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Basic Guide to Winter Clothing and Accessories

Winter is a tough time of year to be out on the roads or trails, but with the right clothing and accessories, even the toughest weather becomes a little more manageable. Here is a basic guide to jackets, tights and accessories that will help you stay warm and get out and ride.





  • Softshell: Softshell jackets are heavier weight, warm jackets with a brushed fleece interior and a water- and wind-resistant outer membrane. These jackets are best for the coldest days of the year, especially if conditions will be variable. Temperature range: 35 F or colder.
    • Pair with: long sleeve baselayer, WindStopper tights, helmet liner, winter gloves, wool socks and overshoes. 
  • Thermal Jackets: Thermal jackets are almost like very heavy weight jerseys. They have a brushed fleece lining, but are not water- or wind-resistant. Best for cold but dry days. Temperature range: 55-35 F.
    • Pair with: long or short sleeve baselayer, long sleeve jersey, thermal tights, overshoes, winter gloves, wind jacket or vest. 
  • Wind Jackets: Wind jackets are thin nylon shells that help block the wind. Most are somewhat water-resistant, but won’t replace a rain jacket. Most are designed to pack up small enough to fit in a jersey pocket. Temperature range: 65-55 F; 55 F or colder when paired with thermal jacket.
    • Pair with: Thermal jacket, long sleeve jersey. 
  • Vest: The vest is amongst the most versatile garments in a cyclist’s arsenal. Also known as a gilet, the vest helps block wind and hold in heat on cool, windy days. They pack up small, and can be stored in a jersey pocket if you get too hot, or until they are needed—like during a descent or later in the evening. Temperature range: 70-20 F (depending on other layers)
    •  Pair with: Pretty much anything.
  • Rain Jackets: Rain Jackets are waterproof outer garments that are best for riding in the rain. While they can help in the worst weather, it’ best to avoid wearing these in winter unless you really need one. They don’t breathe especially well, and the last thing you want to do in winter is sweat too much, because then you’ll just be cold and damp, instead of just cold. If the sky looks threatening though, bring one in a pocket to prevent yourself getting thoroughly soaked.




  • Wind-Proof: These heavy-weight tights feature windproof panels on the front to help cut the chilling effect of the wind, while a brushed fleece lining keeps in the warmth. WindStopper is the Gore brand windproof membrane, but other companies have their own materials. Temperature range: 35 F or colder
    • Pair with: Softshell jacket, long sleeve baselayer, helmet liner, winter gloves, wool socks, overshoes.
  • Thermal Tights: Thermal tights feature a heavy-weight fabric with a brushed fleece interior to trap in heat. They won’t cut the wind much, but are good for calm, cold days. Temperature range: 55-35 F (or colder if the wind isn’t bad).
    • Pair with: baselayer, long sleeve jersey, thermal jacket, overshoes and winter gloves.
  • Tights: Non-thermal tights are ideal for riders who don’t want like to use leg warmers. They aren’t as warm, but will also help keep you from overheating on more moderate days. Temperature range: 60-45 F
    • Pair with: Long sleeve jersey, vest or wind jacket, wool socks, long finger gloves.



  • Leg Warmers: Leg warmers are designed to extend the riding season of your favorite shorts by giving them full length coverage. Essential, the leg warmer is a sleeve that goes from ankle to mid-thigh, and tucks under your shorts. Most leg warmers are good for temps down into the 30’s, but some WindStopper models can go down even further. 
    • Pair with: shorts, long sleeve jersey, vest, long finger gloves.
  • Knee Warmers: In cooler temps, sometimes just your knees need to be kept warm instead of the whole leg. Knee warmers go from the top of the calf to mid-thigh, and tuck under the leg of your shorts to help protect your knees from wind and cold air. Knee warmers can be worn down into the 40’s for most, or the 30’s for some. They fold up small though, so if you get too warm you can always take them off and store them in a pocket. 
    • Pair with: shorts, jersey, arm warmers, vest, long finger gloves.
  • Arm Warmers: Arm warmers are designed to extend the riding season of your short sleeve jerseys. They are essentially a sleeve that goes from the wrist to the upper arm, and usually features a brushed fleece interior to help you retain heat. These are probably the most versatile accessory any cyclist can own. Their small size makes them easy to remove and store in a pocket, and they’ll keep you warm down into the 40’s. 
    • Pair with: Short sleeve jersey, shorts, knee warmers, vest.
  • Helmet Liner: Helmet liners help keep your head warm on the coldest days. Look for models that have windproof material in the front to protect against the wind. On longer rides it might be a good idea to bring a spare helmet liner so you can change into a dry one at the half way point.
  • Headband: Headbands are ideal for days that might start out chilly, but warm up later. The headband will keep your forehead and ears warm and out of the wind. Their extremely small size means they easily fit into jersey pocket. They can also be layered with a regular cycling cap or under a helmet liner cap  
  • Overshoes: Overshoes are covers that go over your cycling shoes, with a cut out for the cleat. They are used to keep your feet warm during cold, wet, windy days. There are options that are waterproof, some that are warm, and some that help you gain an aerodynamic advantage. It’s best to use overshoes instead of thicker socks, since giving your toes room to wiggle and circulate blood will help them stay warmer. For extra cold days, try wrapping your toes in a bit of tin foil to keep in more heat. Best for: cold, wet, windy days.
  • Toe Warmers: Toe warmers are ideal for cooler days, or days that will start cold and then warm up. Like overshoes they go over your cycling shoes to help keep in heat and keep your toes warm. Unlike overshoes, which can be difficult to get on and take off, toe warmers are pretty easy to get on and off, so if your feet feel too warm, they can be removed and easily stored in a pocket.


Cycling Clothing