Packing for a trip that spans over several months and touches nearly every possible environment condition can seem pretty daunting. You will want to bring everything possible only to quickly discover that you have no room for it. The best rule to follow is that ‘less is more’ in the sense that less size is more space, less weight is more handling control, and less gear is more money saved. You will find that you have brought a few items you don’t need along the trip, but the below items are the bare essentials you will need to comfortably survive. This is your trip in the end, so pack what you want and learn as you go (perhaps do a small 1-2 week trip prior to departing).
Helmet: A comfortable, not loose, helmet will make for an enjoyable experience. A lot of riders opt for a modular helmet, but personally I find that a full face with a ‘peak’ is the best option. The peak will help block the sun on early or late rides. Using a tinted visor will make long days more comfortable, but if you choose this path I recommend you bring a pair of clear goggles to use if the tint impairs vision in some environments. I used the Shoei Hornet X2 helmet and was very pleased.
Audio: If you one who loves music, then long riding days are perfect for discovering new music while seeing new lands. Sena has been making excellent Bluetooth products for a while now and the batteries can last for 13+ hours easily. Not only do you have music, but it makes for easy GPS directions. I have been using the Sena 10c, which has a built in camera. It works well, but the camera software is still too new to be efficient in use and battery life. I would recommend waiting for the 2nd or 3rd generation.
Jacket: Versatility is key with a riding jacket as you will be hot one day, cold the next, and either day could be wet as well. A waterproof jacket with several vents is the best choice. You can elect to bring a rain suit if waterproof gear it outside of your range. Most jackets lately come with the approach of ‘bring your own liner’ when it comes to warmth. If this is the case, ensure that the jacket has some room to add warm layers. I used the REV’IT Dominator jacket and it was perfect in every environment.
Pants: Some motorcycle pants can be very hot to wear, but the level of protection is a good balance when riding down rough roads. Be sure to find comfortable pants with good knee and hip protection. While you can take your jacket off, the pants will become a daily item that you will want to be comfortable in. Vents will help keep you cool and some thermal clothes will keep you warm. If you end up with a waterproof jacket but not pants, bring a small waterproof over-pants to add on for the really wet days (if can be an outdoors item, motorcycle specific might cost more). The best pants I found have been the BMW Motorrad Summer III, which zip off to shorts!
Boots: Again, comfort is key. Due to space requirements and my desire to do some hiking I chose to wear high, waterproof, hiking boots rather than ADV boots. This has been problematic though as the tread is not designed for off road riding on sharp pegs and shifting. I have been through 3 pairs of boots now and wish I had started with a comfortable pair of ADV boots in the first place. High ADV boots would have also prevented some painful moments of rocks being kicked into my shins. Compromise if you want, but ADV boots are designed for this trip.
Gloves: This choice is difficult and most people will opt to bring a pair of summer gloves and waterproof winter gloves. I attempted to do this but found that I only ever used the summer gloves through rain and snow. This was only possible with heated grips, wind shields, and a bit of tolerance though. I will not be changing this approach in the future unless I plan on spending months in winter environments.
Neck Protection: This is a small thought, but one that will make you happy in the long run. Buying a simple neck gaiter will prevent sunburns during long rides and can help reduce sand and dirt from going into the helmet. A windbreaker gaiter was essential for comfort in Patagonia as it kept all of the cold air from entering the jacket and helmet. I have used the Buff Windproof gaiters for many years.
This is the portion where everyone, to include myself, gets a little excessive. I started my trip with a lot, but now I live with minimal items and just get used to the fact that ‘yes, I wore this shirt for three days in the row’. You’re on an adventure, you will smell at moments. Once you get past that you will save money and weight. The following is my entire inventory that is still excessive I think:
- 4 – T-Shirts (moisture wicking is best)
- 1 – Thermal long-sleeve shirt (warmest and lightest as possible)
- 1 – Lightweight rain jacket
- 1 – Compressible down jacket
- 4 – Boxer briefs (moisture wicking is best)
- 1 – Thermal underwear pant
- 6 – Pairs of socks (feet get the most smell abuse)
- 1 – Pair of thermal socks
- 1 – Board shorts (For swimming and walking around)
- 1 – Lightweight trousers with zip-off capability (two pairs of shorts!)
- 1 – Pair of tennis shoes
- 1 – Pair of sandals
- 1 – Folding bill hat
- 1 – Beanie
- 1 – Microfiber bath towel
Tent: I started the trip in a bivy and quickly learned that, while efficient for a small trip, a tent is crucial for living out of over many months. When choosing a tent look to find small, lightweight, two doors (for ventilation), and waterproof. These are typically backpacking tents, but they come with a cost. If you are traveling solo, a two person tent would be perfect so that you can have space for gear and a place to sleep. If you plan on sharing a tent then more space will be required. The best option for a two person use tent with extra space is the Omega 250 Tunnel Tent. This gives a separate space for gear, which is great on rainy days. Tip: bring a Sil Tarp to create a dry outdoor space and reduce the amount of rain on your tent.
Cooking Equipment: Avoid carrying traditional propane bottles, your motorcycle has all the fuel you need when using a gasoline stove. The MSR Wisperlite International Stove can burn gasoline efficiently at virtually any elevation. Aside from the bottle, the stove itself is small and can easily fit inside a backpacking pot set. I use the GSI Bugaboo Cooking Set and managed to fit the stove inside after removing the cups and bowls.
Sleeping mat: Sleeping mats can come in all sizes, with the smaller ones costing more. Beyond comfort, a mat is required to help insulate you from the ground. On cold nights the ground will quickly take away all of your warmth, regardless of sleeping bag. Spend the extra money for a smaller mat (storage size, not inflation size) as the space savings are nice. When picking a mat, make sure it is a multi-chambered mat rather than just a few chambers, such as the EXPED Mat, because if one chamber breaks then you cannot repair it or sleep on it. I have been using this amazing mat from Sea to Summit gear, the Comfort Light Mat.
Sleeping bag: Choosing a sleeping bag is a balance between comfort level and size. The warmer rating a sleeping bag has, the likelihood that it will be much larger. But there is a way around such a large size and being forced to use a really warm sleeping bag in hot environments. I purchased a 32 degree sleeping back from Kathmandu and then also bring a Sea to Summit Reactor Sleeping Bag Liner that brings the temperature rating down to 12 degrees. The liner can also be used during warm days as a simple sheet. Warmth variation and compact.
Pillow: Yes you can use clothing to be a pillow, but after consecutive days of riding and camping a pillow truly makes a difference and it doesn’t take up a lot of space. There are many offerings available, but I found that the Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Ultra Light to be the best to sleep on and repair. Be sure not to over inflate your pillow as it could damage it.
You will run into problems and you will need tools to resolve them. Review your motorcycle and determine what size sockets and allen wrench tools are most common and bring them. Review the tools you need and find the lightest possible. For my KLR I determined that I needed the following:
- Socket wrench w/ extension, 8mm, 9mm, 10mm, 11mm, 12mm, and 13mm
- Individual allen wrenches: 8mm, 7mm, 6mm, 5.5mm, 5mm, 4.5mm, and 4mm
- Locking pliers
- Wire cutters
- Adjustable 8″ wrench
- Wrenches: 8mm, 10mm, and 12mm
- Reversible screwdriver
- Stock 14mm, 17mm, 19mm, 27mm wrenches for tires
- Sparkplug socket
- Some zip-ties
- Pressure gauge
- 2 tire irons and a tire spoon
- Valve core remover
- Small, electric, pump such as the Slime Compressor
- Tube patch or plug kit, depending on your type of tires
These are considered excessive or luxury items, but the basics are nice to have.
- Portable Battery Charger – Charge this while riding, charge devices while sleeping.
- Nikon D7200 w/ 18-140mm lens – This is the camera I have used for most of my photos.
- GoPro Hero Session – Push to record, push to stop. High quality, waterproof, and easy to use. Not good for scuba diving though as the pressure can depress the button.
- Google Cellphone with Project Fi – Cheap international phone with data.
- Lightweight, durable, laptop or tablet.
- External Hard Drive – Solid-state drives are the best, but expensive. My current drive has easily lasted 26,000 bumpy miles.