Home away from Home
When you’re on the road for any amount of time and don’t want to spend your time hopping from hotel to hotel you’ll inevitably end up camping.
Now I’m not somebody that has been to keen on camping in the past but I did spent a lot of nights when travelling on the bike in my tent over the years and as such learned some valuable lessons along the way. This article will be primarily about what I used on my Americas trip as well as some tips and pitfalls that you might run into if you decide to camp out with your bike for the first time.
Tents in general
There is a ton of tents to pick from depending on what you’re willing to carry and spend. You can go for a 40$ cheapo setup from Walmart or a 1000$ Hillberg or anywhere in between. What I’ve seen lately are a huge tents like the Redverz that even feature a little garage for the bike. I was looking into the Redverz tent at one point but ultimately came to the conclusion that it’s just overkill in any possible way. First off, these things are huge, are quite heavy and the garage is more of a gimmick than everything else. If you really feel the need to keep your bike out of the rain while on the road, maybe just stay home. Not to mention the fact that these things make “stealth” camping pretty much impossible. And while you may say “why even stealth camp ?” the thing is that sometimes it’s just better not to be seen. Maybe it’s land where camping isnt allowed or maybe you just have to camp near a busy road in Central America and don’t want to arouse any suspicion.
The 40$ Walmart tents, on the other hand, all have their shortcomings and if I’ve learned anything it’s that if you buy cheap with camping gear you inevitably buy twice. Sure, they might be good enough for 3 weekends a year but for any prolonged used in anything but fair weather they will fail sooner than later. The poles are made of the cheapest possible aluminum, the fabric will barely hold of anything but a light rainshower and you really don’t want to be caught in these in any serious storm.
There’s no general rule here but personally I feel anything in the 300$ upwards category will give you a decent quality that will last for longer trips without giving you any serious headaches. Of course there are a variety of options for each construction type ranging from ultralight to fairly heavy but what you carry in that regard is entirely up to you. On a small 250 less is more but if you’re riding something like a Goldwing a few Kilos extra won’t matter.
So let’s dive into my setup.
In the past, I used a Wechsel Outpost 2 Zero G Tunnel tent that I took all over Europe and even to Iceland. Now I did like the tent as it was very spacious and easy to setup but in Iceland’s Highlands, I ultimately ran into its limitations as far as stability goes.
So when I was preparing for my year on the road I ended up buying an Exped Orion 2 Dome Tent. Compared to the Wechsel it packed smaller and lighter, was completely freestanding and the dome construction gave it a lot more stability. The only downside was the vestibule was a lot smaller than on the Tunnel as well as the sleeping area also being a lot more confined but it was still big enough to accommodate me and all my motorcycle gear easily without getting cramped even on extended camps.
One of the big upsides of the Orion 2 is how fast and easy it is to set up even in pouring rain without getting the interior wet. The poles are outlying and after setting up a few times the whole thing would be standing in < 5min. There are vestibules and entrances on both sides of the tent so you can use one side as a gearshed and still have space to enter on the opposite side while still having access to your gear from the inside. This also comes in handy if you’re camping with 2 people as each of you will have their separate entrance and there will be no awkward crawling on top of each other during the night if you have to pee(we’ve all been there…).
As you can see in the layout picture there is enough space for 2 people to sit inside when its bad outside as well as the setup of the vestibules.
The tent also offers a small gearshed on top where you can put your dirty socks or whatever else you may want to dry overnight.
There are plenty of vents and you can always open the fabric on the main doors and just leave the mosquito netting in place to add some ventilation if temperatures get too hot.
There’s netting on all 4 corners of the interior to store stuff like headlamps, your phone, torches, etc. The floor is made of extremely durable nylon and I never had any issues with the interior of the tent getting went even in extremely heavy rain conditions(which I faced a fair bit).
With that let me get into the versatility of the tent. If used this thing from as far north as Coldfoot in Alaska all the way down to the jungles of Colombia and it never let me down. The poles and lines are bombproof and withstood thunderstorms in the Colorado Rockies without raising a sweat and the stake are good enough to even set it up in sand even tough you will need to add some rocks to weigh them down a little.
Here’s the tents specs:
Speaking of which the tent isn’t exactly cheap. Depending on where and when you buy it will cost you upwards of 530€(~630$).
Again, there are a ton of options out there for sleeping mats. Over the years I’ve pretty much-used everything, Basic foam mats, regular air mats you’d use for swimming, thin Therm-A-Rest Mats but what I eventually stuck with are the Exped Synmats. Let’s have a look at the individual types.
Foam Matresses really are the bottom of the scale here. They don’t offer much insulation, comfort or longevity but are light and cheap. That’s really all there is to be said about them. I wouldn’t recommend these to anyone, not even for single night trips. The same goes for swimming matresses, they offer better comfort than a standard foam mat but there is no insulation and, believe it or not, they are worlds apart in comfort from a proper sleeping matress.
Designs like the Therm-A-Rest Prolite and similar are what you want to use in fair weather for short trips. They are not very thick so comfort isn’t great but they offer good insulation. Now these mats are self-inflating. This is not a feature I’m a big fan off. The way it works is when you set up camp you undo the valve cap and just let it sit for 10-20min until its inflated. However it will never fully inflate to a firm state, you will always have to blow in some more air to get it up to “sleeping” level. But, as I said, for short trips these are good enough.
The first Exped Mat I used with Synmat 7 LW, 7, in this case, stands for the thickness, 7cm, and LW meaning Long Wide for a longer and wider matress. They offer different varieties to fill all body sizes. The mat gave great insulation as well as good sleeping comfort.
These come with an integrated hand pump that requires a little mechanical effort to inflate them. Not an ideal solution after a long day of riding but works better than having to inflate with your breath as you have no moisture buildup inside.
For my big trip, however, I opted for the full luxury version of it, the Exped Synmat Mega 12 LW. 12cm thick, long and wide. This is probably the best sleeping experience you can get in a tent. The insulation is excellent and the thickness of the mat makes for an excellent sleeping experience.
You can tell from the pictures it looks slightly different from it’s smaller brother. Now, I will out myself as an Exped fan here and point out that these are in their “Fast + Light” category. For deep cold conditions, they offer mats with proper down insulation but chances are when you get in temps where you need a Downmat you don’t want to ride your bike, to begin with.
The surface on these is nice and unline swimming matresses it prevents the sleeping back from moving around too much.
Bottom line about mats would be that find one that fits your general needs. A downmat may be warm and comfortable but can be a hassle if you want to use it all year round. This I think is where the Synmats provide a good balance between comfort and size/weight. One thing to bear in mind that is that these mats are expensive. They will start around 100€ and the model I used will cost you around 180-200€ depending on wether or not you manage to find it on sale.
If you need help deciding on a mat check out Expeds excellent Youtube Channel. They have a bunch of different videos on the pros and cons of each mat, it helped me a great deal when picking my mats and offers some not everyday insight into their products.
Rest your Head
And finally, a place to rest your head. This comes down to personal flavour. There are people that can just sleep fine without a pillow on a sleep mat, I cant. I’ve tried a bunch of different ones over time but again ended up with an Exped design. The Exped Downpillow L. This things packs very small, is super lightweight and while no airpillow will ever offer the comfort of a proper pillow this thing gets very close. The outer liner is made up of soft, washable material and down-filled making for nice insulation and the airpillow core can be removed so you can just toss the thing in the washing machine. Another neat feature is the pillow has a strap on each side so you can just run a cord below your sleeping mat to mount it in place, always a bit of a problem for me when using pillows like this one on sleeping mats.
Again, price-wise this doesn’t come cheap at around 60€ but it’s something that’s well worth the money.
No sleeping bag ?
I decided not to talk about sleeping bags in this particular piece since that is a topic I can fill an entire article on its own with. I will make a post about that at some later point 😉