Adventure Riding Gear Basics: What You Need to Have
All too often riders get caught up in the excitement of their motorcycle(s), and for good reason—it’s what gets us amped to go for a ride.
Some sage advice we were given in our early riding days (and is now advice we pass along when we can), is to divide your budget.
Why? Because you can’t forget about gear! Spending all your hard-earned cash on the bike and not having anything left over for yourself is just a slap in the face.
You should wear gear whenever you ride, and on whatever you ride, but it’s especially important to gear up when riding an adventure bike for reasons that should be fairly obvious.
ADV bikes and dual sports will introduce you to all kinds of terrain, and it’s largely accepted that you’ll fall down at some point. With proper riding gear, you can get back up, dust yourself off, and keep going.
Here we’ll go over some adventure riding gear basics. These are the must-have items no ADV rider should be without.
With gear, just as with motorcycles, it’s easy to add on accessories, and at the end of this article, we’ll quickly highlight some optional kits you might find useful to add to your arsenal. For now, however, consider the following as “must-haves”.
It goes without saying that a quality motorcycle helmet is an absolute must for any motorcycle rider, no matter what bike you have. The options are vast when it comes to what you can wear on an adventure bike or even a dual-sport.
Some opt for motocross helmets because they’re light, others opt for more dedicated adventure-focused helmets, while others still favor a hybrid street/ADV helmet.
No matter what you pick, there are important distinctions with all of the worthy adventure helmets:
- Peaks: Visor peaks are important on ADV helmets to help block the glare from a rising or setting sun from getting into your eyes and distracting you. They’re also useful for blocking some debris and roost from bikes in front getting into your face. Hybrid helmets often feature removable peaks, as they can lift your head up when you’re riding down the freeway at high speeds.
- Venting: Riding ADV bikes is hard, and it’s taxing on the body. Multiply the physicality if you’re riding through hot climates. Look for helmets with the maximum amount of venting (these typically are the ones that cost more, but not always). You want all the airflow you can get in these situations because once the head and the mind overheats, bad things can happen. In colder climates, the vents are able to close.
- Goggle compatibility: You have to cover up those eyes to keep dirt and debris away, and goggles do a better job of that, while still maintaining plenty of airflow, than a visor. This is why you’ll see hybrid helmets have a removable visor (which works fine for street riding), to accommodate goggles.
Hybrid (otherwise known as Modular) helmets also have a flip-up chin bar. Again, this is nice for airflow, especially if you’re riding slow. But it’s also convenient to take a drink, or if you need to talk to someone.
Otherwise, pay attention to safety ratings (DOT, Snell, and ECE are the big ones across the US and Europe), and little details. Are the pads removable and washable? Is it light? Can you work the vents and shield with gloved hands?
Above all, try as many helmets on as you can and find one that’s comfortable. Because a helmet can have all the features in the world and be totally useless if it doesn’t fit your head.
Moving from the top of your body to the bottom, boots are next on this list because foot and ankle protection is underrated, yet the options are numerous. Because of this, consider the kind of riding you’ll be doing.
Hardcore riding requires maximum coverage and protection, while a touring-focused ride with mild off-road sections lends itself towards more comfortable boots you can use even off the bike. Ultimately, like with helmets, there are some key elements to pay attention to.
- Ankle support: As one of the most complex joints on the human body, protecting the ankles is important. A quality boot will have ankle protection both inside and out, and some may even have ankle bracing.
- Waterproofness: By its very nature, adventure rides will take you through various terrain and weather conditions. Getting your feet wet becomes a very real possibility. Don’t forget, too, that your feet can sweat from the inside as well. So having a waterproof boot with the ability to breathe is crucial to keeping your feet dry and warm. Gore-Tex membranes are the popular choice, but there are other options to choose from.
- Boot height: The more you look at boot options, the more you’ll see different heights being offered. Real adventurous riding means you should be looking for tall boots, as the added shin protection will cover you when the inevitable branch or roost comes smacking your shins. The more mellow the ride, the less vital boot height becomes. Also, keep in mind that tall boots are harder to walk in.
- Comfort: Like with helmets (and really, any safety gear), a comfortable boot is the one that will protect you the best. However, you need to pair comfort with the protection level required for your ride.
There are numerous ways to cover your upper and lower body. A separate jacket and pant combo are nice for versatility, but a dedicated suit has its place for overall coverage. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Like you’ve noticed so far, the decision you make comes down to the riding you’re doing and the weather you’ll face. If you know it’ll be dry and hot, you’d choose something lighter and more breathable.
But if you’ll face cold climates and/or various weather, opting for something more robust and waterproof is a good idea. Lastly, you can purposely go light and add or remove layers as you go.
For the purposes of this piece, however, consider these variables:
- Waterproofness: You never know what the elements will bring. Having a waterproof layer inside your jacket or pants, membrane built into them, or even a rain covering to wear over your gear will be invaluable. However, if you’re sure water won’t be an element you face, then non-waterproof gear will be lighter and more breathable.
- Ventilation: Going hand-in-hand with a garment’s ability to keep water away is its ability to control the amount of air coming in. Added layers reduce the garment’s ventilation, which may or may not be the desired effect depending on the riding conditions. Choose wisely.
- Pockets: Going on an adventure means having a lot of stuff. The more pockets you can have, the better. This is especially true if your gear will be subjected to both extremes of the weather gamut. When you need to layer down for hot weather, many jackets have dedicated pockets, ideal for stuffing layers into when not needed.
It goes without saying that covering your hands is important. Because of the varying weather conditions you might face, investing in more than one set of gloves is a smart idea.
One set of summer gloves and one set of winter gloves will suffice, and the nice thing is summer gloves are generally inexpensive. Here are some things to look for:
- Knuckle protection: At a bare minimum, gloves should have some kind of knuckle protection. Added armor for the palm and scaphoid are nice, but not mandatory.
- Touchscreen compatible: If you ride with a lot of devices, inevitably you’re going to be touching screens. Touchscreen compatible gloves are a convenient alternative to taking gloves off every time you need to call up your GPS. If you travel light and carry maps instead, then this won’t be as important.
- Material and weather compatibility: If you’ve chosen to go full waterproof with your jacket, pants, and boots, then don’t forget to keep your hands dry, too. Waterproof gloves could be a lifesaver if riding in wet and cold conditions. Conversely, mesh summer gloves will flow the most amount of air.
Miscellaneous ADV Riding Gear Items
Beyond the above bits of gear, there are other items to take into consideration for your adventure ride. Items like:
- Layers: Being cold on a motorcycle sucks. Layer up when the weather dictates so you stay comfortable.
- Neck covering/gaiter: Don’t forget your neck when it’s cold out! The body loses a massive amount of heat through the head and neck. A neck covering will go a long way towards staying warm.
- Heated gear: There comes a point when adding layers becomes inconvenient, annoying, or just impractical. If you know you’re going on a cold ride, wearing heated gear will keep you warm and toasty without the added bulk.
- Hydration pack: We know it’s important to stay hydrated when it’s hot out, but dehydration can be deadly even when it’s not very hot outside. Keeping some water on your back to drink on the go is easy – and potentially life saving.
- Ear plugs: Many people think ear plugs are for dimming the sounds from your motorcycle or others around you. While ear plugs certainly can serve that purpose, they are more effective at blocking out the constant wind noise you experience when you’re traveling miles on end. Don’t underestimate ear protection – tinnitus is no joke.
It goes without saying, having the right gear for an adventure ride is vital for your safety. The list above might seem overwhelming to some, but the reality is you’ve probably been aware of many of these items already.
You just haven’t heard some of the considerations to think about. And if you think the list above is exhaustive – there are countless other things we’ve left out!
This list is a great starting point to consider when choosing adventure riding gear, but be sure to take into consideration the conditions you’ll be riding in and any personal needs you have. And most of all—enjoy the adventure.