This article is part of a series devoted to advice for people who want to take their motorcycle on an adventurous camping trip. This is the fourth installment. If you haven't read the first three parts I suggest you do by clicking on my face. We already discussed bikes, tents, sleeping equipment, cooking equipment and knives. Now it’s time to discuss which non-motorcycle related clothes you should take with you.
Just like in the previous installments I’ll kick off with a passionate plea not to take too much stuff… This may be especially true for clothes as I’ve seen many people take way, way too much clothes with them. And remember: even big bikes are more fun to ride when carrying less bulk. Also, if you’re worried about your looks don’t be. Adventurers always look interesting and appealing to strangers because they embody the spirit of adventure and freedom others want to connect with. You don’t need to be ‘pretty’. How about ‘appealing’ or ‘interesting’ instead?. Also, your entire adventure is an expression of yourself and how you live your life. You like tattoos? Show them proudly. If you’re into big beards, moustaches, pink hair, piercings or if you just don’t give a fuck it’s time to show the world.
The garments I will suggest in this guide are high quality and come in beautiful colours and shapes. So please guys and gals: don’t take more changes of clothes with you for esthetics reasons. That part will take care of itself. If you must… Complete your look with more lightweight and/or functional accessories such as a bracelets, bandana, cap or watch.
Other useful and fashionable items are a buff, a beany or a scarf.
The layering system
Any clothing guide worth its salt will tell you layers of clothing are more efficient and flexible compared to a single thick outer layer, both for warmth and for waterproofness. A single ‘do all be all’ garment is also a single point of failure when it is ripped or damaged. This ‘do everything’ garment is likely to be too hot in many situations, too cold in others, not breathable enough for hiking but also not waterproof enough for heavy rain.
According to my own classification, the layering system consists of:
- The base layer: Warmth in cold climates. Retains heat, breathable. Preferred material: wool and synthetic. Examples: Thermal underwear, underpants and socks.
- The middle layer: Outer layer in warmer environments. Should be very breathable. Should protect from sun, insects and be abrasion resistant. Preferred material: Synthetics, especially treated with UV blockers and anti bacterial treatments. Technical fabrics resistant to ripping and tearing (never cotton) Examples: Trekking pants and shorts, synthetic trekking shirt.
- Extra intermediate layer: When it’s very cold you can add an extra fleece or sweater. Use when it’s very cold and beware of cheap synthetic fleeces. They stink incredibly after a couple of days.
- The outer layer: Outer layer in colder situations. Should have a very high heat retention for its weight and shield against wind at least. A hood is a nice extra. Some outer layers protect against rain (hardshell) and others do not (softshell). The advantage of a hard shell is that you don’t need a rain layer. The disadvantage is that hard shells have a hard time wicking moisture when you are being physically active. An outer layer with no breathability or ventilation is useless. Shoes are also a part of this layer.
- The rain layer: This layer is only to be used when its raining. A rain jacket should be very light, take up no volume and be absolutely waterproof. You will not wear this layer when physically exerting yourself in hotter environments.
Let’s discuss the layers in detail
The base layer
This layer adheres to your skin and the most minimal configuration is just socks. Socks are extremely important because they keep feet warm but also reduce friction in the shoe and wick moisture away to prevent stinkiness and foot rot. Keeping the feet dry is also essential to prevent blisters and other friction related problems. Socks are deeply important and you should invest heavily in them. Never take cotton socks but opt for trekking style merino wool socks instead. Pay… the… price… it will be worth it.
Take two pairs of very long ones to wear in your motorcycle boots and two pears of shorter ones for activities such as hiking. Depending on the circumstances you can wear socks for two days.
I mentioned the most minimal configuration is just socks because some people (guys, I presume) choose to hike ‘commando style’ (without underpants) in very warm environments. I guess it’s a matter of personal choice but I would advise against it, especially for guys. If your sweaty balls slap against your thighs for a full day it will lead to chafing and you don’t want that to happen to your holiest hardware… It’s much better to wear a quality undergarment that resists chafing, especially important for us motorcycle riders, and wicks moisture. Just like with the socks go for synthetic or merino wool underwear. Because we are motorcyclists don’t go for the thinnest ones… You ass will thank you later. Take 4 pairs and put on a fresh one every day.
Those of you venturing out in very cold environments should invest in thermal underwear. Wool thermals are a big investment but its a much lighter and more compact way to stay warm compared to a thick outer layer. Choose thermals with antibacterial treatment and protect these garments against abrasion, water and dirt as much as you can. If you’re outside for long in temperatures lower than 0 degrees celsius I advise you to pack them. Anyone who gets cold easily should always take them…
You only need a single set of thermals on your trip as you are unlikely to sweat much in colder trips.
The middle layer
Om warmer days this is the everything layer. When it’s 20 degrees celsius outside you’re walking around in shirt and shorts. It’s tempting to wear a normal cotton shirt but you really shouldn’t because cotton is heavy and loses its heat retention capability when it gets wet. Don't forget this layer has an important role in colder situations too so breathability is very important. Instead of a cotton shirt opt for a synthetic, tear resistant, abrasion resistant, uv-treated, antibacterial shirt instead.
Believe it or not, you only have to take one good shirt if you want to be really minimalist. But taking two is better so you have a backup and something to wear when you wash your stuff.
As for the bottom part of the body: The most versatile are convertible pants/shorts of which the bottom parts can be zippered off. For the pants robustness is very important. The ideal pants are treated to repel water more and sacrifice a little breathability, but that’s ok. Your legs are not your best heat exchangers anyway and they produce little sweat. The pants should be loose enough to not cause chafing between the thighs and give you a full range of motion. Despite the roominess they should fit securely around your waist in combination with a belt, which is another adventure essential. You want someone to be able hold on to your trousers using their full body weight without them coming off. This is essential for hiking and climbing. Some pockets are important too for those moments you’ll be off the motorcycle visiting a city, for instance. But an overload of pockets is not useful and is only likely to make the garment less comfortable and heavier. Lots of belt loops and reinforcements on the knee and posterior parts are more important features to have. It’s important to have at least one zippered pocket too to keep something like your ID and/or house key secure even when hanging upside-down.
You only need to take one pair of parts/shorts. When washing the pants just wear your moto pants for a bit.
Extra intermediate layer
For colder trips is advisable to take an extra intermediate layer. This consists of a single fleece or sweater which you can add to the layer system for extra warmth or wear as a comfortable outer layer in fair weather. Pay attention to the garment weight and, as ever, never choose cotton. Synthetic fleeces stink like hell unless treated so get a decent one with not too many pockets. Avoid hoodies for this layer and choose one with a nice tight fitting neck part. This will help retain heat a great deal and fit more comfortably with outer layers. Choose a tight fit as you might want to wear this under the motorcycle jacket.
You only need to take one fleece.
This layer will be the outer layer in all but the hottest situations. In intermediate temperatures you’ll just wear this over your shirt. Never wear it directly on your skin. Don’t choose a thick jacket for warmth as you have other layers for that. Thick jackets also take up way, way too much space and restict your motion. Choose a light, flexible and compressible jacket instead. Depending on your personal preference you can choose a soft- or a hard shell type jacket. Soft shells are not waterproof at all but are much less susceptible to damage compared to a fleece. They are also ideal for physical exercise as they are the best at wicking moisture away from the body. Because of the fact they are non waterproof you always need to take a rain jacket as well but they make up for this with comfort and low volume.
Hard shells are more robust still and are treated to repel water so you don’t need an additional rain jacket. That said these jackets will keep you dry in mild rain but not in a torrential downpour. Even hardshells need some breathability or you would get more wet from your own moisture then from the rain. An absolutely watertight garment with zero breathability is pointless because you’d end up cold and wet in a plastic bag like that anyway. For hardshells there should always be some feature to get some ventilation such as mesh parts hidden behind a zipper.
Special mention for down jackets, especially for us moto travellers as they are can be compressed down to almost nothing. These jackets can be considered soft or hard depending on the outer fabric but they tend to be less robust because of the down filling. You also need to be very, very careful washing them and I’d advise against washing them at all during the trip. The tend to be expensive because real down is a costly resource. The advantage of these jackets is the best warmth to volume ratio available.
You only need to take one outer shell.
If you only take a soft shell you need a rain jacket too. For us moto travellers pick a very large size you can wear over your moto gear to provide an extra layer of waterproofing. These garments will make you sweat when exercising, especially in humid conditions. If you are hiking very intensely don’t bother putting them on. Just allow yourself to get a little wet as that will be more comfortable then sweating. A rain jacket can be a lifesaver when you are setting up camp in the rain. This jacket will keep you warm and dry when you are not very physically active.
You only need to take a single rain jacket. Off road riders equipped with a body armor can use the jacket to ride in the rain as well. Non off-road or gore-tex equipped riders are probably best just taking a hard shell.
This concludes this installment of the motorcycle adventure gear guide.