This page covers the luggage we carry, our riding gear, camping equipment, electronics, tools and maintenance. Our opinions on the products mentioned are our own – we chose all our kit based on personal research and have judged them based on experience. At present we are not sponsored by any companies… although that doesn’t mean we’re not open to offers!!
Panniers – Metal Mule: As Em was a new rider, we knew we couldn’t load her bike too heavily so only one bike is fitted with solid panniers. Given that their job is to keep some of our most valuable items and documents safe and dry, we were prepared to pay for top quality; Metal Mule panniers are expensive but we were only buying one set and you certainly get what you pay for. In order to fit these panniers to an XT660R it is necessary to also fit a Metal Mule exhaust and bashplate. See the modifications section on our Bikes page.
Pros: Strong, well made, secure.
Cons: Expensive, especially once you’ve bought the parts needed to fit the panniers.
Roll Bags – Ortlieb 49ltr Rack Bags: We’re both carrying one of these strapped to the rear racks. They are 100% waterproof and dustproof – we have got drenched on several occasions, ridden through water and been in really dusty environments, yet these bags haven’t let in a thing. They have a clever closing system without any zips, consisting of two plastic stiffening strips which you place together and then roll the bag shut – all very simple and nothing to break.
Pros: 100% waterproof, dustproof and tough, easy to access contents, high visibility (ours are bright yellow).
Cons: None so far.
Tank Bag – Famsa: A tank bag really is an essential bit of kit on an overland trip, allowing you quick access to cameras, toll money, passports, guidebooks and other important bits and pieces, as well as having an all important map holder. The shape of the tank on the XT combined with the fact that half the tank has plastic cowlings on it mean that a standard general purpose tank bag won’t fit. Luckily, Italian company Famsa make one specifically for the XT; it does just the job and has the option of being converted to a shoulder bag when off the bike. Quality kit.
Pros: Well built, lots of pockets, removable waterproof cover, clear map pocket, expandable capacity.
Cons: None really, maybe a little expensive but you get what you pay for.
Day pack: We also carry a small day pack (Northface) on the bike which is secured with some webbing. It has a couple of mesh pockets on each side which allow us to carry two decent sized bottles of water on the bike or off it. It provides additional luggage capacity on the bike and is also perfect for day trips and excursions. Utterly useful.
Helmets – Caberg Trip: Unlike a lot of overlanders who often go for helmets with a more ‘motocross’ look, we opted for flip-up helmets which give us the best of both worlds. We wanted a decent helmet that was also cheap and looked at a few before buying the Caberg. In full-face mode, it’s kept out the rain in heavy downpours; in open-face mode, it allows plenty of fresh air when required but, more importantly, allows us to look people (officials) in the eye – very handy at borders and checkpoints, or if you simply want to ask for directions. The Trip has the added bonus of a built-in internal dark visor which flips down in either full or open face modes. Despite its very low price, the Caberg has proved a great buy. It’s a little noisy at speed but given that we go slowly that’s not really an issue, the build quality is more than adequate, and given its price, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it was lost or badly damaged. In a nutshell, the ideal trip helmet.
Jackets – Rev’it Off Track: Given that we were going to be riding in extreme heat, a normal Euro-style road jacket wouldn’t really cut it. We were looking for jackets that were going to be tough enough for the abuse they’re likely to receive, but comfortable enough for long periods we’re going to be spending in them. The Rev’it Off Track was the best jacket we found and was also great value for money. The jacket is grey which is better in the high temperatures and has two removable inner layers (a thermal inner and a waterproof one), both of which are completely interchangeable. With all of the inners removed the jacket can be further ventilated by unzipping vents in the arms, and by removing the side material to reveal mesh. With plenty of pockets, this is a great jacket and is perfect for the job, always keeping us comfortable and dry. For additional protection, the jackets come with a foam back protector, and removable plastic shoulder and elbow pads. The Off Track has now been discontinued (although you can still find it online) and was replaced in 2010 with the ‘Sand’ model.
Trousers – Rev’it Sand: The Sand trousers are a direct replacement for last year’s Off Track model and like our jackets, have two interchangeable thermal/waterproof layers. The trousers also have mesh vents on the legs which can be unzipped to cool you down. The trousers, like the jackets, are extremely comfortable both on and off the bike, and the build quality is excellent. Protection wise, there is built in foam padding around the hip area and there are removable plastic knee pads. Our trousers have already taken a fair bit of abuse without batting an eyelid. Excellent kit.
Boots – Alt-Berg: Considering our limited luggage capacity, we wanted to find footwear that was good both on and off the bikes. We opted for a compromise between protection and off bike usability and went with Alt-Berg boots. These boots are handmade and we were individually fitted for them at their small factory in Yorkshire. They are basically a combination of a walking/military boot but with additional protection/support for bikers’ needs. We opted against the waterproof layer as it would make the boots hotter, but they are so well made that despite some huge downpours and getting continually wet and muddy, a drop of water has yet to come close to seeping in. The boots are incredibly comfortable both on and off the bikes and have more than exceeded our expectations, and after months of proper abuse still look as good as new. They are also incredibly good value considering that they are bespoke, costing less than most mass produced motorcycle footwear. Highly recommended.
What to take and, indeed, whether to camp at all on a trip like this is open to real debate. On the one hand, many like to get out of Europe as quickly as possible and then rely on the fact that accommodation in Asia, Africa or South America is so cheap that it’s not worth camping. This is a fair point considering that not only does the cost of a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, cooking stove and fuel add up before you’ve even left, but it also takes up a significant amount of the space you have available – which on a bike is not a lot. When crossing Asia from Europe, many people claim to have sent their tents back home once past Turkey. We, however, made the decision to take camping gear, purely as we wanted to have the freedom to camp if the mood took us regardless of how cheap accommodation might be.
Tent – MSR Mutha Hubba: We opted for the MSR Mutha Hubba which is a lightweight 3-man tent. Experience had already shown us that for two people, a 3-man is essential as you need the extra space for your kit. The Mutha-Hubba has proved to be superb. It’s extremely quick to erect or strike, has two entrances each with a ‘porch’ area, is very spacious inside, is very well made and can also be set up without the fly sheet allowing you to star gaze from beneath the mesh netting. Importantly for us it’s incredibly light, weighing in at just 3 kg, and very compact (it fits into a pannier). The tent has sat in more than 10cm of water and not let a drop in. It’s not the cheapest tent on the market but is by no means the most expensive. All in all, an excellent bit of kit and highly recommended.
Sleeping bag: We went for a cheap double sleeping which we found heavily reduced in a local camping store. We carry the bag in a compression sack so it packs down to the size of a football. The bag has been more than adequate for our needs, although being a double bag it is vulnerable to drafts in the colder weather. We solve this by each having a silk liner (see below).
Silk liners: Doubled up with a sleeping bag, liners add a couple of degrees in colder weather and are great to use on their own in warmer climes. They pack up incredibly small and are also useful when hotel bed linen looks/smells more than a little suspicious! Don’t leave home without one!
Roll mats – Thermarest Trail Lite: We have a pair of ‘regular’ sized Thermarest Trail Lite self inflating mats. Whilst they do self inflate, a little blowing is required to get them fully inflated, but once done they are brilliant. No matter what we’re lying on we sleep well in total comfort. They are also very compact once rolled up into their carrying sack. Highly recommended.
Stove – MSR WhisperLite: The Whisperlite is the biggest selling camping stove of all time and it’s not hard to see why. It’s absolutely tiny when packed away but once fired up heats a large pot of water in just a few minutes. It can work using a wide variety of fuels which was important for us. We carry two MSR fuel bottles which we fill with unleaded fuel. This means we don’t need to carry different fuel types. It also allows us to siphon fuel from the bikes should we need extra or add the fuel bottles to our tanks when we need every drop. We also looked at the MSR Dragonfly which has the benefit of an adjustable flame (the Whisperlite is just full power all the time!) but it is much MUCH noisier. The Whisperlite is fully maintainable in the field and is absolutely brilliant.
Water purifier – MSR Mini Works EX filter: Although bottled water is more widely available than we’d anticipated, we’ve still found a water filter to be essential at times where the only source has been a river or water that has been sitting in a barrel for days. This MSR filter pumps water quickly, packs down nice and small when not being used and, like other MSR expedition kit, is field maintainable. It’s not cheap, but a great bit of kit.
Kitchen: We have a small but versatile kitchen made up of a pair of ‘Sporks’ and two ‘Sea to Summit’ fold-down X-plates which also double as chopping boards. We have a set of camping pots and also carry a small (30cm) paella pan which is great as it packs almost flat and being thin, heats up very quickly. We also carry a selection of herbs and spices which we carry in our enamel mugs.
Head torch – Petzl: We carry one each. They’re vital, and not just for camping. Choose a long life model over brightness.
Torch – LED Lenser P7: A small but unbelievable powerful LED torch (no need for spare bulbs). This torch is incredible and has a range akin to a search light.
Other: Foldable camping spade, foldable camping chairs (picked up in a fishing market in Istanbul; great to take the weight off when camping!), large tarpaulin sheet.
Communications & Tech
Intercom – Midland BT2: These Bluetooth enabled sets have a real world range of around 200m. They’re easy to set up and can be connected to other devices too, including GPS, phones and MP3 (we don’t use these features). Our first set died fairly quickly whilst on the road but following a phone call, Midland sent a new set out to us. They’re really useful to have for general chat, reassurance, giving warnings about obstacles and, of course, help prevent you getting split up or lost in cities. Because the sets are Bluetooth, you have the added advantage of no wires. All in all, money well spent.
Computer – Asus EeePC 1005 HA: We wanted a netbook which offered reliability, small size and long battery life. Having a Mac home, we looked at Apple laptops but they are both larger and far too expensive. The EeePC fitted the bill perfectly. It’s not so small that it’s fiddly to use (it pretty much has a full sized keyboard) but is still very compact. It can run several different programs and the battery still lasts 9-10 hours. Straight away we upgraded the Ram to 2Gb which was well worth doing.
Apple have since launched the iPad but despite the price, it’s not close to offering what the EeePc does. Even the most powerful model has just a fraction (literally) of the memory of the Asus. Bizarrely it has no USB ports (the Asus has 3) and no slot for a SD card. Needless to say, until Apple decide to get serious about making a decent tablet we’ll be sticking with the excellent and well made EeePC.
Smart phone – iPhone: Carrying an unlocked smart phone is a great idea when on the road. It allows us to buy local sim cards (much cheaper than using a sim from home or an ‘international sim’), it can store music, documents and anything else you require. Ours is an older 8GB model but newer phones are large enough to be used as an additional hard drive. Modern smart phones also come equipped with GPS (ours doesn’t) which, even if you already have SatNav, are certainly useful. Once you’re somewhere with wi-fi (almost everywhere in South East Asia) they also double as a second computer. We have also found it to be incredibly useful as both of us can write different blog entries at the same time, one on the netbook, the other using a ‘document’ app on the phone. A small foldable Bluetooth keyboard could make this even easier but it’s not essential.
Digital SLR camera – Nikon D40: I’d only owned this camera for a couple of years so couldn’t justify upgrading before we left the UK. However, it’s performed brilliantly to date. Originally, we had just the two basic lenses that came as part of the camera kit: 18-55 & 55-200. We’ve used the 18-55 pretty much exclusively and it’s met most of our needs. The 55-200, not having any anti-shake feature, really requires a tripod for shooting. I’ll admit that in the beginning, I would just set the camera to Auto, but on the trip I’ve got into photography and now use the Manual, Aperture and Speed functions allowing me to explore the camera’s capabilities a bit more. The D40 is a great camera, capable of taking good shots and is not too intimidating for less experienced photographers. (The D40 has now been discontinued and replaced by the seriously capable D3000.) We also carry UV filters and circular polarizing filters which not only protect the lens from damage, but improve the quality of photos, particularly the polarizing filter which in daylight we have fitted almost constantly. We found it difficult to take low light shots with the standard kit (we hate flash) so in Thailand invested in a 35mm F1.8 Prime lens which has seriously improved the range of shots the camera can take (it’s great for evening, low-light shots). We’d now really like to upgrade the camera and are looking at the new D7000 with a decent 18-200 and wide angle 10-24 lens but these things aren’t cheap. A wide angle lens in particular would be really useful on a trip like this and if combined with a versatile 18-200 would pretty much meet all of your needs.
Point and shoot camera – Nikon Coolpix: A small compact that can be stuffed into a pocket is always handy. We left with a Nikon Coolpix and, after breaking it, replaced it with another, potentially older model from the Coolpix range (it’s hard say what it is as everything’s in Albanian!). Whilst we are fairly happy with it, our particular model suffers in low light and even in daylight some shots are blurred meaning we tend to keep it on ‘sport’ mode with its faster shutter speed. Other than that it’s a great little camera.
E-book – Sony PRS350: We love reading and always carried a couple of books with us, despite their added bulk. However, on seeing the e-book of a fellow overlander, we became converts and haven’t looked back! We opted for the Sony PRS350: it’s small enough to slip into a pocket, has internal memory to hold 1200 books at a time, has an e-ink screen (so none of the flickering associated with traditional computer screens), is perfectly readable even in direct sunlight, lasts about 3 weeks on a single charge and, most importantly (and unlike Amazon’s Kindle), it can read every available format meaning you can download books from any source or swap collections with others. For managing our ‘library’ on the computer, we use Calibre which is a free universal application for e-books (an e-books version of i-tunes) and is quite frankly way better than any other version we’ve come across, including that of Sony. It’s hard to over-stress how great the e-reader is – embrace the future!
Tools & Maintenance
The standard tool kits on most bikes are simply not up to scratch as they are made of cheap materials and were only ever designed for the most basic jobs, so ours were the first things we ditched. Below is a list of all of the tools and associated bits and pieces that we carry. Please note that although almost everything is universal and would be, in our opinion, essential to carry on a trip of this type, the sizes are relevant to the XT660 and any ‘after market’ parts that we use.
Leatherman multi-tool: A decent multi-tool is worth its weight in gold. Buy a quality tool and you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. The pliers in particular get used all fo the time and save the need for a pair in the tool kit. Leatherman and Gerber are the best on the market.
Motion Pro Metric Tool: This mini tool from MP’s ‘Trail tool’ range is simply incredible. It’s just 20% of the size of the standard Yamaha tool kit yet you can pretty much strip and rebuild the bike with it. Included as standard in the kit are components for 8, 10, 12 & 14mm bolts, #2 & #3, small & medium Phillips & flathead screw drivers, 5 & 6mm Allen bolts, ¼ & ⅜ inch drive adaptors, 10 & 12mm ¼ inch sockets. You can also add your own sockets and adaptors to the kit. The entire kit is really high quality and everything is interchangeable allowing you to adapt the shape of the tool to the job at hand. This kit really should be under the seat of ANY biker whether a seasoned overlander or a weekend warrior on a sports bike. We’ll never ride without one again!
Large (30cm) sliding wrench – ½ drive: This cheap, simple and almost indestructible wrench is perfect for the bigger jobs on the bike but takes up little space.
Additional sockets and drives: 14mm Allen (½ inch) for removal of front wheel, 22mm socket (½ inch) for removal of rear wheel, ½ to ⅜ inch adaptor (to make slide wrench interchangeable with the Trail Tool), 8 & 13mm sockets (⅜ drive).
Socket Extension (⅜): 10cm extension to allow access to bolts in deeper recesses.
Small (8cm) 10mm spanner: With one end open and the other closed. Ideal for doing the valve clearance.
Alum key set: Incredibly useful, ball ended are best. Be sure to pay the extra for a really top quality set. We bought a set of ‘Halfords Advanced Pro’ keys but the quality is poor and our most regularly used key snapped in a bolt.
Tyre irons: Two large & one small
Spark plug tool: Saved from the standard tool kit.
Cheat bar: Saved from the standard tool kit, useful for extra torque when using Allen keys etc.
Valve core tool: For inserting slime into the tubes.
The following are tools that we are looking to add but don’t carry at present:
Small pair of mole grips, small wrench (to speed up jobs when bolts are loose), good quality longer thin flat head screw driver (easier during the valve clearance), a small thin punch to allow quick removal of brake pads. We don’t carry any tools for dealing with the electrics as we simply don’t feel we know enough about electrics to justify carrying a tool for the job. Fortunately the XT’s electrics have been (to date) flawless
The following are the kit we carry to maintain the bikes and for quick repairs:
Slime electrical tyre pump, small back-up bicycle pump, duct tape, electrical tape, WD40, chain lube, quick steel, super glue, stick of copper grease, tub of lithium grease, heath resistant wire, different sized zip ties.
For a list of spare parts that we carry, please see the Bikes page.
In addition to that already mentioned, we also carry the following:
A comprehensive travel medical kit, spare bungees, straps and cargo net, three 5 litre plastic jerry cans, a good quality strong knife (with locking blade), a penknife.