QUESTION: I don’t mind riding in the cold weather during the wintertime except for one issue – I can’t keep my feet warm! My toes feel like they are going numb after half an hour on rides when the temperatures are under around 35 degrees. How can I keep them warm? – Brian R
ANSWER: Cold hands or feet can completely ruin an otherwise enjoyable winter bike ride. Fortunately, we’ve gotten a lot of great tips from other readers over the years on keeping your feet warm. Here are our top tips.
1. Buy some high quality winter wool socks. You can buy them from brands like Gore, Assos, Specialized, Defeet, Giro and Pearl Izumi, just to name a few brands. Wool socks make a big difference.
2. If you still have room inside your shoes, there are even more options — some of them free. We’ve heard from riders who wrap the front of their feet in aluminum foil, over their socks. The foil blocks the wind and helps keep feet warm. Other riders use a plastic sandwich bag over their socks for a similar effect. I wear a set of Gore Windstopper oversocks, which are a tight but still reasonable fit inside my cycling shoes. They make a big difference for me when temperatures are lower than 35 degrees.
3. Use a set of Hothands toe warmers. Hothands warmers contain iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal, and wood fiber. When exposed to air, these materials react together to produce heat through an extremely fast oxidation (or rusting) process. They last up to eight hours once you take them out of the package. But here’s a cool trick. Instead of cramming them inside your cycling shoes, place them on the outside top of your shoes, over the toes. The tight fit inside your shoes combined with sweat from your feet can sometimes prevent the warmers from working correctly. But you’ll still feel the warmth if you have them on top of your shoes, held in place under a winter shoe cover.
4. Which leads us to cycling shoe covers! Cycling shoes are designed to have air flow and keep your feet cool in hot weather, so it’s no surprise that they can be quite miserable when it’s cold. Thermal shoe covers block the wind and keep your feet insulated. They also generally go up over your ankles too, like a boot. Shoe covers come in many different materials and are designed for different temperatures. Some are even waterproof for riding in the rain. Toe covers are sometimes enough to keep your feet warm when the temperatures don’t dip too far, especially if you choose a set made of neoprene.
5. Feet still too cold? Get yourself a set of dedicated winter cycling shoes. Unlike regular cycling shoes, these are designed specifically to block wind and keep your feet warm. They aren’t cheap, but neither is a trip to the doctor because you have frostbitten toes.
Depending on the temperature, you might use many different combinations of these options to find what works just right for you. Keep notes on what worked and what didn’t — either on paper or by writing them on your Strava or Garmin Connect electronically recorded ride descriptions — so that you can remember next winter exactly what you did.
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How about a larger pair of shoes for the winter, so you can put a larger pair of socks and any of that other stuff listed in the article (Al foil, plastic bag, foot warmer, etc.) inside the shoe to keep your tootsies warm? I’ve been doing just this for years and have no problem down to 30 degrees.
Bob Smith says
I use a non-ziploc baggie (just a cheap fold-over sandwich bag) over my sock covered feet (inside the shoe)….cheap, works well to retain heat for those not bitterly cold days. Plus, if it gets too warm, you can always throw them away or simply put them in a jersey pocket.
Over here in England winter rain soaks woollen gloves and cycling footware.. I fight back with nitrile gloves beneath the woollen layer. These effectively keeps the hands dry and reduce wind chill. Unfortunately I havn’t found any that are foot shaped.
Slipstream Shoe Covers from DeFeet look like a pair of large black wool socks that pull over cycling shoes. When first wearing them you will have to slit their bottoms with a sharp knife just enough to expose the cleats. When they alone are not enough I slip neoprene toe covers over them. For even colder weather I switch to Specialized zip-on shoe covers of thick neoprene that extend about six inches above the ankle. When it is really, really cold I place a couple of small chemical warmers inside the covers, atop the toe area of my cycling shoes.
Toasty Feet says
In winter I switch from spd pedals/shoes to flat pedals and boots with chemical toe warmers on my “all-roads gravel/CX bike.” Finally no frozen feet.
Peter Beiriger says
I have chronically cold fingers and toes, and have found the best item ever!!!
Rechargeable, thermal heated socks bought on Amazon and mfg’d by Autocastle.
They cost $38 and have been drained/recharged many times and still work. They also have three heat settings so you can dial in your heat based on outside temps.
I use these socks in lieu of shoe covers and so it’s one less item to put on for cold weather cycling.
I also use them for camping and hiking.
Steve Weeks says
Regardless of the number of layers of insulation you put inside your shoes, it’s important that the shoes are somewhat loose. The feet are sort-of at the end of the line for blood circulation, and if the vessels are compressed by extra layers crammed into the shoes then blood flow is considerably reduced. Since the feet are heated by blood flow, this results in cold feet. Consider wearing fewer layers and keeping the laces or straps looser than usual to permit good blood flow. Or even use a larger pair of shoes!
My favorite tip is one I read on RBR years ago. Pretend you are a cyclocross rider. When your feet get cold, hop off the bike and run for 30 yards. This gets blood pumping to the feet better than pedaling alone.
Randy Shatto says
I ride the roads in Pennsylvania all year long. In the winter I use a pair of Sidi winter road shoes with neoprene toe covers and a heavy pair of smart wool hiking socks. I also use hot hands toe warmers inside my shoes, which I have found work much better if you apply them on the top of your foot/toes
as opposed to the bottom of the foot. My feet stay toasty for up to a couple hours in temps down to the mid twenty’s.
Steve Park says
I live in New England. When I was commuting an hour each way to work, I settled on rechargeable battery operated insoles made for ski boots. The batteries clipped to the top of my Shimano winter riding shoes. The batteries’ weight was inconsequential, as I already carried clothes, food, and computer in panniers on a touring bike. Probably not a great option if you’re looking to ride “road bike fast,” but they worked well and I have poor circulation in my lands and feet. My fingers freeze even with good gloves. I had good luck with Bar Mitts. They knock down the wind.
Brian Nystrom says
Particularly when doing longer rides in cold weather, the most important thing is to keep your insulating layer(s) DRY. Feet sweat and over time your socks and the inside of your shoes can become damp, which inevitably leads to cold feet. The solution to this is to incorporate a vapor barrier in your shoe/sock system.
What I do when the temps get below 40 degrees is to combine dedicated winter shoes with a thin pair of wool liner socks and a heavier pair of wool socks for insulation. A vapor barrier goes between the two layers of socks. I use the thin plastic bags that newspapers are often delivered in, which typically last for 3-6 rides. They prevent sweat from getting to my heavier wool sock layer and shoes. Yes, my feet get quite damp inside the vapor barriers. but with the liner socks, they’re not uncomfortable and the dry insulating layers keep them toasty warm. I’ve used this combination (unintentionally, off-road) in temps as low as 10 degrees F and was comfortable,