ATV riding gear

How to outfit yourself for best protection and comfort

Story by Steve Casper, Nov. 20, 2007

Most ATV riders always wear at least a helmet, goggles, gloves and boots whenever they go riding. These basic items, along with a jersey and riding pants, not only offer greater protection than ‘civilian’ clothes, but also make riding much more comfortable.

The protection concept behind this gear is two-fold. First, riding gear protects you from the elements—including branches, bugs, mud, dust and roost that may come your way. Secondly, riding gear protects you if you fall off or crash your ATV. This is when you’re really glad you’re wearing safety gear.

As an extra bonus, a full set of durable riding gear also eliminates the surprising wear and tear that ATV riding does to street clothes and tennis shoes. And when it comes to riding in cold and wet weather, the modern enduro riding jackets do an incredible job of keeping you comfortable.

Helmets

Alerts, tips and anecdotes

Tip
A cool wet T-shirt

If the riding temperatures shoot into the high 80s and 90s F, you may want to soak an old T-shirt or rag with water and wrap it around your neck. As the water evaporates, it does an incredible job of cooling you down. Then, whenever you hit a water crossing, stop, dip it in the stream, and you’re ready for another round of natural cooling. Soaking your jersey works too, but it will get pretty dirty from the dust in the air.

Alert!
Konk your head, toss your helmet

Nearly every helmet manufacturer recommends that you retire your helmet after a spill in which your helmet hits the ground or other obstacle. Even if you don’t see any exterior damage, the helmet’s crushable liner may be compromised. A hard hit from dropping it on pavement or rocks may damage the interior structure as well. This is one reason why you may want to avoid ever buying a used helmet since you don’t know what kind of hits it has taken.

Tip
Color matters

If your style is all black, you may want to reconsider. Black helmets and black jerseys can make you miserable in the summer. White boots aren’t such a good idea, though—you’ll never get them clean.

Anecdote
Roost hurts

Roost (the rocks and dirt kicked up by the rear wheels of an ATV) packs a lot more punch than you might think. If it can shatter headlights, imagine what it could do to your face if you’re not wearing goggles and a full-face helmet. Chest protectors not only protect you in the case of a spill, but deflect painful roost as well.

Tip
Oily goggles for dusty riding

Goggles need to breathe, which is why they have a rim of foam ‘air filter’ around the frame. However, the foam does let in a certain amount of fine dust. If you know you’re going to be riding in extremely dusty conditions, take a small amount of motor oil and apply it with the tip of a rag to the exterior of the goggle foam. It will help catch dust throughout the day. Simply clean the goggles with soap and water to get the gunk out when you get home.

Tip
Boot break-in

Walking around in a new pair of riding boots feels like you’re wearing stiff, plastic ski boots, and your first couple of rides could be quite uncomfortable. You can avoid that by breaking in your boots ahead of time with a simple soaking method. Soak them down by filling them up with a garden hose, then put the boots on and do some simple yard work or other chores for a couple of hours. The boots will break in much faster.

Dry the boots by hanging them upside down on a pole or a stick. Always store your boots upside down or on their sides. Storing them right side up will weaken the bend where the ankle meets the top of the foot and your boots will always flop forward.

When it comes to helmets, the decision to wear one can be a matter of life or death. Clearly, a helmet is the single most important piece of riding gear.

Those who always wear helmets often wonder what the problem is with folks who refuse to do so. Modern helmets are very comfortable and lightweight, providing the rider with a lot of confidence and protection from the elements. Many off-road helmets are also vented, so getting too hot is no longer a valid excuse for not wearing one. Of course, if you’re riding in an area where a helmet is mandated by law, well, you don’t have much choice.

There’s an old saying in the off-road world: ‘If you’ve got a $10 head, buy a $10 helmet.’ Basically, it’s warning riders to steer clear of the really cheap helmets. Not all helmets are as effective as the next, and the quality helmet makers have gone to great lengths to give their customers the best protection available.

One of the first things to look for when buying a helmet is to see if it meets one of the two performance ratings (these are stitched on the inside of the shell and on the box). The first is the department of transportation (DOT) rating that shows the helmet meets a certain set of standards as a legal helmet for street and off-road use. The Snell rating (named for a sports car racer who died of head injuries in the late 1950s) signifies that the helmet goes beyond the DOT standards and can withstand even harder blows.

Most automobile, ATV and motorcycle racers demand nothing less than a Snell rating for their headgear. Of course, the higher quality Snell helmets are going to cost more, but you should still find plenty of choices that are reasonably priced.

Let’s face it, as with almost anything that we wear, looks are an important consideration. Fortunately, there are plenty of style and color choices from the various manufacturers. Start your helmet search by choosing several styles and colors in your price range and then compare the features.

Another important decision is whether you want a full-face or open-face helmet. It is common sense to have the extra protection of a full-face helmet, as your chin and teeth are pretty vulnerable in an open-face model. Full-face helmets combined with goggles also offer much better protection against the elements than open-face helmets.

The type of ATV riders who may choose an open face are typically those who utilize their quads for work or other outdoor recreations, such as hunting, fishing, ranching or construction. Being able to have easy access to their face while wearing their helmet and having the added visibility is a plus. Also, the chance of having a tough spill is not as great as that for a trail rider or racer.

There are also other features you should be aware of. Check for air vents that can be opened or closed for hot or cold weather. Compare the weights—a lighter helmet is much more comfortable during a long day of riding. You should also check the construction of the visor for durability.

You may also want a visor that is adjustable to your taste. Many people who don’t ride assume that a visor on an ATV helmet is used to keep the sun out of your eyes like a baseball cap, but the primary purpose of a visor is so a rider can duck and protect his face from the dirt roost being thrown by the rider in front of him.

Getting a helmet that fits right is important for two reasons: 1) Proper fit is much more effective in a mishap, and 2) You won’t mind wearing it all the time because it’s comfortable. The best way to check fit is simply to try on a lot of helmets. Also be aware that a medium size in one brand may be more similar to a small in another. Some of the higher-end helmets are sold in more precise sizes such as 7 1/4 or 8.

The perfect fit for a helmet is as snug as you can get it while still being comfortable. You should not be able to easily insert a finger between your forehead and the helmet lining. Similarly, the padding of a full-face helmet should press lightly against your cheeks, but here you are much more likely to insert a finger or two.

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With the helmet in place, try to rotate it without turning your head. If the helmet turns significantly on your head (especially if it turns enough to interfere with your vision), it is too loose and you should try the next smaller size. If that is too tight, consider trying another brand, as each helmet manufacturer has fairly unique shell shapes. Without tightening the chinstraps, shake your head briskly from left to right a few times. The helmet should follow your head and not come out of place. The same goes if you move your head up and down quickly.

Next, try the retention strap system. You should be able to easily strap on the helmet you choose. Once the strap is snug, grab the helmet with both hands and move it around vigorously. Your head should be moving with the helmet.

If you’re going to be wearing glasses with your helmet, make sure you try them on at this time as well. You may need a slightly looser fit in the side of your temples.

Goggles

The basic design of most off-road goggles is pretty much the same—flexible plastic frames and a foam perimeter that works as an air filter to keep dust and sand out, but allows for circulation to keep fogging down. More expensive goggles might have features such as no-fog coatings, light-sensitive lenses, sweat-wicking face foam or micro-filtering vent foam.

Next to a helmet, goggles are probably the one piece of riding gear you can’t do without. Dust, sand, rocks and all sorts of debris will try to make their way into unprotected eyes when you’re riding, and no one needs to tell you how painful and dangerous that can be.

Goggles take more of a beating during a ride than you would imagine, and the inexpensive ones (less than $15) tend to not last very long. So before you buy, take a good look at the construction of the frame and especially the foam that contacts your face. Does the foam look durable and is it glued on securely?

If you can, try the goggles on, preferably with your helmet. Make sure the goggles fit your face and that there are no gaps where sand and dust can get in. You also want to check that the frame isn’t pushing on the bridge of your nose. Goggles should fit to the point where you hardly even know they’re on.

Goggle roll-offs

Roll-Offs consist of a thin, clear plastic film that is held tight against the outside of the goggle by two small drums on either end of the goggle. They are useful when a rider gets splashed with mud, as they allow a rider to simply reach up and pull on a little cord that swipes a new layer of clean plastic across the goggles.

 
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