Seeing as how this winter has been especially cold for many of us this year, it was an excellent opportunity to try and dial in the cold weather gear. Riding in the winter is awesome. Having to buy tons of gear hoping that it will do the trick is not. Having ridden more days than not this Winter with many of those well below freezing, and at least 10 or so rides below zero (f), my goal was to figure out the right gear to stay warm with as few layers as possible.
This is the stuff that worked for me, but keep in mind that everyone is different. You may need more or less clothing depending on how your own body copes with the cold. Layer up after the break!
- Giro Feature Helmet – There are a few winter specific helmets out there, and the Feature is not one of them. However, if you’re looking for a helmet that will do year round duty, the Feature turns out to be a great option. Why? For starters, the rearward swinging design of the retention system makes the Feature play really well with winter hats underneath. It also has fewer vents than many helmets offering a bit of protection from the cold, but still has adequate venting in both winter and summer. The only downside? The shape of the vents makes it hard to attach some helmet mounts for lights – $75.
- HeadSweats SweatTech Skullcap – As a local company here in Cincinnati, I’ve been running HeadSweats stuff for a long time – like this Winter Beanie. It fits nicely under most helmets, has a fleece soft shell, and a 3 layer Coolmax fabric sweatband. Simple, and it works – $20.
- Bontrager Convertible Neck Gaiter – Bontrager marketing man Michael Browne told me this was one of his favorite pieces of winter gear from Bontrager. I was a bit dubious at first, I mean, it’s just a neck gaiter? Turns out, he’s right, this is one really nice neck gaiter. The ultra light thermal material is surprisingly warm but thin enough that you can easily breathe through it if you put it over your nose and mouth. Like all neck gaiters, it keeps your neck, throat, and jaw nice and warm and can be worn in a number of ways depending on the conditions – $16.99.
- Maxit Headgator – When it’s too cold for the Bontrager Neck Gaiter, I still reach for my Maxit Headgator. I should note that mine is a few years old, so they might have changed the fabric by now, but if not it is much thicker than the Bontrager gaiter which makes it better for 20° and below. Bontrager has the advantage in the seam department though, the Maxit’s seam is very noticeable – $20.
- Mavic Notch H20 Jacket – When it’s really cold, I’ll throw on another layer which is usually a shell of some sort. The key here is that it has to be breathable, if not you’ll end up with the inside of your jacket frozen. The Notch worked to keep me warm for an hour or two, but after that the moisture seemed to catch up and collect on the inside. The Notch is still an awesome shell for warmer wet conditions, but not the best for a winter shell unless you’re riding in rain or wet snow – $99.
- Bontrager RXL 180 Softshell Jacket – Bontrager offers two versions of the RXL softshell, the 180 and the 360. The difference between the two is the amount of Profilia softshell fabric – the 180 has it on the front and a more breathable fabric on the rear, while the 360 has it front and rear. With that said, the 180 is surprisingly warm offering a jacket that breathes really well while still offering plenty of protection from the wind, water, and cold. I was surprised to find that I could ride this with a base layer down to about 20° or so, and then layer on top of it to get lower. It comes with 3 rear storage pockets, and two zippered pockets to keep things in check along with reflective bits and thumb loops for the cuffs. Honestly I could do without the thumb loops – they’re nice when you’re not wearing your gloves, but with gloves they just seem to get in the way. Those that are skinnier with longer arms will appreciate the cut of the jacket, but I was able to get pretty comfortable in a small even though the sleeves were a bit long for my short limbs. The 180 Softshell is an incredibly versatile jacket that will span deep winter into early spring – $149.
- Pearl Izumi Transfer SS Baselayer – At the heart of any winter set up is the important base layer. The idea is to get the sweat away from your body so it doesn’t cool you down, so something like the PI Transfer base layer is a safe bet. Realistically, I usually wore this on warmer days with fewer layers, or on really cold days under another thermal base layer for even more warmth. The nice thing is the Transfer easily works for warmer weather as well – $55.
- Bontrager B2 Baselayer – As the lighter of the two Bontrager Base layers, the B2 is great for chilly by not super cold days. Made with a blend of polyester and wool, it has a really nice hand and thanks to flat lock stitching is comfy under a few layers – $49.99. Bontrager B3 Baselayer – Like the B2, the Bontrager B3 is an excellent base layer that is quite a bit warmer with a thermal knit interior. On the coldest days (below 0) I was wearing this with 2-3 layers on top but it always kept me dry and comfortable. Both the B2 and B3 are form fit and offer easy layering and flat lock stitching. If I was going to buy one base layer for the winter it would be the B3 – $54.99.
- Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Softshell WxB 3×1 Glove – Just like my toes, my fingers get cold pretty easily. Pearl Izumi’s P.R.O. Softshell WxB 3×1 gloves do the trick though. With their removeable liner, they certainly live up to the “warmest PI glove ever” moniker and delivered well below 0°. Like most deep winter gloves they are on the bulky side, but still offer enough tactile feedback to work buckles, shifters, and brake levers. I love how easy it is to remove the outer shell but keep the inner liner on if you have to fix a mechanical or something that you need better dexterity. The fact that you can do this and keep your skin from being exposed really makes a difference. Water proof, fairly breathable, and proven to be quite durable, the P.R.O.s are a hit even with the scary price tag – $130.00.
- Bontrager Race Thermal Bib – Depending on the conditions I usually wear a pair of bibs, knickers, or short liners for chamois duty. Obviously this round up is more for mountain biking, but the Race Thermal Bibs make a nice first layer for extra warmth if you need it. I like the bibs on colder days since it helps keep your core that little bit more insulated – $119.99.
- Pearl Izumi Transfer 3/4 pant – Over whatever short/bib I’m wearing for a chamois I’ve really taken to wearing the PI Transter 3/4 pant over top, and under the outer layer of tights. The pants offer nice added warmth, and because they are 3/4 they don’t interfere with your boots, and long winter socks can still be tucked underneath. Clearly, these work best under baggy exterior tights, so keep that in mind. These also work wonders under casual pants when spectating cyclocross – $55.
- Pearl Izumi Tokyo Running Tight – Ok, so these aren’t made by PI any more, but they would probably be similar to the Infinity Soft shell pant. When it comes to winter mountain biking or fatbiking, I just really like the feel of a baggy pant like the Tokyo Tight. On the road I’ll wear bib tights, but off road these have worked very well for years now. Completely waterproof, they allow for plenty of layering underneath and don’t restrict your movement. When combined with #10 and 11, these have kept me comfy down to -8°.
- Bontrager Race 5″ Thermal Wool Sock – Good socks are very important in the winter as you want something that will keep you warm, but not so thick that it will restrict your blood flow. The new Bontrager Race Thermal socks certainly qualify. The Profila Merino wool is super warm and offers great wicking performance. The socks offer a cushioned bottom with arch compression and a flat seam toe box for additional comfort in your boots. Long enough for any boot, the cuff keeps your ankles warm and stays in place well. Expensive for a pair of socks, but worth it – $19.99.
- 45NRTH Winter Wool Socks by Swiftwick – Swiftwick makes some of the best, which is probably why 45NRTH had them make some tall wool socks that are pretty awesome. These aren’t on the 45NRTH website, but if you can get your hands on a pair you’ll be happy, I promise.
- Pearl Izumi Goretex Winter Boots – Another PI winter product that is no longer made, I’m still loving my winter boots. I’m digging the Lake MX 145 lately, but without shoe covers they’re really only good to about 30° whereas the PIs are good to about 0° for my cold toes. For a replacement, all of my friends who own the 45NRTH Wolvhammers highly reccomend them.
There you have it. While it may be warming up shortly, the end of the season is always a good time to stock up on winter gear for next season!