driver sprinting from their burning orange lotus at a hpde track day

HPDE Attire: 5 Essentials for Every Budget

What should I wear to HPDE? Some clubs are stricter about track attire than others, but the underlying principle remains the same: your choice of clothing serves as your first line of defense against fire.

Hpde attire 5 essentials for every budgetPhoto by RyKing

The Importance of Choosing the Right HPDE Attire

In the last 18 months, I’ve attended over 30 track days and seen a wide range of attire—from individuals donning full-on race suits to those wearing sports t-shirts, hiking pants, and regular sneakers. While sports t-shirts may wick away sweat and hiking pants offer comfort, these choices often overlook crucial safety factors. For instance, hiking pants are usually made of synthetic ripstop material, and sneakers are a mix of plastics, rubber, textiles, foam, and some leather—all of which (leather aside) are very much not recommended (or allowed) for the track.

Remember the absolutely awful crash involving F1 driver Romain Grosjean at the Bahrain International Circuit on November 29, 2023? I was off the sofa, shouting at the TV for him to get out of the car for what seemed like an eternity – I can’t begin to imagine what his wife must have been going through.

Grosjean was trapped in his burning car for 28 seconds after a collision with the track wall at nearly 120 miles per hour, experiencing a peak impact of 67Gs. Incredibly, he escaped without serious injury, save for the second-degree burns he suffered on his hands. While F1 represents the pinnacle of motor racing with suits costing around $4,000, it begs the question: What can everyday drivers do to better protect themselves during HPDE events?

The HPDE club you choose to drive with will have its own set of rules regarding acceptable attire. Some clubs are stricter than others, but the underlying principle remains the same: your choice of clothing serves as your first line of defense against fire.

In this article, we’ll delve into the essentials of HPDE attire, explore why the material of your clothing matters, and provide options for every budget.

Person wearing race suit running from an orange lotus elise that's on fire
Photo credit

The ABCs of HPDE ATTIRE: Your First Line of Defense

When it comes to track days, your choice of HPDE attire is not really about comfort (though that’d be nice!); it’s about safety. While all the clubs I’ve driven with mandate long-sleeve t-shirts, long pants, and closed-toed shoes, I’ve noticed some clubs are more lenient, allowing t-shirts and even shorts. However, it’s crucial to understand that cutting corners on your attire can have serious repercussions. Honestly, at the end of the day, the only person you’re cheating is yourself.

The Role of Clothing in Safety and Performance

Your clothing serves multiple purposes during an HPDE event. It acts as your first line of defense against potential hazards like fire, hot car parts, and even road debris. Additionally, the right attire can enhance your driving performance by helping regulate your body temperature and moisture levels, allowing you to focus better on the track.

General Guidelines: What to Wear and What to Avoid

When choosing your HPDE attire, it’s essential to consider both safety and comfort. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Avoid Loose Clothing: Loose garments can get caught on things.
  • No Open-Toed Shoes: Always opt for closed-toed shoes to protect your feet. 
  • Long Sleeves and Pants: Even if some clubs allow t-shirts and shorts, it’s safer to stick with long sleeves and pants.

Synthetic Materials: A Dangerous Choice

Synthetic materials like polyester and nylon are an absolute no-no for HPDE attire. In the unfortunate event of a fire, these materials melt and can fuse with your skin, exacerbating burns and complicating medical treatment. Even those ‘cotton’ rip-stop hiking pants you might consider wearing often have rip-stop threads made of nylon or polyester. 

Cotton: The Basic Yet Flawed Option

Cotton is a commonly accepted material for HPDE, but it comes with its own set of drawbacks. While it may provide a basic level of protection, cotton is terrible for temperature and moisture regulation. It captures moisture, disrupting your body’s natural cooling system and making a wet long-sleeve t-shirt an uncomfortable experience.

Merino Wool: The Ideal Starting Point

Merino wool is an excellent material for HPDE attire. Not only does it offer superior cooling compared to cotton, but it also performs exceptionally well in terms of fire resistance and overall comfort. It’s a material that provides both safety and performance benefits, making it a great starting point for your HPDE wardrobe.

Leather: The Go-To for Footwear

When it comes to choosing shoes for track days, leather is your best bet. Unlike typical sneakers, which are often made from a mix of textiles, synthetics, rubber, foam, and plastic, leather shoes offer better protection and durability.

In summary, your choice of HPDE attire plays a crucial role in both your safety and performance on the track. While we’ve touched upon the basics here, our next section will delve deeper into why the material of your clothing matters so much.

Why Material Matters: The Science Behind HPDE Attire

Understanding the science behind the materials used in HPDE attire can be a life-saving endeavor. One of the most critical risks in a car crash during an HPDE event is a flash fire. The right material can significantly influence your level of protection in such scenarios.

Regan tyler crash western springsPhoto credit Jeremy Ward/Photosport

What is a Flash Fire?

A flash fire is a sudden, intense fire that erupts without warning, often as a result of fuel or other flammable substances coming into contact with an ignition source. These fires can reach temperatures of up to 1,900°F and last for a few seconds, long enough to cause severe burns or even be fatal if you’re not adequately protected.

Ignition and Melting Points of Common Materials

Understanding the ignition and melting points of various materials can help you make an informed decision about your HPDE attire. Here’s a quick rundown:

Leather:  Ignition Point – 740°F, Does not burn but chars
Synthetic:  Ignition Point – 750°F, Melting Point – 400°F
Cotton:  Ignition Point – 765°F, Does not burn but chars at 410°F
Merino Wool:  Ignition Point – 1,012°F, Does not burn but chars at 600°F

The Right Material Makes a Difference

Choosing the right material for your HPDE attire is not just about comfort; it’s about survival. Materials like Nomex and Merino wool offer higher ignition points, providing you with those precious extra seconds to escape in the event of a flash fire. They also don’t melt, reducing the risk of the fabric fusing with your skin.

In summary, the material of your HPDE attire is a critical factor that can significantly impact your safety on the track. By understanding the science behind these materials, you can make informed decisions that could very well save your life.

Budget-Friendly to Premium: 5 Essential HPDE Attire Items for Every Wallet

Navigating the world of HPDE attire can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to balance safety, comfort, and budget. In this section, we’ll break down the five essential items—head sock, shirt, pants, gloves, and shoes—across three different price ranges: cost-effective, mid-range, and premium and provide you with some product links. I would carefully research any fire rated products you plan to purchase from Amazon as there have been instances of fake or counterfeit products being sold. In the past I have only ever purchased directly from the RaceEquip Store.

Clothing and attire related to hpde track days

1. Head Sock/Balaclava: Protect Your Noggin

2. Shirt: Your Upper Body Shield

3. Pants: Safeguard Your Legs

4. Gloves: Your Hands’ Best Friends

5. Shoes: The Foundation of Your Drive

Sneakers are very much a personal choice, so we have omitted links. However some things to consider, and remember, socks are equally as important:

  • ~ $100 Cost-Effective: Leather sneakers – Better than synthetic but not designed for fire resistance. Look for something with a reasonably thin sole to give you a better feel for the pedals. Adidas, Reebok, Nike all have options around the $100 mark. Only go for this option if you’re not going to go to the track very often (i.e. you’ll probably wear them away from the track too) as you can pick up some SFI rated shoes for a similar price.
  • $100 – $250 Mid-Range: SFI 3.⅗ rated racing shoes – Good fire resistance and designed for pedal feel. RaceQuip and OMP have options starting around the $100 mark. Check out Pegasus Racing for different options

Total Est. Cost for each price bracket

Cost Effective: ~$200
Mid Range: ~$400
Premium: ~$2500 (~$1000 for the above + $1500 or so for a good race suit)

Driver racecockpit helmet scaled e1695331748391Photo by Spencer Davis

Conclusion: Elevate Your Track Experience with the Right HPDE Attire

As we wrap up, let’s revisit some key takeaways. From understanding the basics of HPDE attire to diving deep into the science of material choices, we’ve covered a lot of ground. The aim is to equip you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions about your track day attire.

Safety First, Always

If budget constraints are not an issue, the safest route is undoubtedly a full Nomex race suit, gloves, and boots. However, safety doesn’t always have to come at a premium. You can start with more budget-friendly options and gradually upgrade your gear. It is worth mentioning Frontal Head Restraints when we talk about safety. If you haven’t read it already, I encourage you to check out our Neck Safety 101: The Necessity of Head Restraints article.

Your Choice (Mostly!)

Remember, you only have one body, and it’s irreplaceable. Prioritize your safety by making informed choices about your HPDE clothing. You can always upgrade your car’s components, but you can’t replace your skin or undo severe burns. Clubs will always put rules in place but at the end of the day, it’s easy to skirt some of the clothing ones. Protect yourself and make good choices.

A Balanced Approach: Upgrade Over Time

You don’t have to go all-in right away. Consider a mix-and-match approach, replacing one piece of gear at a time until you eventually find yourself in a full race suit. However, be mindful that race suits can be quite hot, especially during the summer months, leading to potential dehydration and discomfort. So while you’ll definitely be well protected it’s at this point you might start looking into ‘Cool Suits’ (but they too can come with their own set of challenges).

Prioritize Personal Safety Over Car Upgrades

While it’s tempting to focus on upgrading your car’s performance, I personally believe that your first investment should be in your own safety gear. After all, cars can be repaired or replaced; humans cannot (at least not just yet!).

By taking a measured approach to your HPDE attire, you not only elevate your track experience but also mitigate some of the risk involved in our sport.

Drive safe!

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Table of Contents

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HPDE Clubs

HPDE Clubs
Full Day Track Time: 1 hour 40 min
HPDE Clubs
Full Day Track Time: 2 hours
HPDE Clubs
Full Day Track Time: 1 hour 20 min
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Full Day Track Time: 2 hours

Race Tracks

Race Tracks
Noise Limit: 103 dB
Race Tracks
Noise Limit: 103 dB