Editor’s Note: This post is kindly sponsored by Clint and the team from Motorcycle Shippers. Motorcycle Shippers can ship your motorcycle door-to-door around the United States with minimal hassle. If you want to start a ride away from home or ride further without looping back, these folks can help. Perfect for long trails like the Trans American. 

According to the Urban Dictionary, the word “hack” can mean a number of things.  One definition they provide is as follows:

To jury-rig or improvise something inelegant but effective, usually as a temporary solution to a problem.

But I think hacks can also be more permanent in nature.  Especially in the world of adventure riding, hacks have become a means to make riding easier and more enjoyable.

They don’t need to be complex, in fact keeping the hack simple makes it a better hack.  Some hacks are pretty well known but for some reason, we don’t take the time to implement.

Here’s a list of 5 of them that are worth a second chance:

Labeling with duct tape

We all know how useful duct tape can be.  From holding together broken parts or securing an item to another, duct tape works wonders.  But lesser known is duct tape’s ability to be used for labeling.  In concert with a Sharpie permanent/indelible ink pen, you can place the tape most anywhere on the bike to help you remember things.  For example, those of us that use hard panniers.  Duct tape placed on the lid of the pannier (either inside or out) provides an easy means to label what is inside the pannier.  Unless you are very disciplined and stick to the discipline for the entire ride, not remembering what is in each pannier is a real hassle.  Especially if it is raining.

An external duct tape label. The label can be placed inside the lid if security is questionable.  Ugly photo credit:  Mike Botan

For travel directions, write your route on a piece of duct tape affixed to the gas tank.  I use an easy to remember code lets you see your route without breaking out a map.

Like this:

R4e (6) – L onto R100As (4) – L onto R100s (12) – Ludlow (12) – R onto R103 (8) – Mt. Holly.

A short route easily viewable and removable on the fuel tank.  Bad photo credit:  Mike Botan

Translated, the code means this:

From Route 4 East go 6 miles – Turn left onto Route 100A South and go 4 miles – turn left onto Route 100S for 12 miles into the town of Ludlow, Vermont – go 12 miles and turn R onto Route 103 for 8 miles to the town of Mt. Holly, Vermont.

Obviously, you can use any code you want.  But having a shorthand of directions right in front of you works well.

Hack # 2:  Making and using a packing list

This one we all know about but few of us use.  Unless you have a photographic memory, remembering not only what to bring and more importantly whether you packed it is paramount.  Using and reviewing a list does a few things.

  1. It helps you to remember what to bring.  You only put things you need/want on the list.
  2. It tells you whether you have packed the item or not.  Putting a checkmark on the list once the item is packed lets you know that you did indeed pack the item.
  3. Reviewing list makes you think about whether you used the item last trip.  If you didn’t you remove it from the list and won’t pack it again.
  4. It makes you think about items that should be put on the list.  Figure out something you needed during the last trip?  Put that forgotten item on the list and you won’t forget it next time.

Kim and I often travel together so our list also includes checkboxes for each of us, as well as a  checkbox for items we both use.    Only when the item is packed do we check the box.  When all is said in done, our list looks like this.

Still not convinced?

If you are still not convinced that you should use a packing list, think of it this way.  The people that fly the airplanes you travel in fly many thousands of hours in the same aircraft day in and day out.  By the time that they accrue those hours, they know their aircraft inside out.

But every time, every single time, they use a checklist to ensure that they are doing the right thing(s) to make sure that the flight is safe.  Although a bit of an extreme example, adventure riding is similar to flying aircraft.  Depending on how/where you travel, not having the appropriate items can result in not only an inconvenience but also affect safety.

Hack #3:  Bags inside bags

This is one of my favorite “hacks” because I can be lazy and doing this keeps me out of trouble and happy.  Some people like to simply pack their items into whatever containers they have.  And that’s fine.  But putting bags inside your containers can help keep you organized, your stuff dry, and easily retrievable.  So what do I mean by putting a bag in a bag?

Simply plopping or tightly packing your gear inside of a single container does work.  Tightly packing stuff inside your container can potentially provide a good amount of storage.  But every time you retrieve an item from the container, it likely won’t be packed as tightly or as organized as when it was first packed.  In addition, depending on how “waterproof” your container is, you risk having your stuff get wet.

To get around this, I use bags inside my container.  I use a combination of waterproof dry bags, compression bags and, Ziplock type bags.  Why do I have a mixture of bags?  Because the bags are used for different purposes.

Dry bags can be had for short money. Here’s an 8-liter example from Sierra.

Here’s where it gets good.  When you are doing your packing, pack one or two days worth of your primary clothes (the clothes you change every day like a shirt, underwear, socks etc) in a small dry bag.  If possible, get the dry bags in at least a couple of different colors.  One color for the first two days of your trip, the next color for the next two days and a third color for the next two days.  That’s six days of clothes and by that point, you will be ready to do a wash if you are still on the road.  See the next “hack” about doing a wash.

Find things easily and quickly

At the end of each riding day, simply grab a dry bag of that day’s color out of your container and you have your clothes for the next day.   It’s much easier than unhooking the container from your bike and carrying the whole thing it to your tent/room etc.

Between washes, put the dirty clothes in a separate compression bag.  Compression bags squeeze the items inside to a smaller size to save you space.  Compression bags come in both round and rectangular forms,  You decide which works better for you.  They can be waterproof or water resistant, but since your clothes are already dirty they don’t need to be in a waterproof container.

There are many different types of compression bags. Some can be waterproof but most are only water resistant.

For the remainder of your stuff, you can use any type of bag.  Label the bags with duct tape and an indelible marker so you know what’s inside without opening them.  I have grown fond of using ziplock-type plastic bags for toiletries.  It’s not that they can’t get wet, but because I don’t want them leaking inside my container.

Small dry bags can be purchased for short money at places like Sierra.

Hack # 4:  Polypropylene (Poly) clothing

Over the years, I have become convinced that high polypropylene content clothing is a miracle.  It’s lightweight, wicks amazingly well, keeping you cool in hot temperatures and warm in cold temperatures.  It’s easy to wash, fast to dry and layers very well.  What could be nicer?

When dirty, all you have to do is throw your poly clothing into a sink or bucket, add some soap and knead with your hands.  Rinse and hang on a clothesline/shower curtain rod and you are done.  Poly underwear like ExOfficio will be dry in a couple of hours.  Poly shirts like Opna can be dry in less than an hour.  Socks take the longest to dry depending on how thick they are.  Thin poly socks can be dry in a couple of hours, thicker more “cushioned” socks may need overnight to fully dry.

Polypropelyne is good for both baselayer wear and daily wear.

Poly clothing might not be the most stylish stuff out there, but who cares?  Convenience together with being cool, warm and dry outdoes style every day in my book.

Poly can be expensive and may cost more than run of the day stuff.  You don’t need brand name poly clothing, so you if can snag good quality poly inexpensively, grab it.

Hack #5: Portable battery packs

If you travel 100% free of any electronic devices you can stop reading here.  But in today’s world, electronics have become very commonplace and are used almost everywhere.  From cell phones, navigation devices (GPS and cell phone), bike to bike comm systems, music devices, and tablets, electronic devices are everywhere.  Depending on how and where you travel to, it’s quite likely that you may end up in a place that does not have power.

Portable battery packs can be very helpful if you use electronic devices. Get one with multiple USB ports so you can charge more than one item at a time if necessary.

In those cases, you want to ensure that you have some sort of backup to ensure that you have power for all of your devices.  For example, Kim and I use Cardo bike to bike comms.  While they have an excellent life, our riding day can sometimes use up the entire charge.  With a portable battery pack, we can stop, charge for an hour and have comms for 4 hours or so additional riding.

The same goes for those who navigate using their cell phones.  The GPS function uses lots of power and a phone’s power can become depleted long before the riding day is over.  Having a portable battery pack ensures that you’ll have power for your phone or GPS for most of the day.  Newer portable battery packs have multiple USB ports so you can charge more than one device simultaneously, just remember that you only get a set amount of power from a single battery pack.

Editor’s Note: Like the author, I also use RavPower battery packs, specifically the RAVPower 26800 PD which has the same capacity as the above battery pack, but with USB-C USB-PD charging that can fast charge some cell phones, iPads, and even laptops. 

So that’s 5 hacks that hopefully help you out somewhat.  Actually, there are 6 hacks in this article.  Sort of.  The cover picture is a hack of sorts.  At the time we were using Sena communicators which are not waterproof, just water resistant.  We had been riding for days in the rain and water had become a problem.  Ultimately I used a nitrile glove to wrap the communicator and sealed with duct tape.  It worked.

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