Waterproof winter cycling gear checklist

Here’s a question I received from a London Cyclist reader:

Last year I followed my usual policy of riding fairly deep into winter, except for unusually wet or snowy weather, then woosing out and commuting by train. The reason for this was that I don’t have “proper” cycling gear, just a few bike shirts and shorts.

While riding to work in the rain this morning (I got wet, but not cold) I thought I should drop you a line and ask for advice.I do follow the blogs and postings on London Cyclist, but I need a simple shopping list for kit that will keep me dry, warm but not hot, right through the winter

I realise that I need a base and waterproofs, but would like specific advice as I am spoilt for choice on the web and price does not always reflect practical applications

I liked the question as I’ve always tried to demystify all the cycling gear options to make it easier for people to choose the right kit for their needs.

Let’s start from the top.

Hats and caps

Waterproof cap

Personally, I prefer cycling without anything covering my head, as I tend to get very warm and would rather feel the rain. However, for those of us with glasses, it can get irritating. This is where a cap can come in handy. Sealskinz sell a highly waterproof cap for £22.50. Alternatively, there are many options for Rapha and Vulpine for those of us looking to spend a little more.

When things get cold I generally opt for a simple wooly hat. That tends to keep my head warm and is a nice simple solution that means I don’t need to buy any special cycling gear.

You may also own a jacket that has a hood. This can be useful, but at times dangerous, as it narrows your field of vision when you try to look over your shoulder, so I try to avoid this.

Neck

I’m a big fan of these merino buffs for keeping my neck warm on cold days. The best thing is, it’s quick and easy to remove and stuff in a pocket as your body temperature rises the more you cycle.

Jacket

DHB Sync jacket

In this area I’m a big fan of the DHB sync waterproof jacket for both men and women.  Note that products such as Nikwax can help keep these jackets at their full waterproofing. If I was to recommend parting with any money, I’d say this was the area to do it. Cycling jackets tend to have a longer back to accommodate for the slight leaning forward position and to keep mud and water off your lower back. A good jacket will serve you for many years and can look great both on and off the bike.

In terms of getting warm, it is kind of inevitable. Fortunately, you can unzip the under arms of most jackets which allows more air to flow in.

Alternatively, you could opt for a cycling cape. These have the advantage of covering more of your body and can be highly waterproof.

Layers

One of the keys to staying warm but dry and not sweaty is a decent base layer. We’ve reviewed a number of them previously such as the one by Rapha featured in the picture above. Unfortunately, they can work out expensive so it’s not really a priority purchase for most cyclists. There are less expensive options such as the Craft Cool Tee Short Sleeve Base Layer which will do a good job of wicking moisture from your body as you sweat.

Trousers or shorts

Depending on how cold it is, you can make a decisions between a pair of trousers or shorts. A while back I bought a pair of DHB Minima Waterproof Trousers and if the rain is really coming down I’ll put them on. Alternatively, I find a pair of shorts are better at drying faster, especially the kind that you find in outdoor shops.

Feet

Keeping your feet warm and dry can be especially tricky, as they receive much of the water spray coming off the road. I’ve tried a few different solutions. Overshoes never worked really well for me, and they often ended up not standing the test of time. I’ve tried waterproof socks but my feet end up incredibly sweaty.

In my experience I’m better off buying a pair of shoes that are more waterproof than typical pairs. Teva sell a good range of these. The Links shoe being one option. Next week we’ll have a review of another pair of Teva shoes so keep an eye out for that. Alternatively, if you clip in to your pedals then you can get waterproof shoes.

Your tips

I’d be interested in hearing from fellow cyclists about tips they have from cycling through the winter in keeping warm and dry. Please leave a comment below!

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32 Responses to Waterproof winter cycling gear checklist

  1. Bill 18/09/2013 at 12:13 pm #

    If you are also using mudguards then get a decent cape and combine it with a cap to keep your head dry.

    The main advantage is that you throw it on and the flow of air from underneath the cape prevents the boil in the bag sensation of most other water proofs. It also keeps your feet dry, so no soggy shoes when heading home later on.

    • Mil 19/09/2013 at 11:14 am #

      I bought a cheap cape from ebay but it never really kept my thighs dry as they weren’t covered. How does a more expensive cape work better? I also have a fear that the cape would get caught up in the wheels or something else.

      • Bill 19/09/2013 at 5:44 pm #

        I have not seen your cape but if it didn’t cover your thighs it must have been pretty small. My Carradice cape covers me from the handle bars down to my knees and hangs down a few inches below the saddle.

        I ride a Brompton with 17 inch wheels and a LeMond Etape racing bike with 700C wheels and the cape doesn’t get anywhere near the wheels on either of them.

      • Vincent 23/09/2013 at 11:05 am #

        Then it’s too short. A rain cape should be long enough to attach to the handlebar and cover your legs.

  2. ward 18/09/2013 at 12:44 pm #

    I cycle all-year round (in Belgium, were we have our small share of snow). I drive a regular bike (i.e. a utility/touring bike, instead of a racing bike).

    Things I find important in winter (in order of importance):
    - my leather mountain boots, as they keep my feet perfectly dry from the rain and (potentially) snow.
    - a cheap neck buff, as indeed it is easy to remove it once I get warm (say, 10 or 15 minutes after starting), and I can put it (partly) over my head if needed.
    - I might put some rain trousers over my regular jeans if i think they will really get wet. Taking a dry pair of trousers to change once at the office is something I also tend to do (but only a few times a year).
    - a merino T-shirt with long sleeves when temperatures drop below zero
    - since last year I started using my glacier goggles if it was snowing combined with quite some wind. Before that, snow blowing into my eyes made for some really difficult (and dangerous) cycling.

    • Andreas 18/09/2013 at 2:46 pm #

      All good tips, thanks for adding them in here for others to see Ward.

    • Lis 20/09/2013 at 6:33 pm #

      I agree with ward, though i use :
      - not mountain boots but leather working boots and heavy mountaineering socks, combination which keep my feet cosy dry, if not totally elegant (I keep city shoes at work or in my bike-bag),
      - a very good fleece-lined waterproof hat (sometimes changed for a wool hat, underneath a helmet itself covered with a neoprene cover, when extremely cold), which I find indispensable in very cold humid weather,
      - a wool buff, as it breathes well and can cover my chin/mouth/nose without fogging up my glasses, AND stays warm even if wet,
      - wool leggings with shorts to cut the wind and delay the sogging up of the leggings (same advantage of wool staying warm even if wet), unless it is below 0 degrees Celsius and pouring in which case I have specific gore-tex over trousers, that I rarely use. When I get to work, I can change my shorts for a skirt and that’s that,
      - wool long sleeved T-shirt under whatever I wear for appearances,
      - a good water-proof e-vent jacket that doubles as a wind-stopper and has many vents (under the arms, in the back) in case the weather of effort necessitates.
      - go about always with 2 pairs of gloves so that I can have at least one pair somewhat dry.

  3. IanHop 18/09/2013 at 4:50 pm #

    I’ve recently splashed out (pun intended) on some Sportful no-rain kit – jacket, bib-shorts & bib-tights. Expensive, but fantastic – water resistant (not waterproof) & breathable, I’ve done a 2 hour ride in the rain & happily sat in the pub afterwards feeling dry, when my mates were cold & wet.

  4. Justin M 18/09/2013 at 5:55 pm #

    Seal skinz socks or the new gore bike wear sock. Keeping feet dry is 9/10ths of the battle for me

  5. Amos 18/09/2013 at 6:01 pm #

    Hey Andreas buddy….I’m incredibly fortunate that I’m able to change once I get to work after my cycle, so being waterproof is less of a concern (and I don’t like to get too sweaty). But I am concerned in winter about having the appropriate reflective gear and lighting.

    What reflective gear (including jackets) and lights do you use?

    I have the black Altura Night Vision (Black with white reflectors), reflective straps I put around my ankles, and front & rear USB lights.

  6. cindy 18/09/2013 at 6:19 pm #

    i guess you don’t consider about wearing a helmet with these options especially the jacket.

    • Amos 18/09/2013 at 6:28 pm #

      qood question actually. i just assumed everyone wore a helmet (like me), and I also wear protective glasses incase of stone chips. Few years ago i had a stone flick up from a car and hit my helmet – narrowly missing my eye. i bought protective glasses the next day.

      • Andreas 18/09/2013 at 6:49 pm #

        If you want a jacket without a hood then the DHB Minima is good and has the advantage of being easy to pack away in your bag when not needed.

  7. Dave 18/09/2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Well I tried out the Mountain Warehouse today, they have a sale on with fairly good kit so I to the plunge and bought a merino neck buff and base layer, fleece mid layer and waterproof top, pants.and ankle gaiters all for less than £100

    I hope to enjoy winter riding and not just endure it, i really enjoyed summer!

    • Dawn 14/10/2013 at 8:19 am #

      I also got a great biking jacket in the mountain warehouse sale and it has good venting and longer back with pockets in the right places and fits not overwhelms. My best winter biking kit is a top layer long merino New Zealand made wool biking top, which although £80 when originally bought is now ten years old and still going strong. In very cold weather-I cycle in Gothenburg,Sweden and Melton, Suffolk I wear a decathlon merino wool base layer. I would recommend mitts rather than gloves for warmer hands and like Lis I wear leather hiking shoes ( that I dubbin regularly) and a wool mix sock. I also wear corduroy trousers in the winter- they dry quickly and don’t absorb the rain too much ( my ride to work in Sweden lasts about 35 minutes). Like many people on here I have waterproof trousers but I only wear them when it’s really chucking it down as they are so hot! My biggest issue has been finding winter biking gloves that are small enough-I ended up getting children’s mountain mitts in an outdoor shop. if you take papers and stuff to work and have a biking bag I recommend one by North Face-I have used it in torrential rain with no leaks :-) Thanks for all the tips.

  8. Cas Burke 18/09/2013 at 7:42 pm #

    I’m with Justin when it comes to Sealskinz socks. I’ve worn them all day when rain was forecast, with no sweat problems, and I sweat like the proverbial pig!
    And Uniqlo do a fantastic base layer range called Heattech, which is about half the price of DHB, plus they come in a great selection of colours and styles. I swear by them.

  9. Vincent 18/09/2013 at 10:31 pm #

    Andreas > You may also own a jacket that has a hood. This can be useful, but at times dangerous, as it narrows your field of vision when you try to look over your shoulder, so I try to avoid this.

    Just wrap some elastic band around your head, Sheikh-style
    http://www.mbrfoundation.ae/General%20Images/sheikh_mohammed.jpg

    Alternatively, get the Fulap:
    http://www.spaddeville.com/ukcollection.html

    > Keeping your feet warm and dry can be especially tricky, as they receive much of the water spray coming off the road

    Not if using fenders/mudguards and a rain cape. You’ll be drier than pedestrians.

    “Once it starts raining the fashion show is over”
    http://thewaxedword.blogspot.fr/2012/07/soaked-cycling.html

  10. Over 40 Cyclist 19/09/2013 at 3:58 am #

    There’s no doubt for me that the biggest difference to my winter cycling has been winter shoes. I used to get frozen toes and no amount of shoe covers, including thick ceoprene shoe covers, could stop it.

    I didn’t know you could get dedicated winter cycling shoes, which take cleats, till a few years ago. When I found out I bought a pair, and love them.

    No more frozen toes for me, though I still do need to put a pair of neoprene shoe covers over the winter shoes on really cold days. And I bought a pair fractionally oversized so I could wear thick socks, or two pairs

  11. Claire 19/09/2013 at 10:49 am #

    Get in quick if you want Minima trousers, they’re on special offer, but sizes are selling out and the range is being discontinued.

    Wiggle advised me that they do not currently have any information on an upcoming replacement for the Minima range of goods by DHB – but they expect a consignment of the 2014 range to begin arriving during October.

  12. Jen 19/09/2013 at 5:42 pm #

    Like other readers commenting here, i’m happy to get soaked a little on the bike.. I wear the cycling leggings or tights, and my legs do get wet underneath, but I always keep talcum powder at work, to dry my legs quickly, and keep skin soft. Works a treat.

  13. Si 20/09/2013 at 12:07 am #

    without doubt full proper mudguards make one of the biggest differences to foul weather riding. Often it is spray off the road that gets you wet, plus guards also keep crappy, salting muck off your bike making it more reliable.

    As for clothes I have found there is no point togging up you gloves and shoes unless you also make sure you forearms and lower legs are also nice and warm… otherwise you just cool blood down on the way to the extremities… Briggdale overknee wool winter walking socks (from millets et al) are super toasty under tights or just on their own.

  14. Tom R 20/09/2013 at 9:15 am #

    I second (or third!) a buff or neck warmer for the head/neck or both.

    Most of the time its the cold that is a problem.
    I’ve taken to wearing two pairs of socks which helps a bit with the numb toes

    I can recommend the base layers from howies, which are wearable off the bike as well!

  15. Kev O'Neill 20/09/2013 at 9:57 am #

    If you wear glasses, but don’t wear hats, then google “bowls visor”… Most of these are intended for sun, but can be waterproofed, and are effective at shielding glasses from rain. Some can even be worn with helmets.

  16. andrea white 20/09/2013 at 10:52 am #

    I am a Luton resident that cycles to the Luton and Dunstable hospital to work last year they started to provide cyclists changing rooms and extra cycle sheds .I feel that the main thing is safety when cycling and my policy is light and bright be seen wearing a helmet is essential but looking for a helmet rain cap no one sells them except for the Internet. ..come on sports shops catch up

  17. Anthony 20/09/2013 at 12:42 pm #

    Uh…no mention of GLOVES??? I hate cycling when my hands are cold AND wet. Opt for two layer cloves with an inside lining and a waterproof exterior. For the exterior, I go to the local motorcycle dealer and get gloves on clearance and then add a merino wool liner.

  18. fern 20/09/2013 at 1:25 pm #

    I tend to cycle through winter, the only thing that stops me is ice, and I have to add a vote for the merino buff.
    Also forget about trying to keep dry, I try to keep warm, anything that is waterproof will soon be as wet inside as outside, I have never met a a breathable material that cope with sort of physical activity a hard working cyclist can put out. Wind proof to work better than waterproof
    I love thermal leggings such as Endura Thermolite and find them good for cycling down to about -10C rain or not they are not so good for standing around at that temperature.
    Extremities velo gloves are great and very breathable but still seem to keep my hands warm down to about -10C, they cope in a downpour and don’t seem to get very wet on the inside but the seam on the palm can cause problems for some people. Don’t get winter gloves that are a tight fit always make sure they are a loose fit of they wont keep you warm.
    Jackets are still a problem for me but soft shell wind proof to work better than waterproof.
    Very thick icebreaker merino socks are a must, I find keeping the feet warm difficult on a longer ride in very cold weather.
    Lastly eye protection, snow, sleet and rain tend to sting and of course the road filth the cars throw up in the rain. Oakley do photo reactive lens that are safe to use at night because they go clear and one can get a prescription in them.

  19. David Carlson 20/09/2013 at 5:59 pm #

    Howdy y’all from Texas! We don’t have really cold weather, and it seldom rains. When it does, it comes all at once. Nonetheless, I’ve ridden lots in Seattle and overseas in Germany, so I’ve learned a thing or two about inclement weather:

    Rain capes that have elastic around the thighs are great! They do get humid as they trap one’s sweat against the “tent.” I can’t stand ruining expensive clothes, so I typically shy away from expensive rain jackets and whatnot.

    Seattle-based “Rock’n Noggins” makes some attractive and practical helmet covers. I’ve got the “Elmer Fudd” version that is water repellent and has fuzzy earflaps for the cold…

    The Yakkay and the Bern helmets we have in the U.S. from Denmark and the USA have brims to keep the eyeglasses a little less spotty.

    Keen makes some great water-resistant footwear… They can be augmented by plastic bags over your wool socks, prior to being stuffed in shoes.

    Trousers made of quick drying materials are a boon. Leaving a stash of dry clothes at the office, perhaps with a warm blazer or sport coat is a great idea too… I also leave a pair of snazzy polished shoes to change into if the mud on the commute was bad…

  20. Jude 21/09/2013 at 3:02 pm #

    I’ll never cycle with more than two layers on, no matter what the weather. I think my temperature gauge must be a little higher than most people’s because I just get too hot – just the words ‘base layer’ are enough to make me sweat uncomfortably! So even when it’s below zero I’ll just wear leggings, long sleeve t-shirt and my Altura jacket, plus gloves. When it’s raining I’ll add a pair of waterproof trousers. I would say that that ensemble served me well over last winter but I’d be lying – the one thing I’m missing is some waterproof overshoes. Once I’ve got those, I’m pretty much set.

    Another trick I learnt as well – a pannier rack works wonderfully as a mud guard.

  21. DavidM 03/10/2013 at 12:46 pm #

    In winter skull caps are good especially if they are made of fairly thin material as they fit under your helmet. I think the one I have is made of polyester and covers your ears.
    In winter you need to make sure wear something windproof and have some decent gloves. It’s really uncomfortable if you are cold when cycling in winter.
    Wear layers which aren’t too bulky so you can take them off and put them in a bag if you get too hot.

  22. Dave 20/12/2013 at 4:18 pm #

    The question now is, with winter starting to bite, how is everyone making out in the kit that they bought? I have braved the days, cycling in the mist, sleet and the awesome storm last night, and have stayed warm, dry and comfortable each day. I carry a variety of kit in my panniers as the conditions are so variable and this keeps me going.

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