It bears repeating that you will not succeed in keeping extremities warm if your trunk and legs are not comfortable. It is also true, that under certain weather conditions, keeping your extremities warm will be nearly impossible. But take heart! Although extreme conditions can and do occur, they usually do not persist throughout the entire winter season, and a carefully thought out arsenal of winter accessories will have you riding comfortably on most average winter days.
(You can certainly use this guide as a starting point to assemble your own collection of winter gear. Should you choose to purchase any of the products we specifically recommend here, please note that some links go to products you can purchase directly from us at Cosmic Bikes, while others are affiliate links from which we earn a small commission should you make a purchase directly from the manufacturer based on our recommendations, which are always our own and honest.)
We’ll cover the accessories from top to bottom:
Head, Face & Neck
The Basics: For wearing alone in milder weather, or for layering in frigid condition, you can’t go wrong with a basic microfleece headband, such as the Earband Performance Headband from Turtlefur. It’s thin enough to easily fit under your helmet, and the contoured shape eliminates gaps around the ears. This is such an essential piece that I recommend having several around for keeping in your pocket, bike bag, car, etc. to have handy when needed.
Similarly useful, and worth having in multiples, is the Turtlefur Totally Tubular neck gaiter, which is stretchy, soft, and can be worn as a neck warmer, headband, hat, balaclava, or even as a festive accessory to any outfit as soon as temperatures begin to dip.
Balaclava: This offers one-piece coverage for head and neck, eliminating chilly drafts, in a low-profile design that fits under most helmets. For milder conditions or layering, I like the Ridge Merino Balaclava with a bit of spandex blended in to give it a nice, snug fit. For more extreme conditions, the people at 45NRTH make the Baklava Balaclava that, in addition to having a super-confusing name, features a Merino blend base fabric combined with a windproof water-resistant panel to protect the head and face. I am not a fan of stand-alone neoprene face-masks, but in frigid conditions it’s helpful to have something to pull over your mouth, nose and cheeks, so I love the fact that these two balaclavas have a built-in moveable, ventilated panel for that purpose.
Goggles: Mountain biking or ski goggles are an essential component of winter biking arsenal. We feel that a basic snow goggle that resists fogging, offers good peripheral vision and has a comfortable fit is a good choice for most urban winter biking.
I find that glove selection takes a little bit of experimentation, and keeping hands warm is definitely harder for some of us that others. How warm your hands will be depends not only on the actual temperature, but how warm the rest of your body is, whether you’re heading into the wind, and whether there’s anything wet or melting falling from the sky.
Moderate Gloves: For transitional seasons when temperatures hover around the freezing mark, I like Merino lines Polartec insulated and Merino lined 45NRTH Sturmfist 5 gloves. It’s worth noting that these are optimized for biking, so they may not keep your hands warm if you’re participating in less vigorous activity.
Extreme Gloves: For the dead of winter, I’ve tried a number of gloves that combine premium insulation with a water-resistant or waterproof construction.
45NRTH Sturmfist 4 Extreme Gloves feature a 4-finger construction, giving you a good thumb and finger dexterity for using brake and shifter controls, and keep the two small fingers together for increased warmth. Beautifully made gloves with goatskin palm and Merino liner encasing warm Polartec Alpha insulation and Aerogel in the palm to ward against heat loss due to contact with the cold handlebars.
Showers Pass Crosspoint Hardshell Waterproof glove is available in Men’s and Women’s specific style. Completely waterproof, thanks to a seamless waterproof membrane bonded to the outer shell material. They are lined with fine Merino which transfers perspiration away from your hands. They can be paired with the Crosspoint Liner Glove on colder days.
Outdoor Research Mt. Baker Modular Mitts are one of the warmest winter hand products I have tried, but they do sacrifice a little bit of the dexterity. In moderate cold, I can use the insulated glove alone, and in more extreme temperatures, I use the outer Gore-Tex mitts for super-toasty fingers.
Virtually every winter glove I have tried will retain a bit of moisture from perspiration. Unless you have a place and the time to thoroughly dry your gloves before your return trip, I strongly recommend carrying a second pair, or you may be riding home with wet and frigid hands. Yes, good gloves are very expensive, but you will be glad you made the investment.
Poagies: Bar Mitts neoprene handlebar covers, or poagies, are a fantastic option for keeping your hands warm, dry and out of winds way. They live on your handlebars, right over the brake and shift levers. A large opening allows you to easily slip your hands in and out without trapping them. You can get away with a considerably thinner glove, and maintain good dexterity in challenging conditions.
No question, feet are the hardest part of the body to keep warm in winter. They don’t move much when you ride, so it’s hard to keep circulation flowing. They are very exposed to the wind and slush, and lose heat by being in contact with frozen pedals. Invest in the best pair of waterproof boots you can find, and get them a half to full size larger than normal to accommodate extra socks, air space to trap the heat, and maintain toe movement.
To prevent water or slush from entering over the tops of your boots, zip your outer pant layer over the boots, or use gaiters.
Underneath all this, excellent quality socks are essential.
I own more than a dozen Merino wool socks from Darn Tough in various weights. For winter conditions, their Cushioned Hiking Socks have a pleasant combination of loft and springiness. They are amazingly comfortable, durable and easy to care for. You can create a double layers with a thinner sock against the skin, and a thicker one outside. I’d suggest getting the outer sock in a slightly larger size in order to greate a bit of an air gap between the layers. If you’ve gotten your boots a size larger, you should not have trouble fitting everything comfortably inside.
An interesting option for extra sloppy conditions is waterproof socks, which feel like normal socks and goe on the inside of your shoes, but protects your feet like a bootie. Showers Pass Crosspoint Waterproof Socks use a wear resistant knit exterior, a waterproof breathable Artex™ membrane, and the wool version has a Merino blend anti-bacterial lining. Some of our staff swear by them even after a few seasons of use. Definitely worth a try on days where you have to throw everything you’ve got at the weather.