Unless you have been blessed with exceptionally good circulation, you’re bound to feel the cold in your feet at some point when cycling. For the most unlucky of us, it doesn’t even need to dip to below zero winter temperatures before the toes start to feel the chill and eventually, hurt.
Your feet don’t have to work very hard when you’re cycling, and it's the body's natural reaction in cold conditions to focus the warmth of the body around essential organs - and unfortunately, your toes are not very high on that list.
It’s a painful truth that once 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 - or carry heat packs with you. That’s why preventing them from getting cold in the first place is the best remedy.
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.
Warm winter cycling socks are a worthy investment for anyone living in the northern hemisphere, and they are not very expensive to purchase and last for years. Having warm socks is important because they work as the first level of insulation for your feet, followed by your cycling shoes and then overshoes.
Warm cycling socks come in many different styles, materials and thicknesses, and you might want to consider a little before purchasing a pair.
Thicker socks often include wool or synthetic, heat-retaining materials, and are the best option if your cycling shoes have space for them. Socks such as GripGrab Waterproof Merino Thermal Socks socks are an excellent option in this category.
If you don’t have dedicated, roomier winter cycling shoes, you might need to resort to some thinner warm socks, such as the MAAP Alt_Road Merino socks.
Materials such as Merino wool offer very good warmth and insulation, even in thinner socks, and are very comfortable. The addition of synthetic fabrics can give socks better moisture management, keeping your feet drier for longer. Merino has the added benefit of being naturally good at keeping odours at bay and doesn’t require as frequent washes as synthetic socks.
Warm cycling socks can also be a little longer than summer ones, providing an increased overlap with tights and overshoes. You’ll likely be wearing them with tights or leg warmers anyway, so it really doesn’t matter what they look like or what colour they are - only that they are warm.
Without making a considerable investment in new cycling shoes, overshoes and toe covers are the next line of defence in combatting cold feet. As well as keeping the cold wind out, the best overshoes protect your feet from spray from your wheel (although, you really should consider winter-prepping your bike and installing mudguards) and other road muck getting into your shoes.
Overshoes are made from various materials including neoprene, and windproof and waterproof fabrics. They vary in purpose: some are for everyday riding, some might have aero properties and some overshoes are better for off-road riding with more robust toe and sole area.
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 can sneak inside.
Much of the same applies to cycling toe covers, which are what it says on the tin: covers that fit over your cycling shoes and cover only the toe-box area. If you are a really cold-feet individual, it’s a good idea to pair a set of toe covers with overshoes for double warmth in the toe area, without adding bulk to your ankle that needs to keep moving.
Next up we have purpose-made winter cycling shoes. These are a more considerable investment, with few cycling winter shoes selling for £150. You can, however, find them on sale for much less so worth keeping an eye out for bargains.
Winter cycling shoes essentially integrate the features of overshoes into your cycling shoes, giving them more waterproofness, a thermal, insulating membrane and often a higher boot-like ankle that keeps the water at bay.
If you determinedly cycle through the worst of the winter months, investing in a good pair of winter cycling shoes is really worth it. You save time when you don’t have to pull on the covers and overshoes, which no matter how robust, do deteriorate in frequent use in a couple of seasons. Nothing prevents you from pulling on a set of overshoes over your winter cycling boots, though, for extra warmth and protection.
Winter cycling shoes have developed a lot over the years and today’s models, such as the Fizik Tempo Artica R5, are very stylish creations, with plenty of colour options, as well. The Fiziks also feature a Gore-Tex outer membrane, which although not the most environmentally friendly material, is great at repelling water and is used also on for example, these Shimano MW7 Gore-Tex SPD Shoes.
If you really want to save your pennies, there are many home hacks that you can use to make your toes warmer when cycling.
The first is wrapping your feet in tinfoil. This is a rather self-explanatory thing to do - get some strong kitchen foil and wrap your feet with it (with your socks on) and then pop your shoes on. The foil will radiate the heat from your feet back and that way keeps them toasty. You could also double sock with this hack - having the tin foil in between two thinner socks.
Covering all of the vents is an easy hack that will keep the chilly breeze from entering your shoes in the first place. Use tape or anything else that sticks and blocks the cleat plate holes, as well as any vents that your cycling shoes might have and you’re bound to notice the difference. Just remember to revert the changes when the summer comes…
Then we have plastic bags that can be used, let’s face it, for many things. Get a set of bags and you can pull those on your feet, effectively working in the same way as waterproof socks would, and by keeping your warm sweat inside the bag, your feet should stay warmer. Whether this is a very comfortable option is up to debate, but it does work. You can also use plastic bags as overshoes - assuming you can effectively secure them over the shoes.
Home hacks aside, there are also some pretty good accessories that are purpose-built for keeping our cyclists’ feet warm.
Here you might be better looking at outdoor apparel shops, stocking hiking and hill-walking products, as cycling-specific products are scarce. There are a few heated overshoes, such as the Ekoi Heat Concept overshoes.
You can find heated insoles easily online, as well as heat pads (similar to those you can put inside your gloves). If you’re doing a long winter tour, having a couple of these stashed in your handlebar bag can be a life saviour if you get caught outside in very grim and cold conditions.
As always, let us know your best tips for keeping your feet and toes warm when cycling in the comments below!
Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for off-road.cc. She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops.