How to stay warm when cycling

From Pogies to woolly knickers, tips for staying snug when cycling on a bleak winter’s day.

How to stay warm when cycling

It’s been cold of late, proper cold, especially for this neck of the woods. The temperature dropped to -5C yesterday, and for us softies in the south of England, the thermometer may just as well have shown -25C. Some would say it was like a winter wonderland, I just said it was freezing, because it was.

A few years ago, when I took up cycling, I braved the winter weather a couple of times and got so cold, my snot froze. But as time went on, I learnt how to dress for the conditions. Soon afterwards, I took up bikepacking, which taught me that my weakest spots were my hands and feet.

So, starting from the bottom, here are my top tips.

Get yourself woolly undies. Yes, I’m starting at the bottom. Keep your arse cosy. I’m not suggesting big baggy cream coloured yokes that your grandad wore in the 1920’s, or like me, the itchy belly-warmers that you might have had the misery of wearing in the early 70’s (with your vest tucked in). I’m speaking about soft silky smooth merino wool. I’ve been wearing two styles of late, a short boxer by Devold, which is 100% merino wool, and Sprite hotpants from Icebreaker, which has 4% Lycra added. Expensive, but sexier and more comfortable than the former. I attribute this to the Lycra which keeps the crotch where it’s meant to be. Both brands feel warm and come in lovely bright colours, so you’ll never have to feel ashamed if you’re unlucky enough to come a cropper and end up in hospital.

Dan is a total convert to woolly willy warming underpants. He’s using three different brands. He also prefers a touch of Lycra for a snug fit. If you want to see pictures of these, check out this post about packing for a bikepacking trip.

Invest in Merino wool everything. Think base and mid layers, longjohns, socks and hats. Once you start filling your drawers with this kit, you’ll never look back. And one of the nicest things about merino garments is that you don’t have to look like a stereotypical cyclist. If you need advice on how not to look like a knob (by the way this only applies to men) check out what David Millar has to say. On top of that, merino wool has natural no-stink properties, making it ideal for multi-day rides. A word of caution, merino wool is not as durable as I’d like, but I can live with that. Keep extra clothes in your framebag.

Dan dressed for cycling in coldA windproof and waterproof jacket is a winner. Wind can suck the heat from your body rapidly, and a waterproof jacket will also keep you dry. Remember that the secret to staying warm and dry is to avoid getting wet and cold.

As I said earlier, the hardest bits for me to keep warm are my hands and feet. So let’s talk about the hands. I’ve tried Sealskin gloves, but my fingers went numb, and then I reverted to a pair of whopping big ski gloves, which kept my hands as warm as toast. Unfortunately, I may as well have had spuds for hands because I struggled to carry out the simplest of tasks when wearing them. I couldn’t open or close zips and almost wet my knickers because of the length of time it took to get the darn leather things off. (That’s the gloves I’m talking about in case I confused you).

Pogies How to stay warm when cyclingWhat works I hear you ask? Well, Dan bought me some Pogies. I’d heard a lot about these things, mostly from riders pedalling in more extreme conditions in places like Alaska, or The Arctic. Please remember, I’m a wimp. After the initial embarrassment of using them, I’m convinced that they’re the best option for me. I’ll not lie, mine are like big elephant ears hanging over the end of the handlebars, except there are no red elephants. Black would be a little less conspicuous and require less derring-do. Nevertheless, I wore them on a chilly day with a pair of thin fleece gloves underneath and they kept my hands warm without feeling clammy.

Finally the feet.

legs and feet How to stay warm when cyclingI use flat pedals. I wear Goretex Yak leather hiking boots because they’re tough, warm, comfortable and waterproof. But boots, like shoes have a great big hole in the top, for your feet to go into and that is also the spot where water ingress occurs. So to combat that, I wear gaiters, nothing at all to do with alligators. These have the added advantage of keeping out the wind and therefore helping me to stay cosy.

FlaskFor inner warmth, bring a flask of hot coffee or hot chocolate.

Heat pads can be bought for a few pounds, though I haven’t gone that far, yet.

I’d love to learn what your top tips are. Please share in the comments below.

Meraid Griffin

Freelance writer, adventurer and public speaker. Descibed in the Sunday Times as a 'modest explorer'. Nothing modest about me.


  1. I find Sealskinz-like gloves don’t keep me warm enough, but I’m usually OK if I wear mitts inside Sealskinz mittens. I have bought some reusable gel heat pads which can go on the back of the hands in gloves or fingers in mittens, though I’ve not had to use them yet this winter – I used them a couple of times last year.

    I’ve a couple of merino items. They itch like heck after a few hours so I wouldn’t wear merino underwear. Bamboo for me!

    • Meraid Griffin

      Good to know, MJ. Bamboo is favoured by many people. I use bamboo for supporting my plants, find the feel a bit odd. 🙂

  2. I’ve travelled a similar road. Icebreaker and Smartwool are the merino brands for me. I prefer the flexibilty of tops with a zippable neck; you can deliver Milk Tray in them without appearing Ironic. I like merino boxers but for hillwalking. Under the lycra shorts does not work and results in hungry bum syndrome!

    I use a pair of Sealskinz gloves but the porelle breathable fabric is lamentable. I stick with them because they are vey robust and offer some hand protection for piano players like me.

    On another note: I use my Paramo Quito jacket during winter and am broadly happy with it. Its warm, quite breathable and has a high neck. Its not cheap though.

    • Meraid Griffin

      Thanks for sharing all that Ian. Lovely to hear how others stay warm. I like my half zipped tops too. Neither myself or Dan wear lycra shorts or padding so the merino undies work perfectly. I daren’t ask what hungry bum looks like. 🙂

  3. I wondered that but I guess it’s when your bum eats your undies!

  4. Meraid Griffin

    I don’t know why I didn’t think of that MJ. 🙂

Fancy sharing your thoughts