There’s perhaps nothing that fulfills the promise of off-road adventure better than going camping with an ATV. You get fresh air, endless nature, and a trail that leads farther from civilization and deeper into the unknown.
But you can’t just hop on your ATV and head out the door. You need to come prepared. When it’s you against nature for a few days, it’s important to plan ahead.
ATV camping is more involved than driving to a campground and pitching a tent. There’s no safety net when you’re 75 miles from the highway. Every tip and trick we have will fall into one of three categories:
All three are made more complicated given the fact that you’re limited to what you can strap on to your ATV. So let’s get to it.
The first thing you need to do before you head into the wilderness is plan where you want to ride.
This may seem like a no brainer but there are a few things you need to make sure of:
You’d be surprised how often folks head to the trail they want to camp on only to find that it’s for bicycles and hikers only. And even if it’s open for ATVs, some terrain could be more technical than you’re looking for on your relaxing weekend getaway.
When you’ve found the perfect trail for you, make sure you tell a friend or family member your plan, and include your route and a rough timeline.
Always plan for any weather. You don’t need us to tell you that the weatherman isn’t perfect, so pack a rain poncho and use a dry bag for anything sensitive to moisture.
And finally, bring along a GPS (preferably not a fragile phone that’s prone to dead batteries) and a back-up GPS (sometimes referred to as a map).
Once you know what you’re doing, it’s time to get your gear together to do it.
Your primary goal when choosing and packing your gear is to keep it small and keep it tight. Don’t pack an air mattress, a 12-person tent, and a full kitchen. You have limited real estate on your ATV. When it comes to ATV camping, less is truly more.
Remember to keep your gear small as we go forward.
And when you strap everything down, make sure you use high-quality ratchet straps. Losing your gear over a bump is the last thing you want to do.
The key to packing light meals is to keep it simple. You want food that can be eaten straight out of the package or only needs hot water to prepare.
You also want food that’s packed with all the nutrients you need so you can stay energetic and happy on your ride.
That doesn’t mean you have to stock up on MREs.
There are plenty of dense snack bars like Clif Bars or Power Bars that will fill you up between meals. But you don’t want to forget about hot meals. Stock up on camping meals like the kind you get from Mountain House for your lunches and dinners. Anything that stays small and fills your belly is a win.
Speaking of water, you need to plan to use a lot of it. You should plan on drinking about three liters and using an additional liter for cooking each day. Either pack it all in, or find lakes and rivers along your route where you can stop and refill. Make sure you have an adequate water filter or supply of water purification tablets.
If you want to get a little more creative, check out Off-Road Meals 101 where we give you tips to make the most out of your backwoods breakfast.
With food taken care of, you need to worry about your ATV. The last thing you want is to have to abandon your ATV and hoof it back to the truck. So make sure you have the proper tools to keep your machine running when you’re camping with your ATV.
You don’t need to pack spares of everything, but consider packing a spare drive belt, a ball joint, and some basic tools. Remember: You can ride with three axles, but you cannot ride without a drive belt.
You’ll also want to make absolutely sure you’ve brought enough gas. We like to overshoot our gas estimate by at least a couple gallons to make up for detours or slow-going sections of trail.
You can’t go ATV camping without actually setting up camp. But when you’re packing light, this can get a little tricky.
Getting a good night’s sleep requires three things:
For shelter, we’re talking about small, single-person tents or tent cots. These will pack in a small footprint on your ATV. Just double check to make sure they include a rain-fly.
You can go even smaller by investing in a camping hammock. These roll up into almost nothing and are easy to hang up between two trees or even an ATV and a tree. Again, be sure to grab one with a rain-fly or else you’ll need to pack along a tarp.
Your choice of sleeping bag is just as important as your choice of shelter. Make sure you get one that can be packed in a tight roll and is rated for whatever temperatures you’ll face. Depending on where you ride, this can get rather pricey. A lightweight, below freezing sleeping bag can run in the neighborhood of $300. Still, it’s cheaper than a frostbitten finger.
Now that you’ve finished prepping your machine, you’re ready to go ATV camping. And it’s awesome. All the hard work of planning, collecting your gear, and optimizing your packing method pays off when you make it way out in the wild. Under a star-filled sky, without a hint of civilization’s glow and hum marring the experience—nothing but the crackle of fire and the company of a few friends—you’ll know this is why you ride. And that’s the moment when your passion for ATV camping is born.