Unless you live in Southern California, chances are pretty good that riding becomes a cold activity at some point in the year. While riding the trainer is a great way to get in structured training over the colder months, sometimes heading outside keeps you motivated, even if it is bitter cold.
They say "there is no bad weather, just bad gear," and I would say that's true 99% of the time. Having good gear though, or more so, the right gear, is absolutely crucial though. And ultimately, using gear correctly is just as important as having it to begin with. Check out my How to Dress for Winter Riding article for tips on how to keep warm in any temperature range.
When it comes down to it, using the right pieces, layered correctly can be huge. Here are the 7 key pieces of gear I recommend you have for your cold weather riding.
The Buff neck gaiter. Never has such a versatile piece of gear existed in my closet. Use it as a hat, mask, chin warmer, or neck warmer. It stretches quite a bit, thus making it able to do all sorts of jobs for any configuration you need. I was riding in about 30 degrees today and had it as a second layer over my ears, covering my neck and chin. It was perfect and kept the biting wind off those important areas, making me quite comfortable! I love this thing.
The Smartwool NTS 250 Crew Shirt. This is a fantastic wool shirt made by the company that has reinvented wool. Never again should you think of wool as scratchy or uncomfortable. These shirts are designed to be next to skin layers and wow, are they warm. On the really cold days, I wear this as a base layer and it is fantastic. Not to mention that I also use it as a main layer all winter while indoors, or while hiking under a jacket. Definitely my favorite base layer (and shirt) ever.
The Pearl Izumi Pro Softshell Gloves. I must admit, I own a lot of gloves. My poor circulation has sent me on a journey that has been quite exhaustive in trying to find gloves that are both warm and functional. I finally found these and love them. Do my hands get cold in them? Yes, absolutely. But these have been the warmest gloves I've ever used by far that still give you the dexterity of using all your fingers. Lobster and mitten gloves might be a touch warmer, but the sacrifice in your tactile interaction with your handlebar and shifting doesn't seem worth it to me. On the coldest of days, I throw some chemical warmers in these and will be set for 4 hours. Great insulation, great gloves.
The Pearl Izumi Amfib Bib Tights. There is something really great about well engineered gear. When it does just what its supposed to do perfectly, its a thing of beauty. That's these tights. Water resistant, windproof, warm. What more could you want? Do your feet get cold while you ride? There is a VERY good chance its because either your core isn't warm enough, or your legs aren't. Take care of those areas and your feet will stay warm. I like the version of these tights without a chamois. That way I can wear normal bibs under them and get away with not washing them after every ride. That's not only convenient, but it prolongs their life and durability. These tights are all you'll ever need.
A good pair of winter riding boots. No one likes wearing winter boots. They're heavy, clunky and just not as fun as sleek summer shoes. But if you want to be warm riding in the winter, this is how you do it. Get some waterproof boots that are warm and never look back. I've got two recommendations for you on this front. First, the Specialized Defroster. I've fully submerged these boots without issues. But, they aren't THE warmest. I need chemical warmers down below 35 degrees (bad circulation strikes again). So they're great in the snow and rain, but if you're going super cold, they might let you down.
If you want the super duty boots that will take anything you throw at them and were designed for crazy cold temps, you can't go wrong with the second option, the 45 North Wolvhammer. Primaloft insulation, waterproof. The works. Sacrifcing mobility in this area will keep you happy outdoors this winter.
And lastly, the Castelli Gabba Jacket. Viewed as the industry standard for weather protection, the Gabba is one of the best pieces of gear you can own. It may not be the warmest jacket out there, but with some good layering, it should be enough to keep the chill and elements out. Castelli nailed it with the design and material makeup of this jacket. You won't be disappointed here.
Excellent gear is paramount for staying warm during the long winter rides. But I can't stress this enough: good gear is only great gear, when worn correctly. Improper layering can lead to sweating which leads to freezing. The goal is to be not hot or cold, but perfect!
To learn more about finding the perfect balance, click HERE.