Packing for a Motorcycle Road Trip

Tips for packing your road load

So you've nailed down a destination, and now you're chompin' at the bit. Throw a few Jockey shorts in the backpack and off you go, right? Not so fast—any overnight trip requires a bit more forethought. And if you're headed on an extended tour on two wheels, remember, "less is more." Even if your week-long odyssey is on a full-blown touring bike, you'll have to make every inch of cargo space count (especially if there are two of you). That ice bucket will start looking pretty dumb after Mile Marker 3. We talked with Tom Mehren, author of the new book Pack Light, Pack Right! (available at Mehren's also a proponent of the less-is-more theory. Following are his main packing points:

motorcycle packing, road trip, saddlebags, motorcycle tour
Pack smart, pack light, and pack right! Even if you have every saddlebag out there on your ride you still have to consider packing the right way.Photo Courtesy of Tom Mehren

Heavy on the Bottom
Stuff heavy gear closest to where the bag will be mounted on the bike. I like to use a three bag system on extended trips: one big sack for the large stuff, a medium bag for necessities and a smaller one for traveling fast and loose. (This one comes in handy off the bike.) The big bag should be weather-­proof, durable, and flexible enough to accommodate different loads on different bikes. Attachment points, stiffeners or frames help the cause too. The medium-sized bag should essentially be a stuffable, soft bag that can be rolled up, and I usually grab a backpack for light, off-bike excursions.

Pack Small
For clothes, two shirts, two pants, two pairs of socks and underwear, one pair of shoes (not including riding boots) and two pairs of gloves are all you need. Group smaller items into small, plastic freezer bags. Clothing gets rolled up and put into a mesh bag. Store these separate bags vertically, so they're easier to access.

Dump Your Cotton
Cotton is bad—you get so much more space out of your luggage if you stock up on synthetics instead. A laundromat is usually easy to find, and washable garments made of Coolmax can dry in a few hours.

Pack items that have multiple purposes to minimize space. A Leatherman tool can handle three or four chores, while a waterproof dry bag can be used for laundry, storage on the bike or a beer cooler at the campground.

Spread the Load
First Aid kits—only one rider in the group needs to carry one. Same with other large items—one person can stow the pump, the other a set of jumpers and so on. And don't buy cheap stuff! Once you purchase quality gear, you should be done shopping for years. It's worth it in the long run.


Still need to plan your trip? Click here to see some of the top roads to ride in the States.