Winter riding is challenging, and wet and frozen feet don't make it any easier. Your feet, right in the line of spray generated by the front wheel (especially without mudguards), can suffer more than any other body part. Overshoes, designed to protect your feet from the weather, are a top investment if you're aiming to ride through the winter, whether you’re a racer or commuter.
Put simply, overshoes are made from a weatherproof fabric designed to sit snugly over your shoes and keep the rain and wind out, preventing your feet from getting wet and cold. They broadly fall into two camps: those that are waterproof, and those that are just windproof.
Neoprene is a popular material for waterproof overshoes, and has the advantage that when water does finally get inside, your feet don’t freeze; the dampness stays relatively warm in there. Nylon and polyurethane are other popular materials, used sometimes in combination with neoprene, with a waterproof layer to add extra protection.
Overshoes aren’t perfect by any means. Ride in heavy rain and your feet will get wet sooner or later, but you can delay that from happening with good quality overshoes. The biggest chink in their armour is water getting in around the leg openings, soaking down your tights, and through the cleat holes in the sole. Overshoes with good weather protection, including taped seams, a Velcro strip around the ankle, waterproof zips and a taller ankle will delay the onset of wet feet.
Overshoes typically have a rear opening with a zip to seal them up, making pulling them on and off easy. For insulation in really cold weather, you want to keep the soles of your shoes as well covered as possible because a lot of heat can escape there. Some overshoes have much more sole coverage than others – it's something that's worth checking before you splash the cash.
Sizing is very important. It’s always worth trying on overshoes with your own shoes in the shop. Differently designed shoes with various buckles and ratchets can work better with some overshoes.
Typically black (to hide all the dirt) though other colours are available, some overshoes have generous reflective details to boost your night-time visibility — some are better suited to commuting for this reason.
As well as keeping the wet out, overshoes provide another layer of insulation, and some have a thicker material to provide more warmth on really cold rides. Generally speaking, the thicker the overshoe, the more it's going to keep the cold out. A trick some cyclists resort to on really awful days is two wear two pairs of overshoes for even more protection, although that will have an effect on flexibility around your ankle.
Toe covers are handy for days when it’s not cold or damp enough for full overshoes. Typically made from neoprene, they're ideal if your shoes are well vented, and are very useful in the autumn. Another use for them, and one we’ll admit to have resorted to on more than a few occasions, is wearing toe covers under overshoes for a double layer of protection.
So, now you know what to look for in overshoes, here are 12 good examples.
dhb's Aeron LAB Neoshell overshoes offer excellent waterproofing, breathability and a lightweight feel with a solid underside that makes the £50 price tag a bit more bearable.
The worst weather that these saw was three hours of falling rain and plenty of standing water. They kept out everything so we really can't fault them for normal rain. Maybe the heaviest stuff would get through and deep standing water might flood the cleat holes, but for normal riding, these are as good as we've tried.
The temperature range was also pretty good thanks to the breathability. Weve used these from around 12°C down to about 5°C on their own. Anything lower than that and we popped some oversocks underneath for a little extra insulation. But the front toe section covered the vents on our shoes so no chilly air was getting in. For harder rides and mild weather, they breathe well, though you'll probably get sweaty feet if you go for it up a climb in mild weather.
Caratti's Neoprene Windproof Toe Covers are the perfect riding companions as the transition between seasons takes place. They cover the vents of your summer shoes first thing in the chilly morning and slip easily into your jersey pocket if things warm up a little.
Toe warmers have quite a few uses. This time of year, they are a nifty solution for those early morning rides when you know that the temperature is going to warm up while you are out, or when things are really brutal – think snow and freezing temperatures – they can be an extra layer above or beneath a pair of traditional overshoes.
The 3mm neoprene construction offers some impressive windproofing and even if you do get wet feet they hold in a lot of heat to stop you getting cold toes.
The Lusso Windtex Stealth overboots offer a large working temperature range across a myriad of different weather conditions. And don't let that Windtex name fool you – these booties will also keep the rain at bay for way longer than you'd expect of a fabric this light and thin.
The Galibier Mistral Toe Covers bring together strong protection, warmth and water resistance. They also come with an impressively low price.
I used to be a huge advocate of overshoes when the temperature drops, but I haven't regularly worn any for a year, instead using toe covers in all but the coldest conditions. They have one big advantage: you can just leave them on your shoes, so you don't need to constantly struggle into a set of thick overshoes because it's a bit cold outside.
Ekoi's Heat Concep overshoes aim to keep your extremities from freezing in the cold using a system of integrated heating elements and lithium polymer batteries. And do you know what? They work.
The heating elements in the overshoes certainly make a noticeable difference to the warmth of your feet on a cold ride. It was pretty easy to confirm this, simply by turning one of the overshoes on and leaving the other one off. At the end of two hours' riding in temperatures not far north of zero, it wasn't hard to remember which foot had been heated. It was the difference between losing feeling in your toes, and being cold, but comfortable.
Unfortunately they seem to be out of stock of everything but XL at the moment, but the rest of Ekoi's range of overshoes is well worth a look.
Madison's Sportive PU Thermal overshoes are a great option for wet weather riding, with the added thermal benefits providing some much-appreciated insulation at times.
Although described as a mid-weight overshoe by Madison, they don't struggle when the temperature gets down to low single figures.
Featuring a fleece lining that fits snugly to your shoes in tandem with an unvented, taped waterproof top layer, these overshoes are surprisingly warm in all conditions bar freezing or below.
SealSkinz Neoprene Halo Overshoes incorporate a powerful LED light in the heel, a clever idea that I'm surprised has never been done before. Don't discount them as being a gimmick, they really do work well and are ideal for regular after dark cyclists.
Less of an overshoe and more an oversock, albeit a waterproof oversock, the SealSkinz Waterproof Cycle Over Socks offer lightweight protection against wind and rain that fall somewhere between Belgian booties (over socks) and full-on neoprene overshoes.
At first glance you could be forgiven in thinking these are some sort of white water footwear. They're quite thick and rubbery rather than the svelte neoprene jobs we wear in warmer 'cool' weather. These are the wellies of the overshoe world. Not exactly sexy. What they lack in glamour and sophistication they more than make up for in their ability to deflect falling rain, road spray and even deep bow wave trips through flood puddles.
These Sportful WS Bootie Reflex overshoes employ Gore's Windstopper fabric and serve to keep your feet warm and keep out most of the rain and cold out.
They're not 100% waterproof, but on typically showery days they'll keep most of the rain out and it needs a decent spell of prolonged rain before saturation occurs. They cope just fine when it's not raining but the roads are slick with water.
The Grip Grab Arctic Overshoes are great for those properly cold days we sometimes get in January and February. They provide excellent insulation and very effective waterproofing. With 80% neoprene, these were always going to be warm, but we're also impressed by their ease of fit and adjustability.
Like a swimming cap for your feet, these divide opinion and can make your feet very sweaty indeed. These are, however, the most waterproof overshoes in this list.
When placed directly onto the shin, they prevent water from seeping down into your socks and also offer complete windproofing. When worn on top of oversocks, they form possibly the ultimate deep winter combination.
They're also surprisingly robust for what is essentially a thick balloon. They are the most fragile covers in this list though.
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David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.