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Aether Apparel: Expedition Motorcycle Suit

As a company, Aether is an interesting and compelling organization, the structure of their offering built on the personal passions of the founders and a talented team of engineers and designers. Every product is deliberate and measured, a balance of material quality, functional design and understated style. Much like its namesake, Aether products are about a clarity of purpose and an aesthetic appearance founded in simplicity. There are no screaming logos, no neon; in fact, there is almost no branding at all. For Aether, the product must speak for itself.

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The Aether flagship store is complete with both exotic motorcycles (this one prepared be The Mighty Motor) and real-world accessories. Aether staff frequently travel on adventure bikes and they have learned what works- this translates into their products.

While most apparel brands are run by marketing and sales professionals with little interest in getting dirty or even adventures that do not include a five-star nightcap, the Aether team actually pursues the remote and difficult journeys. Everyone I have met within their staff rides adventure motorcycles, and not just on the pavement, but in the dirt. Their bikes are dusty, dented and scratched. The showroom includes accessories from serious suppliers like Wolfman Luggage, Cruz Tools and others. It is this commitment to originality and purpose that resulted in the Expedition Jacket and Pants.

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At 6’1″ and 220-pounds, I am near the limits of their sizing, using the size 4 jacket and pants. Fortunately, it is a more athletic cut, which accommodates a larger chest, arms and shoulders 
 
TESTING
Even the name of the suit implies a serious intent, so throughout the testing I was particularly critical of this product being appropriate for harsh and extreme environments. I evaluated the suit from the sole perspective of an around the world traveler. Would I leave for Ushuaia or Magadan tomorrow, wearing this product? Given that I had a limited testing window (a few months), I used the suit for back to back adventures into the wilds of Baja, riding the high mountains, desert coasts and subtropical south. During my time with the suit, I experienced 100 degree-plus heat, days of torrential rain, and even a few minutes of hail. In Prescott, I rode the suit during sub-freezing morning rides and on several different bikes, from a Yamaha Super Ténéré to a Moto Guzzi V7.

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ON THE ROAD
During my 2,000-mile evaluation, I was fortunate to experience everything from sub-freezing to +100F with the Expedition suit, the all-weather performance proving to be one of the product’s greatest strengths. At +18F, I needed to add a wool base layer and the Aether Shelter synthetic shell (the light jacket I take on all moto adventures) for additional warmth. For the pants, I donned a wool base layer and closed all the weatherproof zips. In extremely cold weather on a motorcycle, I always look for the drafts, and this suit had refreshingly few. Of greatest advantage is the triple-layer nylon shell, which proved to be 100% windproof, even at well above legal speed limits. An additional advantage is the zip-together feature, which allowed me to connect the rear of the pants and jacket together, all but eliminating drafts at the back from bike and traffic turbulence. The tail of the jacket is sufficiently long to provide coverage, even during a full tuck at high speeds. The pants were perfectly windproof and no drafts were noted. For the jacket, there are a few areas susceptible to drafts, including the main zipper and the collar. It is not possible to adjust collar closure, so it is not capable of pulling snug around the neck. The collar is of average height and lacks a gaiter (a bulb of leather or other material to enhance sealing against the skin of the neck) so I found small drafts to be noticeable at really cold temperatures. Below 40 degrees, I started using a separate wool neck gaiter that went from the top of the shoulders to the inside of the helmet. The other draft occurred through the main closure, with that zipper not being weatherproof, and the garment relying on the front flap to limit water and air intake. After days of rain, I can assure that the front flap prevents water ingress, but it can allow air to slip past and through the porous zipper. This front zipper airflow is exaggerated if any pockets or other zippers are open, even a crack (creating a vacuum). This all being said, these small drafts are more a function of the broad temperature performance attributes than of the suit, then any oversight on the part of Aether. That porous zipper is hugely beneficial once the weather warms and the simple collar construction also improves comfort and appearance.

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The jacket is packed with pockets and conveniences. The only non-weathersealed zipper is the main unit behind a large buttoned flap. At higher speeds, cool air can trickle through the flap and zipper. 
 

On my way back to the US Border from Bahia Concepción, I hit three days of rain, starting with subtropical storms in the south to hail and near-freezing rain in the north. I rode for hours at a time in non-stop wet, from road spray to the deluge from above. From this experience, I can say with authority that waterproofing is one of the great strengths of the Expedition Suit. My base layers never got wet, and more impressive, nothing in my pockets got wet. The only time moisture got past the shell was when I accidentally left one of the side pockets open- operator error. This is why I only ride in weatherproof suits, instead of products requiring over or under layers. Jackets that require layers never seem to work in the real world. You have to stop every time the weather changes to remove or add rain barriers, and you need to find some place to store the layer. The internal water resistant liners are the most ridiculous, the jacket becomes soaked (and heavy), so once the sun comes back out and you remove the waterproof liner, then you are soaked. Layers that go on the outside are only slightly more tolerable, but they lack the durability of the primary jacket and still need to be removed and stored. With the Aether Jacket, all I needed to do was zip up the vents (which I could do while riding) for the rain, then unzip the vents when the sun came back out (also possible while riding). In a variety of climates, this is the only way to ride.

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For the pants, a few pleasant features, which includes the generous side vents and even belt loops (in addition to the integrated cinching straps).
 
 

IN THE DIRT
A true adventure suit needs to compliment the rider in the dirt, allowing freedom of movement, ventilation and sufficient protection. The padding cannot be bulky (restricting motion), but needs to take the frequent spills that come with heavy bikes in technical terrain. While the Aether Expedition Suit does not provide full “motocross-level” protection, it is on par (or better) than competing ADV options. D3O EVO Pro pads are provided in the shoulders, elbows, chest, back, knees, and hips. D3O is temperature stable and exceeds level two protection for transmitted force (impact). Range of motion is excellent, an attribute that I tested with my Husqvarna TE630 on local trails, pushing speed and difficulty to gauge any movement restrictions. Fortunately, adjustments are generous, and I could loosen the waist and arms as required. Ventilation is also critical in the dirt, as this typically requires being on the pegs, operating at higher activity levels and often traveling at lower than highway speeds (less airflow). One of the great compromises of a Gore-Tex style suit is that the main zipper is the primary ventilation inlet for airflow. However, unzipping the front of a jacket compromises safety, allowing impact protection to move out of position in an accident. Fortunately, the Aether Expedition Suit addresses this with two massive vertical vents starting at below the collar bone and continuing down to the diaphragm. This provides maximum ventilation when combined with the arm and underarm vents. Heat is exhausted via two back vents. Even at nearly 90 degrees and riding hard, I was pleased with the cooling capacity of the suit and comforted knowing that the pads would stay in place if needed. The only consideration with this suit in the heat is the lack of a hydration bladder sleeve. For some, this might be an issue (and worth noting), but I do not run any additional weight on my back. Hydration packs or bladders on the back increase fatigue due to added weight and they also tend to decrease ventilation by pressing the jacket against the back and partially closing the rear vents. I just run the hydration pack in the tank bag.
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With the torrential rains, mud clogged the backroads of Baja, and the suit kept me dry
 
 

DAILY USE
The reality of adventure travel is that small details matter. On a motorcycle, there are few conveniences and even less storage space, so everything must have a place, including items stored in the jacket. Pockets on the Expedition are adequate, with four on the chest, one on the left shoulder and a larger storage enclosure on the back. Inside the jacket is one pocket at chest level. All of the external pockets are weatherproof with the exception of a tall, narrow sleeve on the lower left face, an option that I used for sunglasses. The shoulder pocket is perfect for earplugs, and chapstick. I kept my multi-tool in the main hand warming pockets. The inside pocket is a good place to keep copies of the motorcycle documents, an international drivers license, and your thumb drive with scans of all docs. Remember, never store your passport in a jacket or secondary layer- I kept it in the pant pocket or the pocket of a shirt.  If you like to keep your point and shoot in a jacket pocket, it needs to be a smaller camera as pleating of the left chest and right hand pockets is minimal.
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One of the great strengths of the Aether Expedition suit, is that it doesn’t look like an expedition suit. There are no bright colors, no huge logos, and no massive pads. The cut is both athletic and understated, while still allowing for riders with more muscular frames. The jacket looks much like any other technical garment you might see for trekking or inclement weather. The grey pants are a bit less subtle, with large black reinforcement panels that extend from above the knee to the cuffs. Aesthetically, I prefer the grey jacket with the all black pants- a nice contrast between the top and bottom garments. There are a few other worthwhile mentions on the pants, which includes the oh-so-refreshing crotch vents (trust me) and the adjustable knee protection sleeves. I can never seem to get knee pads to fall in the right position for my inseam, but these pants solve that. The entire liner of the pants is mesh and there are big hip and outer thigh vents. All of the zippers are weatherproof. The final piece of pleasantry is belt loops – how civilized.
 
 

CONCLUSIONS
There are many things I like about this suit, and only a few (minor) reservations. The Expedition is well-designed and sophisticated, eschewing bright colors and heavy branding in favor of an understated and timeless style. Oftentimes a suit purchase comes down to style (no different from a motorcycle), and this unit sets a new standard for visual refinement. While the aesthetics are important, I am most impressed by the function of the jacket and pants; comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and fully weather sealed without a liner or additional shell. Even down to freezing temperatures, the jacket only need basic undergarment and no heating elements. Crash protection is better than average and the athletic fit supports aggressive riding. As I ended my mid-term evaluation of this suit, my thoughts immediately drifted to this question: “If I were to leave tomorrow on my fourth circumnavigation of the globe, would I wear the Aether Expedition suit?” The answer is yes, and Cairo seems like a good spot to write the long-term review. Aetherapparel.com, 323-785-0701

 

PROS
Clean and understated design
Wide weather and temperature range
Quality construction and materials throughout

CONS
Light draft can develop through the front zipper in cold weather
Collar needs a leather bulb or lining to better seal against weather
Limited sizing for larger riders

Scott is the publisher and founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. He lives in Prescott, Arizona

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