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
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.
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. View the sock review archive
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.
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 the Lake CX145, Shimano MW81 Winter Boots above and the Northwave Extreme GTX winter boots. Okay, 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.