From the whole range of motorcycle protective gear there is really only one item that you are obliged to wear if you legally ride a bike. Obviously that is a helmet and we don’t need to persuade anyone here how important this is to your safety.
As we know you can choose one of the three basic styles: Full-face, modular flip-up, and open face (three quarter). The protection they offer goes respectively in the same order. For the purpose of sport touring you may only consider the first two types.
Whatever helmet you will choose you need to make sure that the helmet is approved by one of the safety standards:
Read more on DOT motorcycle helmets here. We've tried to highlight the main differences on DOT vs. ECE 22.05 standards. Just be aware that there are
counterfeit stickers around. Generally you may come across them in some doggy places so stick to the main (big) shops. If you're not sure always buy your helmet from a trusted dealer. This is one reason why you
buy a helmet from a shop, the other as important is that you must check the
fit. Look for discount motorcycle clothing offers in your area or motorcycle evens/shows. You can get a bargain price for a decent helmet or any other motorcycle protective gear on these shows. Alternatively I find winter a good time for this kind of shopping.
Once you’ve found a helmet you like you need to properly check the fit. There are so many helmet designs that you never know how they will fit your head. You should not be surprised as there are so many shapes of heads. Normally somebody should assist you in the shop but in case they are busy watching TV and eating chocolate bars these are the points you should be checking before you make any decision.
After these checks wear the helmet in the shop for at least 10-15 minutes, don't worry it only shows that you're interested. Walk and move your head normally. After that bear minimum of time when you take it off, check for any sore places on your head, generally forehead and ears. You need to remember that you are going to wear it for a much longer, up to 3-4 hours a day with several days in a row when motorcycle touring. Wrongly fitted helmet will completely ruin riding experience, distracting the attention from road and effectively impairing your safety.
Back Protector? Do I really need one? Legally you don’t have to, but I’d say this is the second most important motorcycle protective gear after your helmet. I don’t think we need to go to examples on what may happen if you suffer back injury. Many extensive research studies have been performed and many literature review written on this subject. One of them quite recent article (By A. Robertson 2002) states the statistics clearly: Over 11% of motorcycle accidents results in spinal injury. Unfortunately this is the risk you’re taking.
Probably I need no more arguments to support the fact that you should always wear the motorcycle back protector on your rides. They offer protection for the lower as well as the upper back areas. They are strapped to your body and are worn under your jacket. Read more on how they are certified and what it all means in here.
Your jacket and trousers should be equipped with a good quality armour. Whether this is a leather or textile gear. (This is probably another controversial subject of what is better. I will come back to it later on). By good quality here I mean CE- Armour which is the European system of grading motorcycle protective gear and it includes capability of energy absorption as well as pad shape and size. CE-Armour is made of hard form pieces encapsulated in softer foam. In the event of accident that soft foam absorbs the impact energy by compression whereas the harder parts maintain the pad’s shape.
The body armour comes also separately as shown on the photograph below. Used most frequently by off road motocross riders but can be used on a road as well. It is a perfect solution when sport motorcycle touring in hot countries where temperatures sometimes exceed 40°C (104°F). With this kind of motorcycle protective gear you just take your jacket off and still feel comfortably secured.
Remember to always look for CE approved armour whether a part of your jacket, or bought separately. More on CE protection levels in cheap motorcycle gear section.
You may want to read more on protective motorcycle clothing in a very good article here.