Packing Light – The Best Gear for Adventure!

How to travel without overloading your motorcycle. Advice our Editor needs!
How to travel without overloading your motorcycle. Advice our Editor needs!


Back-country enthusiast, lifetime rider, mountaineer, hiker, and outdoor retailer, Jayson Faulkner, offers advice to save wayward adventure motorcyclists from being buried under an avalanche… of their own gear! Here’s how to travel light without forgoing comfort be it for a weekend or for months on the road.

Why so serious? Bad packing advice?
Why so serious? Bad packing advice?

It amazes me to see an Adventure Rider passing by so loaded with camping gear they look like a Nepalese porter heading to Everest Basecamp! Huge stacks of stuff sacks, hardbags, tankbags and bungee corded afterthoughts, dwarfing the rider and carried up high and wide like they’re trying to hide in amongst the gear.

I puzzled at the ridiculous weight that the Long Way Round boys carried on their bikes and couldn’t believe they had received such poor advice about what to take on a remote journey. Eventually, Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman dumped over a 100 pounds of gear each, after realizing what was unused and unneeded.

And you don’t need a lot; ANY unnecessary weight on a motorcycle is a problem. Be it on smooth pavement or on challenging off-road, extra weight seriously degrades the fun quotient and can be downright dangerous. Top heavy, power-sapping, hard on tires, hard on suspension, slowing steering response, impeding balance… carrying too much gear and weight is the adventurist’s enemy.

The solution? Take advantage of what mountaineers and the outdoor industry have working on for decades – the lightest, highest tech equipment imaginable to keep you super comfy in the back of beyond.

Hikers know that two people can go for 10 day trip through the backcountry of British Columbia carrying no more than 30 lbs each, comfortably on their back; including shelter, cooking, food, clothing and emergency gear. That’s less than 45 litres of light, functional and durable equipment each – making eminently suitable for Adv riders.

If you can go 10 days with so little, you can go for weeks, or months with essentially the same gear. I know this because my wife and I have done it on several trips through the BC backroads and backcountry, camping as we go and we still have room for luxuries that make life on the road easier.

We’re adventure riders here, be it on or off road, so if you’re camping you’ll need both a sleeping and cooking system. The goal is to be self-contained, allowing you to enjoy the terrain, scenery, ride and the freedom of stopping wherever you feel like it. You can treat yourself to dinners at restaurants and such along the way, but let’s assume that you’ll want to cook most of your meals yourself.

Here’s how to lighten up the load for your next adventure:

Sleeping System: It Starts with the Bag

Your sleeping system consists of a good sleeping bag, a very good sleeping pad or mattress and a tent. There are hundreds of sleeping bag choices with either synthetic fill/insulation or down. Like all things, you get what you pay for; super cheap sleeping bags use super cheap insulation and are not worth it. More money gets you more warmth with less weight, and less weight usually means more compressibility, which in turn means smaller size.

Down insulation offers the ultimate combination of compressibility, low weight and durability – typically lasting 10-15 years of heavy use. Down also has the highest warmth to weight ratio of any insulation you can get. Personally I prefer down.

If you choose down, buy a bag that has a water resistant shell (like Dryloft, Drizone or similar) that will protect the down insulation from getting wet and losing its ability to insulate.

If you buy a bag with synthetic insulation stay with a quality name like Primaloft, which offers decent longevity and pretty good weight and compression.

Put the Squeeze on It

Sleeping bags are the bulkiest item you can carry, and you can save a lot of bulk and weight with a good down (650 fill or better) or synthetic bag, but whatever the bag purchase a good compression sack for it.

A compression bag, as the name suggests, allows you to compress the bag by up to another 30 to 50%! My 0 Degree Centigrade bag (32 d F) can be “stuffed” down to 6 by 4 inch tube, and weighs only 17 ounces (482g), but is toasty warm well past freezing!

Next up the Pad

NEOAir from Cascade Designs
NEOAir from Cascade Designs

Unless you’re a 12 year-old cub scout, a thin piece of blue foam won’t cut it. Fact is, a majority of your heat loss while sleeping is through the ground you are laying on. So a thin piece of cheap foam is cold, and often sees riders compensating with a warmer, heavier and bulkier sleeping bag. Not to mention it’s just plain uncomfortable.

My wife and I sleep on 3 inches of air-dampened bliss – so comfortable and warm you almost feel like you are home in your own bed!

The latest crop of sleeping pads are all inflatable, durable as hell, super-comfy and have good insulation efficiency “R” ratings of over 3.0.

The state of the art is the new NEOAir from Cascade Designs which took 4 engineers 5 years to develop (I am not kidding). The NEOAir rolls up to a measly 9 x 4 inches and weighs only 13 oz.

For extra insulation you can also get the down filled sleeping pads. The best out there is the Exped Down sleeping mat. They are slightly heavier and bulkier but warmer and more durable.

TIP: If your a weight-shaver buy a 3/4 size pad, put extra clothes under your feet if you need to to keep them off the cold ground.

Exped Downmats
Exped Downmats

Your Tent, Your Castle

Man that’s a nice $30k motorcycle and gear, but what’s with the $150 Canadian Tire tent? Or in our editor’s case the $36.00 one! I never understood that.

MSR Hubba Hubba
MSR Hubba Hubba

I coming from a mountaineering background where the tent and your sleeping system is crucial to your comfort and survival, and there’s no option of a motel 50kms down the road. It taught me to invest in a shelter that could withstand anything.

Nowadays, the tent technology and design is incredible; super-light, super-strong, small with good space inside, features galore like attics for your gear and the option to pitch the tent with just the fly and the footprint for a super lightweight shelter that will keep you dry in the worst possible conditions.

The golden number in a tent shoots for a weight of 2 lbs per person. In other words, a 4-5 pound two man tent is good. That weight, should get you around 30 sq-ft of interior space with vestibules for muddy or wet gear.

Both Mountain Safety Research (MSR) and Mountain Hardwear make some of the best tents out there. I use the MSR Hubba Hubba which weighs 4lbs 11 ozs and packs down to 20 in x 7 in. Mountain Hardwear makes the Helion 2 which even has shorter pole sections to pack up to an incredible 6 in x 15 in and weighs only 3.9 lbs! You could spend days inside this tent and still be comfortable.

Mountain Hardware Helios 2
Mountain Hardware Helios 2

My personal “stuck INSIDE a tent record”? 14 days!

TIP: If you split up the poles and fly from the main tent, between two riders you will barely know you have it on your bike. Your tent will pack even smaller vs keeping it all together.

These tents are considered 3 Season, meaning they will support a light snow load and handle strong winds with aplomb. You don’t need the extra weight and expense of a 4 Season tent, unless you’re expecting to be in blizzards and storm winds of 60 mph+.

If you are going solo, many single person shelters weigh between 2-3 pounds. Keep in mind that going too small can negatively affect comfort and function. For example, I have done multi day backcountry trips with a bivy sack only, which are as small as 2 in x 6 in packed but, in foul weather they are not much fun since they can be a bit claustrophobic. So unless you are a real minimalist, a little more space is better.

So with the equipment so far, total sleeping system and shelter is only 7.5 lbs and would fit into a 20-25 litre bag. Not much bigger than a tank bag! Next up…. you’re going to need to eat.  For that hit Part II of the series.

Links: – For gear reviews and feedback. – Contributor Jayson Faulkner’s outdoor shop. Drop him a line for adventure riding gear advice.


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