Does Your ATV Need a Windshield?

Ross Ballot
by Ross Ballot
Photo Credit: Spencer Ballot

There’s no denying that a lot of the ATV hobby comes down to wants rather than needs. But as it’s easy enough to go down the rabbit hole of desired accessories, so what improves the ATVing experience? One item that often goes overlooked is a windshield, and it can go a long way to making rides in cold, windy, or poor weather that much more enjoyable.

ATVs like the 2023 Can-Am Outlander XT 700 come equipped with a windshield from the factory. Photo Credit: Ross Ballot

When it comes to ATVs, the debate over whether a windshield is a necessity or a mere luxury often sparks discussions among riders and enthusiasts. ATVs are versatile machines designed to tackle diverse terrains, ranging from dusty trails to muddy tracks, and the need for a windshield often depends on various factors, including terrain, weather conditions, and personal preferences.

One of the primary arguments favoring the use of a windshield on a four-wheeler is the protection it offers and, usually, provides. Riding an ATV inherently exposes the rider to a range of elements. Weather (especially of the inclement type), debris, rocks, and bugs are all out for blood when you’re moving at speed. A windshield acts as a barrier from these projectiles and conditions, shielding riders from these external factors. In turn, this reduces the risk of injury and discomfort. For those traversing rugged trails or dense forests, where branches, rocks, or debris might be thrown up, a windshield can provide a crucial layer of protection, safeguarding the rider from potential hazards. That said, most windshields don’t offer complete frontal coverage (you’ll need a UTV with a full windscreen to achieve that) so proceed with caution if this is the sole reason for adding a windshield to your machine, or at the very least go in with realistic expectations

Photo Credit: Ross Ballot

Moreover, in adverse weather conditions such as rain or snow, a windshield can significantly enhance the riding experience. It blocks the sharp edge of the harsh elements, improving visibility and keeping the rider relatively dry, which can be essential for both comfort and safety. This is especially pertinent during long rides or in regions with unpredictable weather patterns, and on long rides when getting soaked, wet, or cold early in the day can mean a less enjoyable experience on the trail. Similarly, a windshield can help prevent the onset of wind-induced cold that sets in when your clothes are wet and the wind is working its hardest to make you miserable.

On the flip side, some argue, and rightly so, that a windshield can hinder the ATVing experience. Riding off-road often involves navigating through tight spaces and maneuvering over rough terrain, and a windshield might obstruct visibility or limit the rider's ability to lean forward during challenging maneuvers. Additionally, in extremely hot weather conditions or when riding in dusty environments, a windshield might trap heat or obstruct airflow, causing discomfort for the rider. Likewise, mud can make a clear, transparent windscreen opaque rather easily, which may necessitate frequent stops to clear the view ahead.

Another consideration is the type of riding one engages in. For recreational riders who mainly use their ATVs on well-maintained trails or for leisurely rides, a windshield might seem less necessary compared to those who use their vehicles for utility purposes or frequent off-roading adventures. Utility ATVs used for tasks like farming, ranching, or hauling might benefit more from the added protection and comfort that a windshield provides. Likewise, riding in tight woods circumstances might push one to go for the added protection versus riding in the open wilderness, where there’s less to hit one in the face.

Additionally, the design and style of the ATV itself can influence the necessity of a windshield. Some ATVs come equipped with built-in windshields or have specific front fenders designed with compatibility for windshields in mind, making it easier for riders to opt for this accessory. Utility ATVs, especially those geared heavily towards work use, tend to fall into this camp. On the contrary, sport ATVs are unlikely to have options for windshields with some kind of modification or questionable styling choices.

Some OEMs, like Polaris, make windshields for specific models.

Personal preferences also play a crucial role in the decision to install a windshield. Some riders prioritize the feeling of unobstructed openness and the sense of being one with the environment, opting to forego a windshield for a more immersive riding experience. Their time on a quad is to escape their constricting lifestyles, and the feeling of riding an ATV is freeing and perpetually reminiscent of the first time riding a bike without training wheels. There’s validity in that, and in the adrenaline that comes from the unobstructed world ahead of you when behind the handlebars. On the other hand, riders who prioritize comfort and protection might find a windshield indispensable, especially for longer rides or in harsh weather conditions.

Ultimately, whether a windshield is deemed necessary for an ATV boils down to individual needs and the intended use of the vehicle. It's not a one-size-fits-all accessory; instead, its importance varies based on factors like terrain, weather conditions, riding style, and personal comfort preferences. For some riders, a windshield might significantly enhance their riding experience by providing protection and comfort, while for others, it might hinder the sense of freedom and maneuverability that defines ATV riding.

Ross Ballot
Ross Ballot

Ross hosts The Off the Road Again Podcast. He has been in the off-road world since he was a kid riding in the back of his dad’s YJ Wrangler. He works in marketing by day and in his free time contributes to Hooniverse, AutoGuide, and, and in the past has contributed to UTV Driver, ATV Rider, and Everyday Driver. Ross drives a 2018 Lexus GX460 that is an ongoing build project featured on multiple websites and the podcast and spends his free time working on and riding ATVs.

More by Ross Ballot