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Keeping your Feet Warm in the Winter

by on February 4, 2011

Warm feet are happy feet

I’ve learned a lot about cold weather riding this winter.  A year ago, my temperature lower limit for cycling was 50°F.  I arrived at this limit in one simple way.  My feet were too cold to ride at temperatures below this.  I rode a couple of rides below 50, and when I got home, my large toes were numb.  As I walked across the hardwood floors of my home in stocking feet, it felt like my large toe was continually dropping into a hole in the floor.  That rule worked fine last spring when I wasn’t riding very much.

My miles increased over the summer, and as I approached the fall, I was determined not to quit riding because of the cold.   As the temperature dropped, I learned to adapt and am now quite comfortable in temperatures down to 15-20°F.  I know some ride in colder temperatures, but this is my realm of experience.

Here is what I learned this fall and winter.

  1. Keep a clothing log.  I set up an Excel spreadsheet listing every 5 degrees between  70°F and 15°F marking down what clothing items worked at those temperatures.  This results in a valuable chart to which I can refer based on the temperatures for the conditions in which I’m riding.  Update the chart based on what is comfortable for you.
  2. Between  55° and 50°F, I need to block the air vents in my cycling shoes in order to keep my feet warm.  I use a pair of wool socks and a Louis Garneau T-Cover shoe cover.  This is enough to block the wind, and helps keep my feet warm.On a very long ride at 60°F, I also might use these covers, because as energy level drops, it is important to keep warm.
  3. When the temperatures are in the 40°s F, these covers are not quite warm enough.  In this temperature range, I use a more substantial cover, the Louis Garneau Thermal Seal.  This is a cover that has a full shoe and ankle cover profile, blocking the wind from the entire foot and ankle.  When I purchased these, I hoped they would be sufficient for the entire winter.
  4. Below 40°F, it is time for me to add toe warmers.  These are chemical devices designed to work in the low oxygen environment of the shoe, and are specifically shaped for keeping toes warm.  (A trick: There is a tendency to orient these with the round part of the warmer toward the toes, but this doesn’t cover very many toes.  Orient them more laterally, like this:) Alternatively, at these temperatures, a hand warmer can be placed on top of the shoes and under the shoe covers.  This adds a layer of warmth.
  5. When the temperatures are below 40°F, I resort to my “go-to” shoe covers.  This year they are the Gore Windstoppers.  These are thicker, and not only block the wind, but also hold heat in pretty well.  I really like them.  They have a strong zipper and a hook and eye tab at the top to take the stress off of the zipper.  I’ve worn these more than any other shoe cover this winter.
  6. At 30°F (or thereabouts) and below, toe warmers AND hand warmers on top of the shoes are combined to provide the necessary warmth which takes me down to about 20°F.  Beyond that, I don’t have enough experience to have any suggestions.
  7. On very long rides I might use a full sole foot warmer in addition to the other chemical warmers.  Comfortably warm feet make these rides much more comfortable.
  8. One important hint:  You can get at least 2 and sometimes 3 uses out of a chemical warmer by placing them in a zip-lock bag, evacuating the air, and storing them (I put them in the refrigerator but that is probably not necessary).  They are oxygen activated, so as they consume the oxygen, they will eventually become inert.  Exposing them to air will re-activate them.  Hand warmers have a much longer life than the toe warmers.  Of course, I buy them in bulk.

The point of this is that one doesn’t need to suffer through cold feet.  Some use winter riding shoes, but I’ve resisted making that investment this winter.  Those who do don’t have such temperature-sensitive decisions to make.

Like I said at the beginning, warm feet are happy feet.

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From → Tips/School

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