How to gear up for adventure

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While the idea of heading off into the wilderness on a bike armed with nothing more than a knife, blanket roll and a can of beans may seem awfully romantic, the truth is that’s a good recipe for getting stranded or never coming back. Best case scenario? You’ll simply be miserable. Instead, building a comprehensive adventure touring kit can make things easy, comfortable and safe. There’s no way we can cover every single bit in one article, but let’s use my expedition into the Sierra Nevada on board a KTM 990 Adventure as an example. These are the basic pieces needed to get you off the road and back again. 

Ortlieb M22 Saddlebags

These soft bags are a godsend for budget and ultra-lightweight traveling. Total capacity is an enormous 47-liters and there’s plenty of pockets and organizers for maps, tools and all the various nicknacks you’ll end up carrying. With straps designed to run over or under a seat, they can be adjusted to fit a huge variety of bikes and are completely waterproof thanks to a roll-top closure and heavy duty, rubberized construction. They shrugged off my little spill on the KTM without so much as a scuff.

Compared to metal panniers, these Ortliebs weigh next to nothing and disconnect in just seconds. Smartly placed handles make carrying them around off the bike easy too. The best part? The M22s only cost $204.

PacSafe 80 anti-theft bag

At first glance, this $90 duffle bag and its wire exterior might seem unnecessary. That’s until you confidently leave the bike parked out of sight at a truck stop or sleep safe in a shared campsite, knowing whatever’s inside would be a real bitch for someone to steal.

The slash-proof bag uses a roll-closure top for waterproofness, so I use it as a carry-all for my food, sleeping bag and clothes. Once camp is set up, I dump all the contents inside the tent and then repack it with my riding gear and lock it to the bike. It’s nice knowing my gear’s still going to be there while I’m off hiking or hunting. If I don’t need its capacity, the bag cinches down to almost no size or weight, meaning it’s easy to cart around on the off chance I may need some extra room.

Nemo Moto 1P Tent

At just 2.8lbs and small enough to fit inside a helmet, the Nemo Moto has the makings for the ultimate motorcycle travel tent. It’s very well made and goes up in just minutes thanks to the design’s inflatable beam in place of metal poles. Slightly larger than a bivvy, there’s 27 square feet of interior room, which is plenty for one person and a bag or two.

But, at $350, there’s no excuse for the lack of zipped wind flap over the mesh screen door. Keeping wind out is crucial in anything but the warmest conditions. Instead, the vestibule leaves up to a foot-wide gap between itself and the mesh, letting wind pour through the tent all night. It doesn’t matter which way you face it either, the wind still gets in. A perfect recipe for pneumonia. That means the Nemo Moto is staying in my garage until summer and I’m left hauling around my bulky two-man Walrus.

Touratech Sidestand Foot

I used to think little doodads like this were just an easy way to shake some more change out of the Starbucks adventure set. Nope. Turns out, the sidestand foot is probably the single most important aftermarket piece of equipment on the 990. Even more important than crash bars. It’s $35 and any trip that leads off the highway and onto surfaces of various sloped angles, soft sand, dirt, moss or rock requires one if the bike is to stay upright while parked.

Therm-a-Rest Pillow

Luxury? Some would say so. But this little $40 pillow is the reason I didn’t get sick up in the Sierras as the night winds were tearing through the Nemo Moto. It filled the gap in my sleeping bag’s hood, sealing out the wind. Nearly weightless at 5.6oz, it doesn’t take up much room when compressed either. I’ll never camp without it again.

Butler Master Collection

I met Justin Bradshaw from Butler at the Long Beach IMS, leaving with this collection of seven waterproof maps to try out. What makes them unique? A tiered ranking of the best riding roads in the US. I put a couple of their “G1” routes into Google Earth and that’s how my trip was born.

According to Butler, “G1” means on the best riding roads on earth. While all of the G1 roads via the Eastern Sierras were closed for winter, I still managed to ride over quite a bit of the Highway 168′s G2-rated sections into the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen. Individual maps are $15 and packaged sets go up from there. For more devoted off-road types, Butler just put out a new map and DVD with a fantastic backcountry route across the entire state of Utah, from Arizona to Idaho, strictly via dirt. I’m already scheming ways to get enough time off work.

BarPack Mapcase

This is another one of those cheap ($36), but incredibly useful items. Hanging off any bike’s handlebars, not only is there a 6×9” map window on top and pockets for things like a cell phone, earplugs, zip ties, lip balm, cash and whatnot inside, but it also unfolds to four times the size, displaying a full six panels of a National Forest map. Two clips disconnect the BarPack from the handlebars, so taking it inside a diner for some mid-ride studying is as easy as pulling the key out of the ignition.

Med Kit – Ultra Lite

Basic and inexpensive ($26), this kit is just enough to accompany a careful adventurer. I added some extra Ibuprofen and a snakebite kit, making this just enough to keep me comfortable hours away from cell reception and first responders.

The basic adventure kit in one fell swoop. Or, how to Touratech the right way.

Touratech is mostly known for flashy, bomb-proof metal panniers and crash protectors that work great, but cost a fortune. You’ve seen their $1,183 Zega metal panniers parked outside a local Starbucks. But, dig deeper into the catalogue and you’ll find an outlet intended to fulfill the comprehensive needs of an outdoor lifestyle spent on motorcycles, even for those on a budget. This entire kit adds up to around $800.

Still sound expensive? Well, with a tent, waterproof panniers, ultralight pillow and towel, med kit, theft-proof duffel, maps full of riding routes, the ability to read those maps on the go and the ability to park the bike securely off-road, that $800 essentially buys you the ability to have adventures. Since the 990 already has a great tool kit and I’ve fitted Dunlop Rally Raids, there really isn’t much more needed beyond a couple bungee cords and a can of Fix-A-Flat to get riding and into the outdoors.

  • the_doctor

    That is a huge cyanide capsule!

    One of the reasons I subscribe is for these gear articles.

    • Grant Ray

      Ha. I bought that at the NYC MoMA store before moving out West. It’s made of out metal, perfect for carrying extra meds when traveling and you can nerd out on which mix/match of colors you want.

  • Jesse

    After seeing this photo, I will never complain about the lack of storage on a moto again. Certainly, I have been doing it wrong. Great write up, and thanks for the inventory list.

    • Mark D [EX500]

      Damn, that’s a lot of stuff! Here’s the most I’ve ever packed on a bike before and after.

      That duffle bag looks like it would come in handy a lot; especially when changing out of over-gear at your destination.

    • Edward

      Speaking of that photo – Grant that looks like a Samick Sage. I just bought a 45# one and am loving it. Best value recurve out there, I think. What is your set-up (i.e. limb weights and arrow stuff – I’m shooting 400′s w/125gr tips)?

      • Grant Ray

        The Samick Sage 45# limbs I have are stacking terribly at around 57# and my 29.25″ draw doesn’t help. The arrows are Easton Legacy 2018s and I love them. I’m shooting 125gr tips for now, but I’m thinking about pushing that up to 150gr, which is closer to the weight of the Zwickey Eskilite 2-blade broadheads I’m playing with these days. I also recently switched to a 4-feather setup that I cut to length and fletch up myself.

  • Dean

    Yes, thanks for this… definitely could have used some of these ideas for my last big ride!

  • Holden and Annette

    Re: the Ortlieb bags: I have a hunch that metal boxes would not have fared well in the “little spill.” Those Ortliebs might have saved the trip.

    Actually, what I mean is that I’m not sure the metal boxes’ mounts would have fared well. Soft bags seem more forgiving.

    • DavidMG

      Probably wouldn’t have been pinned down by the bike though. Thoug mounts are definitely the weak spot on hard bags. I can’t see KTM’s hard bags being weak there though.

  • contender

    Will the aerostich fit in that pacsafe?

    • Grant Ray

      Yep. I went camping/scouting this past weekend and crammed the Astars Long Range suit, EXO-900 Snow Ready helmet and gloves all in the PacSafe and still had room left.

  • Kevin

    I just picked up a large Motofizz bag, and it is cavernous. Fits a two man tent, my semirec sleeping bag, pillow, ground cloth and inflatable mattress in the main compartment with room to spare. Not waterproof, but apparently the rain fly is workable if you spray it and cover it with a cargo net.

    I’m taking it on an 8 day trip camping in AZ, UT & CO the first week of May, will let you know what I think. But lots of blokes use this bag and love it.

  • GoFasterPB

    Note to your readers in Mexico: I left my Touratech sidestand foot somewhere along the Michoacan coast on one of hwy 200′s particularly tight corners.

    Finders keepers.

  • Rob

    The straps on the Ortliebs might be able to go under the seat- more comfort + bag security.

    • Grant Ray

      True, but I never felt the straps at all, the bags were far enough back so that riding while standing was never hindered and lowering the position of the bags relative to the 990′s under-seat exhaust isn’t such a great idea. Unless you like melting giant holes in your bags.

    • Sean

      I can attest to the utility of those Ortlieb saddlebags. While I’m not an adventure tourer, I’ve used my set on a Yamaha cruiser and they’re currently providing storage on my FZ8. Great bags that really hold up to the elements. Knowing you won’t have to worry about your kit getting soaked in the random squall is a true bonus, and they’re super-easy to tote around owing to the grab handles and soft sides. Not fancy, very workable, and affordable.

  • GoFasterPB

    Totally with you on the Thermarest pillow, changed my life. Sleeping comfortably and waking up well rested to ride/hike/whatever more than makes up for it’s limited bulk.

  • PenguinScotty

    Great write-up. I do enjoy gear reviews quite a bit.

    My personal suggestion would be Wolfman saddlebags, as well as other bag systems from Wolfman. Experienced nothing but good stuff with them, plus they are rugged as hell.

    In regards to tent-accessories, a nice light-weight cot is my personal favorite. I tried the blow-up mattress thingie that you guys have, but never could sleep well on it (Sleep on my sides). Luxury Lite sells a great set, that goes together quick and weighs almost nothing.

    Another thing you guys may consider covering, which most people disregard, is a tool-kit. The KTM set is great, but can be improved a bit. I tend to also bring tire-irons and at least one extra set of hoses when i go into the wilderness. Saved me quite a few times.

    Another great thing, TP. No more wiping with leaves, then crying because you accidentally used Nettle or Poison Ivy (No comment). Along the same lines, bring a folding shovel.

    Again, thanks for the great article, can’t wait for more!

    • Wes Siler

      Replace that TP with anti-bacterial baby wipes and you’ll be all set.

  • Tommy

    I love this stuff. Thank you for that pacsafe suggestion. As someone who loves to hike/swim while traveling by I always struggle with what to do with my gear while doing so.

  • Good Thomas

    $800?! That’s crazy talk.

  • David Dawson

    Pretty close to how I packed for my move up to Alaska from Maryland on my WR250X last month, albeit with a much cheaper tent. Replace the map with a garmin, the ortliebs with wolfman enduro saddle bags, and the pacsafe with the big duffel and you’ve got my kit effectively.

    Instead of bringing a pillow, I used my down jacket stuffed into its own pocket. One less extremely bulky item to find space for that way.

  • Keith

    Good article!
    Having done a lot of camping on tours, I have learned to be wary of the inflatable stuff.
    It’s one thing to have an air mattress fail but quite another problem if the tent doesn’t stand up! Not sure I could trust it.
    Those soft bags look great! Waterproofing has always been a issue with soft luggage.
    We also created a pillow using a combination of foam and an inflatable camp pillow. Works great and packs small.

  • mike

    Grant, I love this article. More please.

    I second the soft luggage. It’s so much lighter and simpler than huge hard cases. I use a Giant Loop Great Basin which is amazing. It’s worth taking a look if you haven’t seen it before.

    I have a couple other recommendations for things I don’t adventure travel without.

    Clothes suitable for the trip. In the part of California you guys are adventuring its common to have a temperatures range from 20 degrees to 85 or 90 degrees on the same trip. Maybe some rain and snow. That probably means down, some wool, some polypro underwear, cap, balaclava etc.

    2 ways to start a fire. I carry a metal match, and a storm proof lighter.

    An LED headlamp.

    A backpacking stove that can burn gasoline. I use an MSR Whisperlite Internationale so I can use it’s fuel in a pinch if my bike runs out of gas and vice versa.

    A solid knife for cutting things and splitting wood. (i’ll carry a small axe if I’m somewhere woodier).

    An extra key for the bike.

    Equipment for fixing flats, (radial plug kit for tubeless tires, or patch kit and tubes)

    Fuses, basic repair, mending kit, bike bits that break (brake or clutch lever)

    A phone with downloaded maps. My damn iPhone is annoyingly the best single piece of kit I take traveling, travel info, emergency use etc. I know it doesn’t work everywhere, but It works a lot of the time.

    • Grant Ray

      Thanks! Yeah, a full setup for adventure can be pretty extensive, which is why I chose to only cover a basic beginner’s guide to starting a kit. I actually looked at Giant Loop’s Great Basin, but wasn’t comfortable with the pre-defined compartmentalizing. How easy is it to take out all the compartments if needed?

      • mike

        I have personal hacks on how to use the great basin that partly goes against their compartmentalized nature. I do use the included bottom zippered bags, which are handy because they fit in there perfectly. Then I use my own mesh bags to stuff in clothing in the mid section. I also personally find a compression bag makes it a lot easier to get a 4 season down sleeping bag in there than the included top zippered section. Only that top section for the sleeping bag is attached. All the other sections pull right out.
        I’ve mentioned to the Giant Loop guys it might be a better solution to sell the bag and compartments separately so there might be a range of different internal storage configurations that suit the way different people pack.

  • gkanai

    “You’ve seen their $1,183 Zegna metal panniers parked outside a local Starbucks.”

    Zega not Zegna.

    Ermenegildo Zegna is the Italian clothing company.