Packing for a Long Motorcycle Trip


India 4 comments

I’ve now been travelling for almost three years (with reasonable periods of work in between), so I’ve developed a sort of system for packing. Recently, when I did separate motorcycle trips (which included quite long periods of not motorcycling) through the South and the Northeast of India, I needed all my skills to pack everything I needed. The trips were challenging because:

  1. Over the course of four months, I would encounter every type of weather: extreme cold, moderate cold, rain, moderate heat, extreme heat. Some nice weather too, but who cares about nice weather?
  2. I would be spending a lot of time on my motorcycle
  3. I would be staying in a variety of accommodation: hotels, guest houses, hostels, tents, my own tent
  4. I would be doing a variety of things: hiking, running, walking, going on safaris, going out for dinner
  5. In addition to all this, I would be working on my laptop and so needed a consistent internet connection

Because I’m also extremely lazy, I had two additional constraints which made things interesting:

  1. When I reached the place I was going to stop at for the night, I had to be able to carry everything (including the helmet, motorcycle gear, all my luggage, and so on) to my room in one trip.
  2. None of my packing could be motorcycle-specific, because I was also hiking, and would even be leaving the motorcycle behind for multiple days at a time while I walked to a place.

So, interested in knowing how I managed to take it all while still being able to carry it all at once? Here we go!

Carrying it all

I use the Osprey Farpoint 80 for my travels. It is actually comprised of two backpacks: one 65L and one 15L. It is easily the most reliable thing I have ever bought. All the zips work after many years of abuse.

To be fair, it is more of a “backpacking” (in the sense of traveling through cities) backpack than a hiking (in the sense of spending days at a stretch in the mountains) backpack, which means there are few things missing: a “brain” (substituted by a much smaller, but still convenient, pocket on the smaller backpack), places to put food on your waist strap, and so on. But it’s sturdy, it’s comfortable, and carries everything in this list beautifully. Note that I say that this is not a hiking backpack, but this is exactly what I used on my 650 km long jaunt through the French Alps.

For motorcycle trips specifically, some people like saddle bags, but I think they are quite useless. I will postpone justifying this strong opinion to a separate post because this one has gotten quite long already.

Everything, arranged neatly

I’ve seen these kinds of pictures on so many websites now that I just had to take one of my own.

Packing stuff!
Almost all the stuff!

Clothes

  • 3 Shirts and one Kurta: The idea here is to have something that you can wear when you go for dinner, or are spending time not hiking or in a bus. There’s no need for four shirts, but they’re always good to have. Full-sleeve shirts become an extra layer in the cold. They are nice to wear if you are going out. A kurta-type thing helps in general because it’s comfortable in the heat.
Shirts and T-shirts
  • 4 T-shirts: Contrary to the shirts, there is always a need for T-shirts; take as many as six if you you feel like it. You can wear them during the day, night, or even twilight. They can be worn inside of a shirt for extra warmth, and they can be worn by themselves on hot days. They can be used as towels when you forget your towel or if its stolen, lost, or just flies off your motorcycle.
  • 5-6 underwear: The idea of underwear is that you should have enough to get by till the next time you do laundry, which is usually approximately once a week. However, while travelling long-term, I highly recommend that you wash your own underwear and dry them on a chair or the sink or in the bathroom or wherever.
Shorts and pants and socks and underwear. And a belt.
  • Pants – 4. I don’t really wear shorts except while running or swimming. So for me, pants are everything. The four sets of pants I carry are divided into:
    • 1 hiking
    • 1 pair of jeans
    • 1 Cargo Pant (I got one of those that can be detached into shorts, but I never used that excellent feature)
    • 1 pyjama: In retrospect, 2 pyjamas are better than one because sometimes pyjamas stink and you would rather wash and let one set dry at night instead of having to wear it.
  • Shorts – Carry two sets — one for swimming days and one for other days. You can actually probably get by with just a well chosen pair of swimming shorts, but I’ve found that it’s useful to have an extra pair for when the primary pair is wet from swimming, or sweaty from running.
  • Shoes – 1 Nike Air. Get a genuinely good pair of sneakers. I bought a pair of the Nike Air, and they are ridiculously comfortable. You are going to be doing everything in them — riding, walking, running — so they have to be durable. It is an added bonus if they look decent. I repeat, you are going to be doing everything in these shoes, so choose carefully.
  • Socks – 4-5 pairs. Socks are important. If you’re up for washing your socks in the sink at night, you can even make do with 3 pairs. But remember that one pair has to be reserved for your motorcycle gear, and that pair will be especially stinky and sweaty.
  • Chappal – 1. Chappals are used everywhere. You’ll be glad you have one and sad if you don’t have one.
  • Towels – 1. People make a lot of fuss about the microfibre towels, but my favourite towels are the ones you get for cheap at the Indian cotton stores. They are light and compact. They don’t dry as quickly as the microfibre ones, but they are so much better at drying you, which is the number one purpose of a towel’s existence.
  • Bathroom Stuff – Toothbrush and toothpaste. Soap to wash clothes. That’s it. If you’re travelling, most places will give you soap. Just use them, and carry them with in a plastic bag, or in the bag they come in. Carry something to wash your clothes. Surf Excel powder is good because the fuss in washing is minimal. No shampoo. No deodorant. Shaving is a pain because you need to carry shaving cream. Instead, just carry a trimmer and deal with a bit of hair on your face. Buy one of the ones that charge with a USB cable and it will save you the necessity of carrying yet another cable.
Jackets, and a hint of headlamp if you look carefully
  • Winter jackets and stuff – This really depends on where you are going. But the primary thing is to pack layers. Cold: one layer. Colder: two or three layers. Coldest: ALL the layers! I was carrying:
    • One of those base layer shirts that are full-sleeve and very comfortable.
    • 1 cotton sweatshirt – You can use fleece, which is warmer, but more bulky.
    • A down jacket – The thickness of the down jacket will depend on where you are going. But with three layers below it, unless it’s very cold, you don’t need a fancy thick jacket.
      If it’s going to be very cold (<-10 deg C) where you’re going, or it’s going to be moderately cold (between -10 and 0 deg C) or a sustained period of time (i.e. camping. Hiking doesn’t count because you’ll get warm as you walk), you need a fat down jacket. I had only the thin one and managed with just these layers well into the negative temperatures.
    • A windproof and at least moderately waterproof layer. You can get one jacket that will protect against both wind and most of the rain, but you an also carry a poncho for wet times.
    • [Optional] One poncho: For the times when it’s very rainy. I didn’t have a poncho, but then, I enjoy getting wet.
  • Gloves
    • I managed for a long time with just one set of gloves. But these days, I feel like more are needed, because my hands have hurt from the cold multiple times while riding my motorcycle. The gloves I have:
      • 1 inner thin liner: To be worn when its cold.
      • 1 set of wool gloves: These are not strictly necessary, but they are very comfortable when it’s colder than you can manage with a thin liner, but not so cold that you absolutely need the waterproof gloves below
      • 1 set of waterproof thick gloves: For when it’s so cold that you can’t manage with both of the above. The problem with these gloves is that they are not very flexible and so wear them only when necessary. That is what I have learned.
  • Sunglasses: Get good sunglasses. Not much else to say there.
  • Swiss Knife: Considering I used mine mostly to cut vegetables and open packets of chips with the included scissors., it may be easy to think of a knife as overkill. But you’ll be glad to have one when someone else asks you for help cutting a rope. Don’t leave home without it. Also, don’t put it in your carry-on baggage.

Electronics

Electronics

I was working while travelling, so I needed to carry quite a lot of electronics. These items basically filled my small backpack.

  • Laptop and its Charger
  • Phone and its Cable and Charger
  • Kindle  and its Cable (you can share this with the phone if possible): I miss books on some days, but the convenience of the kindle is undeniable. On a mountaineering trip in July last year, I read about half a dozen books while lying a tent for ten days waiting for the weather to clear. Is it worth the money? Absolutely!
  • Camera, its charger, and an extra battery: I like having an actual camera with me, even though I find myself reaching for my phone more often. SLR cameras are good for night photography and wherever any zoom is required. Phones, even with their fans portrait mode, can’t match up to my 50 mm prime lens. More importantly, they feel substantial in my hand. They are heavy, and I feel that downgrading to a Point-and-Shoot isn’t worth. That is a place where your phone might do just as well.
  • Power bank and its Cable and Charger (can share with phone and kindle if possible): You should carry a power bank, because sometimes plug points don’t work, or your phone runs out of battery as you’re looking for a place to stay, or someone you’re travelling with needs it just for a bit.
  • USB hub: Very useful, especially when you have a laptop with only USB-C ports.
  • Earphones: Get ones that last long and sound decent. I have the Bose Soundsport wired headphones. They don’t make these any more because they switched to wireless, but I love the wired versions
  • GPS watch: If you like running, and you like watches, and you sometimes want to track your runs, but not carry your phone. Yes yes, a luxury item.
  • Bluetooth speaker: If you don’t like the speakers on your phone and laptop, and want to watch your TV shows in good quality.

Climbing and Camping and Stuff

Stuff for adventure

Reading about these things online will give you a headache. I would suggest trying a few brands, finding one you like, and sticking to it.

  • Tent: I have the Alpine mountaineering single person tent. It’s a great tent. Value durability over features.
  • Sleeping bag: I have a down sleeping bag from REI. I love it. It is rated only down to 4 deg C, but I’ve used it in much colder conditions wearing socks and a jacket and all has been good.
  • Harness and carabiners and all that: If you want.
  • Rock climbing shoes: If you want.
  • Headlamp: An absolute must. Carry it even if you’re not going camping. You’ll be happy you did when the power’s out in that crappy room you’re staying, and you wake up wanting to go to the bathroom.

Cooking Stuff

I carried all these things and then never used them, so they are presented here with only the briefest of explanations:

  • Stove: For cooking. I have one of those stoves that run on a propane/butane cylinder. I never felt like using it, so I never even bought gas.
  • Vessels: For cooking. I have one of those three-vessel combos that nestle into each other, and also leave space finally for the dish soap and a scrub in the innermost container. The outermost doubles as a plate. I have used this set extensively before, but it never saw action on this trip.
  • Aeropress: To make coffee. I was riding in the North, so it ended up being very easy and convenient to drink tea everywhere, so that’s what I did.

Bike Stuff

Being on a motorcycle trip, I had to carry a lot of things specifically for motorcycling. I would have loved to avoid all this extra stuff (and believe me, I tried), but the following items are absolutely necessary. If you look at any other motorcyclist, you’ll find they have many, many more things that they carry.

Motorcycle stuff. Helmet not pictured because it currently resides in a different city
  • Extra tube: Carry a front tube and back tube, because you don’t know which tire will go first. Alternatively, get tubeless tires and carry the puncture repair kit.
  • Helmet: Get a good helmet. Preferably full-face. The open-face helmets do feel better, but if you’re riding long distances, the full-face helmet makes a huge difference in comfort. For me, it has been the difference between coming home dead tired versus coming home reasonably fresh. You’ll also be glad that you have a full-face helmet if its raining.
  • Safety Goggles x 3: I have discovered (through a friend) that lab safety goggles are the best for protecting your eyes. They are sturdy, comfortable, and easy to clean of the remnants of splattered flies. They are easy to lose though
  • Phone Mount: I managed without a phone mount for a long time. But having your phone within reach just makes some things a lot easier. My phone has fallen off the mount twice, so be careful about the mount you buy. If you can, test its stability at high speeds.
  • Gloves: Riding gloves are nice, but you don’t need them and you can easily use one of the gloves you have saved for other things.
  • Bungee Cord x 3: Indispensable on the motorcycle. These are what secured my bags to the bike. The cords do get loose with a lot of use though; you’ll just have to buy new cords once you see that your luggage is slipping off your bike as you ride.
  • Cleaning towel: The bike needs a rag or something dedicated to wiping it off the dust, stuff, and water that inevitably find their way onto its surface.
  • Elbow guards and knee guards: I used to ride without them. Then I fell and got injured (not badly) and now I have them, though I still haven’t used them.

A small note

If you are riding a motorcycle as I did, dedicate one set of clothes to the motorcycle — underwear, shirt, pant, and socks. Don’t wear anything else while motorcycling, and don’t wear these clothes while doing anything else. They will get dirty, but that’s okay, because you will do laundry regularly.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. Hope this post is kind-of sort-of useful at least! If you have questions, or want more information, or want to let me know about that thing I missed, leave a comment below!

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