Last year, I was riding an extended version of the North Coast 500 up in Scotland. We were riding it in April during that weird transition period where it wasn’t quite winter, but not quite spring. And definitely cold enough to warrant some decent motorcycle gear.
And it was whilst packing for this trip that I realised my warm and waterproof winter riding gear was simply taking up too much space.
It was too bulky.
I mean, why couldn’t all this stuff be as lightweight and as compact as my hiking stuff?
I swapped out some base layers. And then a lightweight fleece. Then a mid-layer.
And in a Eureka moment, I made the decision to pack all my hiking clothes rather than my motorcycle gear.
It changed everything.
In this post, we’ll look at how changing your motorcycle gear for hiking gear can change your riding forever.
My (Old) Motorcycle Gear Set-Up
Winter riding for me has always been a bit of an uncomfortable affair.
I’m a slender chap and I don’t have much in terms of ‘natural’ insulation. So I rely heavily on the clothes I wear to keep me warm.
For years, my normal setup for winter riding was:
- Cotton motorcycle-specific base layers,
- A t-shirt or thin jumper,
- A warm jumper,
- My heated jacket,
- A thick fleece,
- And finally my winter motorbike jacket,
- (Plus I’d carry an extra fleece in my top box – just in case).
With all this kit on, I looked (and felt) like the Michelin Man. I was so padded out in fact that oftentimes, I would struggle even to do shoulder checks.
But I put up with it because this setup – as bulky as it was – kept me warm and dry.
The Trust Issues Of Motorcycle Gear!
For years, I’ve always bought motorcycle-specific gear. Just like everybody else.
But the main issues I have with this sort of kit is that it’s bulky, expensive, and (often) a bit hit-and-miss.
Just because a manufacturer says an item of clothing should keep you warm and dry, that doesn’t always mean it will keep you warm and dry.
When I buy motorcycle gear, I often feel like I’m taking a gamble with my hard-earned cash.
The Beauty Of Hiking Gear
My other hobby outside of motorcycle touring is landscape photography. I travel to far-flung places of the world in order to drag my sorry arse up a mountain to take some pretty pictures.
But as I’m sure you’re aware, mountains are high and the weather can be life-threatening.
And it’s because of these two factors that hiking gear has to be warm and waterproof. There is absolutely no compromise – it simply has to do its job.
On top of this, we hikers are obsessed with shedding weight from our kit. We’re constantly on the lookout for stuff that can shed even the smallest bit of weight – because that’s a weight we don’t then have to haul up a mountain.
With all of this in mind, the best way to stay warm, dry and comfortable whilst wearing clothes as light as possible is to wear layers.
So manufacturers of hiking clothes have become very astute at producing really light, really thin clothes that are incredibly warm, dry, and technically advanced.
Related: Free Downloadable Packing List
Motorcycle Gear To Hiking Gear: The Transition
When I returned home from my NC 500 trip, I realised that I was never once cold throughout the trip. And this was despite having awful conditions and having to ride in snow for two straight days.
And this got me thinking.
So for the rest of my winter riding, I swapped my thick biker base layers for my thin hiking base layers.
I swapped my t-shirt and a warm jumper for ONE hiking mid-layer.
And finally, I put on a featherlight down jacket instead of my chunky riding fleece.
Losing Half Of The Bulk
Switching from motorcycle gear to hiking clothes saved me a few layers. But more than that, it saved me bulk.
Thanks to thin, technical layers, I’d retained all of the heat and insulation but was carrying only half the thickness.
On top of this, the lightweight materials didn’t hinder my movement on the bike which meant I could move freely and comfortably.
And from a practical point of view, it also meant I only had to pack half the amount of clothes when touring because hiking-inspired gear could be worn off the bike as well as on it.
Wins all round!!
Motorcycle Gear Ain’t Cheap
If you have been riding for a few seasons, you’ve no doubt acquired quite a bit of motorcycle gear along the way. Winter kit, summer kit, waterproof kit, and a whole host of kits for everything in between.
And as with everything to do with motorcycles, it’s expensive.
Hiking gear can be pricey, I won’t lie. I’d expect to pay just as much for a winter hiking jacket as I would for a winter riding jacket.
It’s the same with pants and boots.
But when it comes to the stuff that goes underneath your main riding kit, I find that hiking clothes are way cheaper (and exponentially better) than the motorcycle-specific garbage they try to sell you in showrooms and stores.
Value For Money: Dual Purpose
The other thing to remember is that motorcycle-specific gear is a bit like your pannier system: You can use it on your bike, but that’s really the only place you can use it!
And this means it isn’t cost-effective.
Conversely, hiking gear can be used both on the bike as well as off it.
If you’re touring, hiking gear doesn’t have to be used solely when riding. You can just as easily use it for relaxing in the hotel, exploring local towns/villages, or even for dinner.
Clean Easy = Travel Light
Have you ever tried to wash motorcycle gear?
Like most people, you probably tried it once and it resulted in one of the following:
- It was a nightmare,
- Your waterproof gear was no longer waterproof after washing,
- You shrunk it,
- It took days to dry.
Not only is hiking gear incredibly light, but it’s easy to wash and quick to dry.
And because it’s quick-drying, that means you can wash it at the end of the day and it will be dry before the morning.
When it comes to touring, you can pack half as much hiking gear because you can wash and dry it over the course of your trip.
Motorcycle Gear To Hiking Gear: The Swap Out
In this section of the post, I’ll go through some of the easy changes you can make to revolutionise your experience of touring in the colder seasons.
As mentioned above, the best way to stay warm is with layers. So with this in mind, let’s kick off with base layers – the clothing which is closest to your skin.
When it comes to base layers (top and pants), merino wool is king. It’s warm and light and provides great insulation. The material also wicks away sweat which means you stay dry and odour-free.
Motorcycle Gear: Mid-Layers
Mid-layers are probably the most versatile of layers. They go on top of your base layers (above) and can be added or removed as the weather changes.
I tend to use a full zip mid-layer (like the one below) for evening and relaxation. But I also use a full zip version when on the bike as I can put it on (or take it off) without taking my helmet off.
Motorcycle Gear: Featherlite Down Micro Jacket
Forming part of a layered setup, I can’t recommend Featherlite down jackets highly enough.
As the name suggests, Featherlite down jackets weigh next to nothing – yet they do such a great job of keeping the cold off.
They also pack up into tiny sizes which means they take up next to no room in your luggage.
I even bought my dad one of these for his birthday and he never takes it off!
Featherlite jackets are truly a game-changer when it comes to touring in colder conditions.
Pop it on in between your mid-layer and your bike jacket, and it’ll keep you toasty warm without bulking you out.
And they’re great for using both on and off the bike.
Motorcycle Gear vs Hiking Gear: Conclusion
When it comes to riding – and particularly touring – your motorcycle gear is essential.
Your kit has the ability to make a tour awesome or make it miserable, so getting it right is crucial.
It’s true that packing light is one of the cornerstones of comfort. But if you can pack the right motorcycle gear and then use that kit for multiple purposes, you’re onto a winner.
Next time you’re due some motorcycle gear, have a look at some hiking gear instead.
You’ll be surprised at how just how much of a difference it makes to your experience both on and off the bike.
All product images: Mountain Warehouse
Top image via Linders Motoren