Winter Cycling and Ski/Snowshoe Dressing Guide
by George Pastorino, EBC MTB Coordinator | MTB@ElmhurstBicycling.org | Last updated: 12/10/2019
This is a winter dress guide for cyclists that has been battle tested by Pussanee and I. ..We both hate to be cold and unlike me...she has a scant amount of body fat to insulate her. This is just an example of what works for Pussanee and me. There are many good ways to stay warm riding all year and everyone has a different internal thermostat and cold tolerance, but this article will give you a good general starting point. Most of these tips also work well for Snowshoeing and XC skiing.
Pussanee and I ride all winter long and are never cold. First I will address the tops and bottoms. Most people over-dress for cold weather rides. Down to about 10 we will wear a thin smartwool top and bottom under a breathable windproof jacket and windproof tights. Below 10, we will add a thin synthetic long underwear layer under the smartwool, this set up takes us all the way below zero. Don't forget, you are cycling not ice fishing....dressing too warm is a killer. It takes a little tinkering to find the best combination for each person and weather condition. Most of the winter we just wear the thin synthetic long underwear under our windproof tights as the legs are easier to keep warm.
Start out cold and carry layers in your pack, put them on if you don’t warm up. Don’t think you can start warm and shed layers, this does not work as you will get sweaty. Do not wear battery operated electric clothing of any kind! That is for sitting and watching an outdoor football game….you will generate heat as your ride or ski.
The hands and feet are a big problem for most people, but it can be overcome. Regular 5 finger gloves are not very effective below 30 degrees in my opinion. From about 20 to 35 degrees we use good quality heavy Lobsters (gloves with 2 fingers and a thumb). See Example here: Lobster Gloves . Below 20 degrees I have found the best way to keep your hands warm is a good quality mitten with a hand warmer inside. You can spend $200.00 on gloves and your hands can freeze because the fingers are isolated from each other. Glove Liners do not help and further isolate the fingers from each other.
Mittens are your ticket to happy winter cycling and yes you can shift fine...road STI or mountain. We have tested many, but like this one: Alti Mitts. That mittens are warmer than gloves is not my opinion, it is a fact backed by much empirical scientific evidence, research and field experience. Physics dictates that mittens must be warmer than gloves made of the same material. Gloves put more surface area in contact with cold air than mittens do. So they cannot keep your hand as warm with the same amount of Insulation. What's more, gloves force each finger to fend for itself. In a mitten, fingers are in direct contact with other fingers...sharing the heat.
All things being equal (fabrics, thickness, and insulation), mittens are warmer than gloves. Read the first paragraph of this article here : Mittens are warmer. See article here: When it's too cold for gloves.
You can also use Bar Mitts, like this one from 45 North: CobraFist. With these you can just wear a light glove or glove liner. My hands get cold easily so I use these: Expedition Pogies. They are the warmest made.
There are few good solutions for the feet without investing some money. Shoe covers with chemical hand or toe warmers may work down to about 20 degrees, but are not ideal. If you want to give up your clip-less pedals, you can wear warm hiking boots. Pussanee and I use aggressive flat pedals like these for mountain biking all year long and on the road in winter: Thin, aggressive Flat Pedals. If you don't clip in like us, you can use a good winter hiking boot. We really like these SNOWBURBAN II ULTRADRY.
We augment our warm hiking boots with Gaiters. Some think Gaiters are only useful for deep snow... but they have another function......warmth. I learned this in my Mountain Climbing training. Heat escapes up and out from the cuff of your boot allowing your feet to get cold. Gaiters seal the cuff completely, making whatever boot you wear much warmer. We wear them all the time when it's cold, not just when we think we will encounter deep snow. We really like this one: EXPEDITION CROCODILE GAITERS.
Here are 2 robust boots for clip-less pedals from 45 North: WÖLVHAMMER. If you really get cold feet and must clip in and can afford it, then buy this: WØLFGAR. They are the warmest boot for clips. Make sure your winter boot is not tight, go at least one size larger than normal as you need room for thicker socks and if your boots are tight, your feet will freeze.
Socks are important and the warmest are made from Alpaca. They are much warmer than our heaviest Smart Wool sock and they are sinfully soft and insulate while wet. This is one we wear: Alpaca Socks. While on the subject of socks, do not wear 2 pair and do not wear sock liners. One pair of warm socks is all you need.
Also in cold weather (below 20) we wear downhill ski helmets and ski goggles, the helmets are very light and warm and completely cover your ears, same for the ski goggles..... very warm and your eyes don't freeze. Add a balaclava to keep your face warm. The ski helmets and goggles work better MTB riding in the woods, rather than road riding with cars due to peripheral vision issues. We really love this helmet: Smith Vantage Helmet MIPS. Any Ski Goggle with double lenses will work just fine.
I would like to share a product Pussanee and I use on our face and other exposed skin while being active outdoors in winter to prevent wind burn and frostbite. It's called Dermatome, The Frostbite Fighter and provides great skin protection. Info here: Dermatone Frostbite Fighter .
This video was taken at wind-chill minus 40, volume up to hear the wind, Pussanee was never cold: Frozen Lake Riding.
Remember.... The weather is never bad.......people just fail to dress appropriately for it...... (No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.)
R U Outside all Winter? You could be….. and comfortably.....