Part of the thrill of riding comes from recognizing the inherent risks involved, with no seat-belts, roll-cages, or crumple-zones to protect you, and very little standing between you and the tarmac. And, while proper training, sound judgment, and selecting an appropriate bike relative to your experience skill level will all help to mitigate the likelihood of a wreck, the reality is that all riders should hope for the best but still prepare for the worst, or as the old biker adage goes, “dress for the slide, not the ride.”
In an effort to save their skin from the always-dreaded road rash, practically every generation of motorcyclists have turned to riding vests as a means of protection. Despite traditionally being largely comprised of leather construction items, motorcycle vests have seen a pretty significant evolution in recent years, with gear brands bestowing these sleeveless riding garments with modern gadgets and technologies, cutting-edge materials, and advanced construction techniques that make for markedly more comfortable and effective pieces of protective gear. Unfortunately, for every quality contemporary moto vest on the market, there are at least a dozen cheap imitations and costume-style pieces. So, to help shine a light on the latest and greatest the segment has to offer, we’ve compiled this guide to the best motorcycle vests.
Core Coverage Characteristics
What To Look For When Shopping For A Motorcycle Vest
As previously stated, not all motorcycle vests are created equally, so to help give you a better sense of what criteria we’ve used to determine the best motorcycle vests currently on the market, we’ve broken down the individual elements that we take into consideration (in order of importance) when calculating the quality and efficacy of a modern moto vest.
Materials & Construction: The materials used to make a vest plays an enormous role in how well of a job it does protecting its wearer. Previous generations of riders largely relied on denim and leather vests, though more contemporary items are often made from constructions that are infused with materials like Dyneema, aramid, Kevlar, and Cordura to afford better protection in the event of a slide. In addition to materials, one should also pay attention to the construction techniques used to manufacture a vest, as this will also partially determine its strength and level of protection.
Armor: Another area that largely separates modern moto vests from those of yesteryear is the addition of integrated armor. Spine and chest protectors (or pockets for accommodating spine and chest protectors) have increasingly become commonplace on today’s motorcycle vests, with D30 increasingly becoming the go-to armor.
Storage: Pretty much every motorcycle vest comes equipped with some pockets for storage, though the amount of cargo space offered can vary wildly. When considering a vest that boasts more pockets and room for storage, it’s important to make sure the vest has been properly balanced for even weight distribution. There are also some vests with water/weatherproof pockets, or padded pockets meant specifically for accommodating smartphones.
Style: The first step on your journey to buying a new vest should start with determining which style best jives with your personal taste. Because there’s an enormous array of different genres of moto vest, made in different colors and materials, it’s well worth exploring the various stylistic options available before pulling the trigger on your purchase. Some of the more popular types include military-style items, waxed canvas vests, denim pieces, and synthetic armored versions.
Warmth: On top of shielding its wearer from abrasions and impacts, vests are also able to provide a surprising amount of warmth, aiding the body in recycling the core’s heat. If you’re interested in a vest that will afford ample warmth, you’ll want to keep an eye out for waterproof membranes, insulation, and the like. When paired with an underlying jacket or base layer, the right moto vest can keep its wearer comfortable in surprisingly cold conditions.
Additional Amenities: With motorcycle vests having existed for so long, it’s frankly unsurprising to see that a number of gear brands have delivered vests with novel features or technologies in a bid to bolster comfort, utility, or performance. This includes vests with integrated hydration pouches or MOLLE webbing systems, as well as cutting-edge vests with advanced built-in rider cooling systems, just to name a few.
Manufacturer: Even after exhausting all of the criteria above, it can at times still be tricky to get an overall sense of an item’s quality. In these situations, it typically helps to rely on the reputation of the brand behind a given product, as most companies are pretty consistent when it comes to the quality of their gear.
Weaknesses Worth Mentioning
An Honest Examination Of Modern Moto Vests
While motorcycle vests undeniably have their place amongst the pantheon of modern moto gear, there are a few obvious shortcomings that are worth pointing out. The first and most obvious is the motorcycle vest’s lack of sleeves, which leaves the arms and shoulders—two areas that are almost certain to make contact with the tarmac in the event of a crash or slide–entirely exposed to impacts and abrasions.
Covering your core, torso, and spine with a vest is obviously substantially safer than riding without any gear, though relying solely on a vest is sort of like wearing a rain jacket that only covers parts of your body. Scores of riders are seemingly attracted to the military-inspired appearance of some of today’s more popular armored vests, but far too often these items are worn by themselves. If you are planning on utilizing a vest, we’d urge you to also consider supplementing that protection with additional elbow or shoulder armor or an underlying jacket.
REV’IT! Hi-Viz Connector Vest
Research has repeatedly and conclusively shown that high-visibility colors are markedly more effective at catching driver’s attention, and in foggy or rainy weather where visibility is compromised, it’s always a good idea to help ensure that you’re seen via the use of “hi-viz” gear. Made from a PWR-coated polyester construction, this high-viability vest from REV’IT! is designed to be securely worn over any existing moto riding jacket. A multi-way adjustable waist and shoulder setup ensures a snug fit, while 3M Scotchlite reflection panels provide additional viability.
Harley-Davidson Quilted Workwear Vest
This vest from the Bar and Shield brand is a modern item that boasts an unmistakably vintage, weathered appearance, comprised of a cotton canvas that’s been hit with an enzyme wash to achieve its faded and worn aesthetic. A quilted construction, zipper front with snap-secured storm flap, rib-knit neckline, and a polyester taffeta lining together provide comfort and warmth, while hand-warmer and back pockets offer storage for small essentials. Additional details on the MoCo’s workwear-inspired vest include custom pocket rivets, multiple embroidered patches, printed graphics, and a woven label all sport Harley-Davidson branding.
Saint Moto Denim Vest
A contemporary take on the classic denim moto vest, this item from Saint is constructed from the brand’s proprietary blend of Dyneema-infused cotton, polyester, and lycra that’s seven-times stronger than steel. Immensely-resistant to abrasions, this material offers some light stretch for increased comfort and an unrestricted range of mobility. This understated garment’s durability is further upped thanks to twin-needle stitching and reinforced bartacks. Completing the package is a full suite of bespoke logo rubberized buttons and a Saint pin.
BSMC Utility Patch Vest
Designed to be worn both on and off of the bike, this stylish moto garment staple from the crew over at the UK’s Bike Shed Motorcycle Club–or “BSMC”—is made from a heavy-duty cotton twill packing more than 300-grams (0.661lbs) per square meter of material. Outfitted with an array of interior and exterior pockets, the vest also sports an elasticized collar, dropped back hem, and prominent BSMC branding across the back. Despite the heavyweight twill construction, it should be noted that this vest wasn’t engineered as a piece of protective gear, not containing any armor or much abrasion resistance.
Alpinestars Cooling Vest
While modern motorcycle gear provides stellar protection, it doesn’t always afford much in the way of breathability. Recognizing this issue, Alpinestars set out to remedy the problem with its aptly-named Cooling Vest. Made from a triple-layered textile construction with a moisture-wicking fleece lining, the vest is equipped with a lightweight refillable water chamber that dispels water droplets against the wearer’s torso via an advanced liquid-cooling delivery system. thereby mitigating fatigue and the effects of heat exhaustion. What’s more, air-ports allow for supplementary airflow and breathability.
ICON Chamonix Denim Vest
For ICON’s newly-released Chamonix vest the Portland-based gear purveyor has called on hardwearing Cordura denim for the garment’s chassis and main construction and has supplemented the brand-name material with a diamond-quilted 1.4mm full-grain leather overlays across the shoulder section and top third of the vest, adding additional slide protection, along with some obvious style points. Further modern-day protection comes from an included D30 Viper spine protector. There’s also riveted breast pockets, an internal zippered pocket, and a pair of adjustable waist straps.
Belstaff Lambfell Gilet Vest
Though it wasn’t built to survive a slide on the open road, Belstaff’s Lambfell vest provides impressive amounts of warmth relative to its size and weight. Easily packable and compact enough to be stashed under a seat or in a pannier, this quilted gilet features a technical nylon construction housing a 120-gram insulation that together retains warmth and body heat without lessening freedom of movement. The Lambfell vest can also snap into other compatible Belstaff jackets and shells.
ICON Field Armor 3 Vest
ICON’s original Field Armor Stryker Vest went on to become one of the all-time most popular and best-selling pieces of moto gear ever produced, so needless to say, when the company finally debuted the highly-anticipated followup back in October of 2020, it was a pretty monumental deal. Sporting an all-new, markedly sleeker aesthetic design, the Field Armor 3 Vest boasts a bio-foam and air-mesh chassis reinforced with injection-molded armor plates and lined with ICON’s moisture-wicking, anti-microbial HydraDry liner, and finished off with D3O armor front and back. Numerous intakes provide solid airflow beneath the armor and the impressively low-profile shape of the vest also means it can be worn underneath an existing jacket, rather than just over it, too.
Troy Lee Designs Transfer Vest
Troy Lee Designs’ Transfer Vest is a rugged off-road garment capable of replacing motorcycle backpacks and saddlebags on day trips and other limited-range treks. Constructed around a 500D nylon chassis lined with EVA foam armor, the TLD vest features MOLLE webbing and more than a dozen pockets including a waterproof flashlight pocket, a quick-access pocket specifically for multi-tools, a padded smartphone and media pouch, a dedicated locator specific pocket, a handheld radio pouch with safety snap, and a collapsible integrated mini backpack. The company also went to great lengths to make sure weight was properly and evenly distributed as to not negatively affect balance and riding performance.
Roland Sands Design Ringo Vest
Sporting a decidedly retro appearance while backed by modern safety standards, Roland Sands Design’s Ringo Vest is a minimalistic piece of riding gear that’s made from the Southern California shop’s own premium, water-repellant, abrasion-resistant, and breathable waxed cotton. Available in black or natural “Ranger” (greenish-brown), the vest features a custom RSD patterned satin poly lining, zippered interior and exterior pockets with YKK zippers throughout, adjustable waist tabs, a ribbed, welders-style collar, and quilted stitch accents. And though it’s not sold with armor, this vest does contain a pocket to accommodate a back protector.
KLIM Tek Vest
Despite technically being engineered for snowmobiling, Klim’s Tek Vest is just as conducive to intense off-road and adventure riding, having been designed to protect the wearer’s torso without compromising movement whatsoever. Demonstrably more flexible than traditional poly carb riding gear, the vest is built around a high-tenacity, vented mesh, rip-stop nylon shell stuffed with ventilated soft-armor that won’t absorb water, and uses an insanely-cut-resistant, ultra-high molecular weight plastic that’s reportedly eight times more cut resistant than high-density polyethylene. In addition to offering the Tek vest in a trio of colors, Klim also produces matching shoulder armor to pair with it for even more protection.
Jane Moto BQE Heavyweight Waxed Canvas Vest
While it doesn’t have the most expansive catalog of riding gear, Brooklyn’s Jane Motorcycles more than makes up for that with its top-notch quality and premium takes on moto gear and garment classics. Jane’s BQE Heavyweight Waxed Canvas Vest puts the New York outfit’s typical up-scale twist on the timeless waxed riding vest, opting for a 14oz waxed canvas construction and making each unit in small batches out of its Brooklyn headquarters. Interestingly, the back of this vest is made to house a laptop, as well as an optional spine protector (which is not included).
El Solitario Outlaw Tactical Vest
Made by one of our all-time favorite custom motorcycle outfits, this military-inspired tactical riding vest is built take survive just about anything you can throw at it, with a full 1,000D Cordura construction, Duraflex hardware, heavy-duty YKK zippers, and heavy-duty mil-spec sewing seams throughout. Weighing just 3lbs, the Outlaw vest comes with four differently-sized MOLLE pouches, including a padded, quick-release smartphone pocket, an integrated three-liter hydration reservoir and tube, an emergency drop pouch, and 17 different swappable mil-spec patches to decorate the item. Available in limited numbers, this vest is also compatible with off-road neck-braces like Alpinestars’ BNS system.
Rukka M-Clima Vest
A brilliant example of the moto gear sector enormously benefitting from technological breakthroughs from other outside industries, the Rukka M-Clima Vest acts as a personal mobile H/VAC system for riders. Powered by an onboard rechargeable battery pack, the vest is equipped with an electric blower fan that can stream 7-liter of air every second and utilizes a cutting-edge accelerated evaporative cooling setup. Inside, electro-thermal elements enable the vest to provide cooling air conditioning or toasty heat that can exceed 100°F. Ideal for both extreme hot and cold weather riding, the M-Clima is also operated via an easy-to-use remote key fob that can be carried in a pocket or mounted to a bike’s handlebars.
The 18 Best Cold Weather Motorcycle Essentials
Need some warmer gear to help keep you riding through the winter months? Then cruise on over to our guide to the best cold weather motorcycle essentials for more than a dozen of the most robust and weatherproof two-wheeled gear options.