Keeping your feet warm

There are many options for your feet. The questions to ask are: Do you need a solution that doesn’t compromise your cycling efficiency? Are you going for long rides or just short 1-2 hour rides? Are you only going to ride in mildly cold weather?

For mildly cold weather, you can probably get by with some booties for your current mountain bike/road shoes. They work okay but they’re a pain to put on, they don’t always work well if you want to hike-a-bike in the show, and they don’t always last. It also means you’ll be using your current shoes which probably aren’t big enough for thicker socks. If you’re going to commit yourself to winter riding, you really should just buy a winter boot solution.

First off, you can always forgo the clipless pedals, throw on some platforms, and wear snow boots. It’s not he most efficient for cycling, but it works and you won’t have to deal with ice buildup on clipless pedals. Besides, riding on snow is pretty inefficient to begin with. I’m not sure how much this really hurts.I originally did this and used Powerstraps, the extra long ones made for boots. I’m not sure those are even available anymore.

If you want to use boots and clipless pedals, you can follow these directions. I did and had good success. I used some Thinsulate-lined L.L. Bean Snow Sneakers and added the SPD cleats using a Syntace SPD-to-Look converter plate. Snow sneakers work well because they don’t have laces that can get caught in your gearing. One problem is Snow Sneakers allow a little wind through the front toe box. And, unlike mountain bike shoes, the sole was very flexible, which made pedaling less efficient.

  • Remember that with these winter boots, you’ll probably need to raise your seat up since there’s more sole between your foot and the pedal.

Lake winter bootsThe solution I’m using today are the Lake winter mountain bike boots. I own two pair, but neither are the latest models. The first is a size 10, one size larger than my normal shoe. I can wear one thick sock with it. I’m not sure if Lake has fixed this with later models, but I find the boots runs small which is the opposite of what you want. Anyway, I rarely use this boot except in mild winter temperatures from freezing to 45F.

My other Lake boots are size 13.5. Yep. I normally wear a size 9. I can wear 2 thick socks and a thin one or two.

What about winter socks?

First off, the key is don’t wear so many socks that your foot is too snug within the shoe. It will constrict blood flow and make your feet colder faster.

I basically have two sock strategies. For shorter (1 hour) rides or rides in temperatures not far below freezing, I simply wear thick socks. Don’t wear cotton socks since they absorb water and become a much less effective insulator. Wool or synthetics are fine. Fleece socks aren’t as fitted so you need a larger shoe to wear them.

The best socks I have are for XC skiing. They have a thicker knit on the bottom (where your feet get cold first) and a thinner layer on top.

For longer rides and/or colder rides, you need to manage your foot moisture. Even in the cold, your skin sweats in order to maintain a 70% humidity level. As your feet sweat, the moisture accumulates in your socks and shoes. Damp insulation doesn’t insulate as well.

The solution is to wear a vapor barrier that keeps the moisture against your skin. Your feet will stop sweating and your insulation remains dry. Currently I’m using SealSkinz socks which work well, although they’re bulky. I find nylon-coated vapor barriers are better, but they’re a little tougher to find. The poor man method is to use Subway sandwich bags.

For the Iditasport 350 in 2001 I wore a thin liner sock, a nylon vapor barrier, a thick wool sock, and a fleece sock. All this fit in my big Lake boots. Since we were hiking through deep snow, I duct taped the top of my boot to keep the snow out.

What about chemical warmers?

I recommend them, but I almost never use them. They work really well so long as they’re dry, which is another reason to use a vapor barrier. The drawbacks? They cost money and in a long race, the last thing you want to do is stop, take your boots off, and replace your warmers.

As mentioned before, your feet may not be 100% toasty for your ride. Mine are usually in a slight state of chill. I don’t get concerned until I feel them drift towards serious cold and numbness. I’ll often revert to curling my toes with each pedal stroke. If that doesn’t work, you can get off the bike and run beside it. Of course there’s always the option of stopping at the local coffee shop, if you have that option.



1 Comment(s)

  1. Pingback by Keeping your feet warm on the Bike | AllYearGear.com on January 19, 2009 11:26 am

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