How to dress for deep winter commuting

It’s fairly easy to adjust to temperatures below freezing while riding your bike, but one of the biggest questions I get asked is how to dress when it really gets cold, as in colder than -40C with the windchill.

The answer is simple, it’s pretty much the same as I dress at -15C, I either add a layer, or choose a layer with a higher insulation value. Even in those extreme cold temperatures, the problem is usually overheating because I overdressed, not that I’m too cold.

The most important part is keeping your face, hands and feet comfortable, which is fairly easily achieved with the right equipment.

Base Layers

This year I discovered the wonder of merino wool. I went to my local hardware store and picked up some affordable merino wool long johns, and a merino long sleeve shirt from Lululemon. Merino wool keeps you warm, but at the same time is breathable, and it dries very quickly if you plan to leave it on all day.

Mid Layers

The most important part about your mid layers is finding something that is comfortable and stretchy. What I’ve found works best is wearing a pair of Lululemon joggers and a comfortable shirt, with a hoody on top, and changing into my work clothes when I get to work. There’s nothing wrong with a “towel shower” in the staff bathroom if you get too sweaty.

Outer Layers

It’s easy to get caught up thinking you need the “perfect gear”, but what I’ve found is if you live in a climate that sees these temperatures, you probably already have the gear you need in your closet.

I wear a pretty basic winter parka and ski pants, you really want something with a good shell to protect you from the wind. Another great feature to have is something with a very high collar, to add some protection to around your neck.

Face Protection

Obviously a good toque is important, but lots of cyclists I see out there don’t have anything to protect the rest of their face. Clear ski goggles were a game changer for me. I also wear a Buff over my face, covering my nose, and a warmer balaclava or scarf over top of that. This allows me to pull the heavier layer down if my face starts to overheat, but still offers a thin second layer of protection.

Hand Protection

For temperatures down to about -10C, I have a cheap pair of finger gloves from Costco that seem to do the trick. From -11 to -20 I like to wear a heavy leather “Garbage Mitts” from Raber ( made in Winnipeg ). Keeping your fingers together like this keeps them nice and toasty.

When it really gets cold, or the forecast shows that it’s going to be quite windy, I attached a pair of Bar Mitts to my bike. This neoprene cover with the Garbage Mitts underneath keeps my hands sweating, even on the coldest of days.

Footwear

There are all sorts of options out there to keep your feet warm for cyclists. I’m a big proponent for wearing normal clothing opposed to going out and buying specialty gear. Personally I wear Sorel Caribou Boots for most of the winter, but when it gets really cold, I pull on the Sorel XT’s.


Personally, I wish more people realized that cycling through winter isn’t a big scary thing that only “nut jobs” like me are doing, but that it’s a practically means of transportation to get around. Our city does an amazing job clearing sidewalks and pathways, and often the paths are cleared before my morning commute.

If you’re interested in reading more about winter cycling, check out a recent post I made outlining some suggestions I have for your bike as well.