Fall in the San Juan Mountains near Lake City, Colorado

Choosing a tent for motorcycle camping

 

In May I attended the 2015 Overland Expo in Mormon Lake, AZ.  Mormon Lake isn’t far from Flagstaff, so the weather isn’t usually like Phoenix.  This year it definitely wasn’t.  Not even close.  It was wet, cold, snowy, and muddy.  In short, it was nasty.  Luckily, I saw it coming before I got on the plane.  It would have been a horrible camping trip otherwise.

Loaded KTM 530EXC - Engineer Pass, CO
Wolfman gear, Tarptent Moment – light and narrow

For the last three years I’ve been camping off my motorcycle with a Tarptent Moment.  I first learned about Tarptent when I was researching what to take on a 1,000 mile off-road extravaganza around Colorado with Rocky Mountain Adventure Riders. My goals were simple: clothes, camping gear, and food in the smallest and lightest packaging possible. The Moment is less than 2lbs, single person, double walled, and kept the bugs and weather out.  It also packs really small.  The result? I added only 18lbs of gear to my 530EXC.  Definitely light, very narrow profile and didn’t upset the dynamics of the bike.

 

For Overland Expo I was planning to take the Moment but with the weather forecast, dread kicked in.  If it was going to be wet and cold, I had to be really careful in the tent not to brush up against the walls as the moisture would transfer.  Having a wet down sleeping bag would mean a really unpleasant night’s sleep.  Also, since I’d used it numerous times, I knew that space for gear and changing clothes was going to be a challenge.  I wanted comfort, so I opted to take my REI Base Camp 6 (also known as the Weasleys’ tent at the Quidditch World Cup).  This thing is giant when assembled, but easily checked as luggage by the kind, if not overly cheerful,  Southwest Airlines folks.

While I was dry, could change easily, and had room to spare, it lead to some new thinking around a tent that would be a middle ground for motorcycle use.  Before outlining the criteria, I’ll say that I have two motorcycle buckets.  The small bike where single-track, rocky sections and tight terrain dictate a narrow profile and lighter-the-better approach.  The second bucket: the medium to big bike.  In this scenario I’ll still plan to be off-road as much as possible, want to be light but won’t be in ridiculously tight and technical situations, so space and weight aren’t as critical concerns.

I’ve got an upcoming trip along the Continental Divide Route from Montana to New Mexico this summer on a big bike (R1200GS).  We’ll be doing a mix of camping and hoteling along the way so this shapes the following tent selection criteria:

  1. 3 seasons – good ventilation but keeps the weather and bugs out
  2. Vestibules for gear – boots, jacket, pants, shoes, knee and neck braces
  3. Tall enough to sit or partially stand – useful for when trying to get all that gear off or on
  4. Lightweight – the lighter the better, so the impact on center of gravity is minimal
  5. Small when packed – not hanging off the bike, but tucked in and protected
  6. Ample room around the sleeping area – the most important for me. Rain or dew can quickly transfer to a down sleeping bag and make you miserable for days.  Make sure you have room around where you sleep.
  7. Handles wind loads well – it’s windy here in the Rockies.  Earplugs will dampen the wind noise, but if the structure of the tent can’t hold up, then you’ll wake up in a collapsed tent.
  8. Reasonable price – something in the $200-600 range, since I generally take care of my tents and use them for years.
  9. Quick and simple set-up – if conditions are poor, I don’t want to be sitting with a manual trying to figure out how to assemble it.

With above in mind, I looked at all types of web sites discussing and reviewing tents.  I looked at YouTube videos of set up and tear down. Wow.  Talk about shopper fatigue.  At least 100 tents would meet the above criteria.  I’d put down the research for a day and then pick it up again.  Eventually I came up with the following short list:

MSR Gear Shed with Hubba Hubba
MSR Gear Shed with Hubba Hubba

All of the above options looked pretty good, and I’d like to say that I did an exhaustive evaluation of each.  I didn’t.  After making the short list I ran across a little blurb from Mosko Moto in the ADVRider forums regarding camping gear.  I hopped over to the Mosko Moto site and saw the MSR Gear Shed.  Definitely something different.  If needed, it can be added to the Hubba (1 person) or Hubba Hubba (2 person) to make a huge area for gear space.   I liked this, as it gave me flexibility in the long-term.  Decision made.  Ordered the Hubba Hubba NX from REI during a 20% off sale, and after spending a test night camping off the bike, if I need the additional space, I’ll order up the Gear Shed.  Done and done.

Another tidbit:  if you want to go ultra-light, go with a Tyvek ground cloth for your tent.  Tyvek is a moisture barrier used in building construction.  It’s super-lightweight, folds up into a small package, and is really durable. I bought one for my MSR Hubba Hubba from gofastlite.com.  They also make versions for a huge selection of tents, so check them out.
See you out under the stars!

Mark