Top Things to Take When You're Touring

John Burns
by John Burns

Don't Leave Home Without These Essentials

About the time you’re sophisticated enough as a rider to bungee on a milk crate and hit the road for a day or three, it’s time to start thinking about what to bring along – that fine line between overpacking and wishing you’d brought your dang ____________. Here’s a quick list of the things we hate to be stuck without when the fickle finger of fate pokes us in the eyeball.

Tire Repair Kit

top things to take when you re touring, Hairy finger of Gabe points out second hole in one tire
Hairy finger of Gabe points out second hole in one tire.

Somebody always gets a nail in their tire. The best way to ward it off is to be prepared with a tire plug kit of some kind. We like the ones that come with CO2 cartridges best, for reinflation; otherwise you’ll also need a mini-pump. If you run tubes, God help you, you’ll need tire irons and patches. If your big touring bike runs tubes, be sure to spring for the motorcycle coverage on your AAA policy so you can have a nice flatbed ride to the nearest MC dealer without the $300 bill. Check your plug kit every couple of years; some of those plugs and adhesives disintegrate over time.


top things to take when you re touring

Tools are what guys over 50 always say you should take even though it’s a rare thing for anything to break on the new bikes we’re usually riding at MO. A small assortment to fix minor tump-over damage is never a bad thing to have, since the same modern bikes have skimpier and skimpier tool kits if they have them at all. If you’re going “Adventure riding,” expect the worst. A flat blade and a Phillips. Pliers or a Leatherman-type tool. Some Dykes in case you destroy your kickstand safety switch like we did on this poor little Versys. Two or three combination wrenches and Allen keys. Some duct tape. Maybe a little J-B Weld… people like CruzTools make all kinds of specialized kits.

Cruise control

top things to take when you re touring

I’ve single-handedly beaten the cruise control topic to death over the last couple of years (which is why now even the Aprilia RSV4 has electronic CC), but if your bike doesn’t have CC, have a look at the old reliable Throttlemeister. These high-quality made-in-Milwaukee mamas replace your bar end weights, and the right one’s internal ramp mechanism serves to work almost as well as electronic CC. Far better than no CC at all, at least. Being able to rest that right paw occasionally is indispensable if you’re going for more than just a day ride.

Situational Awareness

top things to take when you re touring

If you’re a SoCal person who’s never ridden in the Rockies, you might be surprised by a sudden cloudburst in the middle of August. Don’t be. It happens all the time. Don’t wander into Death Valley in summertime without plenty of water and the right gear to keep you from not emerging as a bleached skeleton. Know also that night time low temps really do get low. Understand that things go wrong, people get lost, and your cell phone can’t always help you. Embrace that the most confident people are often the most clueless. Dress and pack for the worst possible scenario. People who have people worried about them swear by their SPOT tracking devices.

Three Feet of Plastic Tubing

top things to take when you re touring

I keep this tubing in the garage to fuel up the lawnmower, but I usually throw it in a bag when I’m touring, too. Just in case somebody runs out of gas. Far easier than turning a motorcycle, or a passing car, upside down.

Decent Gear

top things to take when you re touring

You can do the Iron Butt Rally in a Harley half helmet, leather jacket and Nocona cowboy boots like I did, but only because I was on a Gold Wing with a big windshield, modular helmets had not yet been invented, and I was a moron. That stuff’s fine for short rides, but… Now that I’ve learned to add and remove layers beneath a nice textile outer layer with adjustable venting, I wouldn’t go back.

You don’t have to spend a fortune, though if you did spring for an Aerostich Roadcrafter suit (or similar), you’d find it’s perfect for about 90% of the touring you’ll ever do for the next 20 years at least. You stay fresher longer and arrive at your destination happier if you seal yourself off a bit from the worst of the elements, while still letting air flow through as needed. Learn from the Bedouins. Also from the Oregonians; it can rain anytime most places, and it’s no fun to ride wet for very long. A cheap rain suit is better than nothing if your jacket’s not waterproof. Ear plugs of course.

Two Credit Cards and Some Cash

top things to take when you re touring

Because sometimes one credit card stops working, and sometimes you just need cash. Do you need to be told not to forget your insurance card, your $600 Epipen, your anti-psychotics… with credit cards and cash, you can buy whatever else you require as needed. Wear the holey old underwear you were about to throw out anyway and leave a DNA trail of your route.

Cargo Net

top things to take when you re touring

I like the ones with the big plastic hooks instead of the small vinyl-covered steel ones; they’re easier on your bodywork. These things will stretch out to carry just about anything on back of your bike. Redundant tying-down is not a bad idea using bungee cords or rope. Do not learn the hard way about load security when your bedroll comes loose and winds up jammed in your drive chain or rear wheel.

A Way to Start Your Dead Bike

top things to take when you re touring

Plenty of people swear by their Weegos and things; the cheap imitation I had failed the one time I needed it. Motorcycle jumper cables, however, nearly always work when you can find a good Samaritan, and will fit into places car jumpers won’t. Batteries are mysterious creatures; be prepared for their unpredictability.

.44 Magnum Revolver

top things to take when you re touring

Hahaha! I kid. A little joke to kickstart the comments section! I know some people who won’t go anywhere without their gun, but I’m not one of them. Granted, criminals are always out there, but even the bad guys dig motorcycles. I’ve never had any problems on any of my travels, often relying on the kindness of strangers to help me out of uncomfortable situations. And by writing that, I’ll probably get plugged next time I leave the house. Be nice to people, smile, don’t bring up politics and knock on wood.


Airhawk Seat Cushion or Something

top things to take when you re touring

You know your butt better than I. Lots of riders swear by the Airhawk seat cushion or those bead jobbies to keep the air circulating under the gibletalia™ and the glutes fresh.

Butler Maps

top things to take when you re touring
So nice not to get home and find out you rode the freeway right past the best roads. In a perfect world, you’d use these Butler maps to plan your route ahead of time. For those of you who are tech-savvy enough to always find the best routes on your GPS, I salute you. Maybe because roads tend to maintain their positions over time, I remain analog when it comes to reconnaissance.

Hydration Pack

top things to take when you re touring

My current fave is a Kriega Hydro 3 backpack. Fill it with ice in the morning and you’ll have ice water till noon, then fill it again with more ice at the gas station soda fountain or McD’s. Keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day is important, and it’ll even cool your back a bit.

Cool Clothing and Bandanas

top things to take when you re touring

There are all kinds of water-activated high-tech cooling towels and garments on the market to keep you cool, and we love all of them. But evaporative cooling works great with any old t-shirt or bandana too. Douse yourself down, open your vents and ride. The key is having an outer garment that lets the right amount of air through without instantly mummifying you. (I’m back to my preferred Aerostich suit, swim trunks and t-shirt for summertime touring.) The other key is to carry as much water as you can in a hydration pack or wherever you’ve got room.


top things to take when you re touring

Great to have on hand for all sorts of hygienic reasons.

A Picture of James Hesketh’s Wife Zaydee

top things to take when you re touring

She’s been in that tank bag for 25 years, reminding James, through 48 states, Canada and Mexico, that he has a very good reason to return home safely. Which is nice. Inside the bag is a copy of:

top things to take when you re touring

This is a pretty cool resource the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America puts together for its members. It’s all about helping out other BMW owners when they’re on the road. Maybe the best reason to buy a Beemer?

That’s all I got for now!

Join the conversation
2 of 57 comments
  • ADB ADB on Jul 27, 2018

    So as my long, scrunched, flight from Houston lands in Atlanta yesterday afternoon, the gate is occupied, and we have to wait it out (back in steerage) in the middle of the terminal isle in 95 degree heat. I think to myself; "self; you probably have enough time to get in an article or two before they open the door". Next thing I know, everyone in my row is looking at me incredulously as I lose my Coke in one of those rare, uncommon, uncontrolled, belly laughs. You know the kind of rib breaking laughs you just don't see coming, and no one around you understands....

    ".44 Magnum Revolver"......

    Mr Burns, you earned it this week, well done.


  • Jeremy D Jeremy D on Jul 29, 2018

    As for the revolver, yeah, there are a lot of CC fanatics. I wonder if they all practice a lot of left-handed shooting....

    I never thought about the swim trunks idea. I did my last tour in "high performance" breathable Adidas underwear. They look like biker shorts, but without the funny butt pad that doesn't always feel right on a motorcycle seat. The swim trunks would be better when you just want to immediately take off the Roadcrafter, but I suspect not as good as the "high performance breathable underwear" when actually riding.

    A cotton T-shirt is probably better if you're going to do the evaporative cooling thing, (I don't have the guts for that) and if not, a breathable workout-style T-shirt instead.

    +1 on some type of throttle lock. I went 1730 miles in 4 days on my little CBR and thought I was doing OK, but it's a week later now and my right wrist is still stiff. Gonna use the throttle lock next time for sure.

    Good call on the baby wipes and plastic tubing and jumper cables!

    I'll add one more thing: an old washcloth soaked in Windex in a Ziploc bag in your tank bag. Gets bugs off the visor at stops quicker than anything, in my experience.