A few lessons in buying gear

Today is the day I do the “will it all fit on the motorcycle” test with my gear.  Was planning to have everything ready to go, but some storage cases that were to be delivered yesterday from Amazon never showed up…hopefully they find their way out of the back of the USPS square delivery truck and onto my porch later today.  Didn’t let this non-appearance deter me from filling up the formal living room area with all the other stuff I am thinking about bringing along though.

One of the rules of long distance motorcycle riding is to purge before ever leaving the house.  Lay out all the stuff you want to bring along, or think you will need on the journey, and then cut the amount in half.  Do this with the clothes, the gear, the food, everything.  And when you get back, you’ll find you probably didn’t use half of what you still took along.  Planning for a 3-4 week adventure on the road, to areas of the world that a local 7-11 or gas station will NOT be around the next curve in the road, makes you really evaluate what you want to make sure to have with you.

One thing I learned a long time ago, and what every new hiker, backpacker, motorcyclist, or any type of traveler eventually discovers is that you’ll buy the same damn gear three times…at least.  Let’s use a sleeping bag as an example.  Somewhere in life, we get the desire to go camping in the great wilderness (or in the back of the truck) and know we should get a sleeping bag.  So, we go to the local WalMart or big box store, find something cheap for $25, and go explore.  That night, we freeze our butts off and make the determination to never let that happen again.  We go back to Walmart, and buy their expensive bag for $89…the really warm, thick, and comfortable bag.  Several months later, we take it back out on an adventure.  And we realize how heavy it is to have to carry around…and it won’t compress much to give us space.

By now, we spent well over a hundred bucks.  So, we end up finding a sporting good store, or a place like REI or Cabela’s, and we spend a LOT of money buying quality backpacking gear.  We spend $300 on the bag that is 1/4 the weight, but twice as warm…and it rolls down to the size of a 2-liter bottle.  Attempting to recoup our money on the first two bags, we sell the cheap one for $2 in the next garage sale, and sell the $89 one for a net of $17 on eBay after shipping the fabric anvil across the country to the next owner and paying all the associated fees to transact such a sale.

Now, imagine doing this with every piece of gear.  Cookware, utensils, flashlights, tents, sleeping pads, portable chairs, lanterns, clothing, cameras, and everything single thing you could imagine taking out into the woods or out on the road with you.  So, let me share the one secret for outfitting yourself to partake in such adventures that nobody will tell you:

Buy quality the first time.  Spend the money for decent, high-quality gear.  If you decide you’ll never use it again, high-quality camping and traveling gear sells for about 50% of it’s original price.  The cheap stuff sells for 3% of it’s original price, and you end up giving it away most of the time.

Moving on, I figured I’d start throwing out some quick gear reviews.

Cooking on the Adventure

There are literally hundreds of different ways to eat while working your way across the asphalt on a motorcycle or when backpacking through the Rocky Mountain trails.  I have tried the cast iron skillet, Coleman propane gas grill, cooking over wood coals on a grate, and tried most of the different types of cooking stoves (Esbit, alcohol, unleaded gas, white gas, iso-butane, etc).

With family, I don’t mind taking my time and cooking grand campsite meals of 3-4 courses.  It takes a long time, is messy and a bitch to clean up afterwards, and requires a lot of room to move heavy gear and supplies to the site.  On my own, I want to cook and eat quick, with minimal preparation or cleanup, and get into the sleeping bag and get some rest.

When I motorcycle travel now, I get all my gear to fit into two cylindrical shaped canvas bags that are easily stored about anywhere on the Harley.  I use the Stanley Adventure Camp Cookset, which is made of quality stainless steel and can either boil water very easy or allows for a can of something to be dumped into it and quickly cooked.  It sits on top of a cheap, generic $7 Piezo stove that is fuel powered by those mixed gas cartridges found at any sporting good store.  Throw in a folding Brunton fork and spoon, a Sea to Summit long handled spoon for easy mixing of boiling water, and Mountain House dehydrated meals, and I am good to eat.  My cook set is completed by adding a couple of lighters for flame ignition in case the Piezo ignition stops working, and a Bodum insulated coffee press for my morning java needs.  Almost forgot that I found a nice stainless drinking cup with a folding handle that stacks outside the Stanley set.

Multiple sources, just in case

All of the above actually packs down very easily.  The coffee press goes into its own canvas bag, everything else fits inside the Stanley Adventure set’s bag.  I have two ways to cook, two sources of gas, two types of utensils to use…because being remote, you learn the survivor’s mantra of “two is one, one is none” in case something breaks.

As mentioned, I use a couple of canvas bags that fits everything perfectly.

Sorry, still trying to get use to the flash on a new AW110 camera
I can eat a can of dumplings, soup, or boil up water and make types of rice or potato meals.  One of the easiest things to do is use dehydrated meals, like Mountain House (MH for short).  There are other brands out there, but MH is about the best tasting…and some of their meals are actually very, very good.  The issue with these is that to make them last a long time before being used, the manufacturer loads them with sodium.  If you stay active throughout the day, or out in the heat, not a big deal since it helps replenish the most mineral in your body.  But if you do not like salty food, you will not like most dehydrated pouches.
Beef stroganoff is my personal favorite

Yep, you saw it in the picture above.  MH even makes breakfast meals where you just pour boiling water in, let it sit for a few minutes, mix it, and enjoy.  Not a fan of their scrambled eggs…but it’s nutrients in the morning.  For snacks throughout the day, I like the Clif Energy Bars and I’m also a fan of the Stinger Energy Waffles available at REI for a quick energy boost.

All the food and the camping equipment gets double bagged in air-sealing ZipLock bags, thrown into a dry compression bag, and hung from a tree 100 feet away whenever in bear country while sleeping.

Waterproof, sturdy, and keeps the bears somewhere else besides my tent
Camping Setup Gear

There’s hundreds of different models of tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, etc.  No way to give anybody a lesson in short order about what to get for their exact needs…you’ll just have to do your research.  Amazon, REI, and Google will provide you millions of reviews and links to gear.  What works for me may not work for anybody else…but I have personally gone through a dozen types of camping gear setups to try to find the one “system” that works for my comfort and motorcycling needs.

Tent:  I use the REI Quarter Dome T2 Plus tent (if the link is broken, search for it…REI changes links all the time).  Anyways, it retails for about $319.  They usually have it on clearance for around $249.  I got it for $158 during a super clearance sale.  Was brand new, go figure.  Gets great ratings (look at Google), waterproof, light, and fits in many a motorcycle pannier or saddlebag.  These are one of the best three-season tents on the market.  Just remember, like any tent, seam seal it in the yard before going on your adventure.  And get a footprint or tarp to go under the tent to protect the tent floor from sharp twigs or rocks.

Sleeping bag: I’ve tried a lot.  Most are now in the mummy style (wide at the head, tapered at the feet).  I cannot stand having my feet restricted, so I got a “hybrid” model.  I have used a lot of different bags in the past two decades, but for the upcoming trip, I’m taking the recommendation of a friend and taking along a Eureka Dual Temp 2 10/30 bag.  It flips for the warmth comfort desired.  I have the 10/30 and the 20/40 degree bags, which one or the other will go with me on the trip.  Haven’t decided which yet.

Sleeping pad:  I have tried so many things.  Sleep cots, blow up Thermarest pads, foam pads, and none of them are comfortable to me.  Guess I am too used to the California King bed with the real pillow-top mattress; I am spoiled.  The best pad I found was the Exped Synmat 9 which has a built in rump, is pretty comfortable as pads go (since you are sleeping on hard ground), and folds down to nothing.

Pillow:  Ever pay $40 for a pillow?   I have.  Regular house pillows don’t work out when camping…they get moldy very easy, and they smell after awhile.  So, over the winter, I went through half dozen camp pillows, and have settled on the Nemo Fillo pillow.  It’s the closest thing I can get to comfort when out traveling.

Chair:  Heck, every campsite needs a place for you to sit, relax, watch the sun go down, smack some mosquitoes, and watch a fire for a while.  The Helinox Chair One Camp Chair is very comfortable, very light, and packs down to almost nothing.  Not all campsites have a log or a picnic table…with this, I pull it out and relax.  It is also great to take on charity rides or events out in the park.

My camping setup gear

Couple other things in the picture above:  Battery powered fan, for the noise and breeze I need while sleeping.  And on the left side, a Kabar Cutlass that can be used around the campsite for many different things, and maybe allow me to fight off a mountain lion  Any bears or moose would just laugh at it.

There’s a few other things I carry along for each overnight adventure, including a headlamp, a small battery powered lantern and other essentials not shown.  Everything gets stored in a First Gear Torrent 70L waterproof touring bag.  I then either strap it on the seat behind me, or on top of the Harley’s tour pak.  Since I’ll add some more things to it before I leave on this trip, I envision it will find a place on the seat behind me due to the weight.

Compressed down, can hold a lot more stuff
To carry clothing and such, I have a Harley-Davidson SAC bag, which is perfectly fitted for sitting on the tour pak rack.  Straps down securely, and with a rain cover held down with a bungee net, it stays there regardless of how rough the road gets.
Empty right now, soon to be filled with clothing and cold weather gear
The last thing to cover today is the first-aid kit.  I use a roll type pouch that I found online years ago from a now defunct company and I love this thing.  It’s solid, and in great shape even for the amount of usage it has had and the number of miles it has gone.  It’s big, even rolled up, due to the amount of first aid supplies and bandages that I carry.  I have seen a lot of other bikers go down and serious accidents involving our four-wheel brothers and sisters.  While not an EMT by trade, I do have first aid training and carry some of the more serious types of supplies including splints, tourniquets, and Celox for massive bleeding control.
I need an aspirin just from all the typing today!
There you have it.  Some quick gear reviews on some of the things that go out with me while motorcycle adventuring and will accompany yours truly hopefully to and from the great state of Alaska.
The requisite countdown clock

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