Choosing the right carrying method for your gear is important when going for an overnight or multi-day trip. Not only do you have to make sure you can carry all the necessary equipment, but you also have to consider how the added bulk and weight will affect the riding characteristics of the motorcycle. Keep in mind that space and weight are at a premium when motorcycle camping.

Things to consider when choosing storage bags

  • Type of storage bag required
  • Hard or soft material.
  • Security of stored items.
  • Resistance to weather.
  • Storage capacity.

The most important step when packing is to choose the right gear to pack. Those who are new to motorcycle camping often tend to overpack with gear that is too heavy, bulky or just unnecessary. Once you lighten your load to a manageable amount, choosing the appropriate combination of carrying bags or cases is the next step. You must also make sure that your gear will be protected from the elements. Once all the gear is packed, it is also a good idea to go for a test ride before leaving on a trip to make sure that all your equipment is well balanced and secured. Make sure that the weight is packed as close to the motorcycle’s centre of gravity as is practical.

Here is an overview of different carrying bags.

Panniers and Saddle Bags

Panniers and saddlebags are the primary way of carrying gear for a motorcycle camping trip. They are attached to the sides of the bike behind the rider and are generally the largest carrying containers available. Saddlebags usually require straps to secure them to the rear seat of the bike, whereas panniers mount onto the frame of the motorcycle. Each is available in different shapes and sizes, so it is important to consider the volume and shape of the gear they will be holding. Both hard cases and soft cases are available, each with their own advantages.

Saddlebags hardHard Cases

There are some who argue both sides of the debate, but hard cases are generally viewed as the best choice for any motorcycle that can accommodate them. Hard cases offer better protection from the element as they are often waterproof. They also protect gear from small impacts as opposed to soft cases. Hard cases are also more secure from theft when locked and left on the bike. The disadvantage is that they are heavier than soft cases and there is a possibility of damage to the motorcycle if the bike was to fall over.

saddlebags softSoft Cases

Soft bags have the advantage of being lighter than hard cases. Soft cases are harder to break than solid cases, but in turn offer less protection to the contents inside. Most soft bags can be folded down and packed away when not in use to reduce the bulk on the motorcycle. Disadvantages are that soft cases are not nearly as waterproof as hard cases even though water resistant models are available. For full protection, the contents should be packed in waterproof bags. They are also less secure from theft as they are relatively easy to break into, even when locked.

Tank Bags

Motorcycle Tank BagTank bags are a very convenient way of keeping important items easily accessible while riding. This is a good way to store maps, phones, passports, sunglasses, passes, permits and other useful items. Some tank bags have a small clear sleeve for a map so that you can easily find your way. Make sure that the tank bag is not too big as it could interfere with the handlebars. Consider how easy the tank bag is to remove as it will most likely block access to the fuel tank. Magnetic tank bags are the easiest to remove but also weight the most as a result of the heavy magnets.

Dry Bags

dry bagDry bags are a very useful way of carrying gear both alone and when paired with other carry systems. They are soft and durable waterproof bags that feature a roll top closure, that come in an abundance of different sizes and can even be secured to the motorcycle using compression straps. Dry bags are useful for carrying bulky light items such as tents, sleeping bags and clothing. Dry bags are also excellent for organizing your gear. They can keep similar items together and identify them with different colours, and offer additional weather protection for gear both while riding and while at camp. This method pays off when you get caught out in a downpour and can prevent water from getting into your panniers while setting up camp.Although less relevant to motorcycle camping, it is important to note that dry bags are not waterproof when submerged in water.


BackpackAnother popular way to carry all of your camping gear for a motorcycle trip is to use a hiking backpack. Now obviously you don’t want to be wearing a big backpack while riding, but a hiking bag is designed to hold all of the necessary camping gear for multiple days or even weeks and can be attached to the rear of the motorcycle by strapping it to a rack or sissy bar. It's not the most aerodynamic method of carrying gear but has much more versatility. Once you get to your destination, you can leave the motorcycle behind and bring all of your equipment with you for a backpacking trip. This method is a favourite amongst people who go on long road trips and want to explore national parks or wilderness regions on foot along the way. You can choose whether you want a large backpack to hold all of your gear, or choose a smaller backpack in addition to panniers and other carry methods.