Tips for Keeping Your Hands and Feet Warm

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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Tips for Keeping Your Hands and Feet Warm

When riding outdoors in the winter, the blood in your body naturally goes to your core to stay warm instead of your extremities — which unfortunately can make it more difficult to keep your hands and feet from getting cold.

To help keep your feet warm and toasty no matter the temperature outside, use these tips for layering and improving circulation the next time you head out.

Frozen fingers can make holding onto the handlebars, steering, braking and shifting gears more difficult. To keep from suffering through this misery, here are a few things you can do to keep your hands warm on the bike:

1. WARM YOUR HANDS IN ADVANCE

Certain materials like neoprene only work if your hands are warm first. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep your hands warm and put your gloves on indoors before heading out. Try warming them next to a heater for a few seconds or holding a hot cup of coffee to get them nice and toasty. You’ll be surprised how much it’ll help once you’re outdoors.

2. COVER YOUR HEAD 

The harder your body has to work to keep your core warm, the colder your hands will be. Since a lot of heat from your body is lost through your head, wearing a skull cap and helmet cover can help keep blood flowing to the extremities.

Layer the core with a base layer and purchase a good thermal, windproof jacket to keep your arms and chest warm. On particularly cold days, a third layer may be needed.

3. KEEP IT CUFFED

A jacket and gloves won’t do a lot of good if they aren’t keeping the cold out. When choosing these clothing items, make sure the cuffs are long enough so your jacket sleeves fit over the gloves to keep the cold air from getting in. Gloves with velcro closures may also be helpful to create a more secure seal.

4. USING LAYERS 

While it is still possible to layer the hands just as you would the core, doing so may restrict your finger dexterity and decrease circulation if the fit is tight. In general, two layers is probably as many as you’ll be able to use. Your outer glove should be the bulkier of the two and feature a windproof and waterproof shell.

If you plan to layer under your thicker, thermal glove, make sure they are large enough to fit a second pair without being too tight, which can decrease your circulation. Your second layer, similar to a base layer, should be thinner and more breathable. When it’s really cold, consider a lobster-style glove that groups the fingers together. This decreases individual finger dexterity but can improve warmth.

5. MOVE YOUR HANDS

Even with the occasional pull of the brake levers or gear shift, your hands don’t move a whole lot when you ride. This stationary position makes it easy for your fingers to turn into icicles as they take the brunt of the wind chill on the bar tops or hoods.

To combat some of this, change hand positions frequently. When possible open and close your hands or wiggle your fingers to increase your circulation through movement. You’ll find every little bit helps when it’s really cold.

6. RIDE SHORTER AND HARDER 

A long, slow ride that forces you to spend a few hours braving extreme temps makes it much more difficult to stay warm. On those brutally cold days, it’s a better idea to keep your rides shorter and at a higher intensity, which makes it significantly easier to keep the temperature in your extremities from dropping.


READ MORE > HOW COLD IS TOO COLD TO TRAIN OUTSIDE?


Though, unlike the hands, your feet are constantly moving, it’s still a challenge to keep them warm on the bike. The good news is you have more layering options to trap heat and keep the cold air out. Here are some layering options you should consider:

1. SOCKS

It might seem like a good idea to layer your socks the same way you would gloves. But wearing more than one pair of socks will make the fit of your shoes too tight, decreasing your circulation. Because of this, you should stick with a single pair of socks. Choose a pair specific to winter cycling that doesn’t significantly increase bulk but is made of a material like merino wool that keeps you warm while still maintaining some level of breathability.

2. OVERSHOES

Instead of using multiple pairs of socks, it’s a better idea to use a second layer on top of your cycling shoe. Like gloves for your feet, thermal overshoes usually feature fleece lining to improve warmth and a windproof/waterproof outer shell to protect you from the elements.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of different options to choose from depending on the conditions. For instance, toe covers may be suitable for brisk fall cycling, while a full coverage thermal ankle booty that can be cuffed under a pair of tights is a more realistic option during the winter.

3. WINTER SHOES

If you live in an area of the country that stays cold for long periods of time, you might want to invest in a winter-specific cycling shoe. These shoes are designed to withstand the harshest winter conditions and provide additional insulation against the wind, rain and snow. They also often provide ankle coverage while still providing more freedom of movement than you might have using multiple layers. Most of these options won’t require the use of an overshoe to keep your feet nice and toasty, though you’ll still have this option.

4. INSOLES

Whether it’s through holes for the cleat screws or vents in the bottom of your shoe, the sole is one way cold air can find its way to your feet. If the options above haven’t quite worked, a winter-specific insole could be your last line of defense. These winter insoles from Lake feature a felt outer layer to keep you warm and dry and an internal layer of air cells to trap your body heat.

5. OTHER TIPS

Like the hands, keeping your core warm helps keep your feet warm. Eating and drinking on the bike can also help you maintain your core body temperature and make it a little easier for your blood to circulate to your extremities.

If nothing else seems to work, there are a few other less conventional options you can try. These include feet warmers that can be slipped inside the shoe or wrapping the outside of your socks in plastic wrap or tin foil to trap heat and keep cold air out. Do be cautious with these options, though, as they do have the potential to cause your feet to sweat. If you end up with wet socks it’ll make it even harder to keep from getting cold feet.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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