Wearing dirt bike gear can help prevent injuries and also improve your ability to stay better focused on trail riding. The protective dirt bike gear also has a functional role by working together with the rider and the dirt bike to improve or reduce friction at touch points and increase rider protection and safety. The best dirt bike gear that fits well will improve the rider’s ability to stay focused on riding by minimizing distractions.
Essential dirt bike gear includes at least a high-quality helmet, goggles, gloves, knee and elbow protection, and boots. It is important to select specifically designed dirt bike gear that fits well and offers good injury protection while enabling good riding posture and performance.
In this article, we will cover the essential dirt bike gear that every rider should consider wearing in dirt bike trail riding. We will also cover gear brand options in each category and explain main points affecting your gear selection:
- How to choose dirt bike gear
- Choosing a helmet for trail riding
- Goggle selection criteria
- Best gloves
- Elbow guard options
- Knee protection — braces vs. pads
- Best trail riding boots
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How To Choose Correct Dirt Bike Gear
Finding the essential dirt bike gear can be a difficult task. Comparing products online and reading reviews is not necessarily the best way for beginners to find good, fitting, and correct type of protective riding gear.
Begin your best dirt bike gear search by thinking what type of riding you are going to focus on. Motocross gear may seem similar to trail riding gear and even mountain bike gear, but they are all slightly different. If possible, talk to other riders out there on the trails and ask a lot of questions.
Typically beginner riders want to get out on the trails as quickly as possible and test out the new dirt bike. However, it’s very important to stop for a minute to plan your protective dirt bike gear in order to keep riding without injuries. After all, more seat time makes you a better rider.
Most likely you will upgrade your dirt bike gear few times before finding the best options that work for you. Keeping this in mind, there are several things you can do to make sure you’re selecting the best options to extend the lifespan of your new dirt bike gear as some options are not typically cheap.
Consider the Level of Protection the Dirt Bike Gear Offers
In many cases, like with helmets and knee braces, higher-quality dirt bike gear does typically mean a higher price point. If you are committed to riding and already know you are going to continue to ride, invest in high-quality dirt bike gear from the start. Cheap helmets are typically offering only minimal protection and can break in use very quickly and may be unsafe in crashes. Whereas cheap boots are difficult in use and are bulky and offer no movement, which makes shifting harder than it needs to be.
Knee braces versus knee pads is another great example of quality dirt bike gear options and choices you need to make early on. While both offer impact protection, they function in completely different way and the fact is that cheap pads cannot offer same level of protection as the high-end braces. Keep reading as we will cover the difference between the two designs and why it makes sense to invest into knee braces.
If you wish to spend less to get started, you can buy used high-quality dirt bike gear. There are several ways to find used dirt bike gear for considerably less money and usually they are in great shape. If it wasn’t a good match for the previous owner, it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the dirt bike gear. It can still perfectly fit your body and last much longer than the cheap alternative options while offering superior protection and function.
Fitment and Function Should Be High Priority for Dirt Bike Gear
Have you ever tried riding dirt bikes with boots that are couple sizes too large or basically are bulky and don’t move around the ankle? I think you know where we are going with this.
The best type of dirt bike gear fits well. Too large or otherwise uncomfortable gear is not protecting well or working the way it’s designed to and can really ruin your day. You can typically spot beginner riders from their gear and how well it fits.
When selecting dirt bike gear, pay attention to sizing charts and test them well. If it feels uncomfortable, something is wrong. Jerseys and pants need to be a tight fit and material that will not chafe or cause abrasions. Boots, helmet, pads, gloves, and braces need to be fitted to your body well and they need to stay in place. If the protective gear flies away in the first crash, they cannot protect you.
As a general rule, dirt bike gear and dirt bike clothes need to be a snug fit when testing them out. The dirt bike gear is the only surface that connects you to the dirt bike and if you choose gear that slides and moves around you too much, such as baggy pants, you cannot control the dirt bike the way you should.
Read also: The best dirt bike gear for hot weather
1. Choosing a Dirt Bike Helmet for Trail Riding
A good quality dirt bike helmet may be the most important dirt bike gear for trail riding. Good quality helmets will last several years with good care.
Correct Dirt Bike Helmet Needs To Fit Well
When selecting the helmet, fitment is a very important factor. You should test fit the helmet properly and make sure it is snug when new and that it fits well together with your goggles.
Helmets are not only different in size, but also in shape and weight. Some helmets will fit your head shape better.
When looking for a new helmet, you can usually walk to a local dirt bike dealer and test fit to find the brands and models that fit properly.
Don’t buy a cheap helmet as your first dirt bike gear. Beginners tend to crash more often, typically at lower speeds, but hitting your head while learning the basics will quickly demotivate you to continue getting better.
A Light Helmet Will Be More Comfortable To Wear
In addition to fitment, check the helmet weight.
Even the smallest weight differences in combined helmet and goggle weight will have a big impact on how comfortable the helmet will be during long riding days. Neck and upper body issues can be caused by a heavy helmet and goggle combination so spending a little more for quality dirt bike gear is important.
As far as materials go, carbon fiber helmets may be a popular choice for lighter options, but you should always check the actual weight and not be fooled by the marketing jargon. Some manufacturers, especially on the cheaper end of the dirt bike gear price scale, may focus on the looks and cool features such as the carbon fiber materials, but many times it’s just for appearances and actually does not offer any real life value.
The weight of the helmet is usually marked on the sticker on the lower back on the helmet, next to the size. If you cannot find it, it usually means that the helmet is not light and you should check the actual weight online.
Washing the Helmet Padding and Overall Cleaning Is Important
When riding dirt bikes, you will sweat a lot. The dust and dirt will easily get inside the helmet and it’s important to be able to easily clean it. Cleaning your dirt bike gear is a good way to ensure they last longer and are comfortable to use.
Check the helmet padding and how easily the padding can be removed for washing. Make sure the way the padding is secured on the helmet is sturdy and will not brake off easily and that you can find replacement padding when needed.
Other Things To Consider When Choosing a Dirt Bike Helmet
Good Airflow and Closable Vents
Check the airflow vents and their design. Are they open enough to actually let the air inside the helmet?
You can drill the holes bigger for hot weather riding but the helmet should have good and sturdy air vents you can close when needed. If you need to increase air flow inside the helmet, read our detailed guide to Cool it down: The best motorcycle helmet for hot weather and other helmet cooling tips.
Helmet Strap Securing Method
The helmet strap and securing methods also differ among different helmet manufacturers. The dirt bike gear, such as the helmet, has to stay on during crashes. For this reason, the strap design is important when it comes to the helmet’s overall ability to protect you in crashes.
A D-Ring, where the strap is looped around to D shaped metal rings, is very secure but some riders may find it difficult to use with gloves on. You have other options such as clip style quick release methods and some even use a magnetic strap securing method.
Select the one that you feel comfortable using with gloves on. We recommend avoiding cheap clip type quick release straps as they may come loose too easily in a crash.
Internal Hands-free Hydration Options and Fitment
If you ride in hot weather conditions, check that the helmet is or can be equipped with a hydration hose option, if you decide to use one in the future. Some helmets may be very uncomfortable or difficult to use with an aftermarket hydration fitment.
Read also: Best dirt bike backpacks for trail riding
Summary: Choosing a Helmet
In summary, select a helmet that is lightweight, offers the best protection in your price range, and is easy to clean for your dirt bike gear. After that, other options are more or less compromises.
They all offer helmets in great price ranges that are lightweight, offer a good level of protection, and are generally of very good quality. Stay on the upper half on the price range for the best quality and a long-lasting addition to your dirt bike gear.
2. Choosing Goggles for Trail Riding
Goggles help to protect your eyes from rain, dust, and debris. They also prevent eye injuries and improve your vision in sunny conditions.
Selecting the correct style goggles for your dirt bike gear will improve your riding experience. These are a must for your dirt bike gear. Riding without proper eye protection makes you a candidate for severe eye injuries, which is easily preventable by wearing high-quality dirt bike goggles.
What should you look for when selecting dirt bike goggles? Fitment and compatibility with your helmet is on the top of the list. The frame design together with the lens surface area affects the size of your vision field so keep that in mind. Also, check how easy the lens replacement process is going to be like. In addition, some goggles are better at ventilation and preventing fogging than others.
Testing the goggles with your helmet on is important.
Some goggle frames are too wide for certain helmets and can sometimes get snagged on the front of the helmet. When fitting the goggles, make sure no air is able to be drawn in around the goggle foam area. If the goggle doesn’t make a good seal, dust and airflow will get inside quickly causing issues. Test many frame designs to find a good fit to your helmet.
Good ventilation inside the goggle is key to prevent fogging. Issues with improper fitting is usually the main reason for fogging rather than the lens material. The ventilation around the lens and the frame design also contributes to how easily they fog and gather moisture inside the lens.
When testing goggles with your helmet on, pay attention to how easily they fog under heavy breathing.
Goggle Lens Replacement Options and Ease of Use
You will eventually scratch the lenses and they will need to be replaced. Cheap goggles usually do not allow lens replacement and replacing the goggles becomes costly. It makes sense to invest in a high-quality frame with replaceable lenses. They also come with different level of shades and reflective materials that offer increased vision in low or high brightness riding situations.
Test how easy the lens replacement process is. Don’t trust the sales pitch, test it yourself. Some frame and lens designs are very difficult to replace without damaging and scratching the lenses and can be frustrating to say the least.
Goggle Field of Vision
Goggle frames come in all sizes and shapes. There are plenty of wide and tall lens designs that offer a much bigger field of vision.
We recommend selecting the largest lens and frame designs that fit well to your face and helmet. Your vision should not be obstructed by the goggles at all or try to minimize it as much as possible.
Summary: Choosing the Best Dirt Bike Goggles
When selecting the best dirt bike goggles, choose the ones that fit your face and helmet the best. Next, focus on the size of the field of vision and how easily you can replace the lenses. Ventilation is important and usually good when the goggles fit properly and are using the modern frame designs.
Do not ride without goggles under any circumstances. Adding a spare set of goggles to your dirt bike gear bag is worth it in case you forget your primary goggles at home. It happens more than you think.
3. Choosing Dirt Bike Gloves for Trail Riding
Gloves are another important protective dirt bike gear in trail riding. They protect your hands from chafing and blisters and they also help with painful branch whips and when falling. They can also help to prevent or manage arm pump and to maintain a better grip in most conditions.
For riders suffering from arm pump or carpal tunnel syndrome, choosing the correct padding thickness and padding location can greatly improve preventing CTS symptoms. The key is to be able to relax your grip and arms when riding, and gloves do have a big say in how relaxed you will be able to ride.
Glove Sizing and Fitment
Again, testing the gloves for a good fit is important. Dirt bike gloves should be snug and fit your finger length and palm area well. Many riders tend to buy gloves that are one size too large. Too large gloves can make riding more difficult as the hand is sliding inside the glove. This also increases chances for chafing and calluses.
Gloves also provide padding in various areas and sometimes it can be good, but not always. Lighter gloves are better for some riders and conditions, so it makes sense to try out several different models and brands. We recommend buying several gloves and store them in your dirt bike gear bag as riding in wet or muddy conditions can ruin gloves quickly. You can then change into a fresh set of gloves and keep riding longer.
Best Dirt Bike Glove Types
Every now and then we see riders wearing very thick, street type gloves with protective padding or guards on the top side of the gloves. We cannot recommend these type of gloves mainly because of the fitment and gripping issues. They tend to be overly thick in some areas and while they do protect more, they wear out the rider very quickly.
In trail riding, you should focus on the fitment and comfort. The normal dirt bike gear style gloves offer a decent protection against the elements you typically face in trail riding.
Summary: Choosing the Best Dirt Bike Gloves
Fitment is again key to good gloves. Next, you should focus on the padding and the level of protection.
Gloves usually last quite a long time. And hand-washing the gloves regularly extends their lifespan and keeps them fitting well. Store an extra set of clean gloves in your dirt bike gear bag so you can change into a fresh set when needed.
Some of the best brands for dirt bike gloves in our books are O’Neal, Troy Lee Designs, and Fly Racing. Our favorites gloves are the O’Neal Element gloves, simply because of their fitment and perfectly placed padding.
4. Choosing Elbow Guards or Pads for Trail Riding
Elbow pads come in all kinds of shapes and forms. Their primary function is obviously to protect your elbows from direct hits and scratches from trees and branches and to save your elbows in crashes.
Elbow pads or guards are a common choice for many trail riders to increase the level of protection as part of the rest of the protective dirt bike gear.
You have a wide selection to choose from ranging from very lightweight sleeve type elbow protectors to more sturdy hard pads. Let’s dive into these options in more detail in order to help you choose the best type of elbow protection for your riding.
Lightweight Elbow Sleeve Guard Options
Lightweight sleeve type guards are getting more and more popular, and for a good reason. They typically offer a decent protection while being the most comfortable and best fitting designs. That makes them a great option for dirt bike gear and elbow protection.
The sleeve type models are very popular among mountain bike riders but they are also gaining popularity among dirt bike trail riders.
These lightweight sleeve designs typically use a soft protective material that hardens upon impact. This technology enables the use of a very thin and flexible material. For this reason, the sleeve guards are commonly very comfortable to wear.
An example of these lightweight sleeve designs is the Troy Lee Designs Speed Sleeve.
Medium Protection Elbow Guards
Similar to lightweight sleeve guards, this medium protection elbow guard category commonly uses the same material that hardens with impact. They also use thicker elbow cup designs and materials.
These elbow guards are offering a more durable and increased crash protection designed for dirt bike trail riding, and sometimes they combine the soft protective impact hardening material with a hard pad surface.
An example of these type of medium-level protective guards are the Leatt 2021 AirFlex Elbow Guards.
Hard Elbow Pads
Hard elbow pads are guards that incorporate a hard protective elbow cover, usually made of plastic, with a fitted cup for your elbow. While these pads may seem the most protective ones, they can be very uncomfortable and they can really hurt in a crash. Hard elbow pads are usually the cheapest options available and typically they are all very similar in design.
They are also typically bulky and may not fit well inside jerseys. Hard pads are commonly used by beginner riders and most advanced riders seem to steer away from them as there are many better dirt bike gear options available in a similar price range. We cannot really recommend hard pads unless you know what you are buying.
Considerations for Elbow Guards
Other than fitment, you should consider how well the guards are staying in place. In trail riding, your arms are constantly shaking and being rapidly pushed up and down by the handlebars. This can cause the guards to slide down out of place and cause issues not only when crashing but by being uncomfortable and forcing you to stop riding to readjust them.
Some riders may suffer from arm pump or carpal tunnel syndrome. Elbow guards should also be considered when trying to prevent especially arm pump, as some designs may prevent good blood flow around forearms and thus making the condition worse.
Finally, if you regularly ride in hot weather, also consider the cooling capabilities of your dirt bike gear. Unfortunately some of the lightweight sleeve designs come with long sleeves that may feel uncomfortable in hot weather.
Summary: Choosing the Best Elbow Protection
Steer away from the cheap hard elbow pads when selecting your dirt bike gear arsenal and focus on the more lightweight options in the market. The elbow sleeve guard designs usually offer a great level of fitment and comfort, plus stay-in-place methods with good protection levels.
Our current choice for elbow protection comes from Troy Lee Designs and their EGS5500 model. These models fit well and offer a great level of protection. Sadly they have discontinued their previous model that had a longer forearm protection, so we are now testing other models to find a new favorite.
5. Choosing Knee Protection for Trail Riding – Pads vs. Braces
Knee related injuries are likely one of the most common injuries we all need to worry about with dirt bike riding. So you need to consider the best dirt bike gear options for protecting your knees.
Basically you have two categories to choose from when it comes to knee protection: knee pads / guards or knee braces.
The main difference between pads and braces is that the pads will not offer any protection for bending and twisting your knee, whereas the braces will offer a higher protection against these type of injuries.
Next, let’s discuss the pros and cons for each option so that you can choose the right option for your protective dirt bike gear.
Knee Pad and Guard Options
Similar to elbow pads and guards, there are several type of protection options available. The designs are very similar to elbow protection styles and offer hard knee pads, knee guards, and a sleeve type knee protection.
All of these knee pads or guards are similar in design, where the main protective element protects against a direct impact rather than supports the knee from overextension and twisting.
Knee braces offer the highest level of knee protection. Similarly to knee guards and pads, they offer a direct impact protection but they also prevent your knees from overextension and twisting.
There are several types of brace designs available but generally they all rely on a rigid frame that closely follows your natural knee movements. Knee braces can usually be adjusted for overextension and tightness to further prevent knee injuries.
Read more about knee braces and how they protect your knees in our 550+ hour test and review of the Asterisk knee braces.
Summary: Choosing the Best Knee Protection
You have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to knee protection. In our experience, the knee braces offer a superior knee protection and are worth the investment as soon as from the beginner level.
The simple reason is that knee injuries are very common and take relatively long to recover. Knee braces are the only option to increase the level of knee protection. This is especially true for beginner riders as learning dirt bike riding can make beginner riders more prone to accidents and knee injuries.
The Asterisk Ultra Cell 3.0 has been our choice for knee protection for quite many years now and we love them.
6. Choosing Best Boots for Trail Riding
Dirt bike boots are an essential protective dirt bike gear that is another must for trail riding. They protect your lower legs, ankles, and feet from direct impact damage. They also prevent your ankles from twisting and overextension.
Dirt bikes are designed to be ridden with dirt bike boots and while new boots may feel uncomfortable especially for new riders, they are a must for your dirt bike gear and trail riding.
Again, fitment is important. Some boot designs are more narrow and thinner than others and finding a good fit might take some test fitting.
What To Look For in Good Dirt Bike Boots?
Premium-level dirt bike boots usually offer a hinge mechanism on the ankle area. It makes shifting and braking easier as the boot has less resistance when moving your feet up or down. The hinge mechanism also prevents the boot and your ankle from overextension.
Another thing to consider is the size of the boot. Some boots are bulky and may make shifting difficult when upshifting and adjusting the shifter to a correct position. For this reason alone, we don’t recommend the cheaper, bulky dirt bike boots as your primary dirt bike gear.
Boots will also wear quickly in some strategic areas. The sole gets eaten out by the sharp foot pegs, so you may want to select boots that offer replacement soles. The straps also tend to brake and being able to fix them is a good feature.
Waterproofing is also an area to consider. In our experience, only few boot designs out there offer 100% waterproofing capability.
The best dirt bike gear for very wet conditions, such as river beds, usually calls for a good waterproof boot socks and/or over the boot pants. However, good quality boots need to keep your feet dry in all other conditions.
So when test fitting dirt bike boots, take a look at the lining inside. If the boot is only relying on the outer leather layer, water will get in quickly in rainy conditions. You should stay clear of these kind of boots.
Summary: Choosing Dirt Bike Boots
You should choose the best fitting, thinner leather-based dirt bike boots as your first dirt bike gear boots. Focus on the quality of the materials, the straps, and the ability to change critical parts, such as soles and straps.
When test fitting the boots, make sure to wear your actual knee protection braces or guards and pants. They all need to fit together well.
Our choice for the best dirt bike boots are the Sidi Crossfire 3 SRS Boots. They offer a slim design for a good fitment and usability, an ankle hinge with overextension prevention, and plenty of replacement options for repairs.
Selecting the best dirt bike gear for trail riding is a process. Test fitting several brands and models will help you to decide what works for you. Talking to your fellow riders for feedback can also help.
When it comes to essential riding gear, you should aim for the higher price category. Over time, good quality dirt bike gear will protect you better against injuries and they tend to last longer in use.
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Last updated: November 3, 2022