Packing for a motorcycle tour

I’m not a seasoned pro when it comes to motorcycle touring but I’ve got a few trips under my belt. I think that’s enough to be able to impart some packing knowledge, even if some of it is passed of from my research and not first hand experience.

There are a few more considerations when leaving home soil. Even when touring in the UK it’s worth putting a bit of thought into what you are going to carry on the bike. While I have the relative luxury of touring with the GS and a full set of panniers this wasn’t always the case. Many of my early trips were on a sports bike where you really do have to be frugal with what you take.

Get the basics right

The first considerations are where are you going, for how long, and how much can you comfortably carry. There are many luggage options to suit all configurations but I’d advise that you should be comfortable and not overload yourself. Whether you are using hard panniers, soft satchels, roll bags or rucksacks; once you know your capacity your planning can start there.

At this stage I do have to state that while I am not a fair weather biker, I don’t do camping. Maybe in the future this may happen but for now its hotels, B&Bs and the occasional hostel. So for now I make no allowance for the packing and transportation of tent or sleeping bag.

It is all too easy to pack too much especially when you are unsure what you need. I hope that in sharing what I take can help you decide your own requirements.

Packing Clothing

The majority of any trip will see you in your riding gear and since you will be wearing it you won’t have to worry about packing it. That’s the helmet, gloves, jacket, pants and boots sorted.

There are some variables dependant on what ambient temperature you expect. I usually wear an adventure touring suit (RST Adventure Pro II) and have found that I’m comfortable enough with the liners out. That said, I do tend to run ‘hot’ and don’t mind a bit of cold.

Apart from the obvious underwear considerations (where x pairs of undies is equal to x days of travelling) I get away with a couple of pairs of sock for the evening and a good set of riding socks. Ok, so they may get a bit fruity by the end of a tour, but by that stage I’m on the home leg and they are heading for the wash.

I do try and wear a good wicking base layer, although since I pack a fresh t-shirt for each evening I have the option of riding in that the following day.

One tip I can give is to invest in a set of vacuum bags. I have a set that came with a very small hand pump. The pump is not much different in size to the type that you can use to inflate balloons and takes up very little space. On a longer trip I can take all of my second week’s shirts, underwear and socks with half the normal space taken. I swap over mid trip and once the dirties are ‘compressed’ I can pop them back in the roll sack I carry.

You can keep the packing minimal with a bit of thought
Typical packing

Packing Documents

In Europe there are a number of requirements for documentation. I usually have a trip itinerary that has a basic list of the route waypoints, contact details, and hotel accommodation confirmations. Additionally in Europe I carry the V5C logbook and a copy of my insurance details. I’ll add my passport to the list however it’s a given since I would need it to get to the destination anyway. It might only be an issue if you’ve left it at home and travelled a few hundred miles before reaching for an empty pocket.

You might also want to consider breakdown insurance and travel insurance. For the latter make sure that you do get a specialist policy as most standard travel insurance only covers motorcycle use up to 125cc. I use Holiday Safe and have always found them to be very reasonable for the peace of mind they offer.

While on the topic of paper based items, I will mention maps. I use the GPS and invest a lot of time with the routes that I load on it. However, I do always carry a set of road maps covering the areas that I will be riding. If nothing else they give you the ability to discuss the days travel with your companions. At worst case they are invaluable should the expensive toy curl up its satellite loving toes.

If you can create a trip itinerary
A travel itinerary usually features on my trips

Other European requirements

The laws differ in various countries so I would suggest that you familiarise yourself with the destination. This is not just for the legal requirements, but also to check that there have been no changes to the law.

Generally to cover these local requirements I carry a breathalyser kit, a hi-vis vest, and a first aid kit. I also carry a pack of reflective stickers for my helmet although I have never used them.

My last few bikes have had ‘GB’ on the plate but if you don’t have this you should get a sticker. I also have the EU stars on the bike’s number plate, but who knows how the Brexit story will end and what the final requirements will be?

Packing Electronics

Mention of the GPS brings us conveniently onto the electronics. It is ever so easy to become a slave to the devices. While I am no purist I do try and keep things as simple as possible. I do take a GoPro camera and value the footage taken but I’ve resisted going down the drone route. The thought of having to charge too many devices seems tedious and an unnecessary distraction.

I’ve also ditched the camera and iPad. These are taken care of by my phone. All the photos I have taken, and that you may have seen on my posts, have all been taken on the phone.

What this means is that if you can reduce the number of items that need charging, then you reduce the number of leads and chargers you need to pack.

Essential sundries

At this stage I’m usually packing the small items, although no less important. These are items such as basic tools, a torch, sunglasses, ziplock bags (one contains a damp cloth), microfibre cloths, visor cleaner, etc

One more thing. A pen and notepad. How else would I remember all the details of a trip to allow me to write about it here? I’d recommend something durable that doesn’t mind a bit of damp should you get a soaking. I like to use Field Notes.

Take notes of your trip
Details of the trip contained within…

Packing Summary

You might take more or less than I do. Regardless of what you take, I was always told that if you take it and didn’t use it then you probably didn’t need it with you.

Here is my usual checklist.

Right box

  • USB Camera/Phone/Uclear Chargers
  • Rainlock jacket and pants
  • Vacuum bags
  • Uclear/GoPro leads
  • Go-pro bag
  • Cargo net
  • Torch
  • Basic tools

Left box

  • Toiletry/Overnight bag
  • Tablets & medication
  • Jeans
  • T-shirts 
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Sunglasses

Top box

  • First aid kit
  • Breathalyser kit
  • Spare gloves
  • Analogue backup Maps
  • Itinerary and hotel confirmations
  • Insurance and bike documents
  • Ziplocked damp cloth
  • Dry microfibre
  • Wipes
  • Beanie hat
  • Breakdown docs
  • Disk lock
  • High vis vest
  • Extra ziplocks

Roll bag

  • Vacuum bag
  • Vacuum pump
  • Spare Socks
  • Extra Underwear
  • Additional T-shirts 
  • Jacket/Hoodie
  • Shoes

Handlebar bag

  • Pen
  • Visor spray
  • iPhone lead
  • 12v USB adaptor
  • Tyre valve 90º adaptor
  • Loose change
  • Ear plugs
  • Field Notes pad
  • Reading glasses

Jacket/On person

  • RST Pro Series Adventure II suit
  • Forma boots
  • Gloves
  • Helmet/UClear
  • Base layers
  • Spare key (sewn in jacket)
  • Wallet
  • Passport

One thought on “Packing for a motorcycle tour

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