How To Layer for Warmth – Winter Motorcycle Gear Made Easy

Gear, How To -



Winter is coming. Gone are the days of simply tossing on a light jacket and helmet, if you’re going to keep riding into winter, you’re going to need to learn how to layer. We’re here to help. This is the winter motorcycle gear you need and how to assemble it to stay warm.

The goal with layering is to create a maximum amount of warmth with as little bulk as possible, there’s no reason to keep yourself warm if you can’t operate a motorcycle safely. Motorcycle jackets are generally fairly warm when standing around, making wind-chill the biggest barrier you have to get around to be able to ride comfortably. Smart layering can keep you warm without turning you into Joey from Friends.

Base Layers
Base layers are crucial to your staying warm on your bike. Any of the motorcycle or athletic base layers, designed to keep you warm, will be effective in keeping your naturally generated body heat in close where it counts. Make sure they fit snugly and are an appropriate length to cover your body completely. We recommend the Dainese Evolution Warm Shirt and Pants.

Mid Layers
A fleece mid layer works really well at creating the “warmth” part of this whole operation; the thicker and softer the better. If you live somewhere especially cold, or are an exceptionally sensitive to temperatures (as I am), a down jacket like the ones sold by many brands at REI are ideal for keeping you warm in even the coldest situations. They’re often quite a bit pricier, but can be used for all kinds of applications and are definitely worth the money. We recommend the Schampa WarmSkin Thermal Windbreak Shirt, and use a Marmot Zeus Jacket for super cold days.

Outer Layers
Your outer layers are where you most effectively combat wind-chill. Make sure our outer layer is wind-proof (look for the WindStopper logo on textile items). Length is a huge factor in your outer layer; if your sleeves or torso are too short the jacket will let frigid air in near your core and ruin any chance you had at warmth. Another area you want to pay attention is at the neck. Your neck is incredibly sensitive and you’ll want to make sure your jacket covers it sufficiently, or you have a fleece neck tube to keep it warm and block out wind. The Rev’It Defender GTX Jacket is a solid go-to for cold, winter rides.

When your body gets cold, it circulates less blood to your extremities to keep your core warm which means your hands are the first place on your body to feel cold and the first place on your body to go numb; it’s a shame they’re kind of important in controlling the bike.

It sounds weird, but one of the major ways to keep your hands warm is to keep you core warm so that your body doesn’t feel the need to regulate itself as fiercely. I’ve worn tons of great pairs of winter gloves, but my hands still get cold if I don’t have a neck gaitor on, or I’m testing a new jacket and it rises too high in the back.

For places that are super cold, BarkBusters hand guards do a great job of helping to block wind. Cheap grip warmers can also keep both your hands and the rest of your body warm. The best gloves we’ve found so far are Rev’It’s Bastion GTX gloves.

Most boots, when paired with nice thick wool socks, will keep your feet warm as long as you don’t allow cold air to get in any of the seams anywhere. That goes double for water. ICON Patrol Waterproof Boots do the job nicely without breaking the bank.

When shopping for a helmet, do your homework and research how well the helmet keeps air out and how well the helmet keeps from fogging. My Shoei RF-1100 is really drafty and fogs easily if I don’t use the pinlock visor. My ICON Airmada is drafty but refuses to fog no matter how hard I try. My Schuberth C3 Pro lets in zero air, but fogs if I don’t leave the shield cracked a bit if I’m not using a pinlock visor… If it’s too late and you already bought a helmet, try and find a pinlock visor to help with fogging and buy a Proline Windjammer to keep cold air from entering the bottom of your helmet. If you want to buy a good wind-stopping helmet, we advise looking at the Schuberth and then adding a pinlock visor, their over-sized neck roll keeps everything out.

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  • Disqusdmnj

    Page 2 link is dead!

    • Jen Degtjarewsky

      We fixed it a few hours ago. Give it another go.

  • Gonfern

    No need for pin lock or a new helmet. I’ve had great success with anti-fog visor sprays. A quick spray before a ride in my arai and zero fog at worst it will get a little blurry when stopped for long in very cold conditions. Without it, fogs solid within seconds. Oh and page 2 is dead.

    • Jen Degtjarewsky

      We fixed it a few hours ago. Give it another try.

  • Darrick Anderson

    Mobile Warming has a base layer that is battery powered. I’ve ran it for 8+hours straight on a low setting and kept warm without having to wear nearly as much. Handy when the road your on turns into a quagmire…

  • 1destroyed_student1

    “My Budget” options: $349.02

    The same A-Star Stella Jacket I wear all year, with liner zipped in. $175 (half value for winter half of year)

    Tights: $3.99
    Leggings: $8.99
    Turtleneck: $10.99 (tucked into chin strap/stuffed into bottom of helmet. works well if the “turtle” is long enough.)

    Hand me down Men’s A-Star pants I wear in the summer: $0.00

    Same damn gloves I wear all year: $50 (amortized value)

    -but with Latex medical gloves underneath (for really cold days): $0.05/pair, or less if you buy the whole box

    Fleece “camping socks” I’ve had forever: $don’t even remember

    Boots: Steel toe work boots from military surplus: $50.00

    -Dirt bike knee/shin pads that I manage to fit into ^said boots: $25.00 (used).

    Helmet from riding buddy who took pity on me: $0.00

    Toasty as can be :-)

    • JamesM

      “Latex medical gloves” – My hands are getting clamy just thinking about it.

  • Lourens Smak

    I bought myself Rev’it Grizzly undergloves, these are like an extra liner that goes under my summer gloves. The outside is windstopper material, the palm is gore-tex material, and they have a very tight, long, and warm cuff. Best part is, the investment (€20 or so) was small, which fits my usage pattern of winter gear… I don’t ride in very bad/cold weather enough to invest in a complete “real” winter outfit. I just add layers, now including in my gloves. Hope this is a good tip for someone, half a year ago I didn’t know such undergloves existed…

  • Aaron

    This is what I use, works perfectly down till -10c

  • David Magallon

    Merino glove liners and a balaclava are part of my cold riding kit. When the heated grips don’t do the trick anymore, the liners have been fantastic. Also helps with moisture wicking. Although at that point, maybe you shouldn’t be riding?

  • Aakash

    Great post Sean. Super helpful. Thanks for the tip on the Rev’it Bastion GTX gloves. Wanna trade a near-new pair of Dainese Scout GTX gloves for the Bastions?

  • ben kester

    I was looking for a budget overpant the other day. Any suggestions?

    • Lourens Smak

      I have the Rev’it Enterprise, works nicely. I was able to test waterproof-ness a while ago… no problems at all! (pouring rain on highway, passing trucks etc… it was like a carwash!)

      Try them on before buying… they come in normal, long, and short. I wear M-long now, where normally I would need L or even XL. (the long legs) So many width/length options, most people will be able to find their *perfect* size. Very versatile piece of kit, and it has a nice modern look to it. So far I have used them for about 4500 km, they still look like new so I think they will last quite a while.

      It was one of the cheaper Rev’it pants available; I paid €119 if I remember correctly.

  • kentaro

    Not everyone has the option with the large range of stators out there, but heated gear is all I need.

  • Linda

    Great post. Aside from my goretex gear and gloves I also have a Klim windproof balaclava. It fits very well under a helmet and keeps me comfortable when I ride at 36 degrees (and I run really cold).

  • jonoabq

    Quite often the zip in liners in winter motorcycling jackets are inferior to purpose made mountaineering clothes (think Feathered Friends, Patagonia, Marmot, etc.) For next to skin layers go to cycling specific companies like Craft or Castelli. You can save space,weight, and increase warmth by using a quality motorcycle specific shell and a Primaloft or other top tier proprietary liner. Quality 800-900 fill down is warmer and lasts more compression cycles than synthetics but only works when its bone dry and has a tendency to pack down too much under a heavy shell. The upside is that good climbing gear is made with fully articulated shoulders & elbows, a tall close fitting insulated neck, and fits motorcycle use ergonomics very well once you find the brand that fits your body type the best (ex: Patagonia=more slender fit, Marmot=boxy, thicker builds). Its also nice to have a separate, highly wind resistant or windproof, jacket to wear off the bike at your destination. Because the are not zipped or snapped into your jacket they also let you move around more freely once you get all bundled for a fall/winter ride, you’ll keep more of your upper torso/head movement intact which make your rides safer as well. The downside is usually a slightly higher cost.

    Personal go-to:
    Base layer. Craft cycling Active crew neck or Mock neck long sleeve (fits close to body, long arms and tail)
    Accessories: Castelli arm warmers for cool morning commutes
    Mid layer. Patagonia nano-puff jacket
    Shell. Aerostich one piece occasionally augmented with electric warm bib ~30 watts

  • Steve

    No mention of a balaclava? Seems as necessary as keeping your core warm considering you lose so much heat through your head.

  • Davidabl2

    Odd that there’s no base layer listed for under your gloves -or under your helmet.
    Especially as it addresses this problem mentioned in the article:
    “Finally, put your helmet and gloves and do this before you go outside. If you touch the cold metal handle of the garage door, your hands won’t regain that warmth and you’ll be cold the whole ride. Try and capture all the warmth possible before going outside as your outfit is designed to keep it in.’

    A set of glove liners, polypro tights (or modern equivalent) and helmet liner pack into a very small space and sure do help out when it gets colder than you’d anticipated when you leave home..or coming home at night
    even in the warmer months.

  • Justin McClintock

    Step 1 – Ask somebody who doesn’t live in SoCal!

    Sorry guys, just had to have a little fun with ya!

  • Justin McClintock

    I lament the death of Firstgear’s TPG line of gloves. They had insulation around the back of the hand, but none on the palm. Provided MUCH better feel for the controls and worked BEAUTIFULLY with heated grips. Then they killed them. Bummer.

  • worship_mud

    i use my cycling cold weather gear when it gets really cold. a windstopper gilet, thermo bibs, silk undergloves and windstopper socks are worth their weight in gold when it gets really cold…

  • grindz145

    Great Article. I would recommend a Sherpa balaclava as well. I highly recommend heated gear in particularly cold climates. It can eliminate heft and allow for more movement. It essentially allows for a smaller middle layer.

  • Fava d’Aronne

    Get a windshield for the winter. This will dramatically reduce the amount of wind you’ll get on your chest, and you will be able to ride even in very harsh/super cold conditions. And I am not talking about SoCal winters, I am talking Chicago winters: a windshield will deflect A LOT of the cold air away from your body, and depending on the design of the shield, even from your hands.

    Best money I have ever spent.

    Plus, the windshield will also come in VERY handy in Summer long haul traveling: no bugs on your expensive leathers and especially no bugs in your mouth (even with a helmet, bugs will find a way into your mouth through tat tiny spot you will leave open to get a bit of air onto your face…


    I just ordered a pair of the Alpinestars Apex Drystar gloves as they got good recs/reviews from Revzilla. It’s down to low single digits here in Toronto so I’ll be able to put them to good use.

  • Dan Sciannameo

    heated jacket liner a gloves. No bulk

  • DucMan

    After trying everything, NOTHING beats heated gear. Just buy some.

    • JamesM

      100% agree. -Last February I drove 9 hours in 20 degree temps down to Florida in heated gear and felt warmer on the bike than I did on the 70 degree beach after I arrived. No bulk and easy to regulate.

  • JamesM

    Ha! As a UPER (moms side of the family) that grew up in San Fran / Silicon Valley, I can more than relate.

  • Scott Pargett

    Good scarf makes all the difference for me.

  • Diane Menke

    My winter riding tips;

    Bulking up can be very dangerous. It impedes mobility. Don’t go for bulk.

    No cotton EVER!

    GO ELECTRIC! Start with an electric jacket and a BMW socket set up you can install on your bike in less than 30 min. AreoStich sells this stuff. You can add on electric gloves and pants as budget allows. The electric jacket goes over your 1st layer and under your 1-2 outer layers. Get the jacket with the warming in the high collar.

    You can learn a lot from the BMW crowd of all weather distance riders. I did. You don’t have to get as geeky as some of them do.

    Diane Menke
    (moto rider since 1976)

  • William Connor

    My current setup gets a bit bulky but still rideable. Some of my gear is also fairly new so it is still stiff and breaking in.

    Outer layer: Olympia AST 2 Jacket, Olympia Ranger 2 pants.
    Mid Layer: Freeze Out thermal top and bottom from Cycle Gear. With the sales they run this stuff is dirt cheap and work very, very well.
    Base Layer: Under development. Right now it’s regular clothes, t-shirt etc.
    Boots. ICON 1000 Elsinore Boots, bit over the top styling but really good boots.
    Helmet: ICON Variant Construct, vents really well when warm. Could be less breezy in the cold but does a really nice job and only fogged up when I used a neoprene face warmer.
    Neck: Also a work in progress due to the fogging mentioned above. Not really fogging, it’s condensation.
    Gloves: River Road Thinsulate gloves. My fingers get cold in these.

    Bike prep: Barkbusters, heated grips and seats. Grips are really nice but still not keeping my hands warm in 30 degree weather.

  • NYRider

    All the options you mention will have you freezing your balls off, literally. Maybe I’m weird, but in addition to a base layer shirt, mid layer sweater and MC jacket I [usually] like to also wear pants. :p