What to Pack For a Motorcycle Tour

Ryan Adams
by Ryan Adams

Planning for the road ahead

Ask any well-traveled motorcyclist who has spent time touring on his steed what to pack and you’ll likely hear something along the lines of: take everything you’re planning to bring and cut that in half, and maybe halve it a second time.

I learned this on my own after a few long trips. During my first long ride, which was something like 3,400 miles up and down the western U.S., I knew fairly quickly that I had packed much more than I would need and would then pack and repack all of these things each morning for a couple of weeks.

What to pack for a motorcycle tour really depends on where you are going, what type of riding you’re doing, and how much space you have. I tend to pack more luxury items on long road-focused trips than I do in my backpack for multi-day dual-sport rides. Here, we’ll cover on-road touring. Let’s start with the stuff, aside from your bike, that you’ll be depending on most: your gear.

Your Gear

As I’ve gotten more practical (older), I realize just how convenient modular helmets can be. Ditch your ego, and give one a try, it will probably be hard to go back to a standard helmet afterward. Most importantly though, you want a helmet that is going to provide a weather-tight enclosure should the elements rear their moist heads. I’ve been using the new AGV Sportmodular, and as my first modular helmet, I couldn’t be happier.

Sunglasses on, fellas! Photo by Thai Long Ly

Whether you ride with them on or not, sunglasses can be helpful to bring. Maybe you only want to bring one helmet visor with you? Put the clear one on your helmet and wear sunglasses during the day. “You never know how late (or early) you’ll be on the road, and not being able to see is the last thing you need…” says B. Jaswinski. It’s much easier to throw sunglasses into your pack or pocket quickly than taking the time to get out another shield to swap. Of course, you might consider a helmet with a drop down sun visor which takes care of both issues above. Getting a Pinlock insert to keep your shield from fogging can also be a worthy investment for a touring lid.

Technical base layers like the Alpinestars Ride Tech Long Sleeve will keep you dry and comfortable during long rides. They also dry fast if you decide to wash them in the evening.

Starting from layer one, wearing technical layers like the Alpinestars base layer shown above can help keep you comfortable in a multitude of environments. A sweat-wicking base layer and breathable mid layer will help keep you comfortable and dry. The fast-drying properties of such apparel can also be helpful if you need to give them a wash in a hotel after a few days of riding, they’ll usually be dry by the morning.

In terms of jackets, pants, boots, and gloves, I’ve always found the best gear is the most versatile gear. A jacket with a built-in rain liner is great for reducing bulky layers, but if the rain lets up while you’re riding through the Midwest in the summer, you’ll be wishing you could ditch that waterproof liner because it’s going to get muggy quick, fast, and in a hurry.

The Dainese D-Explorer is about as versatile as they come with a removable Gore-Tex liner and a quilted liner, this jacket can get you through the chill of winter, to the scorching days of summer, and just about everywhere in between.

The Dainese D-Explorer jacket and pant seem to tackle the task of offering the ultimate versatility, substantial protection, and comfort better than any other touring gear that I’ve tried. Check it out.

The D-Explorer jacket and pant both have a quilted liner for warmth, and a Gore-Tex liner for waterproofness. These two liners can also be easily removed when they aren’t needed and be used together or separately. It’s best to pack those waterproof layers in an easily accessible location in case of a sudden onslaught of precipitation. Adding to the versatility of this kit are the large panels on the front and back of the jacket, as well as two panels on the front of the pants which can be zipped down to reveal large mesh sections that allow for a lot more airflow than a standard zip-open vent could ever hope to supply. CE-rated armor is included in the standard areas while back and chest protection will need to be purchased separately.

I’m not saying the Dainese model mentioned above is the most versatile on the market, but it is absolutely the most versatile I have used. I have yet to find anything that rivals the kit for what I look for in a touring setup.

The Racer Sprint is a comfortable protective short cuff glove and with something like the Racer MultiTop 2 in your luggage, you’ll be set for any situation.

If you have the space, bringing two pairs of gloves can keep you a happy camper should the temps increase or decrease. We recommend a lighter glove and a waterproof option.

For boots, you should do a bit of research to understand what kind of weather you’ll run into though, for me personally, I don’t mind using waterproof boots such as the Dainese Torque D1 Out with Gore-Tex or something similar on most of my long rides to be safe if mother nature tries to rain on your parade. Probably the most important part of choosing a boot is picking something protective that you have been able to put some miles in in order to get them broken in a bit. To put it in perspective, you wouldn’t begin a 15+ mile hike with new shoes, would you?

Troy’s touring advice further advocates the importance of well-fitting gear:

“An absolute essential? Making sure your helmet (or gear in general) is the right fit. It wasn’t even a long trip – just to Laguna Seca – but the helmet I was wearing felt like it was crushing my head by the time we hit our gas stops. I’d only ever worn it for short trips before and didn’t notice it. Now on this long trip, I was in agony…”

Other bits you might consider would be a Buff (a cloth necktube or bandana) which can come in handy for dust mitigation, warmth, cooling if moistened, among other uses. Earplugs should be worn all of the time, but on long rides, as is the case on long flights, the droning sounds of wind and road noise can be physically exhausting, making ear protection more critical when pounding out the miles.

If it makes sense to you, Bluetooth headsets like the Sena 30K can be a nice luxury too, but we understand if you’re trying to disconnect.

Now that you’ve chosen the most versatile gear that you’ve found, let’s talk about what’s going into that luggage of yours.

Panniers, Luggage, Dry Bags, Tank Bags, Side Cases, Top Cases, etc.

Whatever type of luggage you have, let’s discuss what you should be cramming in there.

Tools. You should bring the necessary tools for basic roadside fixes at a minimum. If you are able, bringing a more expansive toolkit – and knowing how to use it – can be what keeps you from being stranded roadside waiting for help and a nice warm dinner at your intended destination.

“My very first tour was 11,000 miles long and took three months, and I learned – more than once – on that trip that a well-outfit toolkit is essential when traveling. The kit should include things other than just tools. You can do remarkable things with bailing wire and hose clamps when you have no other choices.” – Evans Brasfield, Managing Editor, Author, Father, All-Around-Okay Guy.

For $50 on Aerostich’s website, this thing is worth its weight in gold for how many times it has saved my bacon.

At minimum, we suggest bringing a tire patch kit and a way to air your tire back up. Some kits come with CO2 cartridges which can be quick, but also require a lot of cartridges to entirely fill a flat tire. I personally opt to bring a small air compressor that I purchased from Aerostich a few years ago. The entire thing is about the size of a roll of toilet paper and has leads to connect to a battery via the terminals or a battery tender lead as well as a 12-volt adapter, which is handy if your bike has an outlet. I’ve used it countless times in my battles with the sharp-object-ridden 405 freeway.

In regard to Evans’ comment, other things that might be kept in anyone’s toolkit besides tools could be zip ties and Quicksteel (or something like it). These quick-fix items can be invaluable when you need them. Also, in case it gets dark, a headlamp like the one picked below from Black Diamond will keep your hands free for tooling about.

Just a few necessities. Your Clif bar flavors may vary.

Toiletries can also be dependent on where and how you plan your moto-trip to unfold. Obviously, if you plan on camping you’ll have other things to consider. Basic hygiene products are generally a good idea unless you’re a nasty SOB. Truly necessary toiletries you’ll want to be sure to pack are items such as bug spray, sunscreen, and chapstick.

Touching back on clothes, technical layers generally work the best. They’re lightweight, they dry quickly and they’re meant to work well together. If you’re more of a “it’s not about the destination, but more about the journey” kind-of-guy and plan to spend most of your trip riding with only nights spent relaxing, there’s not much reason to bring more than one change of clothes to slip into in the evening and some lightweight shoes or sandals. You’ll be spending most of your day wearing that versatile riding gear that you selected carefully with our input above, anyway.

I’ve used this SPOT Gen 3 tracker all over the world, and it works great. With air evacuation at the push of a button and breadcrumb tracking with a link that can be sent to your selected friends list, the SPOT unit provides peace-of-mind for solo travelers and their loved ones at home.

In case you are mechanically inept and you find yourself stranded, it’s a good idea to keep some water and food with you as well and perhaps a SPOT Gen 3 GPS tracking device.

A well-thought-out first aid kit with a basic understanding of how to use it can also help, if not for yourself, for someone else.

Other bits of kit you might want to include would be a small battery pack for keeping your phone, Bluetooth communicator, or whatever else charged along with the accompanying cables, real paper cash (it still exists), a backup map (GPS, phone, paper map), and a bungee net, I like to throw mine over everything which makes for an easy place to secure gloves at a windy truck stop or once you’ve unloaded for the evening, it can be handy for grabbing things like firewood.

If you’re noticing that you’re almost at the end of this article and we haven’t mentioned camping gear, fear not. That subject is worthy of its own article, but if you can’t wait for us to crank out that gem for you, look to your local backpacking outfitter for potential supplies. Another great resource is the Aerostich website. I would suggest you wait, comfortable in the knowledge that we’ll get to the camping supplies next month.

Cruise control is not for taking pictures of people abusing cruise control, but it sure makes it easier!

John’s suggestion may want to be considered some time prior to packing for a motorcycle trip, but here is Mr. Burns’ sage advice for being comfortable on a moto-tour:

“Do I have to even write this out? Cruise control. Electronic cruise control lets you move around on the bike, pay attention to the scenery while you ignore the speedo, and makes any journey of more than an hour way easier on your mind and body. Luckily all the OEMs are wising up to this, though I did notice the new Panigale V4S does NOT have cc, a glaring omission.”

There are a lot of different ways to pack for a motorcycle trip and many depend on where you are going, what time of year it is, and what you’re riding, but we hope our suggestions gave you some ideas and a place to start when planning your next moto-scursion.

Have any other tips you’ve found helpful from your long-hauls on two wheels? Leave them in the comments section to help out the moto-community here on Motorcycle.com.

Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams

Ryan’s time in the motorcycle industry has revolved around sales and marketing prior to landing a gig at Motorcycle.com. An avid motorcyclist, interested in all shapes, sizes, and colors of motorized two-wheeled vehicles, Ryan brings a young, passionate enthusiasm to the digital pages of MO.

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2 of 10 comments
  • Allison Sullivan Allison Sullivan on Jul 04, 2018

    I always have two pairs of gloves. If one gets soaked, they'll take at least a day to dry out, probably more if I'm camping. Maybe some people don't care about riding with wet smelly hands, but I do.

    And a 1L water bottle. Keeping hydration up makes long rides much more comfortable, and why pay exorbitant gas station prices for water that comes free from a tap?

  • Mark Mark on Jul 04, 2018

    Jackets & pants with removable inserts are crap. That's what I bought when I first started riding. What a pain in the ass. I ended up never using the liners. Replaced the thermal liners with thermal layers. Replaced the waterproof liner with rain gear.

    Buy a mesh outfit, and a gore-tex oversuit.