Packing for Off-road Adventures: the LIST.

packing your adventure motorcycle

Please: think before you pack. He didn’t.

Here’s the thing: writing about adventure motorcycling means that packing lists most assuredly figure in my fate.

So, that makes this the day to trot out the clichés:

You can’t fight fate.

Time waits for no one.

Man does not control his own fate; the women in his life do that for him.

Oh, that last one isn’t really what I’m getting at — it might be true, but not what I’m getting at….

Packing lists are the first thing many people ask me about; they’re the last thing most riders agree on. And that means I’m going to ruffle some feathers.

Rustler. Ruffler. Whatever…

But I’m not really a ruffler. So let me approach my first kick at the can this way. I’m not going to push my opinions or make any judgements. I’ll simply tell you what I pack.

But first you need a couple details.

The gear I take on any overnight adventure bike trip is always the same, whether for one night or 30. The only variable items are food.

Here’s how it works. I roll into some little town with my bike loaded up, find the local greasy spoon, and use GPS and maps to plan a route through the desert or forest to the next town. Then I provision with food to last me two to three days, top up my fuel tank and water bladders and get riding. When I reach the town I’ve targeted…well…lather rinse and repeat.

The problem’s between your legs.

The limiting factor to how far I ride in two to three days is sloshing around between my legs. The gas tank of my TE610, combined with the two litres of supplemental fuel I carry, gives me close to 300 kilometres’ range. It doesn’t seem like much distance for a three-day ride – especially if you’re used to road riding – but the terrain is often challenging, so the riding pace is slow. And I stop to take lots of photos.

Oh, and I’ve a got a problem with mornings, so I usually start riding long after the early bird has not only found but digested his worm and is looking for a copy of Reader’s Digest to peruse in the bathroom….

45 litres of luggage

Okay, that was my first long-winded explanation before I give you the list. Here’s the second: I fit all my gear in approximately 45 litres of luggage space, plus a tool tube mounted to the front of the skid plate.

adventure bike luggage
Packed and ready to ride — 3 days or 30.

My luggage breaks down like this:

  • Outdoor Research Drycomp compression backpack – 30 litres *strapped to the seat with Roc Straps; my camp chair folds around the pack.
  • Wolfman Enduro saddlebags (pair) – 11 litres total  *discontinued, but similar to the Wolfman Daytripper bags
  • Tankbags (pair) – 4 litres total  *homemade, using two old fanny packs
  • Tooltube – 2 litres total  *homemade (yes, this is a theme with me) from 4″ ABS piping

47 litres is enough volume for all my gear, 7 litres of water, food, tools and spares. 

I also have two litres of gas in bottles flanking my rear fender.

extra fuel bottles

To put that in perspective, many soft saddlebag sets fall in the 60 to 80 litre range; riders usually add a tail bag as well, and these frequently offer about a 30 to 40 litre capacity. So I’m toting no more than half the 90 to 120 litre volume I see on most adventure bikes.

So that’s…50% smaller, right?

Yes: I’m doing the math and blowing my own horn. And finally – drum roll please (how many of these can I shoehorn in here?) – here’s my packing list.

General equipment

  • Wallet (water resistant):
    • Passport, credit card, debit card, license, health card, auto club (CAA or AAA) card, travel health insurance card, cash, bike insurance, spare motorcycle key
  • Electronics:
    • Cell phone
    • Batteries (4 x AA), USB 12V DC battery charger, 6″ USB cables (1 each, mini and micro USB)
    • Camera
    • GPS (x 2: Lowrance iFinder; Garmin Oregon 600)
    • Flash drive with motorcycle information
    • Kobo reader (mini)  *Remember: I mostly ride solo. I take this because I spend lots of time reading in the evening and don’t want to rely on my phone in a rough, dirty environment — although I do also load books onto it.
GPS and maps
Those are pulleys for my Z-drag recovery kit mounted on the left mirror stalk. You can see my pair of GPS units and paper maps and AA battery charger on the handlebars.
  • First aid kit  *detailed list of contents in an upcoming post
first aid kit
As a solo rider, I carry a substantial first aid kit prioritizing two functions: bandaging and pain relief.
  • Journal and pen
  • Compass
  • Lighter
  • Knife
  • Headlamp
  • Sunglasses, cloth case
  • Eye drops, TUMS, Lip balm (in small Ziploc bag)
  • Repair tape (Tenacious)
  • 2 carabiners and z-drag (mechanical advantage) recovery kit
  • Flares (x2) and launcher
  • Tire gauge
adventure bike accessories
Note high-tech reference scale in photographs, courtesy of Honda Civic.

adventure accessories packed

Camping gear

  • Camp chair  *rolled around the backpack in the bike photo above
  • Ground sheet
  • Sleeping mattress (Thermarest NeoAir XLite, short)  *take a repair patch
  • Tent (REI Passage 1)
  • Sleeping bag (down fill)
  • Pillow (Cocoon ultralight inflatable)

camping gear

adventure camping equipment
Camp chair, with tent and poles. And really fancy high-tech reference scale phone-thingey.

Cooking and kitchen

camping kitchen

camping kitchen kit


*all clothing items except t-shirts are synthetic; I wear cotton T-shirts because I generally ride in hot, dry weather and don’t require the wicking properties of synthetics. Plus they feel better. For cooler weather and nighttime, I change into my synthetic base-layer top.

  • Baseball cap
  • Toque
  • Shorts, usable for swimming
  • Underwear (x 2 pairs)
  • Socks (x 2 pairs thin, 1 pair thicker)
  • Long-sleeved fleece top
  • Long-sleeved base-layer top
  • T-shirts (x 2, cotton)
  • Pants (1 pair)
  • Waterproof stuff sack to hold it all
  • Flip flops (in plastic bag)
  • Jacket (synthetic PrimaLoft insulation) in compression stuff sack
camping clothing
Heavy socks and fleece sweater are not included in this image. Forgot em.

camp clothes

Riding gear

  • Boots
  • Gloves
  • Helmet with goggles
  • Mesh jacket
  • Mesh pants
  • Ear plugs

Bathroom kit

  • Pack towel, mini
  • Toothpaste, toothbrush
  • Glasses (in cloth bag)
  • Contact lens solution
  • Contact lens case  *I’ve cut mine in half; since my prescription is the same in both eyes, I can drop both lenses into one cup and not worry about mixing them up.
  • Contact lenses  *on my eyeballs
  • Contact lenses, spare pair
  • Baby powder
  • Sunscreen
  • Soap
  • Dental floss
  • Prescription meds if you got ’em
  • Stuff sack to hold all these items

*I pack toilet paper separately, in a Ziploc bag.

bathroom kit for adventure motorcycling

bathroom kit packed



camping gear for adventure motorcycle
That’s pretty much everything…

adventure bike camping gear

On the bike

  • Saddlebags (11 litres)
  • Backpack (30 litres) *my old Summit Sack holds a bit more than the new 27 litre model
  • Roc Straps
  • Tool tube (2 litres)  *look for upcoming posts on my tool kit. In the meantime…
  • Fuel bottles (2 x 1 Litre)
  • GPS mounting brackets (x 2)
  • 12VDC to USB adapter for charging batteries
  • Paper maps

As I am a true gourmet, you’re likely desperate to know what kind of food I might take. So the following list fits under the “Don’t blame me; you asked for it” kind of maxim.

Food — or, as Yvonne calls it, “Seriously? I’m not eating that.”

  • Milk powder
  • Granola
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Pasta and sauce prepared meals
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Ramen instant noodles
  • Power bars

What’s on your list?

Let me know if I missed something, or if you want details about specific items. And hang around for future posts: I’ll fill in some gaps about camping gear, first aid kits, tools and luggage.

Perfection: Drycomp Summit Sack

That’s my orange and grey Summit Sack in the picture up there.

Okay, let’s not quibble about details or colour preferences: it’s perfect enough. As you soon shall see.

That rack-top spot behind your bike’s seat can create an unholy temptation. I mean, Eve and the apple kind of temptation. As in, if you succumb to that pernicious asp, you just might doom humanity to eternal suffering. (The Christian part of humanity, I suppose. Hold on…Adam and Eve are in the Koran, too, aren’t they? And the Torah? So…why exactly are we building walls?)

Anyway. I’m only dealing with one specific consequence of temptation here: the dangerous, tail-happy handling of an overloaded, top-heavy motorcycle. Same thing, really, in my mind: lousy handling…eternal suffering.

So why is this an issue of Biblical / Koranic / Torah-nish proportions? Because of the proportions of that flat patch of real estate behind your seat. It’s pretty big. There are lots of potential places to fasten and secure your yard-sale of gear. And that, it appears, is just what many riders do.

Image credit: Mike Werner

You like that? If you don’t need a pizza oven on your bike, how about the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

You could try something like this one. I see the paddle, but where’s the creek? Is that red thing the boat?! OMG.

Need I go on? I think not.

Look, I’m not trying to insult anybody here. If that’s your bike I found pictured on the Internet when I searched for “overloaded,” I’ll happily remove the pic and tender my sincere apologies. I’ll even admit that I may have at times packed my own bike with everything but the espresso-making cooktop, too.

In fact, on one of my early adventure rides, my old KLR was so heavy it literally fractured the ground.

Okay, that’s actually just the Alvord Desert in Oregon.

But the point is, over time I’ve learned the evils of temptation. Putting lots of weight out behind your seat is the work of Beelzebub because it…

  • Upsets the handling of your bike: high, heavy and hangin’ out the back is the off-road version of original sin
  • Could bend, crack or even snap your subframe, which is often made of brittle aluminum, and sometimes even plastic
  • Impedes your ability to pick up your bike after a fall
  • Obstructs your efforts to swing into the saddle
  • Adds more weight than is necessary

In addition, if your personal version of behind-the-seat sin is hard cases, you’ve got another potential problem. They can deform in crashes, refuse to close tightly, and let dust and water into your espresso maker. The typical solution is to cram your gear into stuff sacks, slip those inside a liner bag, and tip the whole thing into a box. I have one word for you: purgatory.


But, I say unto you, salvation is at hand: the Outdoor Research Drycomp Summit Sack.

This bag is the Holy Grail for which I quested many a year, like a knight errant on a Suzuki.

This seraphic chalice holds my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, synthetic-fill jacket, all my clothing and a pair of sandals — with room to spare (fully expanded, it holds 27 Litres).

Summit Sack, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

  1. Light: just over 300 g / 11 oz
  2. Waterproof and dustproof. Not resistant; proof.
  3. Durable: mine has been up close and personal with desert sandpaper dozens of times; endured heat and blazing sun for months — and it has never torn and shows little abrasion.
  4. Compressible: it’s a compression sack, so you can shrink your pile of stuff even more. Now, that’s my personal version of paradise.
  5. Cheap like gravel! $85 (USD) from the manufacturer. Okay, maybe that’s actually my version of paradise.
  6. It’s a backpack! You don’t need to carry an empty backpack somewhere on the bike so you can gear up for day hikes or a stroll through town. This sack is also part of my emergency planning: when I have to walk out of the wilds, I need a way to carry water, first aid supplies, maps, shelter — and this is it.

I mean, this is IT! Get one. Now. (No, I’m not making a commission; I’m just excited.)

That final point there, number 6, is where Giant Loop’s otherwise excellent Coyote and Great Basin bags fail: they can’t double as a backpack. To be fair, Giant Loop’s luggage solutions combine the tail bag and panniers, so I’m sort of comparing apples to fig leaves…but we’ll talk about that later, in a post about panniers. Lots to chew on in that post.

Giant Loop Coyote saddle bag

We do have a set of the Coyote bags, and we do like them: they’re strong and secure on the bike, though somewhat difficult to access due to their shape, and not entirely water and dust proof due to the large zipper. Waterproofing is achieved with an extra set of roll-top bags used inside the exterior bag. When I ride with a partner, we use the Coyote for her bike and still have the convenience of a backpack, because I stick to the Summit Sack.

Oh, speaking of sticking: I secure the bag to the bike with Rok Straps. If you don’t already have some, add them to your shopping list. If bungee straps are bologna, Rok Straps are caviar; if bungee straps are a rusty old bicycle, Rok Straps are whatever Elon Musk is dreaming up while he sits in traffic on his way to his empire — er, I mean, on his way to work. Except Rok Straps are cheap. Elon Musk’s lovely contraptions are not cheap.


And, because you like options, here’s an option: if you want to carry a bit more stuff, the Drycomp Ridge Sack is 4 Litres larger, a bit more beefy and has an external pocket for a water bladder. It costs about 75% more…meaning it’s a princely $151 bucks (USD). Very tempting!

…or you could just stay home and be a couch potato.


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