Minimalist Motorcycle Packing Checklist – From A Couple That Does A Lot Of Motorcycle Touring Across The U.S.

For the record, minimalist means that you’re willing to wear the same clothes a few days in a row.

Not underwear, of course. But I have no problem wearing the same pair of jeans and even the same shirt (or layers of shirts) until they’ve become dirty (or smelly) enough to require washing.

To give you an idea of how often we travel — and how far, and for how long — here are some of our motorcycle touring stats:

  • We’ve owned 3 different Harley-Davidson motorcycles over the past 4 years.

First a 2005 Road King Classic:

Then a 2013 Road Glide Ultra:

And now a 2015 Road Glide CVO:

  • We’ve taken each of those motorcycles on at least one cross-country trip from Tennessee to California… and beyond. (We even rode to Alaska one year!)
  • That’s in addition to numerous long-distance motorcycle trips across the states of Tennessee, Florida, Ohio, Indiana each year — to name just a few.
  • And we’ve done a few Iron Butt rides too. (That’s 1,000 miles of motorcycle touring in 24 hours or less.)
  • We usually put 20,000-30,000 miles on our motorcycle each year.

Needless to say, we’ve done our fair share of long-distance multi-day motorcycle riding!

With each trip, I’ve been fine-tuning my motorcycle packing skills — trying to get down to the absolute bare minimums that we need to enjoy the ride and survive whatever comes our way.

What follows is my updated long-distance motorcycle trip checklist — minimalist style.

On-Board Motorcycle Packing Spaces

On the bike (our 2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide CVO), we have these packing spaces available to us:

  • 2 saddlebags
  • 1 tour pack
  • 1 piece of luggage (strapped to the top of the tour pack)

LUGGAGE TIP: For the first few years, we used these 2 pieces of Harley-Davidson luggage — the larger one for longer trips, and the smaller one for weekend trips. Both are great pieces of luggage! However, when we bought our 2015 Road Glide CVO, we wanted to get a new bag that had a lower profile (when strapped on top of our tour pack) and had wheels (like regular luggage). So we bought the T-Bags Dresser Roller Bag. It’s great except for these 3 things: (1) it weighs 10 pounds empty, (2) if the wheels were larger the bag would be easier to pull and it wouldn’t be so “tipsy”, and (3) if the bag was a little wider from front to back it wouldn’t have such a tall & narrow profile — and become tipsy — while being pulled.

What If We Need More Space?

In one of our saddlebags, we keep a lightweight travel duffle bag that packs real small and a cargo net.

Before we got the cargo net, we used adjustable tie down straps — for the rare times that we decided to strap our rainsuits (inside the compression stuff sacks) to our luggage in order to free up one of the saddlebags, as seen in this photo.

Those items can be used in the event that we buy something that doesn’t fit in our typical packing places, or if we decide to ride without our helmets in the helmet-free states.

Trust me, it’s nice knowing that we always have a way to tote more stuff — in a pinch!

I can carry the duffel bag on my lap for quick trips between the convenience store and the hotel. But we usually use the cargo net to strap the duffle bag to the lid of the tour pack or to our luggage.

We have this cargo net and this travel duffel. We use them way more than we ever thought we would.

How To Pack For A 6-Week Motorcycle Trip

Let’s use our most recent trip as an example.

On this 5-1/2 week (37-day) motorcycle trip from Nashville Tennessee to many states out West, here’s every single item we packed: 

In one saddlebag…

  • Rain suits – We keep our 2 rain suits packed inside 2 small compression stuff sacks. I highly recommended them for rain gear because the rainsuits are so darn bulky on their own. Inside the stuff sacks, they become 6-inch balls that are easily packable inside the saddlebag. 
  • Bike cleaner and 4 microfiber rags – We like Bug Slide the best when traveling. TIP: Don’t forget to wash your microfiber rags in the laundry whenever you wash your clothes – just don’t use fabric softener!
  • Insect repellent – It can be downright miserable if you end up in a woodsy area, and you don’t have it!
  • Mini air compressor – Finding a gas station and checking the air in your tires while they’re still cool can be a pain, so we bought this Harley-Davidson mini air compressor that plugs into the bike’s battery charging harness for power.
  • Motorcycle maps – In addition to using a variety of apps, we always travel with the official Harley Davidson map / touring handbook (that you get each year that you’re a HOG member). We also take whichever Mad Maps apply to the places we will be traveling.
  • Portable power source – It can be used to charge phones, cameras — even the motorcycle (or a car) if we needed to! Ours is the Allstart Boost. It comes in a lightweight yet heavy-duty zippered bag that stretches a bit, so we use it to also store our duffle bag and cargo net (mentioned above).

In the other saddlebag…

  • 1 gallon of gas – We keep it inside a saddlebag-shaped gas can. I’ve only seen them for sale in 2 Harley stores. Most recently at Highway 101 Harley Davidson in Coos Bay, Oregon. It’s not a Harley-Davidson product, but it fits inside a Harley-Davidson saddlebag perfectly! (This 32 oz lightweight aluminum fuel bottle seems handy too.) Before it goes in the saddlebag, our gas can goes inside one of these large heavy-duty Ziploc Big Bags.
  • 2 heated jackets – One for each of us. (Actually, I never get on the bike without taking my heated jacket along! It comes in handy if you’re out later than expected and the temperatures drop.)
  • 2 very thin, lightweight jackets – We only pack these when we’re traveling during the summer months.

In the tour pack…

All of the following items stay out of the way and neatly organized inside the tour pack organizer. (We have one for the lid and 3 separate ones for the sides.) The only thing in the open space is the large toiletry bag and our 2 laptops inside the leather tote.

  • Cold-weather gloves for each of us – Just in case.
  • Face/neck warmers – We have several, but I like this one best. Again, just in case.
  • Extra headbands – Mine are That’s A Wrap knotty bands (they’re extra wide premium elastic with no velcro closure). Jim’s are head wraps & helmet beanies.
  • Very thin drawstring backpack that I could wear over my shoulders if necessary to tote small things.
  • Mini notepad & pen – I like the Flip Note because it’s small, lightweight, and durable. It has a thin metal cover, and the pen “locks” the front and back cover closed. Plus, it’s easy to find refill notepads. Jim likes using Field Notes because they have ruled pages, a soft cover, and they’re cheap.
  • Our business cards, our HOG membership cards, motorcycle insurance & registration papers.
  • Tool kit, small flashlight, swiss army knife, tire gauge, air shock pump for the rear.
  • Extra fuses, cable ties, and electrical tape
  • Chewing gum & hard candies – My favorites: atomic fireballs, sugar-free Jolly Ranchers, and Werther’s Original sugar-free candies.
  • A small, flat container with Ibuprofen & allergy meds inside – I have terrible seasonal allergies.
  • Extra charger for phones, cameras, etc. – It’s hooked up to the motorcycle battery.
  • Nighttime riding glasses for each of us, plus rain goggles for Jim.
  • Travel-sized wet wipes – Consider using makeup removers from hotels and wet hand wipes from restaurants. If I have some, I pack ’em.
  • 2 baseball caps – One for each of us to wear after riding.
  • 4 bottles of sunscreen spray – Our favorites: Target Up & Up Sport Sunscreen SPF 30 and Loreal Quick-Dry Sheer Finish SPF 30.
  • At least 1 bottle of water – to drink.
  • 2 Chromebook computers – One for each of us – to work once we get to a hotel.
  • First aid kit (See individual items listed below)
  • 1 large toiletry bag (See individual items listed below)

In the motorcycle first aid kit…

Our motorcycle first aid kit consists of a bunch of goodies that I gathered and put into a pint-sized Hefty zippered plastic bag.

It fits perfectly inside one of the pockets of our tour pack organizer. (We have both — the tourpack lid organizer and the tourpack wall organizer. They also sell tour pack organizers on Amazon for about half the price, but we’ve found that the official H-D one is a little sturdier.)

Here’s what’s in our first aid kit:

  • Gauze
  • Self-adhesive wrapping tape
  • Sticky adhesive tape
  • Moleskin blister pads
  • Bandaids in all shapes and sizes
  • Neosporin
  • Immodium, Gas-X, and Benadryl
  • Small scissors
  • Long tweezers
  • Eyedrops (Jim’s doc recommends Blink gel tears)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Magic eraser
  • Rubber band

These are not currently in our motorcycle first aid kit, but they should be:

In the toiletry bag…

We actually have two.

One is a (small) mesh toiletry bag that’s easy to grab & go if we’re in a hurry. It’s just got the bare necessities inside:

  • A month’s supply of shower gel (14-ounce size)
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste (5-ounce size)
  • Jim’s razor and extra blades
  • My razor and extra blades
  • Deodorant (full-size)

This small toiletry bag is mostly for Jim — who’s a simple guy — and he doesn’t mind a few of my things mingling with his.

SMALL TOILETRY BAG TIP: Before we got the black mesh bag, we used to just toss the above items into a gallon-size Ziploc-type bag. But since most of the items going in & coming out are wet, it would always smell sour after a day or two. So I switched to a mesh travel bag, and it’s perfect! (I use the boxy rectangular one from this set. It’s great because it has a non-skid bottom — so it won’t slide on the sink or the back of the toilet!)

The other is a (large) red fabric square tote that contains everything else we could possibly need while we’re away from home:

  • Travel size bottles of my favorite shampoo & conditioner – I use the hotels’ free ones most of the time, then I bring my hair back to life with my own shampoo & conditioner after a few days — so I don’t need to pack a full month’s supply.
  • 2 WEN travel packets – These all-in-one shampoo/condition packets work wonders on dry, damaged hair! I don’t use as much as they suggest though. One packet lasts about 5 shampoos, for me.
  • Small binder clips – I use these to keep anything that comes in a bag or packet closed after opening. I also use them to keep hotel curtains closed, to keep maps & papers together, etc.
  • Travel size dental floss
  • Hair brush
  • Q-tips
  • Cotton balls
  • Tinted primer (with SPF 30) – I pretty much use this as my foundation on riding days. I add a powder on top — either Celebration Foundation or Bare Minerals Bisque Concealer (with SPF 20) — for a more finished look.
  • Sweatproof foundation – I wear this year round at home as well as on the road anytime we’re going out.
  • Deodorant that doesn’t leave white marks on black shirts: Gillette Clinical Endurance Anti-Perspirant Deodorant
  • Jergens Natural Glow – I mostly use it to get rid of “raccoon eyes” after days of riding with sunglasses and a helmet covering your forehead. But it also works great for evening out tan lines on the arms and for making white legs look sun-kissed. I like to buy it in the travel size in “medium to tan” shade.
  • Tan Towels – I use these when we’re staying in one location for a few days and we’ll be going out with friends. It’s the best way to get a total body tan without the mess. I take 3 full body packets.
  • Waterproof eyeliner – This one‘s my favorite.
  • Waterproof mascara – I’ve been loyal to Loreal mascara for years. This one is my current favorite of theirs.
  • Eyelash curler
  • Travel size Purity Made Simple face cleanser – Nothing removes face & eye makeup better! (But I admit, those makeup remover towelettes that they sometimes leave in hotel rooms are pretty great too — and easy to travel with.)
  • Travel size bottle of perfume
  • Travel size Chi Silk Infusion – To use before blow drying hair (which is rare on motorcycle trips).
  • Extra elastic bands for ponytails – The Goody Stay Put Ponytail Elastics are my favorite — your hair doesn’t budge.
  • Ponytail cuff – To make a boring ponytail look a little bit better if we’re going out.
  • Nail polish – I like Revlon Colorstay Base Coat, Essie Go Ginza for fingernails, OPI Lucky Lucky Lavender for toenails, and Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Top Coat.
  • Nail polish remover pads – I take 3 since they’re in individual packets.
  • Travel size dropper bottle of pure argan oil – Here’s a list of all the ways we use argan oil.
  • Travel size whipped argan oil – Absolutely love this stuff — especially on dry, cracked, or sunburned skin!
  • Poo Pourri – I make my own for use at home, but I travel with the real thing.
  • Travel sized sewing kit – The freebie one I got from some hotel. I’ve used it more than once!
  • Silver polishing cloth – Because my sterling silver jewelry begins to look a little gray if I don’t shine it up at least once during the trip.
  • Lighted 10x magnification travel mirror – I have this one and I love it because it’s small, lightweight, and durable.
  • Tweezers
  • Toenail clippers
  • Small scissors – For those times when I get an ingrown toenail. (It happens more often than you’d think.)
  • Haircutting scissors – For when the bangs get out of control.

LARGE TOILETRY BAG TIP: I have not been able to find another toiletry bag that even comes close to matching the space and flexibility of the one I have now. I’ve looked high and low — because I always like to have a backup of the things that I really like. Most are hard-sided and much too rigid, which limits how much you can literally “squeeze” inside. Mine has a soft cardboard bottom base (yep, just a thin piece of cardboard) with fabric over it — inside and out. It’s a super soft, pliable velvet-like fabric on the outside and a shiny silk-like fabric on the inside. It’s similar to this soft-sided makeup bag, but mine is slightly wider and probably a tiny bit taller too. Mine is completely crushable (except for the bottom cardboard layer) and it has a lot of “give” to it — so you can overstuff it and everything still fits. I absolutely love my toiletry bag! It’s about 15 years old. I put the Pursfection organizer inside for even more pockets & dividers.

In the exterior zippered compartments of our luggage…

We use the zippered compartments to hold odds & ends.

  • The middle one holds all of our socks.
  • The right one holds Jim’s underwear.
  • The left one is where we put our small black grab & go mesh toiletry bag.
  • The outside front pocket is where we put computer A/C adapters & phone chargers, and flushable wet wipes for the hotel room, and the rain cover for the luggage.
  • The outside back pocket is where we put rolls of quarters for laundry, 5 travel laundry detergent packets, prescriptions, cold medicine, ibuprofen, and snacks.

HAIR TIP: It’s actually quite rare that I curl my hair on the road (only if we’re going out to a nice place or something). so I can get away with only packing this mini-curling iron when we travel. However, if you have long hair like I do, it’s easy to travel with 10 velcro rollers. (That’s what I used to do.) The smaller rollers fit inside the larger ones, so it’s like you’re only carrying 5! While velcro rollers aren’t really my thing (I use Conair heated rollers at home), they do work well for travel purposes — because they’re so lightweight and won’t break if they get crushed.

In the rolling luggage bag…

The following motorcycle clothing checklist highlights each of the items that we actually packed for this 5-1/2 week trip — based on the fact that we’ll be doing laundry twice.

Here’s every single item that Jim and I packed inside our rolling luggage bag that straps to the top of our tour pack:

  • 14 underwear per person – Fortunately, underwear pack really small! If you don’t want to pack that many, you can easily hand wash underwear in the hotel room.
  • 8 socks per person – While we prefer to have fresh socks every day, we really don’t mind wearing the same pair 2 days in a row to conserve at times.
  • 2 bras (one is backup) – I learned the hard way a few years ago that you can’t travel with just one bra after the front-closure on mine broke, forcing me to go bra shopping… on vacation. Ugh. That’s not a fun time.
  • 1 sleep shirt & shorts per person
  • 1 long-sleeve layering shirt per person – This was a summer trip, but in the cooler months, we’d also pack 1 pair of layering leggings per person as well.
  • 2 sleeveless layering shirts per person
  • 2 t-shirts per person
  • 4 over-shirts per person
  • 1 pair of jeans per person – Not counting the pair we’re wearing.
  • Flip flops – a pair for each of us
  • Mesh laundry bag – We like this one because it’s super-packable, thanks to all the airholes!
  • Full-size shampoo and conditioner bottles – Loreal’s crushable bottles pack nicely since they get thinner as the product gets used up, and they stay tightly closed too!
  • Jewelry pouch – I have this one. It has a drawstring closure and keeps each piece of jewelry from touching the other ones.

CLOTHING TIP: For the most part, we try to travel with polyester blend fabrics because they’re lightweight, pack small, wash easily, don’t wrinkle, and dry quickly.

Create our own motorcycle packing checklist! Start with their basic template, add as many additional items as you like, and print (or save to your computer).

Can you believe we pack all of that stuff — yes, every bit of it –in just the space that you see here?…

On our person at all times…

In addition to the clothes on our back (selected from the items listed above), these are the items we have with us at all times:

  • Sunglasses
  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • Drivers license
  • Camera
  • Lip balm with SPF

PURSE TIP: I always have a small Harley-Davidson crossbody purse nearby (either on me, or in the top zippered pocket of our luggage, or inside the tour pack) with most of the above items inside it. And if I’m not carrying the purse, then those items are in my pockets instead.

More Packing Tips For Motorcycling Touring