How to keep your feet warm this winter

Suffer from cold feet when cycling? Here are a few products to keep you warm, including socks, overshoes, winter boots and heated insoles

by David Arthur   December 12, 2012  

Giro Winter Wool socks

road.cc reviews

Do you feel the cold in your feet on a ride? Unless you have exceptionally good circulation, you’re bound to feel the cold in your feet at some point during the winter. Your feet don’t have to work hard when you’re cycling, and the body can very quickly divert blood away from your toes to other parts of your body that need it more.

And when your feet get so cold that it hurts, there’s no chance of them getting any better until you finish your ride and get home. If you have any hope of putting in the miles over the winter, it’s essential to make sure you can cycle in relative comfort when the mercury is dipping below zero degrees.

Some people don't have a problem with cold feet at all during the winter, but some people can suffer very badly with painful and numb feet, turning a ride into a miserable experience. I count myself in the latter camp. My circulation is so bad that after just an hour, or even sooner, my feet and hands have had enough. Keeping them warm isn't easy.

There are many measures you can take to delay the onset of cold toes and feet, so here are a few tips for keeping them warm. We'd like to hear your tips too, so feel free to comment at the bottom of the article.

Socks

Your first layer of insulation is the most important, so good socks are vital and a very important investment. There’s a good selection of chunky socks that offer a bit more insulation than thin summer socks. Importantly, they should be thin enough not to squeeze your feet in your shoes.

Cram three pairs of socks into shoes that fit and all of a sudden they don't fit anymore. Plus, squeezing them in your shoes makes them tight so your circulation suffers, kind of defeating the object.

Socks can either be made from synthetic or naturally occurring fabrics like Merino wool, one of our favourite sock materials.

Merino wool offers very good warmth and insulation and is very comfortable. The addition of synthetic fabrics can give socks better moisture management, keeping your feet drier for longer. Merino has the benefit of not only keeping your feet warm but also being very soft next to the skin, giving a little added luxury.

Winter socks can generally be a little longer than summer ones, providing an increased overlap with tights and overshoes. And as you’ll be wearing them with tights, it really doesn’t matter what they look like or what colour they are, so black is okay.

From the reviews archive, the Castelli Quindici, Moose NordKapp and Giro Winter Wool socks are worth a look, as are the Sealskinz Thin Ankle Length Socks. The Sealskinz use a three-layer merino wool/nylon/elastane sandwich with a waterproof and breathable membrane that will not only keep the cold out, but also keep your feet dry. http://road.cc/review-archive?tid=10714">View the sock review archive

Overshoes

The next obvious line of defence is overshoes. As well as keeping cold wind out, overshoes will protect your feet from spray from front wheel and other road muck getting into your shoes. If you can stop the wind and rain getting at your shoes and then your feet, you shouldn’t suffer quite as much.

Overshoes can be made from various materials including neoprene and various windproof and waterproof fabrics. Some are general purpose and some are designed specifically to keep out wind or water.

An overshoe needs to fit well, so correct sizing is important. The fewer openings there are on the shoe and around the back, the less cold air that can sneak inside.

In extreme conditions, I’ve resorted to wearing two pairs of overshoes. A popular trick is to wear a neoprene toe warmer over the shoe and underneath your overshoes. Galibier Shoe Shields are good toe covers on their own or worn under full size overshoes.

Castelli’s Diluvio is a popular neoprene overshoe. The 3mm-thick neoprene is stretchy ensuring a good fit with just holes for the cleat and heel. Made to keep the rain out, Craft’s Rain Bootie overshoes use a thin, lightweight fabric with a water repellent treatment. PRO’s Tarmac H2O overshoes combine a bamboo charcoal fleece with a polyurethane coating that is water resistant.

Winter boots

The alternative option to wrapping your cycling shoes with overshoes is to invest in some winter boots. Essentially, they are shoes with integrated overshoes. With all the vents closed up and lots of insulating and weather protecting materials, they provide the ultimate protection when the weather turns bad.

If you’re going to spend two or three months cycling through the winter, it does seem ever so slightly mad to do so in shoes that are really designed for the summer.

We wouldn’t say there’s plenty of choice in winter boots - not all manufacturers offer them, but a few do, such as Louis Garneau with their Glacier shoes and Lake with their catchily named MXZ302 Winter Boot. Okat, they won’t win any style awards, they look a bit clumpy, and on the surface of it they look a bit expensive, but if you’re serious about winter riding, then surely you should be serious about your footwear?

Heated insoles and inserts

If none of the above is enough, then heated insoles might offer a solution. There aren’t that many cycling brands offering them, though Italian brand Sidi did release a heated insole a couple of years ago, but they’ve since been discontinued.

There is still hope for heated insoles and a look to the outdoors/hiking world reveals a few possible products that could work well in cycling. We found the EXO2 HeatSole with a little searching. A cut-to-fit insole uses a FacRoc heat panel that self-regulates to 45°C. It's powered by small Li-Ion batteries that last up to seven hours. They’re expensive though, at £90.

A bit more searching and we stumbled across these 3M Thinsulate Thermal insoles. The microfibres of the Thinsulate fabric traps warm air and provide insulation. We haven’t tried them though, so we can't comment on how well they work.

And another left field solution to cold feet could be Heatmax Toasti Toes foot warmers. Available from outdoor shops, these self-activating small foot warmers are slim enough to go inside your shoes and provide up to five hours of heat. We’ve only ever used them snowboarding, but we're guessing that they should work on the bike too.

How do you tackle the problem of cold feet? We'd love to hear your tips.

33 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

Northwave Fahrenheit GTX boots are brilliant teamed up with a pair of Rapha merino socks, my feet are warm all of the time.

posted by bike_food [86 posts]
12th December 2012 - 21:14

like this
Like (31)

I got some Ground Effect Lucifers which I wear under my overshoes which I swear by and kept my feet toasty down to -8 last year.

(BITD used to use plastic bags in between two pairs of socks which did the job as well and is a good credit-crunch-northern-tight-wad option. )

Velotastic !

Too many hills, but too little time.

badback's picture

posted by badback [256 posts]
12th December 2012 - 21:45

like this
Like (34)

I've got the LG shoes. I'm pretty happy overall, but I did have to switch the insole out for something with more arch support. I had tried the Lake winter shoes, but ankle flex was horrible.

pedalpowerDC's picture

posted by pedalpowerDC [189 posts]
12th December 2012 - 22:00

like this
Like (29)

Got some Shimano winter boots, canny but always felt like a deep sea diver (big clumsy) got some Adidas overshoes likewise, now buy 4 pairs of cheap (50p pair) socks from Primark and put them over shoes cost £1 per annum sorted.

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [221 posts]
12th December 2012 - 22:33

like this
Like (35)

I swear by merino wool and possum fur socks from these people: http://www.chocolatefishmerino.co.uk/merino-possum/mpsocks.html

No connection except I'm a satisfied customer. I wear them with summer shoes and overshoes.

posted by mattress [19 posts]
12th December 2012 - 22:48

like this
Like (33)

Mavic or Shimano Goretex boots, merino socks and overshoes to keep everything clean-warm down to -15. Extravagant but I do ride every day in all weathers to work so well worth it

posted by bushman [2 posts]
12th December 2012 - 22:55

like this
Like (33)

I've been a motorbiker for years and I swear by the EXO2 heated insoles, I use all their heated clothing as well, wind-chill at 70mph ish on the motorway for hours on end is horrible.

I stuffer really badly with cold feet so this year I fitted the EXO2 in my bicycle shoes, what a difference, I tried all makes off socks but nothing worked for me, yes they are damn expensive, but I use my normal summer socks so that slightly offsets the cost, really recommend them to those like me that couldn't find anything else.

posted by mikeprytherch [175 posts]
12th December 2012 - 23:07

like this
Like (36)

i can't keep my feet warm, tried lots of stuff. Got the LG boots above which work for a while but after an hour or so my feet are like blocks of ice.

trying these next: www.thermosoles.eu

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7044 posts]
12th December 2012 - 23:43

like this
Like (32)

Not a good article.
Try non airy shoes, in-soles, one pair of warm socks that allow toe movement(allowing toes to wiggle and warm themselves), overshoes -not toe shoes(waste of space), overshoes = 1 thick pair, then a thin pair(next size up!), then a wind proof/water proof pair(goretex for me), n
That'll do me 150k+ in cack weather. Thats 10 years of keeping feet warm. a layer each year, lesson learnt. I admit unless its a proper ride, to not using road shoes, but more warm tour shoes with two cushioned in-soles(in line cleats and shoe grip to walk on ice). I am out to stay fit not freeze. I am out to cycle what comes.

you live once, Death awaits those who wait

posted by bowler [1 posts]
13th December 2012 - 0:20

like this
Like (29)

bowler wrote:
Try non airy shoes, in-soles, one pair of warm socks that allow toe movement(allowing toes to wiggle and warm themselves), overshoes -not toe shoes(waste of space), overshoes = 1 thick pair, then a thin pair(next size up!), then a wind proof/water proof pair(goretex for me)

nearly everything there is covered in the article

Barry Fry-up's picture

posted by Barry Fry-up [186 posts]
13th December 2012 - 12:00

like this
Like (22)

I've been using aluminium foil under my insoles and to line the toe box, and bubble wrap between shoe and overshoe. Keeps me warm for about 1 hour.

posted by Blackadder [5 posts]
13th December 2012 - 12:09

like this
Like (32)

I use a thin pair of wetsuit socks that I use for sailing/windsurfing. All I need is these and some thin ankle socks over the top on my feet in the winter and they do the trick!

Ben Burns's picture

posted by Ben Burns [61 posts]
13th December 2012 - 13:39

like this
Like (38)

Top tip from my years commuting on motorcycles: rub some deep heat on your feet and hands before you go out - keeps them really toastie for ages.

ALBANB

posted by albanb [17 posts]
13th December 2012 - 14:41

like this
Like (30)

I use chemical handwarmers when it's really cold and put them inbetween my shoes and overshoes over the toe area. They keep my feet nice and warm.

posted by mightyspurs [3 posts]
20th December 2012 - 13:54

like this
Like (36)

The best heated insoles are Thermo Soles 3D Sport. Been using mine for 3 years now and still going strong. They are so light and comfortable I leave them in the shoes all year round and race in them. The flat Li-Ion battery is built into the soles, so no ugly external battery packs. They claim 8 hours warmth, but it's more like 3hrs when it's around freezing temps. Pair of sandwich bags will make your shoes windproof too for less than 1g!

posted by hockinsk [3 posts]
28th December 2012 - 11:45

like this
Like (29)

Get the same "cooling£ effect with metal flat pedals as well

posted by sodit [60 posts]
10th February 2013 - 16:19

like this
Like (34)

+1 for sandwich bags, I've been wearing a thin sock, a medium wool sock and a sarnie bag over the top inside the shoe . Does a pretty good job of keeping the wind out and toes toasty. You can also fashion a toe warmer from that thin foil that "space blankets" are made from. I'll post a pic.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [697 posts]
12th February 2013 - 23:36

like this
Like (35)

Cold feet last winter so I bought...
Northwave Fahrenheit 2 sizes too big.
Merino wool socks
Crazy big Bridgedale extreme mountain socks
Bridgedale thermal liners
Plenty of room in there so no restriction of circulation.
Cold feet!
To be fair it takes about 2 hours to reach 'agonising numbness' below freezing which is an improvement but I still definitely get cold feet!
EXO2 HeatSole Heated Insoles are next I reckon.

posted by Ting [51 posts]
16th February 2013 - 22:36

like this
Like (34)

I wear merino socks and overshoes and that suits me fine most of the time. It's when my girlfriend starts talking commitment I get cold feet....

I'll get mi' coat.....

posted by Colin Peyresourde [978 posts]
25th February 2013 - 1:37

like this
Like (33)

I am in the same catergory of cold feet all the time, no mater what I have worn to date, however I will be trying the plastic bag tip and hope for the best

@Cadencepro
Coached turbo training sessions - designed to develop, grow and provide a performance for your next level

teamrocket13's picture

posted by teamrocket13 [71 posts]
6th March 2013 - 18:12

like this
Like (33)

*Real* wool should *always* be the innermost layer towards your skin. Thats my secret.. Stays warm if you get wet too Smile

seabass89's picture

posted by seabass89 [235 posts]
23rd March 2013 - 12:42

like this
Like (35)

One thing that no one has commented on is that the body withdraws circulation from the extremities when your main body core is cooling, so you are actually too cold there but feel it in feet and hands. So folks may also want to try wearing full long johns in addition to any winter trouser and try a warmer jacket or top layers than you instinctively feel comfortable with.

I ride in Sweden and find a combination of good wool long johns such as Helly Hansen, one pair of moderately thick socks (not too thick or there is no trapped air), and winter boots good down to about -8 and then substantially thicker jacket and over-boots below that. [At -15, I take the bus Wink ]

posted by MichaelCollinson [0 posts]
25th March 2013 - 10:56

like this
Like (30)

I suffer from severe Raynauds Syndrome. Nothing can help!

I've not ridden my bike for quite some time; although I have all the gear for cold weather riding (cycling) but if the temperature is below 10C, I cannot go out on the bike!

Within a couple of miles riding in the cold weather; my hands and feet are frozen. My wife has on many occasions, had to help me remove my gloves and shoes.

Believe me, non of the suggested remedies work in my case.

Oh how I long for some warm weather.

posted by Mostyn [387 posts]
5th April 2013 - 10:07

like this
Like (36)

Sealskinz and other membrane / wool socks (check army stores) are an excellent way to go. I've been cycling in -15C across the frozen sea (live in Stockholm, Sweden) happily in them combined with insulating the footbed and a good wind / waterproof overshoe. They seem a bit expensive but are multi-purpose and last a long time.

posted by Spindi [0 posts]
7th April 2013 - 16:18

like this
Like (32)

Sealskinz socks is all you need

posted by Sportive_Anders [5 posts]
23rd April 2013 - 18:05

like this
Like (29)

Toasti toes revolutionised my winter riding. Took me 20 odd years of freezing winter feet to find them... (I suffer with Raynauds). My feet used to be white/dead after even an hour in winter (or cool autumn/spring), and throbbed like b'stards when I got home. Shove toasti toes in a pair of gortex winter boots that have been pre-roasting on radiator for an hour or few, coupled with merino Giro wool socks (not too thick) and they're good for 3-4hrs in mid winter. I was amazed. They're worth 2 quid a ride.

posted by fatty [63 posts]
24th May 2013 - 21:16

like this
Like (34)

used to wear carrier bags over my socks when I worked on the bins. I've also tried it cycling.
Its not as good when your cycling because the bags can slide about in the shoe.
I'd rate it as working upto a point, but you wouldn't want to do a long ride using plastic bags on your feet.

posted by johnvile@gmail.com [1 posts]
5th August 2013 - 10:43

like this
Like (33)

also I find the warmer you keep your legs the warmer your feet will be..

seems daft for people to wear say 3/4 bibs and then loads of stuff on thier feet if they are exposed bits that will cool the blood going down to your feet down..

I got some nice ultra long wool brigdale walking socks, they come up over my knees.. warm lower legs means warmer feet..

posted by rootes [38 posts]
30th August 2013 - 22:01

like this
Like (33)

Tin foil & glowing coals

posted by Neil Smith 48 [16 posts]
4th October 2013 - 10:24

like this
Like (28)

those heated insoles are way too much for me how about just wearing http://nuovahealth.co.uk/shop/massaging-gel-insoles added to some of those comfy boots? Im also guessing wearing wool insoles isnt a good idea because they dont give any arch support right?

posted by phiillip [0 posts]
24th March 2014 - 18:42

like this
Like (2)