phone charger. So ya, Make a List.
Next, slowly go through your list and start piling everything up on the floor next to your bike or on a big table, before you pack everything into your bags. I like to keep everything in sections (like below).This means you can easily check everything off of your list once you start putting everything into your bags.
If you're having trouble pairing your stuff down, fill a ziploc bag with socks and try and fit them in the top of your bags. This will help keep you from over packing, and simulate how your stuff is going to behave on the road. Nothing ever packs back up into your bag the way it did when you carefully packed it at home.
Keep as much of the weight as low as possible on the bike. So keep tools, and other heavy things low in the saddlebags.
Adjust your suspension AFTER you've loaded your bike down with all of your stuff.
Once you've found a good place for all of your stuff on the bike, don't move it around. If you keep everything in its place, you'll always know where everything is. You won't always be that guy looking for his headlamp, or phone charger.
My rule about weight placement is also the reason I'm anti-hard panniers and definitely anti-top box. A top box is a lot of extra weight on the back of the bike, much higher than a duffel would sit, and they're just too easy to over-pack since they're so "easy" to get at. If you can't be parted with your top box, Keep the lightest things possible in it. There are more positives and negatives to the soft luggage vs hard luggage debate, I'll let Bret tell you those since he's more neutral than I am.
The thing that kills me about going to big motorcycle camp outs is the amount of people who pack a huge backpack, and strap it to their sissy bar then strap everything that doesn't fit in it loosely with bungees around it. I'm definitely guilty of doing this in my formative years as a motorcycle traveler. God forbid if it rains and all of that loose stuff gets wet, or they find out how much more top heavy their bike is now, dump it, then everything gets dirty, ripped, or broken. You guys. There's a better way.
I'm obviously a big fan of Wolfman Luggage, there are a lot of different options out there ad some are more bike specific than others, and some are a lot more durable than others. Personally my Wolfman bags have been the most versatile that I've experienced. I've fitted my Skyline Saddlebags on three very different motorcycles and they worked beautifully on each one.
Don't let the price point deter you (like me when I first started touring on a motorcycle), they are more than worth the money and will pay for themselves ten times over after you go through one or two rain storms and everything in your bags is still dry. If the price really isn't in the cards right now, for your sake, pack everything in dry bags or trash bags to keep them safe.
Tank bags are a thing I highly highly recommend. Keep snacks, your camera, battery packs, bandannas, anything you need easy access to through the day in your tank bag. I've used quite a few different tank bags, but favorites right now: Skyline Tank Bag (versatile) and the Blackhawk Tank Bag (great fit for my Tiger, or other tanks that have a kind of arch in them).
I also have a Overland Duffel which I love because it comes with backpack straps and is very easy to pull off the bike and take that backpack with you. It's not something I would do a long hike with, but the versatility is nice and makes that trip from your bike to wherever you're staying that much easier.
Packing cubes can sometimes be helpful and sometimes not, that's really a trial and error thing that everyone has to experiment with and figure out what works for you. Some people really like compressing stuff in ziploc bags, but in my experience keeping some stuff in a packing cube and the rest stuffed down in the saddlebag takes up less space than trying to cram in ziploc bags.
I also recommend some kind of pack-able/stow-able backpack, for that extra stuff you end up with, grocery shopping, or just a small hike.
But Seriously Saddlebags are your friends guys. Believe me, it’ll all be worth it.
YOUR HOUSE: CAMPING GEAR
Tent, Sleeping Pad and Sleeping Bag are going to make the difference about whether you’ll be well rested or crabby on your trip.
There are a lot of options for tents out there I’ve had quite a few from the cheepy Walmart tent that everyone seems to start off with, to a pop up tent, my Mountainsmith Morrison 2 I did the Pilgrimage with, my Ironhorse Gear tents, and Next Adventure’s Wilderness Technology Tent.
Next Adventure’s tent was definitely the best bang for the buck, and an overall super simple tent. It was breathable with large areas of mesh, and a proper rain fly which is more than I can say for the Walmart and Target tents I see at camp outs every year. Also, when you’re travelling and you really only set up your tent to sleep in it and move on the next day simplicity is key.
YOUR CLOSET: CLOTHING
You don't need that many clothes I promise. By the third day, or second week (in some cases), you won't even want to dig down that far in your saddlebag. Believe me.
Take clothes that are made of synthetic materials, anti-microbial and quick dry, so they're easy to wash in the sink. Cotton is the Enemy of the Traveler. Whether it's hot or cold cotton is going to be uncomfortable and working against you. It's either going to soak up all that moisture and make you freeze when it's cold, or it's going to take forever to evaporate which gives that water time to warm up and instead of being refreshing in the heat, it becomes a hot, uncomfortable, sticky mess.
My next great advise for you is that, It gets cold everywhere so make sure you have a fleece and layers! Yes, even in the desert, when that sun goes down you'll wish you had another layer to put on.
3-4 Pairs of Socks
Short Sleeve Synthetic Base
Long Sleeve Synthetic Base
Synthetic Leggings Base
Long Sleeve Merino Wool
Merino Wool Leggings
Synthetic long sleeve
Nice warm merino wool socks
Fleece Lined Leggings
Down Puffy Jacket
YOUR GARAGE: TOOLS
I recommend having at least a simple tool roll to start with, and build on to it as you become confident with the tools you need. I for example bought a shitty starter tool kit, then as things broke I replaced them with better tools like Craftsman one at a time. Before you leave on any trip check the state of your tool roll, and make sure you have every wrench and socket that will fit all of the bolts you can find on the outside of the bike. This includes axles!
Don't underestimate the importance of chain maintenance! I mean it. You should at the very least be lubing your chain about every 500-700 miles depending on the terrain, if not checking it,cleaning it, and lubing it after you ride in the mud or a particularly dusty area. By doing this you'll significantly increase the life of your chain and sprockets. Check your user manual for the correct sag of your bike's chain.
Some things like an extra tube and a bead buddy are unnecessary if you're not going off road or out of the country, but I still recommend them.
Wrenches that fit your bike
Manual for your Bike
I mean like the real manual for your bike (ie Chilton, Haynes etc.) not your silly user manual that comes with it (but that's also useful)
Extra Tubes (front and rear)
Tire Patch Kit
First Aid Kit
Microfiber Towel for Helmet Visor
LiftStick (useful for bikes without centerstands)
If you’re taking my advice, I’m going to tell you that I’m an All Gear All the Time kind of person.
Now that we have that out of the way. Get yourself a good lightweight helmet (preferably DOT and ECE rated). Get yourself a SENA or somekind of Bluetooth Communication device and hook that up.
Find yourself some good gear, find something that's comfortable and fits your needs, then (if it doesn't have D3O armor in it already) pull out that shitty CE armor and replace it with some D3O and do your body a favor. Apart form all the technical upgrades, it's also a hell of a lot lighter and your body and back will thank you on long rides.
Another thing to keep in mind when getting gear, either find a jacket you really like then get a cheap set of rain gear, or invest in some good goretex gear.
This holds true for your glove and boots. Yes boots. Get something that covers your ankles. After many failed attempts with "waterproof" boots, I settled on Gore-Tex and I'm not going back.
By gloves I mean two pairs of gloves. One pair of lighter gloves that breath and one pair of "winter" Gore-Tex gloves. You should have two pairs of gloves with you always when you're going to be more than two days away from home. This way if one pair gets soaked you always have a dry pair. I also recommend a pair of glove liners, either just to wear in camp, or in case it gets real cold and you want some extra layer under those winter gloves.
Helmet: ScorpionEXO AT950
Winter Gloves: Klim Allure Women's Glove
Summer Gloves: Fox Bomber Gloves
Jacket: Scorpion Yosemite Jacket in Sand (be warned sizing is weird!)
Pants: Scorpion Yosemite Pants in Grey (again sizing is weird)
Boots: Gaerne GTX All Terrain
My One Piece Suit: Aerostich RoadCrafter
Let's start with food. Stores exist almost everywhere. Unless you're going into the wilds and won't see a town for four days, you don't need that much food. Stop in at the grocery store on your way to camp for dinner, keep an extra couple ROK straps or bungee straps to tie down your groceries to the back end of your bike. Practice good leave no trace practices and keep your grocery bags and use them as trash bags.
What I do recommend is taking like one or two cans of soup, two or three things of oatmeal, and a lot of snacks. Some of my favorite snacks (which you can buy bulk on Amazon!) :
To store my food, I have a thing called an Ursack Minor (they make a couple different versions), which is made of a fabric woven from kevlar fiber and stainless steel. Essentially it's a sharp toothed critters proof food bag. After some squirrels got into my food bag in Custer National Forest, I wasn't sacrificing any more of my snacks.
Rag or something to dry dishes with
YOUR OFFICE: TECH ETC.
Exactly how it sounds, these are the things you need to either stay in contact with the world, find your way, work (gasp I know), or simply keep yourself sane.
I will note that I do use my wired headphones to go to sleep, I switch on an audio book and I find that a little nicer/easier to fall asleep with when I'm at a camp out and everyone is being noisy around me (rather than just earplugs).
Make sure you have enough chords/wall plugs to charge at least half of your devices at a time when you do get access to that blessed power!
Wired Headphones (backup)
Pen and Pencil
Optional Laptop or Tablet
Paper Maps of Where you're going
Download the Offline Google Maps: How to do that
Insurance and Registration
A shitty phone holder that does the job, because why would you pay $60 for something that you can get for $10 that does the same thing
YOUR BATHROOM: TOILETRIES
Make all of your toiletries fit in a little bag. You don't need 8 different soaps and lotions ok. Dr. Bronners is a great versatile soap that can be used for camp soap, shampoo and laundry. I chose to go down the route of trying to have the least amount of liquids I could. So I found Lush shampoo bars (which I also use on my body), a solid deodorant, and toothpaste tablets, then I have a separate tiny bottle of camp suds for laundry and dishes.
A good wet wipe (unscented and anti-bacterial) can be a great way to wash your face, keep your hands clean, and yes a spit bath inbetween showers.