Cold Weather Layering 101

Today, while cycling towards the shop at 7am with Corey, we had a good laugh because the brisk temperatures were actually bearable for riding. Matter of fact, we were actually sweating prior to stopping at the shop around 8 to pick up the rest of the crew (huge mistake as chills soon followed).

With clear skies and low winds this weekend, it is another perfect opportunity to cycle outside if you plan your layers right. At this time of the year, with temperatures between 20 – 50 degrees, layers are the key to enjoyment. If you want to lengthen your cycling season, or even take a few trail rides once it snows, here is what we suggest for warmth and adjustability in varying conditions. As a disclaimer, you do not have to break the bank just to lengthen your cycling season. For instance, I combine base layers and windproof outer layers from my cycling, xc skiing, and running collection. Many of the cycling clothes discussed below can work for a variety of outdoor activities.

For starters, thermal base layers, or even a next to skin wind blocker does wonders in cold weather. Craft makes amazing base layers for all conditions (extreme heat through extreme cold) that pull moisture away from the skin keeping your dry. With that said, moisture management is the key to retaining heat. Once you are damp or sweaty, it only takes a turn into a cold headwind to bring about the chills. For cold morning rides or temperatures below 40 degrees, try Craft’s Pro Warm top and pant, combining their warmest fabric with ventilation areas in the warmest regions. Additionally, Sugoi’s MidZero Boxer keeps out the nastiest chill and is lined with soft fleece to keep you toasty!

After a base layer or wind blocking brief, the legs are typically good with a windproof tight or bib. We personally recommend the bibs for cold weather riding because they will stay in place without adjustment for the entire ride. With a full length tight, the fabric is constantly being pulled down by your ankle and lower leg, making the bib clutch. We have great options from Gore such as the Contest and Xenon bibs priced from $ 149 – $250. Additionally, great options exist from Pearl Izumi, Craft, and Sugoi. If you choose a tight that does not have a pad, you can choose to pull your summer cycling bibs or shorts over the top of the tights for padding. Personally, I always wear a bib over the top of my windproof tights and experience very little restriction.

Keeping your core warm really generates full body warmth. After a thermal base layer, there are a number of different options for the second layer. You can go with a long sleeve jersey, arm warmers and a short sleeve jersey, or just a nice soft shell. However, wearing only a soft shell cuts down on adjustability once you start to ride. We have plenty of options for the second layer. Bontrager’s long sleeve jersey, Pearl Izumi or Gore arm warmers, and plenty of short sleeve jerseys can be found for under $ 60.

Next, a soft shell jacket or a thermal and windproof vest can be added for the final touch up top. There are plenty of adjustable options from Gore, Craft, and Sugoi that provide excellent protection from wind and water. Even if it contains very little insulation, a wind and waterproof outer shell will keep you warm in the coldest weather. Gore’s Phantom Jacket boasts top of the line Gore Windstopper fabric throughout the front and the sleeves are detachable if it warms up during your ride. This versatile piece that transforms from a soft-shell jacket to windproof jersey can be found in store for $ 169.99. The Active Convert Jacket from Craft also provides wind and water protection with zip off sleeves for versatility. This has less insulation than the Gore jacket, but serves as a vest and jacket for $ 100. This has been my choice piece for years of riding, xc skiing, and running. One of the most exciting and innovative pieces this year is Sugoi’s Versa Jacket. Like Craft’s option, it serves as a vest and jacket, but the arms are attached by magnets instead of zippers. The magnets stay in place and are strong enough to offer maximum wind and water protection, but provide easier adjustability from jacket to vest on the go. This jacket can be found in a couple of colors within the men’s and women’s section of the store for $ 120.

 Lastly, the hands, toes, and head can’t be forgotten. Frozen feet or dysfunctional shift fingers always put a damper on great cold weather rides. Wearing any mid length merino wool sock generates heat and pulls moisture away from your skin. A shoe cover must also be worn to maintain this warmth and block wind. We have plenty of options from Pearl and Gore for insulated toe covers. Merino wool socks from Swiftwick and Smartwool are our personal favorites. A windproof hat and/or balaclava will also provide full body warmth, retaining most of your body heat. Craft, Pearl Izumi, and Gore all have great options for headwear. We have gloves for all temperature ranges. Gore’s Radiator or Tool gloves and Sugoi’s Firewall glove will keep you warm under the harshest conditions. Pearl’s Cyclone or some of the lighter wind stopping gloves from Sugoi or Gore will also do the trick.

Here are some of our favorites for cold-weather riding:

Jared – 4” and 7” merino socks from Swiftwick and Ozone’s Thermogel Forte. The Thermogel Forte jump starts the legs during those cold weather rides, increasing blood flow and circulation to the areas where the gel has been applied.

 Corey – Also keeps his toes warm with Swiftwick’s merino wool socks. The Gore Balaclava is also at the top of the list, providing excellent wind protection and warmth. Unlike some balaclavas, Gore’s is designed in a way that allows unrestricted breathing and a non-suffocating feel during exercise. I can attest that Corey still looks like a bank robber in it however.


Kevin – Proper layering is clutch, but his trick to staying warm is using Grabber’s foot and hand warmers. These things stay toasty for 5-6 hrs. If you don’t have the stamina of a Himalayan Sherpa or maybe DKT (pretty close match), you can store them in an oxygen starved plastic bag for another ride. Without oxygen, you can bank time on these warmers and maybe get 2-3 rides out of them.  


Nigel – Although merino socks and shoe covers do the trick, Nigel gets fancy on us with Hotronic’s heated foot beds. This is the inner skier hidden in Nigel. Additionally, Nigel doesn’t enjoy looking like a bank robber while riding. Thus, he wears a Buff. Look at how versatile these things are! Honestly, who would have thought you could wear it in the hood, look like a pirate on your Caribbean vacation, or insulate yourself from mother nature in MN. Only the original Buff pictured on the far right could do that!


Trent – The versatility of Gore’s Phantom Jacket immediately had Trent sold. It is a superb soft shell, providing amazing warmth and unbeatable protection from the elements. When it’s a touch warm for that outside layer, the sleeves can be removed, protecting your core from the wind as a short sleeve jersey.


Brett – I really enjoy Gore’s Power Beanie. The top has a drawstring that can be tightened to serve as a hat or loosened if you want to wear it as a gaiter around your neck. Gore’s Contest Bib is also at the top of my list. The soft shell design and Windstopper fabric provide unrestricted warmth for cycling and skiing!


Please stop into the store to check out our full Fall and Winter clothing selection or for further guidance. This article only highlights a few select items and we have much more to choose from in store!

One thought on “Cold Weather Layering 101

  1. I know you care what my favorite item for cold weather riding is. It’s a warm mug of hot cocoa. Because that’s what I’ll be drinking by the fireplace after my trainer ride while ya’ll are still out suffering away in the bitter cold. hee hee:)

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