What I Wore / Worked for Me:
0 to -10C:
- Underwear – sports/quick-dry bra and pants
- Bottoms – lightweight baselayer and paramo aspira waterproof trousers
- Top – lightweight baselayer and paramo velez adventure light smock
- Hands – Silk liners and pogies from Dogwood Designs
- Feet – coolmax liner sock + plastic bag + thick wool sock + Seeland Pac Boot with plastic bag between boot outer and insulating liner
- Head – polar buff and when cold/going downhill hood up on smock
- Face – ski goggles and a neoprene face mask
-10C and below (to at least -28C):
- add lightweight fleece under smock
- sometimes gloves over silk liners
- sometimes hat also over polar buff
When it got near 0C, I tended to be too warm and so may have found normal mountain trousers and lightweight fleece top enough.
At the lower temps, if we stopped I would get cold quickly so if we stopped for longer then I would put on my down jacket.
Swapped waterproof jacket for Alpkit down jacket and put on gloves and hat if not already wearing them.
If I had to get up in night I would put on my North Face Mules down slippers (rather than my boots)
Take off everything down to baselayer top and bottoms and liner socks.
I had far more clothes than I needed, partly I suppose, because the temps weren’t as cold as they could have been. The other clothes I took I basically didn’t use, except the fleece trousers and baselayer top for wearing on days off when washing above clothes.
Lessons Learned / Useful Tips
Unless you can get indoors or somewhere warm (i.e. have a fire) then it is very hard to dry things once they are wet. The only way really is by using your body as a radiator. It pays to have plenty of pockets in your clothes and lots of room inside your jacket to stuff things you want to keep from freezing / dry out. This mainly includes: socks, gloves, batteries, and food you want to snack on during the day.
- Silk liner gloves are great for wearing as a base layer for the hands. You barely notice them and they provide protection from the wind/biting cold if/when you take off your main gloves for things that require some dexterity (camera work / cooking etc) and they also dry very quickly (even when wearing them) if/when they get wet.
- It is inevitable that you’ll get snow on your gloves. The snow may melt from the warmth of your hands making them damp/wet and then, if you take them off and put them down they will soon freeze. Putting hands into frozen gloves results in painfully cold hands. So whenever you take off your gloves, stick them inside your jacket or under your armpits or anywhere else it is warm, so they don’t freeze.
- A pair of leather/work gloves are good for cooking etc when they may get wet and you need more dexterity than a heavily insulated warm pair provide.
- Mitts proved impractical and stayed in my pannier except on the early occasions when I left my gloves on the ground and they froze.
- Carry a spare pair of gloves/mitts for when one set freezes or if you lose them. If you lose the use of your fingers from the cold, you’re f@*$ed.
- Basically gloves for your bike (they fit over the handlebars and you put your hands into them), these deserve their own category because they were so good I would consider almost consider them essential.
- These provide complete protection from the wind and substantial warmth too. Down to -10C I didn’t need to wear gloves at all when cycling, just the pogies. Below that (down to -25C), the silk liner gloves were usually enough – but you do need to make sure your warmer gloves won’t be frozen to put on when you stop cycling – although sometimes I wore additional gloves too when not exerting much energy (i.e. cycling gently on flat / downhill).
- Keeping your feet dry and warm is incredibly difficult when cycling – feet (mine at least) seem to sweat (along with the rest of me) when cycling, but cycling itself does little to warm your feet (unlike walking), so the sweat will saturate your boot liners/socks and freeze when you cool down making your feet cold, which are then hard to warm up by cycling (because you don’t really use your feet and also because of the wind chill factor by the speed you go and the cold transferred from the pedals).
- Wearing plastic bags over liner socks stops sweat from saturating insulating layers.
- Vapour barrier socks – would be better longer term as the plastic bags quickly get holes in. I will definitely try these for the next winter trip. Shane had reasonable success with his Sealskinz socks as liners
- Inserting an extra insole/padding would help for insulation from the ground
- If your feet are cold, cycling won’t warm them up quick enough – walking or running gets the circulation going. This works best pushing the bike uphill.
- I found feet suffering with cold was dependent on keeping boot liner dry and ice-free and not so much on actual temperature
- A neoprene facemask is much easier to breathe through than a buff due to the ventilation holes for nose and mouth, while still ensuring warmer air is breathed in. I had a cheap one bought from ebay with Velcro at back of neck. A better one would be a balaclava-style with a removeable mask that can be easily undone when it gets too warm (Outdoor Research do one).
- You have to be quite careful not to let the ski goggles mist up or get moisture on them as it freezes when exposed to the air and is troublesome to scrape off. This is easily solved by not accidently breathing on them when putting them on and putting them down somewhere cold and dry when not wearing them (i.e. don’t hold them in your hands/next to you as heat from your body will condense on them and freeze)
- I loved the polar buff since the fleecy part I could triple wrap over my ears/forehead with the thinner buff material over my head. It meant I didn’t get too hot while cycling and it still protected the exposed skin. A headband would work similarly. I then slept with it as a neck gaiter or balaclava…
- The full length zip down my waterproof/outer trousers was great for easily putting on/off over my pac boots. It also meant I could unzip partially for extra ventilation when I got warm cycling without having to take off / change layering.
- Built-in gaiters on waterproof trousers stopped snow getting in boots when making camp (often had to traipse through knee-deep snow to get off road.)
- A full length zip waterproof/outer jacket would have worked better than my half-zip smock for ease of taking on/off when changing/layering up.
- Goretex/Nikwax Analogy (like Paramo use) do not breathe below -20C. This is what let Paramo down, since it is a double-wall construction sweat escaped through the layer closest to my body but could not permeate through the outer layer and so ice crystals formed within the jacket. This was not a problem but I never went more than a couple of days the temp below -20C. Over a longer period the accumulation may become a problem (but I am speculating here). Goretex single layer jackets don’t have this problem and any ice that builds up on the inside of the jacket could be brushed off. One way to solve this would be to use a more breathable material (waterproofness is not usually important at such low temps) when v cold.
- On the warmer days I could cycle without the waterproof but I found the wind made my front very cold. The most ideal would be a vest that is windproof on the front only and is very breathable on the back (if it exists).
- A warm synthetic layer you could easily put on over the waterproofs when you stop cycling would be useful if going somewhere colder. Paramo Torres is one example or a Primaloft top that still insulates when wet (unlike down).
- Zips are much easier to use when wearing gloves if they have cord extensions on the zipper to grab.
If you’ve got any tips then please add a comment as I’m sure there are plenty of things I didn’t think of!
(model – me, photographer – shane)