Textile touring jackets are the most versatile riding jackets you can buy, and they can keep you comfortable and protected in a whole host of conditions. But that doesn’t mean every touring jacket is created equal.
This is what you need to consider when purchasing a textile touring jacket.
What do you need the jacket for?
If you need a jacket for a specific trip, and you have the income, it’s worth considering a more specialised jacket. If you’re touring North Africa in summer you’re not going to need a jacket that’s suited for cold weather. You’ll need a lightweight jacket with plenty of ventilation. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a truly versatile jacket that can accompany you in all sorts of environments then you’ll want removable layers for versatility, as well as vents to improve airflow on those hotter days.
Layers are what gives certain jackets their versatility. Underneath the outer shell, there may be several different layers to ensure you’re suitably dressed for the weather. These usually comprise of a waterproof, and a thermal layer. You’ll need to consider whether these layers are removable, how easy it is to take them out and also how bulky they are. Thermal layers in particular can add bulk, so you may need to order a size above your normal to ensure a good fit.
Arriving at your destination after a long day in the saddle can be a relief, but one that can be spoilt once you remove your jacket to reveal a sweaty, sticky body. If you want to end your days feeling fresh, make sure your jacket can breathe. That means it will need to have intake and exhaust vents, or be constructed partially of a mesh that will allow air to flow. The effectiveness of the jacket’s breathable waterproof membrane is also key here, which leads us to…
Gore-Tex or not?
Gore-Tex is been seen as the pinnacle of breathable waterproof membranes, with a guarantee of waterproofing that lasts for the useful life of the product. This reassurance comes at a price premium and many serious motorcyclists won’t consider a garment unless it’s equipped with Gore-Tex. But it’s not the be-all and end-all of staying dry. There are generic membranes and manufacturers have developed their own waterproof and breathable materials, such as Alpinestars’ Drystar and Spidi’s H2Out. The membranes all work in the same manner – microscopic holes in the material are too small for water droplets to get through from the outside, but big enough to let moisture vapour from sweat to escape from the inside.
The standard protection suite for touring jackets is elbows, shoulders and back. Many jackets will come without a back protector, so you’ll need to fit an optional insert into the pocket or wear a separate strap-on protector. Make sure all the armour pieces sit in the right place on your body to offer the proper protection and comfort. If you want more protection check to see if the jacket has a chest protector pocket.
Riding all day, you might not want to use a backpack – but you’ll still need quick access to important items such as your phone, wallet and passport. Touring jackets usually offer plenty of pockets to store your valuables. Look out for waterproof outer pockets, especially if the jacket’s waterproofing comes from an inner layer. Make sure they’re easy to fasten and easy to reach. Some touring jackets offer a large pocket at the rear, which comes in handy for slightly larger items that you might not need access to regularly.
Touring jackets are available for as little as £100 or more than £1000. At the bottom end of the price spectrum, expect the waterproof membrane to be fixed in place and little in the way of venting or features like connecting zips. By the time you reach the £160 mark you can expect more features and improved ventilation, and Gore-Tex jackets tend to start at the £300 mark (cheaper if it’s stock of an old model that’s being cleared). The most expensive jackets have Gore-Tex’s laminated membrane, which is bonded to the outer shell for a more effective waterproof seal and faster drying.
You’re going to be wearing this jacket all day for several days in a row, so you need to make sure it fits you well and is comfortable for hours of riding. Most touring jackets are slightly longer than sporty textile jackets and are best suited to riding in an upright position. If you’re planning on touring by sports bike then a shorter jacket is likely to be more comfortable. It will have less overlap with the trousers, which can be less comfortable in the crouched seating position required on a sports bike. Many touring jackets offer a little adjustability in areas such as the collar, waist and arms, so be sure to look out for these. They help take up any slack created by removing inner linings, keeping armour protection in the relevant place.
At your destination
A growing number of jackets now come with what's known as a destination layer. This is a thermal and/or waterproof liner that can be removed from the jacket and worn separately when you get where you're going. Theoretically you've always been able to do this with removable thermal liners, but only if you were happy to look a pillock. Proper destination layers have their own fastening systems and have been designed to look right when worn separately from the outer jacket.