Mon Dec 10, 2012, 02:07 PM
Denninmi (6,581 posts)
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?
10 replies, 1915 views
Layering for cold weather. (Original post)
Response to Denninmi (Original post)
Thu Dec 13, 2012, 10:24 AM
happyslug (13,227 posts)
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.
Response to Denninmi (Reply #2)
Thu Dec 13, 2012, 11:16 AM
happyslug (13,227 posts)
3. I went through my comments and rewrote it and posted it here:
Last edited Tue Sep 23, 2014, 02:20 PM - Edit history (5)
Below I wrote about the Specific of what to wear in Winter. See my Comments on materials attached to this paper before you read the following.
Remember three things when riding in Cold Weather:
1. Protection 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 in summer and most activity for it is how your body cools down) 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 use to wear 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 and the main reason why I stop using them. SMARTWOOL liners are made up of 64% Wool, 34% Nylon and 2% Spandex. The Spandex solved the main problem of wool sox, they tend to limp. i.e. Cotton Sox have more elasticity then wool. Adding Spandex to the sock SMART WOOL made the wool sox more like what people who use to wear cotton sox expect of a sox.
The Liner which I use as a regular sox not as a "Liner" to another sox, which the term "Liner" would imply:
Side note: The Web site uses the term Elastane, which is a generic name for Spandex.
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 thick 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:
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 fit a helmet under them and have been looking for a replacement ever since).
By lip I mean that part of the Hat where the Star is located in the following photo:
The Trooper style hat has one major problem, the front "lip". i.e that part above the eyes, generally sewed to the rest of the hat, but was originally designed to be pulled down when the sun was up. Some of these hats retain this ability but most do not. In my hat, that "lip" was removed, when my dog decided it was something she could chew on. With the "lip" removed the hat 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.
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. IThe change of T-shirt me feel a lot better and warmer. I have done this in a open field (no wind) in 20 degree temperature so not a problem if done quickly.
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, trips of about 2 1/3 miles each way). 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. Till recently High End Generators provided more light for longer time period then any other light. Since about 2008 that is no longer as true as it was.
WHEN I WAS USING A incandescent Night Rider Light set, it rarely last more than 2 hours in sub-freezing weather. This is the primary reason for decades High End Generators were the preferred 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.
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 Peter White Wheels out of New England:
But you can get a Cheaper (Through effective Generator) from other places like:
With the introduction of LED Headlights for bikes about 2000, Generators retained their superiority do to the fact that makers of High End Generators knew their customers would pay extra for better lights.
Now, one of the advantages of high end Generators, was the tendency to give any improvement in light technology to such generator based systems then in the cheaper (and lower profit margin) battery market. Thus you had very good LED lights for Generators starting about 2005 (The last time I obtained a Generator). Since 2010 battery based bicycle lights have finally caught up with Generator LED lights, thus the advantage of Generator lights is much less TODAY (2014) then it was just ten year ago (2004).
Very Bright LED Battery lights can today last 6 to 10 hours, something IMPOSSIBLE just ten years ago. LED lights have improved for both Generator and Battery lights within the last few years, but the big jump was 2005-2010 when larger LED bulbs came into use. Both are at the limit one needs (You can NOT blind people coming the other way, thus today's high end very bright LED can cover most of the road you can light without blinding drivers coming the other way).
Side Note: There is no such thing as a LED light dimming do the electricity in the battery reaching zero. That was true of old incandescent lights, but is NOT true of LED Lights. In LED you either have full lighting or no lighting. With a battery system I would either carry spare batteries OR a back up light if the light would go out do to the battery being "Dead".
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
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:
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:
Response to happyslug (Reply #3)
Thu Dec 13, 2012, 02:35 PM
Denninmi (6,581 posts)
4. You really know your stuff.
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.
Response to happyslug (Reply #3)
Thu Jul 24, 2014, 06:20 PM
happyslug (13,227 posts)
10. Comment on Materials in any type of Weather
Last edited Mon Sep 15, 2014, 01:07 AM - Edit history (7)
People have been wearing clothes for millennia, some materials are better then others in certain activities and weather. This thread is to discuss the pro and con of various materials AND to recommend what material for what purpose is best. There is no perfect material all have good points and bad points, but before I discuss the actual material lets discuss two related concept as to material.
First: Color. I am amazed at the people who want to ignore color when biking. The concept is simple, dark colors absorb more sunlight, and thus more heat, then light colors. White is the perfect color for summer, but shows dirt easily, thus avoided by most outdoor people. Black absorbs the most sunlight and thus hottest, and thus to be avoided in summer.
In the late 1800s, the British adopted Khaki as their hot weather uniform color do to experience in India, where the color has been available for centuries. It is light enough not to absorb to much sunlight, but dark enough so that stains do NOT readily stand out. Thus Khaki became the "Ideal" color, variations of it was used by the US Army and Marines during and before WWII. Variations of Khaki has come back in the last 20 years, through called various names including "Sand", "Coyote" and "Desert Sand" (Through NOT Khaki, for as late as the 1980s Khaki was the color of some "Dress" uniforms for hot weather issued to the US Army, I was issued one in the Texas National Guard in the 1980s. Khaki dress uniforms are also used by the US Navy at that time period).
When the US Army adopted its BDU uniforms in 1981, I was issued one to replace my old Army Greens (Replacement of the old Vietnam Era Army Greens took about 3-4 years, each new BDU replaced one of the old Army Green Uniforms, Soldiers were issued three uniforms each, thus each one was replaced over a three year period).
The first thing I noticed about the then new BDUs was they were HOTTER then the Greens had been. One factor was that the material had changed, the Greens had been 100% cotton, the BDU was 50% Cotton and 50% Polyester (of this more later, these are often referred to as 50/50 BDUs), but the real difference was the color. The BDUs had a lot of patches of black and dark browns. These colors just absorb the sun. Thus you felt the heat retained by the BDU if you were in the open, if you were in the shade they were NOT as hot. I notice this training in them in Texas in the mid 1980s. It became a clear problem during the US invasion of Granada under Reagan, the soldiers who had to fight in their issued BDUs over heated in the hot Caribbean sun. The US forces was so powerful that the US easily took over the island, but the problems with the 50/50 BDUs were reported over and over again. This problem reoccurred during Desert Storm in 1990 when similar reports were made about the then six color Desert BDU uniforms.
After Granada the first solution was to issue everyone Rip-Stop Cotton BDUs (of this uniform and material later), these were a lot cooler then the 50/50 Uniforms, but not as cool as the old greens do to the retention of the Black and Dark Browns patches in the COLORS of the uniform (and until the rip stop Cotton Uniforms were issued to everyone, you were again permitted to wear any old Army Greens you still possessed). Finally around 2005 the Army finally admitted the blacks and dark browns made the troops to hot and adopted what is called the Three Color BDU Desert uniforms (No Black or Dark Browns) and eliminated the Rip Stop Cotton uniforms.
I bring up color for in the 1990s I decided to buy some Khaki only BDUs (NOT Military surplus, but available from US Cavalry and other sources). I notice how much cooler they were when compared to my old BDUs of the same material. Part of this was that they were in Rip Stop cotton, but most of it was that it was in 100% Khaki, a color that REFLECTS most sunlight. This was true even when I converted to 50/50 Khaki only BDUs, In many ways the COLOR was what made the original 50/50 BDUs so hot as opposed to the material. The US Army came to the same conclusion when they replaced the rip stop cotton desert hot weather uniform with a much thinner weave of 50% cotton, 50% polyester then in regular 50/50 desert BDUs (and retain those same thin weave in hot weather ACU uniforms being issued today to replace the old BDU uniforms).
Side Note: The "Army Combat Uniform" or ACU is an update of the old BDU uniform. First it is in "Digital Color", for studies have shown smaller dots of color is better camouflage the the old larger patches of color. Second, when the BDUs were first issued, most soldiers did NOT wear any body armor, for the simple reason Body Armor was viewed as marginal. Today, the Army wants all of its soldiers to wear body armor in combat, thus the two bottom pockets on what most people call the Shirt of the BDUs could NOT be used if you were wearing body armour. Thus the ACU gets rid of those two bottom pockets. From personal use, they were marginal pockets even without body armor, in hot weather I did my best NOT to wear the upper uniform, and in colder weather, the old army Field Jacket blocked using those same pockets. Thus such pockets are no big lost. The original ACU replaced the buttons on the pants with Velcro, which I thought was a mistake. You could unbutton the buttons with one hand, it takes two to separate Velcro (I have done both so that is from personal experience). Recently I read the Army has gone back to buttons on those pants pockets.
Second: Thickness. The thicker the material, the more heat it will retain, but it also gains strength. The thinner the material the less heat it will retain, and the weaker the material will be. Back to the Army BDUs. From the late 1980s till about 2005 the US Army issued Regular 50/50 BDUs AND Summer 100% Rip Stop Cotton hot weather Uniforms. I was NEVER issued any Desert Uniforms, but I was issued Hot Weather BDUs in normal BDU colors (and purchased rip stop cotton and 50/50 regular weave BDUs in 100% Khaki). One thing I did notice, even out of the Sun (Where the color was much less of a factor) the lighter weight made them cooler. One of the problems with Hot Weather 100% Rip Stop Cotton Uniform is there only lasted three months of harsh usage, as compared to 24 months for the 50/50 regular BDUs (and 18 months for the much thinner weave hot weather 50/50 Uniforms that the Army started to issue inn 2005).
This "Hotness" (hot as in making the wearer HOT, not as making you look hot, no one looks good in battle uniforms) was a combination of the Material used in the uniforms AND the thickness of the Material. Thin Cotton is NOT an durable as the much thicker 50/50 weave used in regular BDUs. About 2005 the US Army decided to replace the 100% Rip Stop Cotton Hot Weather uniform with a three color Desert 50/50 material but of a much thinner weave then one specs for regular BDUs. The Army called these 50/50 Hot Weather Uniforms and seem to have replaced all of the old 100% Rip Stop Cotton Hot Weather uniform. The reports I have read is that the troops are happy with them, they are much cooler then the old regular thick 50/50 BDU material but can last 18 months of harsh use (Much more then the old 100% rip stop hot weather Uniforms). The combination of a thinner weave and using only light colors in the uniform seems to have made them comfortable. These uniforms are HOTTER then the old 100% rip stop Cotton Uniforms, BUT last six times as long given the same level of usage (most soldiers really do NOT use their uniforms for 18 months of CONSTANT harsh use, much time is spent in barracks and other less harsh assignments).
While in theory Hotter, these new thin 50/50 hot weather uniforms seems to be working out. I also read the same type of reports as to the original BDUs in hot weather, then Granada hit. I suspect the Army likes the New 50/50 Hot Weather uniform for they LAST SIX TIMES AS LONG GIVEN THE SAME LEVEL OF USAGE then the old Rip Stop Cotton Hot Weather Uniforms. The Army wants these new uniforms to succeed, like they wanted the original BDUs to be usable in hot weather. Time will tell, but I have NOT read any negative reports of these 50/50 Hot Weather uniforms and one of these days I may break down and buy a pair of pants in the new 50/50 hot weather pants to see how comfortable they are in Hot Weather. If I do buy a pair it will be in Khaki only so I can make a good comparison with the other Khaki Colors BDUs pants I have owned.
I bring up these 50/50 Hot Weather Uniforms to show that THICKNESS of the material is an important factor in any clothing made of that material. The thicker any material is, the stronger that material is, but also retains sweat AND heat more then thinner versions of the same material. In summer retaining heat and sweat are a big concern. In winter you want to retain heat, but still get rid of sweat and thus lets look at the actual materials, but keep in mind color and thickness.
The Actual Materials:
Since this is geared for WINTER biking I start with Furs. Furs are idea in sub zero and single digit Fahrenheit weather I.e. 10 degrees or lower Fahrenheit (about negative 12 degrees Celsius). Furs can absorb water and get rid of it even at such temperatures. Thus the US Military retain fur on Mittens and hoods (and the Russians retain them as hats and Canada retains them in boots). Artificial furs are NOT as good as real furs in this regard. On the other hand if you are biking in sub zero weather, furs are the way to go for hats and mittens and to a degree boots. In temperatures above zero, furs are not needed (Please note I am assuming the road is clear, if not you may want to opt for some other means of transportation then a bicycle at these temperatures).
Now, some furs are better then others. One of the reason the Sea Otter almost went extinct was it had one of the best "furs" (In the case of Sea Otters, Skin more then Fur) for wet weather. It retain heat, kept water OUT and permitted sweat to escape. Gore-Tex material does a similar job today at a much lower price and thus a better choice.
Beaver was the ideal material for hats for centuries, again it permitted sweat to escape, but also kept water OUT and heat in (and being thin, permitted excess heat to escape). When it comes to hat material, Beaver is still considered one of the best materials, Gore Tex is good, but in many ways beaver is still the best.
Most bicyclists do NOT wear fur, for when fur comes into play, most people opt for some other means of transportation, including going by foot, sled, ski, snowshoe or just staying home.
Leather can be broken down into two classes. Top Grain and other. Some Leather is better then others, Kangaroos is considered the best leather, through leather from cattle that are "Range Feed" i.e. wander the range as oppose to a feed lot, is considered better then leather from the same animal kept in a feed lot. Leather is a strong material and can confirm to your body. It permits sweat to escape, and to a degree keep water out. Best used when you need a strong material, that confirms to your body and permits water to escape. Thus best use on Bicycle seats (Your body is ON that seat), boots/shoes and gloves. If any of these get to thick you lose the ability to confirm and retain AND release water and thus leather becomes less of a choice. Thus well thin leather gloves are ideal, if you have to go to thicker gloves you are better off just staying with thick cloth gore Tex Gloves (Go to my section on Gore Tex for more information). In Arctic Conditions no one has bettered the US Army "Micky Mouse" boot, which is a Rubber boot insulated with wool (notice no leather in that boot, but it is design for temperatures 10 degree or lower, can be worn up to Freezing, but at such temperatures Gore Tex lines leather boots are better).
Top Grain is the Leather that is the most water resistant. It is the top part of the hide. Before Gore Tex, the US Army would insist on Spit Shine shoes, for between the polish and the leather AND the Spit SHINE, most water (Except a soaking rain, or walking in water) would be kept out of such shoes and boots. Recently the army has gone away from spit shine for spit shine boots were detectable by ground radar devices. Thus the Army has replaced the old black leather boots with a suede brown leather boot with an Gore Tex liner. That combination of leather and Gore Tex has provided a better water protection then the old spit shinned black boots AND retain the toughness or leather AND its breath-ability.
Top Grain leather is still the preferred material for boots, light gloves and seats, through Gore Tex has improved these in many ways, for details see the section on Gore Tex below.
In this section we are talking about material from animals, mostly silk and wool. Both of these materials, being animal based, can retain heat but also take sweat from your skin and release it into the atmosphere, something no other material does as well. Silk is preferred but it is expensive for it only grows on one type of tree (the Mulberry) and then only in one small insect. Silk is also one of the longest NATURAL fibers and the longer a fiber is the stronger it is (Thus the ancient Chinese and Mongolians used silk as armor). Silk loses 20% of its strength when wet (one of its few downsides).
Wool is a much smaller fiber, and to make it strong enough wool tends to be made thicker then other materials. This is one of the reasons wool is viewed as a winter material. Sheep is the main animal we get wool from, but Alpaca and other animals are also sources for wool like materials. Wool can hold 1/3 of its weight of water, and then slowly get rid of that moisture:
Other animal hair and fur are used to make various material. Down from Geese is liked for it is very warm and like wool removes sweat into the atmosphere from your body (Elder Duck down is still considered the best sleeping bag material, it is the lightest down that provides the most loft for the weight, but Elder Duck is on the endangered species list and only licenses elder duck down gathered can gather and sell such down, and then only after the Elder Duck have flown south for the winter, these licenses down gather then and only then go to the nests and gather the down).
When it comes to silk, wool, and down, silk is to expensive, but a good choice for materials protected by other material (i.e. long underwear, silk glove inserts and head coverings.
Down, is a material best reserved for winter coats, Goose Down has the highest loft for weight of any material (except Elder Duck Down) and thus is the lightest material to use in winter coats. Down is also used in Sleeping bags, but given it is down, should be stored rolled out not tied down to keep it loft at its maximum. Down can be rolled in a sleeping bag for 10-15 hours a day and then rolled out at night, but should NOT be stored 6 to 12 months or longer rolled up (The US Air Force did this in some of its winter survival equipment from the 1940s to the 1980s and thus when finally unrolled, were found to be useless the loftiness of the down had been compressed so long it refused to spring back to full loftiness).
Wool is the best for long johns and other clothing worn next to your skin, it can handle sweat, remove sweat from your body all AND keep you war (and remember wools and other Animal Fibers retain the ability to keep you warm even when soaking wet).
Given the natural of Shoes, in activities where you can NOT change your Soxs hourly, Wool is the best choice. The downside of Wool, is it is a limp material. When you compare wool socks with cotton soxes (Yes I switch between both spelling of Sox and Sock) you notice the cotton sox will stay up while a Wool Sox would limp. Thus a mix of wool with another material is often the best choice. The US Army used 90% Sox and 10% nylon for decades. Such sox last a very long time for Nylon can it strength, but was still limp. Smartwool added Spandex (of more below) to give the sox more ability to hold up like a cotton sox. Right now "Smart wool" makes a mix of Wool, Nylon for Strength, and Spandex for its ability cling, to produce a sox most people today will accept. In my opinion the best sox today, given the Army Wool Sox had over the last 30 years added more and more cotton and less wool, Nylon is the same, but no spandex.
The two most common Plant Fibers used for Clothing are Cotton and Linen. Prior to 1792 and the invention of the Cotton Gin, Linen was the more important of the two. Linen can be grown almost anywhere, Cotton has be be grown in areas with a long summer (The Virginia-North Caroline Border is the approximate northern limit for the growing of Cotton). Prior to the Cotton Gin, only what is called low land Cotton was really usable, its seeds readily fell from the ball of cotton, but is needed almost swampy conditions to survive. Thus low land cotton could only be grown in very limited areas.
"High Land" Cotton is a product of America (People in Mexico has used Cotton for clothing for at least 3000 years). India had produce "Low land" Cotton for centuries and when Industrialized occurred was the first area Britain imported Cotton from. In the 1800s Britain Switched to Cotton from the American South:
Highland Cotton had seeds in the middle of each cotton ball that had to be removed by hand, one seed at a time. This was to costly for High Land Cotton to be anything but a marginal source of Clothing Material. The Cotton Gin solved the problem of Highland Cotton. Highland Cotton can be grown almost anywhere south of Virginia and Kentucky. The problem was how to removed the seeds, which tended to have very strong bonds to the cotton ball. The Cotton Gin invented in 1792 solved this problem and Cotton replaced Linen for most clothing purposes by the 1820s.
The upside of using Cotton and other plant material is such material absorb water (including Sweat) better then any other material. The problem with Cotton and other plant material is it then wants to RETAIN that water. In fact Cotton can retain five times its weight in water (and Cotton is stronger when wet then dry). Cotton generally has retain its max level of water within one hour of heavy exercise (Cotton can get wetter, but Cotton loses its ability to absorb more sweat after about an hour of heavy exercise). Thus if you wear Cotton next to your skin (i,e. underwear) you should change it every hour. In winter this is essential, the rest of the year it just makes you feel better. I have been know to change my Cotton T-Shirt on a bike trip outside when I am in 20 degree Fahrenheit weather (I am male so not a problem exposing my "Skin" but I tend to do the change quickly).
Cotton and the other Plant material are great summer material IF YOU UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT THEIR LIMITATIONS. Cotton and other plant material can be used in winter, if you accept their limitations and work around those limitations (I.e. change cotton clothing every hour or so of heavy exercise).
Jeans are often worn as outdoor wear. The problem with jeans is that, being cotton, they absorb sweat and retain sweat. When you can change them often, tend not to be a problem, but if you can not and you sweat a lot, such jeans can become a heavy weight on your legs. Remember can hold five times its weight in water, and sweat is mostly water. Jeans were liked by cowboys of old, mostly do to the fact they were cheap and could take a beating given they thickness. The problem was in anything that took more then a day or when humility was high (and thus so was sweat) jeans were NOT the first choice of anyone outdoors. Thinner Army surplus Cotton pants were preferred for years, and today Army BDUs. When Biking I avoid jeans for I sweat to much in them.
Now Technically, the various types of Artificial Material are derived using different base materials, different manufacturing techniques, and different production methods. The divisions I use is an attempt to break these materials into a limited number of groups based on HOW they are used NOT how they are made or what they are made from.
Artificial Material can be classified as follows:
1, Nylon and other flat thin materials. Kevlar is another example of this type of artificial material, The long length of both fibers (and even longer length of Kevlar) makes them strong. Nylon has been called man attempt to duplicate Silk. While inherently strong, nylon has no ability to retain or repel water, thus will NOT get rid of Sweat. On the other hand Nylon is so strong that it can be made into very thin material and thus many people like Nylon as a summer hot weather material (Light weight a nylon shirt can keep the sun off your back so you do not get sunburned, but is light enough that the sweat still can be released into the atmosphere).
Nylon is preferred when strength is wanted, but the ability to get rid of sweat is NOT a factor. Thus for Tents Nylon is idea. A water proof coating seals the Nylon, and it does NOT absorb the water so retains its light weight even when wet (unlike Cotton Tents).
Before Gore Tex appeared, Nylon was preferred to Vinyl for rain gear for it was more flexible. US Army ponchos were made from Nylon for its light weight and flexibility. Army Ponchos are still made of Nylon with a water proof coating, such ponchos are idea wet weather gear for biking. The main reason for this is such ponchos can act like a tent while you are on your bike. Ponchos are NOT as good as keeping you dry as a proper set of Gore Tex Wet Weather Gear, but Ponchos are much better then the Vinyl Rain Suit I was issued when I was in the Army (The Vinyl Rain Suit retained sweat, the poncho NOT sealing me in, let air flow underneath the poncho and removed the sweat and thus I was a cooler for Water proof Nylon was as good at being wet weather clothing was was vinyl. Now Gore Tex has made Vinyl obsolete as wet weather wear, but a poncho, do to its design is still competitive, if you want to keep weight DOWN and willing to accept a little wetness.
Nylon being a very strong material is the idea material for sewing.
Rip Stop Cotton: Rip Stop Cotton is a material made up of very thin Cotton, that has in the material a nylon strain every 1/4 inch. This produces a noticeable at close inspection a square grid pattern in the material. Rip Stop was developed during Vietnam to provide uniforms that would be cooler for they would be thinner then the Army Greens of the time period. Thinness had the side affect of making the material subject to tears. The nylon thread was to STOP such tears do to the superior strength of Nylon. It is a classic example of how to get two materials to work together to produce clothing superior to both. You had the coolness that was cotton and its ability to handle sweat, but being very thin cotton could not absorb that much AND the strength of Nylon without its bad side of not handling sweat at all The weakness of being cotton was compensated by the Nylon, and nylon neutral as to sweat was off set by cotton's ability to handle sweat. I consider Rip Stop Cotton the best hot Weather Material, but I also accept it does NOT have the strength of Nylon or even thicker Cotton.
2. Polyester and other hollow Artificial Materiel.
Nylon was a US DuPont invention, Polyester was a British Invention of about the same time period (the 1930s). Nylon has been called artificial Silk, Polyester has been called Artificial Wool. Polyester is a circular material with a hollow center. This design makes Polyester a warmer material then nylon for the hollow center can act like insulation. The Hollow center also permit a rougher look, so polyester looks more like natural material, unlike the shine one gets with Nylon. Polyester is NOT as strong as Nylon, but stronger then any natural fiber. Polyester is often combined with Cotton to strengthen the resulting material. The cotton provides SOME absorption of sweat, and the polyester provides added strength.
Just like Kevlar was a variation of Nylon, the basic design of Polyester has been the basis for other artificial materiel. Many of the materiel used in Sleeping bags (Thinsulate, Quallofil, Hollofil, Polarguard, Loftguard) are example of this type of material (Hollofil has one hollow center, Quallofil has that hollow center divided into four sections, the other material are variations of these. This paper is on Material TYPE not which sub type within that category is better).
For more on these type of hollow artificial fibers see:
The advantage of Polyester type artificial material is all of them are NOT affected by water (they do not absorb water, do not retain water, and can keep you warm when wet). The down size is they do NOT get rid of Sweat, thus excellent material for sleeping bags but not much more when it comes to active activities where you may sweat.
In 2008 the US Army dropped its previous use of Polypropylene thermal underwear and opt for Polyester. I suspect it had more to do with PRICE then anything else. Wool appears NEVER to have been an option (again more do to PRICE then anything else). When I was in the Service, we were issued 50% wool 50% Cotton thermal underwear, the wool for its effectiveness in cold weather, the cotton to keep the price down. When reviewing anything from the Military, remember PRICE is a factor.
In Sleeping bags what I call the improve "Polyesters", i.e. Quallofil, Hollofil, Polarguard, Loftguard etc are considered much better then Polyester for each provides more loft and thus more warmth then polyester. In a sleeping bag, when you are sleeping and you body is less active and thus producing less heat, these materials come into their own. Goose Down is still technically Superior when it comes to loft, BUT these material can handle being rolled up for a much longer period then a Down Sleeping bag and thus should be your first choice for a Sleeping bag.
What most people call Polyester, is really Polyethylene terephthalate (PET):
Yes, YOUR PET bottle is made of the same basic material as your Polyester shirt, it is just processed differently.
3. Vinyl. Vinyl was used as rain material for decades. It was cheap, could take a lot of punishment, any Sewed holes could be easily sealed. The down side it had NO Breath-ability, you sweat in them. Vinyl is still around, but you are better off getting wet except in temperatures between 60 and 20 Degree Fahrenheit. Below 20, the snow is a cold snow so unless it lands on your skin, it will NOT melt, it just lay on whatever is your outer layer of coat. Above 60, it starts to get warm enough that you do not mind being wet. My advice goes with Gore Tex instead.
Technically what is commonly referred to a Vinyl in raincoat is Polyvinyl Floride
Vinyl is related to Teflon, which in turn is the base for Gore Tex fabrics discussed below:
Gore Tex Gore Tex is a development of Teflon. In a accident Robert Gore gave a sudden tug to a piece of Teflon tape, the resulting jerk produced a material which was 70% air, but with air pockets larger then water vapor, but smaller then water droplets. i.e. sweat as a vapor could flow out through the Pockets, but water in a liquid form (Rain, pools) could NOT leak in. Now the Teflon tape is itself is weak and easily torn, thus is generally put between two sheets of non water proof nylon (or other material) to protect it.
This ability for water vapor to escape through the Gore Tex Membrane, but rain water and other liquid water can not is referred to as being "Breathable". Water can breath through the material, but liquid water stays to the outside of the membrane, keeping the wearer dry.
The US Army, at present, issue boots with a Gore Tex membrane between the outer leather of the boot and an interior cloth. Gore Tex has basically replaced Vinyl and Nylon in more expensive wet weather clothing. Wet Weather clothing is still made of Nylon, but the waterproofness of such rain gear is provided by the Gore Tex Material NOT a water sealant on the Nylon. Please note this is only true if the material is called being "Breathable". I still see some cheap Nylon water proof rain gear that relies on a solid seal to keep water out, thus you have to be careful about what you are buying.
Gore Tex and other similar Teflon based water proof material is still the best material to provide wet weather protection. Gore Tex is still ahead of other breathable water proof clothing, but it has competitors that can provide a similar level of water protection. Thus try to buy Gore Tex if you can, but if the material says it is both water proof AND breathable, it should be as good as anything that has the Gore Tex name (but you are taking your chances with such material, Gore Tex has the name in that market and does its best to keep its name the NAME BRAND in the market of water proof and breathable material).
Gore Tex is derived from Teflon:
Spandex Spandex is a clothing material that can expand and contract without breaking in most activities. Lycra is a trade name for Spandex. It does NOT have the strength of Nylon, the warmth of Polyester, nor the water resistance of Vinyl and Gore Tex, but it can be used to make any of those material be able to stretch more then normal for that material. I tend to wear loose clothing so that sweat can be exposed to air and absorb by the atmosphere, but Spandex can be useful in clothing you want tight fiting.
I plan to expand this section in the Future to add comments about the above material and add new materials, but these are the main ones in use today.
For example, Rayon has been called Artificial Cotton:
Polypropylene is used extensively in winter clothing:
Smart Wool Sox:
Response to Denninmi (Original post)
Fri Dec 14, 2012, 11:12 PM
Kennah (7,655 posts)
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.
Response to Kennah (Reply #5)
Sat Dec 15, 2012, 02:14 AM
happyslug (13,227 posts)
6. If your hands get cold, go with mittens
I am sorry, but the best mittens are Army Surplus:
Here is what I use: Please note Army Trigger finger Mittens are issued 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 temperatures 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:
Sportsmen Guide is selling these Third Generation Trigger Finger mittens for $29.99:
Sportsmen Guide is also selling the arctic mittens for $29.99:
Through watch Sportsmen Guide, they are also selling "Flying Mittens" which do NOT have a trigger finger and thus useless if you want to shift gears.
As to the old fashioned Second Generation Mittens and inserts, they are all over E-bay and the net
One place is selling them for $14.99 plus free shipping:
One more comment, these Mittens tend to run LARGE, for the Army wanted its soldiers to have plenty of room inside them to move those fingers around. Some people object to this larger then normal size, but I used them and see why the Army designed them so large (to get that trigger finger to the trigger without taking it out of the mitten WHILE keeping that trigger finger in the mitten part with the rest of the fingers to keep it warm).
A popular "Modern" Solution (Post 1990, I am getting old) is two finger gloves. I question their superiorty over trigger finger mittens, but some people swear by them:
Through in more recent years I have seen a return to Trigger Finger Mittens, but now called "Three FInger Gloves" for some reason:
Thus you have options to handle very cold weather. If you decide on the Arctic Gloves, how cold are you planning to bike in? I recommend the Army mitten, what I call Second Generation. The wool inserts will keep your hands warm and the cotton shell is good enough for temperatures below 25 degrees.
Response to Kennah (Reply #7)
Tue Jan 8, 2013, 06:35 PM
happyslug (13,227 posts)
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.
Response to Denninmi (Original post)
Wed Jan 9, 2013, 04:39 PM
Kolesar (30,565 posts)
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.