What The Well Dressed Person Wears… on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

A few days back I was asked a question about what to take on the HCMTrail ride. In particular, the essence of the questions were, “What riding gear do we need” and “What should we take on the trail. At first, I was going to give a short answer. But as I was writing the email, I realized that if one person was asking, anyone interested would probably want to know. Besides, there is no short answer.

When you look at a lot of the videos of riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail Don Duval has posted, you will see the riders dressed from head to toe with every piece of riding gear you can imagine. But I always think it amusing when in the video you see a family of five going the other way on a scooter wearing little more than shorts and flip flops.

A “screen grab” from one of Don’s videos. A little fuzzy, but you get the idea.
A family getting their scooter back home from a day of shopping. At least they have helmets on but notice the flip-flops. (Photo courtesy of Don Duval AKA The Midnight Mapper.)

HERE’S THE LINK TO LAOSGPSMAP VIDEOS

So yes… if you really wanted to, you could ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail in shorts and flip-flops. But I don’t think it would be a very good idea.

A few years ago I rode all over Thailand wearing a helmet, combat boots, over-pants (I’ll explain over-pants in a minute), a jacket, and gloves. I consider this to be the minimum. As I go through the stuff, I’ll show you a recommendation or two. I’ll also include some of the recommendations Don Duval has made.

Me, on my way from Chiang Mai to Nakhon Phanom.

On the trip from Chiang Mai to Nakhon Phanom (NKP) I went via the towns of Phitsanulok, Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani (Udorn)… about 1000km. The pic shows the gear I wore all the way… “combat boots,” over-pants and the blue vinyl jacket hanging from the handlebars. The helmet is hanging on the handlebr underneath the jacket. The bike is a Honda CRF-250L. More gear is in the red bag, but I wasn’t wearing the extra stuff for the easy (tarmac) parts of the ride.

I should mention that I’m one of those that wears every possible piece of gear you can imagine. I often ride motocross tracks. I rarely race these days, but just the same, I prepare for the worst. I’ll tell you about my gear as I go along, but for now, I think this video will tell you the story best. I made the video because I was testing out a new GoPro mount. I was also wearing the new helmet and riding pants I intended to take on the HCMTrail Ride. (I didn’t think my Red-White-and-Blue themed gear would go over well riding in Laos. Here… watch the video.

Just a little test ride.

Throughout the rest of this post, I’ll be putting in little pics of the stuff I’m talking about. Each pic is a link to Amazon so you can check out the items. This first one if for the GoPro “chin” mount… not the helmet. All the links open up in a new tab.

Must Have Gear:

Before I go on I need to tell you that I go off-road riding two or maybe three times a month. That was the first “crash-n-burn” I’ve had in over six years. In the last two years, I haven’t even had a little “boo-boo” get-off. So all of this stuff is not likely to be “used,” but it’s needed just in case. Our trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail won’t have a lot of risks. Still… shorts & flip-flops just aren’t a good idea.

Helmet – I don’t need to say much here. You need your own properly fitting helmet. Some old, worn a million times brain-bucket isn’t good enough for my head. This doesn’t have to be expensive. Don Duval recommends a “dual-sport full face” helmet… not the kind you wear with goggles. He says the dual-sport give you better peripheral vision to look out for ” that dog, Cow, Goat, or Water buffalo approaching from the limit of your peripheral vision!”

Like most gear, you can spend a zillion dollars, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. The dual-sport helmet below on the left is one Don recommended. It is like the one he wears, is a DOT approved helmet, and is only about $60. The other one is the one I wear and bought to take instead of my Red-White-and-Blue helmet. As to its cost, to mimic the words of the great Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) in the movie, Major League… it costs juuuuussst a bit more.

(A reader told me that I should mention that if you are looking at this on some devices (like a cell phone), the items are not shown side-by-side. Instead, the “left” one is the first one shown, and the “right” one is the second one.)

Boots – As minimum, military combat-type boots. Today these are called “tactical boots.” The Bates boots shown below are the ones I wore all over Thailand. These are great because they are almost as light as sneakers. I still wear them all the time for riding my street bike (Honda) or for just out in the woods. The problem with these specific boots is with any water crossings… even little streams, your feet will get wet. Even though we are going in the dry season, a little rain in the morning could have you soggy all day. Bates does offer waterproof boots, but they cost juuuuussst a bit more.

Proper off-road boots will do a better job of keeping you dry. They’re also like armor for your feet and lower shin. Unfortunately, they aren’t much good for anything but dirt bike riding. Like all the gear, you can spend a small fortune if you are independently wealthy. As for me, the boots shown below are what I ride with.

I should mention, I’ll be wearing my combat boots as I travel to Laos. That will be my back-up if something happens to the motocross boots along the way. The Bates “Tactical Boots” on the left and my motocross boots on the right.

Gloves – These are essential. Don’t try and go with some $3 cheapie you can get from Harbor Freight. Good ones aren’t expensive and working up a blister your first day out won’t be fun. You can get proper off-road gloves for about twenty bucks. For years I have worn both Oneal brand gloves (left – about seventeen-bucks) and my current Fox gloves (right – about twenty-eight bucks).

That does it for the absolutely, positively must-have stuff. There’s more that’s highly recommended, but first, I want to talk about pants.

Pants

Obviously cargo shorts won’t do. Getting a bad case of road rash would ruin your day. Once again, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, or you can indenture your firstborn for riding pants. At the bottom end, you could go with just jeans. When I was poor, I did a lot of desert riding just wearing denim jeans. They will prevent a lot of road rash and keep dirt from getting ground into bare skin. But they are the least effective. I’m going to let you be the judge, but I’ll suggest something more effective.

“Over-pants” may be the most cost-effective. When I rode through Thailand, I just pulled these on over my Wrangler jeans. At the end of the day, I just pulled off the over-pants and was ready for a night on the town. Ok… the jeans were probably juuuuussst a bit stinky, but at least I could check-in someplace to wash up. Besides… these days stinky jeans might help with that “social-distancing” thing. Of course, you could wear cargo-pants or some such underneath but then you wouldn’t be as protected as well to road-rash.

Proper off-road pants, in my case motocross pants, are the best way to go. They will give you the most protection to road-rash. They will also be cooler than the other options… even jeans… because the ones I’m suggesting have venting to let in a little bit of air. They will also be the most comfortable because they have flex & expansion panels in all the right places. The ones I’m showing also have a little bit of padding in the hips and knees. (I’ll say a bit more about padding when I get down to “Overkill”.) While not waterproof because of the venting, they will keep a lot of water away. Since it’s a vinyl/polyester fabric, splashed water runs right off.

The over-pants I wore through Thailand are no longer available. Although the ones I’m showing here (on the left) are similar, I can’t personally vouch for them. They are about $40. The motocross pants (on the right) are the ones I bought and will be wearing on the HCMTrail Ride. They cost about $70.

Highly Recommended Stuff

Most trail-riding “get-offs” are not like the massive tumbling down the highway, getting smoothed out by a car sort of crashes you get riding down the interstate. Don’t get me wrong… some off-road crash-h-burns can hurt a lot. I was hurtin’ after the one in the video I showed you at the top. But most trail-ride get-offs are more the boo-boos and rash type. Helmet, boots, pants and gloves take care of a lot of that. But there’s more stuff that will lessen your aches and pains if you get some boo-boos.

Arms, Elbows & Knees

I suppose you could call an old sweatshirt arm protection if you are brave. In fact, I used to wear little more than that when I was on a motocross track. But now-days I want more. As a minimum, a modern motocross type long sleeve shirt should be worn. These shirts are vented and moisture-wicking to help keep you cool. They also have a little padding on the elbows. The one shown here is what I sometimes wear on a motocross track now-days if I’m not wearing more. (I wear a “chest-protector”/”roost-guard” / “flack-jacket underneath when I’m just wearing the shirt but I won’t go into that here. I also have a red-white-&-blue shirt not appropriate for this trip.)

Don Duval (and I) recommend you wear knee and elbow guards of some kind as a minimum. These are inexpensive and will save you a lot of grief even if you have just a little tip-over. That little bit of padding those motocross jerseys have won’t protect you nearly as much as some plastic “armor.” The set below will do the job, and are only about twenty bucks. But… before you order up any of these for the HCMTrail Ride, Don has some of this stuff you may be able to borrow from him. So check first.

Body Armor

One option to go with instead of some kind of long sleeve shirt and elbow armor (you still need something for knees) is to go with “Body Armor.” Both Don and I will be riding with this. Besides armor for your elbows, this provides you with a lot more… chest, shoulder, and back.

Remember I mentioned I wear “flack-jacket” worn under my motocross jersey just a minute ago? On a motocross track, the bike in front of you can spray you with little pebbles and rocks from his back tire. Except those pebbles and rocks are coming at you like “flack.” Sometimes the competition in front of you “roosts” you on purpose. The chest protection Body Arnor has does the same thing as a “flack jacket.” Of course I would never roost you on purpose… unless you roosted me going through a water crossing.

One other advantage of body armor is that you can wear a t-shirt underneath. The “jacket” part is made of a mesh and is far cooler than anything else.

I was wearing body armor in the crash-n-burn in the video at the beginning. Believe it or not, I didn’t have a scratch on my elbows, shoulders, or back. When you see me, I’ll show you all the scratches my body armor has from that. Is it a bit of “over-kill” for most trail riding? Yeah… probably so… especially for the HCMTrail Ride. We’ll be taking it easy. Just the same… I won’t leave home without it.

The body armor shown on the left below will do the job and then some. It’s only about sixty bucks. The one on the right is what I will be wearing on the HCMTrail Ride.

OVERKILL

This is all the stuff I took when I went a few years ago. I was riding by myself and it was to be 3 weeks in Thailand and 3 weeks in Laos. I took everything I thought I could possibly need… tools, water-purification stuff, a hammock, sleeping bag, mosquito net, and even MREs. I think the partridge-in-a-pear-tree is there somewhere. It turned out that I only made the Thailand part of the trip. Notice the Red-White-and-Blue pants that won’t be going this time.

There are a few more things that I wear any time I get on a dirt-bike. Most of this stems from my racing days and is far more than you will need for the HCMTrail Ride. When you are racing, you are always riding at your limits… sometimes over your limits. For the HCMTrail Ride, we are just going along at a pace for “sight-seeing.” Just the same, I’ve worn this stuff for so long, I feel naked without it. So, if you don’t mind spending some of your kid’s inheritance, here’s some more stuff.

“Base-Layer” – This is what you wear under all of the other stuff. There are a variety of different types and price points. The main idea of these are to provide some extra padding to protect you from boo-boos. I always wear shorts like these. They’re kinda like regular outerwear shorts, but with padding. After a day’s ride, I’ll wander around the house with these on until I take a shower… even if my daughters are around. And they don’t even say ewwwwwww. If you are going to ride with only jeans, this becomes sort of a recommended item. The one shown on the left is a low-cost version… about twenty-five bucks. What I wear is on the right… about sixty-five bucks.

Kidney Belt – I’m only going to show one here… the one I wear… because it really is in the beyond overkill category. My Body Armor (and the other one I showed) has a built-in kidney belt and I still wear a second one. Part of the reason is because I’ve always worn a kidney belt… long before I started wearing body armor. It’s one of those things I feel naked without.

The biggest reason for a kidney belt now-days is because it keeps my shirt tucked in. I wear the kidney belt down low… partly under the belt-line of my pants. (The pants don’t actually have a belt, but you know what I mean.) Now that might not seem like a big deal, with all that other stuff on. But without the kidney belt, my shirt always comes un-tucked just above the beltline. And no matter what… any time I’ve ever gone sliding, the dirt seems to always find any exposed skin. Here’s the one I wear… about thirty bucks.

Knee Braces – Ok… now I’ve gone off the deep end. This purely stems from my racing, but it’s still that naked thing. I’ve worn these for so long now, I just can’t get on a dirt bike without them. There are no worthwhile knee braces under about $350 a pair… and they go up to over $750. But just think… I get to save twenty bucks on knee pads.

Socks – Yes, you’ve got to have some kind of socks under whatever you are wearing for boots. Sure… the best thing to do is to run down to Walmart and buy a pack of six athletic socks for less than the price of these overkill kind. But these overkill kind are oooooh so nice. Both of the ones below are O’Neal socks. The socks shown on the left ($17.50) are over-the-calf with moisture-wicking material for most of it, but thick knit heel and sole. The ones on the right ($28) are what I wear because they go almost up to my Yaa-Haa. The Yaa-Haa socks go under my knee braces to prevent chaffing.

All of the pics and links I’ve posted take you to Amazon. I can also recommend getting the same stuff from one of three places: rockymountainatvmc.com, btosports.com, and Chaparral Motorsports (chapmoto.com). I have received good service from all three, and have been doing business with Chaparral since they were a little ma-n-pa store in San Bernadino, Ca. in the early 80s.

I use mostly Amazon these days mostly because I have “Prime.” In normal times I (all Prime subscribers) get free shipping… 2 day on almost everything. I think it likely most of you have Prime by now. If not, they have a free 30 day deal. Even if you don’t want Prime, it would be worth their free deal if you are going to order a bunch of this stuff. You also get free Prime Movies, which during the Covid-19 thing might be a good idea for the next 30 days. Just click on the pic below.

I want to say again that the Ho Chi Minh Trail ride is in no way about pushing the limits. We won’t be doing anything any member of the group is uncomfortable with. I’m bringing all my stuff just because I have it… not because I intend to “test it out.”

When I started to answer the email about this stuff, I started out with, “I’ll make this a quick answer and let you ask questions.” Then I started writing the email. The email was growing into the monster you see now. So you see why I never sent that “quick” email.

I still invite you to ask questions or make comments. There are a million possibilities for this stuff, and I’ve only given you a few options.

Now… about what to bring. I’m working on a “quick” email for that and you’ve probably already figured out how that’s going. So that will be my next post. Stay tuned.

I wanted to add a little about Chaparral Motorsports. Their retail store may be one of my favorite places in the world to spend a day… yeah, a day. They are by no means a little store anymore. For me, I’m like a kid in a candy store. Except it’s a candy store that seems as big as an aircraft carrier… and that’s just their showroom. I won’t go into it all here, but they have about every brand of motorcycle you can think. And… they carry so much in the way of accessories & clothing that I can’t begin to name it all..

Although my flight itinerary to Laos has changed now, when I planned for last March, I arranged it so I could visit Chaparral during my 24-hour stay-over in the Los Angeles area. I don’t miss living in California, but I do miss being able to go to Chapparal.

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