Safety gear for trail riding

What are some essential pieces of safety gear?

by Susan Lohrer

An off-road rider is going down a dirt trail through some bushes.

What gear do you need to have a safe ride? — Photo courtesy butkovicdub/Morguefile

You’ve heard “all the gear all the time,” but options for safety gear are seemingly endless. Exactly what is “all the gear?" It depends!

Safety gear you can’t live without:

The one piece of gear you should never ride without, whether you’re conquering the backcountry or braaping in your backyard: a Snell- or DOT-approved helmet—you have a lifetime limit of one brain, so protect it. (DOT is required if you’ll be using the helmet on the road.) A helmet should have a snug yet comfortable fit. Tip: Used helmets can have hidden damage, so when you buy a helmet, buy a new one (and replace yours after a crash).

Highly recommended gear:

  • Goggles keep dirt from obscuring your vision and protect your eyes from injury from insects and branches. Lenses are replaceable and are available in different colours for various conditions. Consider tear-offs or roll-offs for muddy or wet rides. Tip: Make sure the goggles you choose will fit inside the port of your helmet (and over your glasses if you wear them).
  • Good boots will make every ride better. They should be flexible enough to be comfortable yet sturdy enough to offer ankle support. Boots protect your legs, ankles and feet when you’re riding past (or landing on) branches, stumps and rocks. They also protect you from pipe burns, and they reduce the discomfort of standing on your pegs.
  • Gloves improve your grip and protect your hands from scrapes. On chilly days they keep your fingers from getting stiff.
  • Protective clothing doesn’t have to be flashy MX pants and a jersey—heavy jeans and a long-sleeved shirt will do. But motorcycle-specific clothing is rugged enough to withstand a certain amount of sliding across the ground and has heat-resistant leg panels to prevent burns from your pipe (as you can imagine, wearing shorts on a motorcycle is never a good idea). Tip: Look for pants with built-in hip padding for extra protection.
  • A backpack with food, water, a few basic tools and parts, and a first-aid kit will get you through minor breakdowns or injuries. Tip: If you don’t like wearing a backpack, look for a bag you can strap to your seat or rear fender.

Nice-to-have gear:

  • Chest protectors shield you from roost on the track, but they also absorb the impact of handlebars, trees or boulders on the trail.
  • Elbow and knee pads reduce the chance of injury when you’re thrown from your bike. Tip: For extra support, consider knee braces.
  • A satellite locator lets you check in or request assistance or rescue even if you’re out of cellphone range.
  • MX socks will wick moisture away from your feet and won’t slip down into your boots, so your feet will stay dry and comfortable all day.

Safety choices you can make:

  • Often overlooked as a safety must-have is a trip plan. Telling friends or family where you’ll be riding and when to expect you back ensures that if the ride does go sideways, help will be on the way. No matter how experienced you are, tell someone where you’re going—and stick to your trip plan.
  • If your bike breaks down or you’re injured while trail riding, one simple but important choice can mean the difference between survival and a really bad alternative: choose to ride with a partner.

Even though “all the gear all the time” means different things to different people, everybody can make great safety choices that lead to enjoyable trail rides.

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