Snowmobiling can be one of the most exciting and rewarding pastimes when everything is going to plan. Staying warm, protected and comfortable is definitely part of the plan and something that all riders need and want. The proper snowmobile gear can make a world of a difference when riding in the cold winter weather. Without the right gear for the situation, you can find yourself fighting your gear for mobility or shaking uncontrollably from being too cold.
Arguably the most important piece of gear that you will need is the snowmobile jacket (other than a snowmobile helmet). Keeping your torso warm and comfortable is highest on the priority list for just about any rider. Over the years, gear brands have continued to develop and refine snowmobile jackets. Snowmobile jackets have evolved to the point that there are now specific jacket styles for every type of riding. For the best results, choose the style of jacket that best matches your style of riding.
The most popular style of snowmobile jackets is the trail jacket. Trail snowmobile jackets are the most versatile and can be used in a variety of riding situations. The cut on trail jackets tend to end just above the waist with a drop tail in back. This cut is perfect for riders who ride mostly in the seated position as it will not bunch up, but still has enough coverage on the back.
Trail snowmobile jackets have a combination of warm insulation and ample venting. This allows the rider to adjust their own micro climate with one piece of gear and to be accommodating in a wide variety of riding conditions. Some trail jackets may even have a removable liner to make the jacket even more versatile in varying temperatures.
As the niches of mountain and backcountry snowmobile riding become more technical, so does the gear that is worn by those riders. Much of these technical styles of riding are done in a standing position. It's because of this that the cut on most mountain and backcountry snowmobile jackets are a bit longer than a trail jacket. This style of jacket needs to be very flexible in order to articulate with ease as the rider moves.
Mountain snowmobile jackets usually have little to no insulation built into it. Riders depend on using base and mid layers in order to keep warm. Riders can add or remove layers to adjust their microclimate. The lack of insulation allows mountain jackets to stay very flexible with minimal bulk.
Snocross jackets are designed to be the most flexible and will not restrict the rider's movements. The cut of a Snocross jacket is similar to many aggressive trail riding jackets as it ends above the waist. This gives the rider the ability to bend at the waist unrestricted. The neck of some Snocross jackets are cut to be open so that the rider can wear a neck brace without any restrictions.
Because racers are working hard and are not exposed to the elements for long periods of time, Snocross jackets have little to no insulation and plenty of ventilation. They are often called racing shells because of their lack of insulation and layering on the inside.
While all of the different styles do have their own defining features, there are some characteristics that you should look for in all snowmobile jackets. One of those features is that the jacket should be waterproof. This not only includes the fabric/materials used, but also the zippers and seams. A snowmobile jacket should also have a good amount of reflective material that is strategically located in order to be visible at night. Some other important features that can make a jacket better are a storm flap over the main zipper and a snow skirt on the inside. These two things will help keep the rider dry and warm out on the trail.
The lower half of your body does a lot of work while snowmobiling and that is why it is so important to keep it warm, dry and comfortable all day. A good pair of snowmobile bibs or pants will do just that. There is a difference between bibs and pants and the right choice for you will depend on your riding style. Snowmobile pants end at the waist, whereas snowmobile bibs have added material to cover either the front and back of the torso or at least just the back. Both bibs and pants can have suspenders to help hold them in place.
Many of the same features that are important for snowmobile jackets (waterproof/breathable, reflectivity and mobility) are important for snowmobile bibs as well. Mobility of the bibs and pants is incredibly important so that it will not be restricting as the rider moves between riding positions. Also like jackets, bibs and pants can be separated into three main styles- trail, mountain/backcountry and Snocross. The same features that are important for each style of snowmobile bib or pant can be directly correlated to the necessary features of snowmobile jackets.
Snowmobile gloves need to provide two basic functions: warmth and dexterity. In the past, it was difficult to get both of these functions in one glove. A warm glove would be bulky or a flexible glove would not be warm enough. As insulating technologies have advanced, snowmobile gloves have become less bulky, giving the rider much better dexterity. Being able to freely move your hands and thumb will help to fight fatigue, which will allow you to ride comfortably longer.
Your snowmobile gloves should also be waterproof. Keeping your hands dry will give them a better chance of staying warm. Good grip is very important as well. Look for a glove with a palm that has good grip. Some gloves have liners to help provide additional warmth.
There are a few different types of gloves. The standard long cuff glove is the most popular. This glove will give you great coverage over the wrist and an ample amount of dexterity with the separated fingers. Snowmobile mitts/choppers also have the long cuff but all (or most) of the fingers are connected. This will keep your fingers warmer than gloves, but the finger dexterity is sacrificed. The third main category is short cuff snowmobile gloves. The short cuffs allow the rider to have the most wrist dexterity and are popular choices for Snocross and other technical riders.
Your everyday boots and snowmobile boots strive to accomplish the same thing. Keep your feet warm. The difference is that snowmobile boots are specifically designed to not only keep your feet warm on a snowmobile, but also to keep them comfortable and safe while riding. Good snowmobile boots will be waterproof/breathable to keep your feet dry all day. They are more rigid, somewhat like a snowboard boot, in order to keep your ankle safe in case you come off of the machine. The rigid construction will also help support your legs to help prevent fatigue.
Many riders believe that using a layering system is the best way to stay warm, dry and comfortable while riding a snowmobile. A rider can add and remove layers of different thicknesses and warming capabilities to fine tune their apparel for the environment that they are riding in. The different layers can be classified as base layers, mid layers and the outer shell, which would be your jacket and bibs. The base and mid layers have been designed to do specific jobs in the layering system.
The layer that is worn closest to your skin is called the base layer. This layer of clothing is usually thin and is tight to the body. The base layer' main purpose is to remove excess moisture from the skin and move it outwards. It also works as muscle compression clothing to help reduce muscle fatigue while riding.
In the layering system, the mid layer acts as the insulation layer. The mid layer is often made with an insulating material to provide maximum warmth. Often this layer is also moisture wicking to further move excess moisture away from your body.
Helmets do a fairly good job at keeping the cold air off of your face, but they are not perfect. A balaclava or a facemask will act as a base layer for your head under the helmet to keep you dry and warm. Balaclavas and facemasks vary in thickness and warmth. This allows the rider to choose the one that will work best for the riding conditions that they encounter. A balaclava covers your whole head with openings for your eyes and possibly nose and mouth. A facemask only covers the lower portion of your face, while the top of your head is left uncovered.
A good balaclava will be moisture wicking to help pull the moisture away from your skin. Some balaclavas and facemasks have built in breath guards to help push the moisture from your breath out towards the bottom of the helmet to help prevent fogging. Balaclavas can vary in length as well. Some will end at the chin, others will cover the neck and others still will act as a Dickie and go down into your jacket.
Snowmobile gear often does not come with any added armor or protection built in to it. For this reason many riders that are very active or just conscious of their own safety look into additional pieces of protective gear to keep them safe while riding.