The 18 Best Cold Weather Motorcycle Essentials

Sep 24, 2020

Category: Gear

From the outside looking in, it may seem like motorcycles and foul weather shouldn’t mix. The lack of an enclosed cabin like that of a car fully exposes the rider to wind, rain, and snow, requiring them to face whatever weather conditions happen to be present (and that’s before factoring in the added windchill from riding speed). The reality is, however, that with the right garments and riding gear, one can comfortably pilot a motorcycle in practically any conditions, limited really only by visibly.

Cold weather kit not only has to protect its wearer from low temperatures, wind, and precipitation but must be able to do so without restricting range of movement or dexterity—a combination that’s much easier said than done. Spurred on by a steadily growing adventure bike market and community, cold weather riding gear often borrows elements and aspects from traditional snowmobile garments, and occasionally even ski and snowboard gear. To help shine a light on some of the best equipment today’s industry has to offer, we’ve compiled this head-to-toe list of the best cold weather motorcycle essentials.

Photo: REV’IT! Dominator GTX Jacket

Selecting A Low-Temp Loadout

The Ten Factors To Consider When Buying Cold Weather Moto Gear

While many common aspects of normal motorcycle gear carry over to cold weather kit, there are still several areas that are unique to this space. Below, we’ll touch on some of the more crucial factors to consider when buying cold-weather essentials.

Intended Use: This is arguably the most important area to consider, as it determines the type of gear you should be purchasing. You should consider the type of temperatures and conditions you’ll be riding in, and use that as a jumping-off point, as there’s gear designed to handle everything from chilly days and light rainfall, to full-on expedition-grade arctic-ready kit.

Shell Construction: A piece of gear’s shell is its first line of defense from wind, precipitation, impacts, and slides, and therefore is of extreme importance. The materials and construction techniques used in this area are the main things to focus on here, as are material overlays in key impact areas.

Photo: Dainese Antartica Gore-Tex Jacket

Liner: Liners are another pivotal element on cold weather riding gear, as they have to pull off a bit of a balancing act, protecting from wind and rain (aka being weatherproof) while remaining breathable. Name brand materials are often utilized here, with GORE-TEX probably being the most obvious and most-commonly-used example.

Insulation: This is the biggest departure from regular riding gear and plays an enormous part in a piece of normal kit being “winterized.” Insulation does a remarkable job of trapping heat in and blocking out colder external temperatures. Most insulated gear will cite the fill weight (usually in grams), along with the type of insulation being used.

Ventilation: Coupled with a breathable liner, ventilation is also key to keeping at a comfortable temperature while in the saddle. Most premium cold-weather jackets, suits, and gear will feature open and closable vents. Much of the time these vents are covered or positioned in such a way that they can be left open without letting water in during rain or snowfall.

Armor: No matter the season or temperature, going (shiny side) down is going down. Next to abrasion-resistance, armor is the single most important protective element on riding gear and is very seldom not included in modern products. You’ll want to look for armor in the elbows, knees, shoulders, spine/back, and hips. There are also different safety ratings for armor, as well as some name brand materials such as D30.

Photo: Dainese Antartica Gore-Tex Jacket

Components: This is an area that helps to distinguish top-shelf gear from run-of-the-mill items, and makes an enormous difference in overall quality. Components to keep an eye out for include YKK (and/or) waterproof zippers, attachment points for other gear, Fidlocks, and Idraflap closures, to name only a few.

Adjustability: Motorcycle gear has to properly fit you in order to do its job during a crash, and cold weather gear is really no different, as ill-fitting winter kit will allow cold-air or water through. On top of regular sizing (S, M, L, XL, etc) most winter riding gear will come equipped with a host of straps, buckles, Velcro, or other elements that allow fitment of individual areas to be fine-tuned for a perfect fit.

Versatility: When a jacket has ample ventilation, it’s able to lend itself to a much wider variety of applications and weather conditions. So, while it may cost more, you’ll want to consider second, and even third possible uses a jacket or piece of cold weather riding gear can provide. Elements such as removable insulated liners—which can be worn when off the bike as a normal jacket—undoubtedly afford a piece of gear markedly more versatility, and consequently more value.

Brand: While this isn’t true 100% of the time across the board, a motorcycle gear brand with a good reputation will rarely release a poor-quality product. When trying to make a decision, it does help to take into account a brand’s reputation for quality and construction.

Photo: Klim Hardanger Riding Suit

Layered Vs Heated

The Debate Over Electronically-Heated Riding Gear

Electronically-heated riding gear can be fantastic and can allow riders to comfortably venture into lower temperatures than they might otherwise. There are, however, numerous drawbacks to this type of gear, the first and most blatant of which is if the battery dies or the device malfunctions, you’re suddenly in a very bad—potentially life-threatening—position. Regular gear on the other hand—especially when properly layered—can do nearly as good of a job, without having to worry about recharging batteries (or them dying or failing).

We’re by no means opposed to using heated gear, it’s just important to be fully aware of the limitations of this kind of equipment. There are also best-of-both-world pieces of heated kit that combine liners and insulation with battery-powered elements, enabling these items to still do a decent job standing up against the cold, even without the heating elements activated. We’d also recommend stashing away a backup, non-heated piece of gear to have on hand when using heated kit, just-in-case.

Two-Wheeled Winter Wear

The Best Cold Weather Motorcycle Gear Essentials

Now that you’ve got a decent grasp on what qualities to look for when shopping for cold weather motorcycle gear, let’s dive into our picks for the latest and greatest from each of the main categories in this space.

Base Layers

Second Skins

Base layers serve a vital function for motorcyclists in colder and more severe weather, helping to recycle and retain heat from one’s core, while remaining breathable, and often moisture-wicking. Traditional fabrics do a decent job, though there’s a host of advanced synthetic materials that take comfort and performance to the next level.

Alpinestars Ride Tech Winter Pants

Specifically engineered for cold-weather riding, Astars’ Ride Tech Winter Pants sport a compression fit design meant to mitigate muscle fatigue, with stretch ribs on the front and back of the knees. Decorated with knee-puck-style Jacquard logos, this item’s honeycomb open mesh structure affords optimal heat and moisture exchange in winter conditions.

Purchase: $90

Alpinestars Ride Tech Winter Top

This is the top half of the Italian gear brand’s Ride Tech Winter kit, and features the same honeycomb open mesh structure, muscle fatigue-reducing compression fit design, and stretch ribs. The shoulders (and neck and chest) also bare the same race suit-style Jacquard logos that are normally found on sliders. And, just like with the lower-half of this base-layer setup, Astars’ Ride Tech Winter layers lend themselves to a host of other physical off-the-bike activities.

Purchase: $100

Riding Boots

Fortified Footwear

Suffering from limited circulation, our extremities are quick to lose body heat, which is why a solid pair of winter riding boots should not only protect your feet from impact and abrasions but also from frigid temperatures and precipitation of winter, usually through the use of insulation and a weatherproof membrane or liner.

Forma Adventure Boots

Taking the best elements from road boots, ADV riding boots, and regular winter boots, Forma’s Adventure Boots are a modern take on the segment, combining traditional full-grain waxed leather construction with a bevy of contemporary components such as a breathable and waterproof Drytex lining, TPU shin and ankle protection, an injection-molded plastic front plate, a rigid nylon mid-sole with a steel shank, damn-near unbreakable GH plastic adjustment buckles, and memory foam and polymer padding paired with an antibacterial (and fully-replaceable) APS footbed.

Purchase: $279

HMK Summit Dual BOA Boots

A snowmobile boot with the agility and protection to lend itself to motorcycle use, HMK’s Summit Dual BOA Boots are breathable yet extraordinarily warm, rated to as low as -30C. Constructed around genuine heavy-duty DuPont Kevlar uppers, the boots feature a wind and waterproof XR performance membrane, and D30 armor inserts at the ankles for streetable levels of protection. An ergonomic cuff and pre-curved tongue allow for optimal comfort, while a double BOA lacing system guarantees a crazy precise fit every time.

Purchase: $340

Riding Gloves

Digit Defenders

Just like with your feet, hands get cold easily, and considering your hands and fingers are used to control and pilot your motorcycle, it’s essential to keep them warm, as cold hands not only hurt, but also have a limited range of movement and less strength, compromising your ability to safely ride.

Tucano Urbano Handwarm Gloves

While most heated gloves required a hardwired connection to the bike’s power source, Tucano Urbano’s Handwarm Gloves boast heating elements along the palms and fingers that draw power from integrated 7.4V Lithium-ion batteries stored in the cuff. These Italian-made gloves also sport Primaloft insulation and a breathable and waterproof Hydroscud membrane that makes them plenty warm even when turned off. Touchscreen-compatible with smartphones and tablets, the Handwarm Gloves also feature D30 palm protection, a visor wipe section on the thumbs, solid knuckle protection inserts, and silicone rubber print on the palm for bolstered grip in wet conditions.

Purchase: $218

Held Cold Champ Gore-Tex Gloves

Based in Germany, Held is one of the most respected and elite companies in the moto gear space, with more than 60-years of experience in the sector. An unmistakably sporty take on a winter riding glove, the German brand’s Cold Champ GTX exhibit Held’s usual knack for high-end construction and materials, with a GORE-TEX membrane, a 3M Thinsulate lining, goatskin palms, Thermoplush fleece hand backs, Super fabric reinforcements in key impact areas, and leather-covered hard knuckle protection.

Purchase: $245

Motorcycle Helmets

Blizzard-Ready Brain Buckets

Motorcycle helmets are obviously an immensely crucial piece of safety gear, though cold weather presents a number of unique problems, including internally-fogged or externally-frosted visors. Often doubling as ECE/DOT-certified snowmobile helmets, winter moto helmets will usually come with electrically heated visors and breath boxes made specifically to hand low-temperature conditions.

Bell MX-9 Adventure MIPS Helmet

Bell’s MX-9 Adventure Helmet was already a fantastic on-road/off-road lid, offering unbeatable bang for your buck, and that was before it was bestowed with life-saving MIPS technology. DOT and ECE-certified and backed by a five-year warranty, the MX-9 features a polycarbonate shell, an EPS-lined chin-bar, a moisture-wicking liner, removable beak, and a robust “Velocity-Flow” vent system. The helmet’s visor is massive, providing a tight seal and a solid field of view. Bell also sells an electrically heated visor for the MX-9, though it costs an additional $100.

Purchase: $320

509 Delta R3 Ignite Carbon Helmet

Weighing only 3.55lbs, 509’s Delta R3 helmet is a high-end snowmobile brain bucket that happens to be DOT and ECE-certified (aka road-legal). Something of the ultimate cold weather lid, the helmet sports a carbon fiber shell housing a dual-density EPS liner, while inside there’s a cold-weather breathe box and a powerful 12V heated dual-pane face-shield. The Delta R3 also gets premium Pro Series cheek pads and liner and is secured via a magnetic Fidloc chinstrap that can easily be operated while wearing gloves.

Purchase: $500

Helmet Liners

Head Heat Retainers

While winter riding boots and gloves are often found with beefed-up insulation, this isn’t the case for helmets, which is why helmet liners are so important, as they not only keep your dome warm, but they also shield the exposed skin on your neck from the cold wind making its way under your collar.

Carhartt Force Helmet Liner & Mask

Made from a 92% polyester, 8% spandex blend, the Carhartt Force Helmet Liner is designed to slip beneath a lid to help keep one’s neck and face warm while on the road. Outfitted with a fleece-lined interior, the American brand’s mask utilizes moisture-wicking and antimicrobial FastDry technology and is made using flatlock seams for added comfort. The Force Helmet Liner is also offered in five different colors, including two high-viability options.

Purchase: $25

Dainese Total WS EVO Balaclava

Engineered to meet the needs of winter motorcyclists, Dainese’s Total WS (or Wind Stopper) EVO Balaclava fits on under a helmet before slipping down the rider’s jacket or collar to seal off water or cold air from reaching the torso. This high-end moto balaclava is made from Windstopper fabric and is equipped with Coolmax fabric and Elasticated inserts for a better fit and superior comfort when worn for long durations.

Purchase: $45

Riding Jackets

Upper Body Protection

Cold weather riding jackets need to be able to withstand the rigors and abuses of regular jackets, while also being able to protect its wearer from low temperatures and the elements. Quality offerings in this space will afford robust protection, without compromising mobility or adding an uncomfortable amount of weight.

REV’IT! Dominator GTX Jacket

Touted as REV’IT!’s most functional riding jacket to date—which actually says a lot—the Dominator GTX jacket is an incredibly rugged jacket that offers an enormous amount of utility. The breathable yet waterproof shell is a hardwearing combination of three-layer GORE-TEX Pro 600D nylon with GTX Pro Armacor and GTX Pro Talisman reinforcements and PWR Kevlar stretch areas. There’s also REV’IT!’s Aquadefence ventilation control system and zippers, a host of adjustment points and magnetic Fidlock closures, Aero Cool 3D mesh back and arm panels, a removable kidney belt, and several waterproof pockets.

Purchase: $1,250

Dainese Antartica Gore-Tex Jacket

Winter riding jackets really don’t get much more heavy-duty or robust than Dainese’s aptly-named Antartica GTX. Built using Nylon 6.6 high abrasion resistance fabric and a two and three-layer laminated GORE-TEX membrane, the jacket comes with an advanced ventilation system, includes back, shoulder, and elbow armor (and has space to accommodate a chest pad), a removable Stormguard collar, neoprene wrist closures, and sees its key impact areas reinforced via TRIXIOR D-TEC textile material. Insulation comes from a removable 700 fill goose down liner that can double as a puffer jacket when used alone when off the bike.

Purchase: $1,500

Mid-Layers

The Second Line Of Defense

Also popular in the outdoor and hiking worlds, these garments are designed to be worn beneath a larger shell or jacket in order to provide a decent amount of extra warmth, though can also be utilized by themselves when off the bike. It’s also not uncommon to see high-end winter riding jackets that come with removable mid-layers or liners, often of the insulated variety.

REAX Traveler Windproof Softshell Jacket

Produced by Revzilla’s in-house gear brand REAX, this well-made yet affordable mid-layer boasts a three-layer 100% wind and waterproof polyester soft-shell and a full fleece thermal lining. The Traveler Windproof Softshell also has hand-warmer pockets, a comfortable rolled collar, elasticized cuffs, and YKK zippers throughout. This item can be worn under a larger shell or jacket, or utilized by itself when off the bike as it can easily pass for your average technical jacket.

Purchase: $80

Klim Torque Jacket

The Klim Torque Jacket is a lightweight mid-layer that provides a tremendous amount of warmth while still being able to roll up into a highly-compact form to stow away in one of its own pockets. Its down-proof nylon shell has been hit with a hardwearing DWR-treatment, features Taslan shoulder overlays, and houses 100-grams of 100g 3M Thinsulate featherless insulation. There’s also an adjustable and removable insulated hood, elastic cuffs, all YKK zippers, and an adjustable bottom hem. And, like the entry above, the Torque also makes for a stellar everyday jacket when not on the bike.

Purchase: $200

Riding Pants

Bottom-Half Protection

This is basically the bottom-half equivalent of winter riding jackets, maintaining a regular riding jacket’s internal armor and abrasion-resistant construction while adding elements and components that keep their wearer dry and warm, even when riding through a heavy downpour.

REV’IT! Dominator 2 GTX Pants

The bottom half of REV’IT!’s Dominator GTX outfit, these pants feature the same rugged construction, with a triple-layer GORE-TEX Pro 600D nylon main shell backed by Talisman and Armacor reinforcements and Kevlar stretch panels, though the inside of the knees gain leather grip areas. SEEFLEX CE Level 2 armor fortifies the knees and SeeSmart CE Level 1 protects the hips while adjustment points at the waist, knees, and ankles help to afford a precise fit. If you plan on picking up the Dominator 2 GTX jacket, it really is worth it to opt for the matching pants, too.

Purchase: $800

Rukka Realer Pants

Like the previous entry on this list, the Rukka Realer Pants feature a three-layer GORE-TEX Pro shell, though this time it’s laminated to a highly abrasion- and tear-resistant polyamide shell, while the knees have been reinforced via D30 Air armor set behind a blend of aramid and Cordura overlays. The Realer Pants also come with a 60-gram fill goose down thermal liner that affords ample warmth, though can also be removed—and stored in a tiny included sleeping bag-style stuff-sack–giving these pants the ability to lend themselves to riding in a wide range of temperatures. Other highlights include ventilation openings on thighs, detachable suspenders, waterproof pockets, and a half-decade warranty.

Purchase: $900

Riding Suits

Complete Top To Bottom Coverage

When it comes to cold weather riding gear, it really is hard to beat a well-made one-piece suit, as they provide full-body coverage from ankle to neck. The step-in nature and single-piece construction allow for an unparalleled ability to trap in warmth and keep the elements out. These items are typically on the more expensive side, though the MSRPs are more than justified thanks to what is objectively top-notch comfort and protection.

Aerostich R3 Suit

Aerostich is without a doubt one of the best-kept secrets in the moto gear realm, producing hand-made goods at its Minnesota facility in low-number batches to ridiculously high standards. Aerostich’s R3 suit is the third-generation version of the brand’s flagship Roadcrafter suit—affectionately known as the “Aerostich motel”—and is built around a 100% waterproof GORE-TEX and 500D Cordura shell with 1,000D Cordura double-layer overlays in key impact areas. Good for handling temperatures as low as – 24ºc, the R3 is sold in 30 different color combinations and comes with numerous noteworthy optional add-ons such as detachable thigh and arm map pockets, electronically heated elements, and integrated rain boot covers.

Purchase: $1,247+

Klim Hardanger Riding Suit

For Klim’s Hardanger, the off-road and adventure riding brand has taken the traditional one-piece riding suit, removed the bulky liner, and bestowed it with an array of modern materials and amenities. Starting with a triple layer GORE-TEX Performance shell, this suit features 750D Cordura overlays on the knees, boot panels, shoulders, and elbows, D3O LP1 vented armor at the shoulder, elbow, hip, spine, and knees, and half-a-dozen zippered intake and exhaust ventilation ports. Designed to take on just about anything you can throw at it on or off-road, the Hardanger’s liner-free design is meant to be worn with other mid and base layers, and as such sports a waterproof pass for wiring in heated riding gear.

Purchase: $1,300+

The 12 Best Pieces Of Heated Motorcycle Gear

Looking for some additional gear to keep your warm while in the saddle during the year’s colder months? Then be sure to check out our guide to the best heated pieces of motorcycle gear for a dozen of the latest and greatest electronically-warmed garments, gadgets, and gear.

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