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Mon Dec 10, 2012, 02:07 PM

Layering for cold weather.

I posted about this in a dedicated biking forum, and I think they all thought I was nuts for having so many heavy layers. I am on a few meds that do make me cold, so that is part of it.

This is what I wear to ride in temps under 40. It took some trial and error cold rides to get to this.

Base layer - Columbia OmniHeat metallic mesh compression shirt and long tights. Followed by UA compression shorts and shirt.

On the bottom - UA thermal sweats followed by Avia breathable nylon track pants. On top - my new Columbia OmniHeat Electric inner liner, heat on medium or high. Then two hoodies, thermal fleece, the outer one safety green

A Polar Fleece neck band, UA insulated stocking cap, ski goggles for eye protection. Balaclava if necessary. Full winter weight Pearl Izumi riding gloves. Salomon no-laces ankle high hikers with thick socks.

Sounds like overkill, but keeps me warm and sufficiently reasonably dry on a 20 mile ride.

How about you?

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Arrow 9 replies Author Time Post
Reply Layering for cold weather. (Original post)
Denninmi Dec 2012 OP
happyslug Dec 2012 #1
Denninmi Dec 2012 #2
happyslug Dec 2012 #3
Denninmi Dec 2012 #4
Kennah Dec 2012 #5
happyslug Dec 2012 #6
Kennah Dec 2012 #7
happyslug Jan 2013 #8
Kolesar Jan 2013 #9

Response to Denninmi (Original post)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 10:24 AM

1. Discussed before on this forum at the following threads:


I will not repeat what was said on that thread, but winter clothing and biking in the winter was discussed on that thread AND reference to even longer threads on DU2 are referenced.

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Response to happyslug (Reply #1)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 10:37 AM

2. Hey, that's a great reference.

You put a lot of time into that. Really good information. Thanks.

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Response to Denninmi (Reply #2)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 11:16 AM

3. I went through my comments and rewrote it and posted it here:

Remember three things when riding in Cold Weather:
1. Protect against the wind
2. Thermal protection from the Cold.
3. Make sure your Sweat is removed from your body.

The first two are related but are different, the third (Sweat) is your worse enemy in winter and will be addressed separately. Wind Chill is nullified by protection against the wind, even if the protection provides NO thermal protection from the cold. Thus a good wind proof outerwear is important including for your head, feet and hands.

Thermal protection from the cold should be obvious, but one of the problem with such protection is that people wear to MUCH clothing. People tend to dress to be comfortable as they exit their home. The problem is once you start to peddle your body will increase energy use and thus internal heat. In simple terms you start to overheat. You really can NOT prevent this, you have to address it as you exercise.

In winter I always travel with Panniers so I can put away clothes that I no longer need, and pull them out as needed. The problem is excessive heat, you have to leave it escape your body, and the only way to do that is to take off layers of clothing,

On the other hand, at times you need extra clothing do to excessive wind (i.e. going down hill, little peddling, thus little heat being generated, but you need a lot of protection to keep what heat your body is producing to fight off the wind hitting your body by you just going down hill).

The only solution I have found is to take off clothing if I am to hot and put it back on when I am to cold. Unlike walking where you can often just open up your coat and leave it hang, biking, do its greater speed, you have to take off the excess clothing when not needed. The problem is you have to have a place to put it, and that is where panniers come into play.

In my panniers I carry Gore Tex bib overalls with insulation. The overalls are easy to put on and take off over my boots. I have a chain guard to make sure the legs of the overalls do NOT get caught in the chain (and if the legs do get caught, I have learned to live with it, i.e. leave the overalls get chewed). I use the bib overall when temperatures are in the 20s, occasionally lower.

I tend to wear a Gore Tex type outer garment, with a liner and a sweat shirt. I take them off as needed (often the Jacket stays on me, even as I take the goose down liner out of it and put it away in the Pannier). I do this to permit my body to cool down as I pedal. If i get to cold I stop and add another layer of clothing.


As to Gloves, I carry on me three (four if you count liners as separate Gloves). A light weight leather glove, that can take a polyethylene or silk insert (Silk is preferred, through I have used wool, the problem with wool is it tends to be to thick to fit under a glove unless the glove is designed for that insert).

I also carry with me a set of water proof Gore Tex type gloves for use as temperatures of about 20-40 degrees. I buy them big enough for use with the same insert as the leather gloves.

The third pair of gloves are US Army winter mittens, which I tend to use when temperatures drop below 30 degrees (I recently saw, for sale at the Sportsmen's Guide, gore tex army surplus Mittens, appears to be a new product the Army has adopted, I am thinking about trying them out but I suspect the only "improvement" will be in the temperatures ranges of 25-35 degrees, the temperatures when most snow falls).

Side-note: See my comment about the Sportsmen Guide the the footwear section below, before you buy anything from them.

The old Army Trigger finger mittens are NOT water proof, but at the temperatures I tend to use them at, 25 degree Fahrenheit and lower, Gore Tex is not needed (the Snow is to cold to melt AND at such temperatures you tend to have very little snow compare to 30-35 degree range). These can fit in my handlebar bag and I change them as needed.

Remember the advantages of mitten over gloves is the ability to pull the fingers and thumb into the central cavity of the mitten, thus keeping them warm. Army Mittens are generally so bulky it is easy to move fingers and thumbs even of you are biking (It is easier to put the finger and thumb into the finger and thumb parts then to pull them out, but you can do both while biking).

I use the leather gloves from about 50 degree Fahrenheit to about 35 degree Fahrenheit, 30 degree Fahrenheit with inserts (On uphill climbs I have used just the leather gloves down to 30 degrees, but then on downhills have to use Army Mittens up to 40 degrees, both depend on how much heat your body is generating in addition to the temperature).

The water proof gloves I use from about 35 to about 25, the Mittens below 32 degree Fahrenheit. Notice they is a good bit of overlap, the reason is simple, water is you main enemy even in winter and the Gore Tex gloves is the best at handling water. The temperatures when water is the worse is right around freezing, thus the Gore Tex type gloves at the temperatures. Leather gloves are best at getting a feel for the handlebars thus the best for temperatures where rain/snow/water is not a major concern.


I use to wear tennis shoes with Neos overshoes (I Still do,except when it is raining or snowing BEFORE I start my bike trip). It was a good combination and in summer I keep the Neos around if I decide I need them when I am biking in tennis shoes. Today, I use Army Surplus Gore Tex boots if it is raining or snowing at the time of start of my bike ride. Due to the fact my feet run hot, I use summer rated boots even in winter. The Gore Tex keeps the feet relatively dry and thus not a problem,

For socks I tend to go with army wool sock. These tend to be THIN, unlike the wool socks you see in sporting goods stores. In the 1970s these were 95% Wool, 5 % nylon for strength (And in Army Green), today the Army issue 50% Wool, 40 % cotton 10% nylon, not as good as the old 95% wool socks but the best sock you can get today, Remember wool is second only to silk at absorbing, AND removing sweat from your body and that is important if you are biking in winter. Please note, if your feet gets to cold (and you are already wearing a tick winter hat), then go with thicker socks. On the other hand, if your feet are cold, and you are NOT wearing a HAT, put on a good winter hat, Your body will draw heat from your legs and arms to provide heat to your head, thus the old saying “If your feet are cold, put on a hat”. Putting on a hat is the best way to warm up your feet.

Note on the Sportsmen Guide:

I tend to buy the combat Boots surplus from the Sportsmen's Guide, but you have to watch what is sold at the Sportsmen Guide, he tends to push the limits as to the truth of his products, using a lot of terms like "Army Surplus like". "Similar to Army Surplus" when they are crap (He sells “Army like socks” that are 100% cotton and as socks are almost worthless unlike actual Army wool Socks). On the other hand he does sell some good items at a decent price, but be careful what you are buying for he will sell you what he has while making it sound better i.e "Genuine Artificial Diamonds" i.e, he hopes you hear "Genuine Diamonds" when he is selling glass (i..e "Genuine Artificial Diamonds").

As to boots, the one's I bought seems no longer to be in stock, but given what the Department of Defense is spending, the Sportsmen Guide is a good place to look for bargains, but be careful. E-bay has some good items but like the Sportsmen Guide be careful.

The Sportsmen Guide:

Head gear

For Head gear, I tend to use a Russian Usannka (Also called a "Trooper" hat for State Troopers tend to use them in winter as do letter carriers and quite a few people who are outdoors. These hats were even issued to US Army personnel before the adoption of helmets during WWI, the army found it was hard to fir a helmet under them and have been looking for a replacement ever since).

The Trooper style hat has one major problem, the front "lip", in my it was removed and with it removed fits under my bicycle helmet quite well. I have used balaclavas, the main advantage of the balaclavas is that there fit over your head and under a helmet but at the cost of being made of knitted material and as such hard to water proof. I tend to like balaclavas but always have something over them to water protection (Such as the hood to my water proof jacket). I have been known to use BOTH a Trooper style hat with a Balaclava underneath it in temperatures below 25 degree Fahrenheit. I also tend to take them off and put them into my panniers or handlebar bag as needed.

Other salutations to winter biking include using Army Helmet liners. I tend to like them for they tend to be woven and wrap around your head instead of being pulled over your head like a knitted balaclava. Being woven they are wind proof (Knits tend NOT be be wind proof). I have used them, but have not had one in years, more due to lack of access to a place that sells them at a decent price for an extra large, 7 3/4 head, then for any other reason.

Long underwear

Side note on Long Underwear: I tend NOT to wear long underwear in winter, the reason being it is the HARDEST thing to get out of when you are to hot. I have them, I have used them, but only in temperatures below 20 degree. Over-pants are a better option, for they tend to be thicker, water proof, wind proof and easy to take off or put on on the side of the highway. If you wear long underwear, make sure your outer clothes are still easy to get off. Only use long underwear as part of your "base" of clothing, clothing you need even if you are going uphill for hours at a time. If you are getting to hot with the long underwear when doing you your highest workout level, then GET RID OF THEM.

Second Side note: Avoid Cotton Long Underwear. Cotton Long Underwear is design for people to sleep in, NOT to work in. Cotton absorbs any water it comes into contact with AND does it best to retain the water. Wool and Skin are much better at getting rid of any water, be the water the product of Rain, Snow or Sweat. Polyethylene is good at retaining heat, but is terrible at both absorbing water AND getting rid of water. Polyethylene is best used next to the body, to wick any sweat away from the body to some wool outwear, the wool then gets rid of the sweat.

As to polyethylene and other "Wicking" materials, such materials are terrible at getting rid of sweat. Such material do wick it away from the body, but then the sweat sits until you go down hill and the air takes it away. Wool and Silk will get rid of the Sweat, at least partially, while you are going up hill, polyethylene will NOT. Furthermore Wool and Silk will retain some of the sweat as you go downhill, but that is part of the reason how wool and silk keeps your body warm (polyethylene has been called Science's latest attempt to make something that can do what Silk does, in some ways polyethylene does what silk does better then silk, but in most things silk remains the much better material with Wool a solid second). I like polyethylene and have used it in the past and use it today, but you must remember its limitations, just like you must remember the limitation of Wool and Silk.

I am sorry, but I suspect you choose of clothing is the problem. You are wearing to much clothing and of the wrong type. That explains the perspiration, something you should NOT be doing. People perspire to cool down, in winter you should be leaving the cold air do that. If you are perspiring you are probably wearing to much clothing. Ditch the long johns, buy a set of panniers to hold over pants in. Only wear the bid overalls if you are still cold after biking for about a 1/4 mile or so. Wear a balaclava under your helmet, but be prepared to take it off if you are to warm elsewhere (and be prepared to put it back on if you get cold elsewhere, remember the old story of the frontiersman when ask what someone should do if they feet gets cold, he retorted "Wear a hat". Your body will pull heat from other parts of the body to heat the head and then the lungs and heart. Thus if such body parts are cold, put on a hat.

Also protect yourself from wind, but that does NOT mean you need a thick coat, often all that is needed is something wind proof, with your work peddling the bicycle doing enough to keep you warm once the wind is taken care of by a piece of wind proof material.

Here are some other articles on the subject of biking in cold weather:









Now to address you worse enemy in winter, sweat. You must get rid of Sweat. Silk and Wool are you best material to absorb sweat AND move it from your body, and disperse it to the outside. Polyethylene is good at the first two, but weak at the third. Cotton is even worse at getting rid of sweat. If you decide to go with Cotton be prepared to change often (i.e. every hour or so) if you go with polyethylene remember it will get soaked as fast as cotton but retain some ability to keep you warm, Silk and wool are the best material (Through you will feel better if you change any underwear every so often on your trip as the underwear gets saturated with your sweat).

The best way to get rid of Sweat is to change clothing (If you are using cotton this is ESSENTIAL). When I take a three hour ride, about half-way through it I change my T-Shirt. It makes my feel a lot better and warmer. I have done this in a open field (no wind) in 20 degree temperature so not a problem is done quickly.

Studded tires

Now to the bike itself, I use studded tires only when the road is NOT cleared, Other than that I stay with Slicks. The reason for this is Studded tires will increase the roll Resistance of your bike. Basically I would say 3-4 times the effort. I have NEVER taken my studded tires on any real long trips (Just to commute to and from work). I suspect if I did it would be just to tiring. One good thing about using Studded tires, when you switch back to Slicks you are in good shape to do a long trip without building your self up.


This brings me to lights, batteries lose power during Cold Weather. My Night Rider light set rarely last more than 2 hours in sub-zero weather. For that reason I switch my front wheel to a Generator Hub and a LCD front and rear light. Such a light set permits constant lighting without worrying about batteries or if you charged your battery. This is a big factor at night (Notice I continue to use my Night Rider for it is brighter than the LCD generator Light and I use a Battery Rear light in addition to the Generator Read light, front lights are more important than rear lights).

Generator Lights and NOT cheap (and if cheap NOT worth buying, cheap generators just tear up your tire as opposed to providing lighting). I get my lights from White Wheels out of New England:
http://www.peterwhitecycles.com /

But you can get a Cheaper (Through effective Generator) from other places like:

Other Old DU cites on Winter Biking:




I have been using a Brooks saddle with a Carradice "Longflap" Bag attached. A little old fashioned (first produced about 1930), but works. The Long Flap is large enough to carry my Rain Gear, Jacket, Pants and Neos for my feet in Summer AND anything else I can need on a short one summer day ride WITHOUT the use of the "Long Flap", with the "Long Flap" in use I can carry more.

For more on Carradice Bags:


I have also converted to Arkel bags to hold my extra clothing. I presently like Arkel for their handlebar bags and Panniers. I retain the Carradice for a seat bag, but everything else I use is Arkel
Web Site:

I use to use Ortlieb packs, till I lost one and then bought the Arkel as a replacement. I still use a Ortlieb laptop computer box (my term) on a Tubus rear frame, but both seems no longer to be made, replaced by a Computer "box" (my term) that use an adapter to attach to any frame instead of just the one designed for the box, which was the situation with my Computer box and rack:

Ortlieb panniers and Tubus frames:

I can NOT find a picture any Computer box available from Ortlieb. I did find one on the Peter White Wheels website NOT the Ortlieb website, so the present box may be in the process of being replaced by some other product:

Bicycle racks

Old man Mountain use to be 100% made in USA Bicycle Racks, most are still made in the USA, but at least two are made in Taiwan, but the made in USA racks seems to be very good:


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Response to happyslug (Reply #3)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 02:35 PM

4. You really know your stuff.

I'm impressed.

I just looked at panniers at REI at lunch. Pricey but looks worthwhile. Right now I have a rack with a case that slides into grooves. Can't remember the brand. I also ride with a standard size backpack, but could use more room when I ride to the gym. Last Sunday, had to tie gym shoes and a bag of clothes to the top of the case on the rack.

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Response to Denninmi (Original post)

Fri Dec 14, 2012, 11:12 PM

5. Depends how far I'm riding

On my 1.4 mile commute, it's not long enough for me to get really warmed up, but I don't bundle up like it's the Arctic.

On longer club rides, a light polypro shirt, my bike jacket, light polypro underwear, pants, and my rain pants if it's wet. A balaclava if it's REALLY cold, but mostly just a fleece mask covering the lower part of my face. Warm gloves are always a must. If my hands get cold, it's miserable.

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Response to Kennah (Reply #5)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 02:14 AM

6. If your hands get cold, go with mittens

I am sorry, but the best mittens are Army Surpluss:

Here is what I use: Please note Army Trigger finger Mittens are isued and often sold without liners (i.e. just the Outer Shell). If you buy one, make sure you get a liner with it. When I was in the Service, we were issued one Shell AND two liners. I would also use a very thin glove liner in tempertures below Zero. Above Zero the issued liners were good enough even on Guard Duty (Where you had to stand around, you get cold quick standing in the Cold).

Here they are in DBU Cameo:

Here is the Arctic Version of the Mittens: I have NEVER used them, the regular Trigger Finger Mittens were good enough till the tempertures STAYS below Zero Fahenheit:

The Army has to much money, thjey seem to have come up with new Mittens in Gore Tex:

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Response to happyslug (Reply #6)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 02:21 AM

7. The gloves I have are great in cold, but not so good in a downpour

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Response to Kennah (Reply #7)

Tue Jan 8, 2013, 06:35 PM

8. I had to convert to my Mittens the last week or so

I use by gloves from work to home, for I am going uphill most of the way, but in the morning I have to go downhill and end up having to use my mittens for my hands get to cold at 10-30 degrees.

Just a comment on the use of gloves and mittens, mittens are best in very cold temperatures, especially when you are inactive.

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Response to Denninmi (Original post)

Wed Jan 9, 2013, 04:39 PM

9. Bellwether Windfront Tights

I bought them at Nashbar five years ago and cannot say enough good things about them. They have a wind-stopping front and multidimensional stretch fabric on the backs, which pulls the fabric right back into my knees. They are breathable and wind stopping and just what you need.

These padded "liners" are way more comfortable than lycra cycling tights:
The padding is very compact, between that and the winter layers I have enough padding.

I have a yellow waterproof helmet cover. I wear a balaclava and some sort of extra beanie under my helmet.I wear clear or yellow wrap glasses for my eyes. The balaclava is the tricky thing: I want to cover my nose, but when I stop for a traffic light, I have to pull it off my face or else my breath fogs up the inside of my eyeglasses.

I put a lot of lotion on my face before going out in that wind, too.
The real winter monger snow bikers convert their pedals back to platforms-and-straps and wear hiking boots. Many hiking boots have a layer of foam under the top to keep your feet from getting bruises, and it does keep your feet warm.

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