What is the best biking gear for winter?

Mar 12th 2024

What is the best biking gear for winter?

These items will keep you warm and safe when crushing your winter rides.

Cycling–including road and mountain biking–is one of those sports where people fall in love quickly and go all in. But when colder weather rolls around, you might wonder what the best biking gear for winter is. There’s a Scandinavian saying, “There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” And it’s true! Winter shouldn’t stop you from getting out for a ride.

You’ll still want to make sure the riding conditions are safe, so we recommend avoiding riding during inclement weather, icy conditions or in places, times of day or conditions where visibility is low. But if it’s a beautiful, bluebird day and the roads or trails look good, here are some tips for the best biking gear for winter riding.

Winter cycling tips

The key to comfort and safety when cycling in winter is to stay dry and warm. Sweaty, non-breathable layers will make you feel cold which is not only uncomfortable, it’s dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “While hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water.” A good winter cycling kit involves smart layers that wick moisture, allow full range of motion, perform well together and include wind and waterproof elements.

Conditions can change quickly, so being able to carry everything you need is important–especially for a long ride. You might want to remove a layer or add more to manage your sweat levels and temperature, as well as bring extra nutrition and hydration, so you’ll want to consider where to store those extras.

The best biking gear for winter

Think about how you’ll build your winter cycling kit from your body, outward. Being smart about light, flexible and functional layering systems and accessories will go a long way in making your winter rides comfortable and enjoyable.

Base layers

What you wear against your skin can make or break your ride. The adage, “cotton kills,” rings true, especially in winter, because the fabric traps moisture against the body and will keep you cold. It’s important to wear base layers that are capable of wicking moisture away from the skin to the surface where it can evaporate. It’s also important to wear something that allows for full range of motion.

Some cyclists wear Merino wool which is a great fabric because it continues to insulate even when wet. However, if you sweat a lot, you might prefer a synthetic fabric like a polyester-spandex blend designed for athletics.

Other essential base layers include a pair of high-performance socks (we love the MudGear MTB sock) and a helmet liner and contoured gaiter or balaclava to keep your head and neck warm and protected. Normally you’d wear cycling gloves, but if you’re planning to take breaks to eat a snack and enjoy the scenery, you might consider adding a light pair of gloves or mittens with a wind and waterproof outer layer to your kit. You might be able to wear them for your ride, but keep in mind the dexterity needed to manage the bike’s handlebars.

Mid layers and outerwear

Your mid layers are designed to trap heat close to the body, and outer layers are designed to keep wind and water out.

Winter cyclists often hit the road or trails wearing thermal, fleece-lined bib tights to avoid rolling down or sliding, leave the torso free to move, keep chamois in place and prevent wind from sneaking up between layers. Other mid layers include a lightweight, fleece jacket and leg warmers. Leg warmers are great because they’re lightweight and small, so they pack down nicely when you don’t need them.

It’s worth noting that fleece is the ideal mid layer, even in the coldest temperatures, thanks to its loft and light weight. It’s excellent at holding body heat while pulling sweat through to the surface where it can dry. You might feel compelled to wear a down jacket, but it will be too warm once you work up a sweat, and that type of insulation doesn’t perform well once it’s wet.

Water resistant outerwear might be fine on a relatively dry day, but if you’re riding through any kind of wet weather or expect to ride on roads with a lot of meltoff, a wind and waterproof jacket and waterproof covers to wear over your cycling shoes are your best bet to finish your kit.

Cycling jackets are preferred because they’re designed for the posture the body is in on a bike, bearing in mind bent arm positioning and any stretching across the shoulder blades. Look for products with GoreTex and fully sealed seams for the best protection from the elements. These materials and features are designed to keep rain, sleet and snow from soaking through and can even help prevent nasty road spray from sticking.

Accessories for winter riding

There are a few extras you’ll want to consider before heading out for a winter ride. We recommend a good pair of polarized sunglasses. These are especially helpful to prevent glare from wet surfaces or the sun reflecting off snow, but they’re also good for keeping wind and small debris out of your eyes.

An easy-mount fender can help prevent dirt, slush and other road muck from splashing up on your back during your ride. Plus, a frame pack is a great addition for storing extra layers you want to add or shed.

And don’t forget a good set of lights for your bike. Shorter days means you might be biking in dawn, dusk or dark. Be sure to mount a bright light on the front of your bike so you can see and be seen, and a blinking, red tail light so motorists approaching from behind can easily spot you. Reflective details on your clothes and bike are good ideas, too.

Check out our blog for more tips to help you take the trail less traveled.