Warm Feet and Hands for Winter Cycling




About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

My feet and hands get cold before anything else when I ride my bicycle in cold weather. I also avoid buying bicycle specific clothing, preferring to use things I already have. Sometimes I buy things from the hunting section of a sporting goods department. Hunters need to stay warm in cold weather, too. My winter cycling shoes are a pair of walking shoes with leather uppers. They have more padding and are warmer than the canvas shoes I use in mild weather.

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Step 1: Learn From the Homeless

The homeless use newspapers to stay warm in the winter. I find four plies to be just about right. More plies do not really help.

Step 2: Tear a Strip of Paper

Tear a strip down a full sheet of newspaper so it is about the width of your foot.

Step 3: Tear Again at the Fold

Make two strips by tearing again at the fold.

Step 4: Fit Around the End of the Toes

Fit the paper around your foot so it begins just behind where you toes attach to your foot. Bring it around the front and over the ends of your toes. Then let the rest fall onto the top of your foot. These are the parts of my feet that get cold first. A little extra protection here makes a big difference. It helps to crease the newsprint where it goes over the ends of your toes.

Step 5: Prepare to Push the Paper Into the Shoe

Put your toes into the crease so your toes will drag the newsprint into the shoe.

Step 6: Drag the Paper Into the Shoe With Your Foot

Push your foot into the shoe as you normally would. The paper will go in with your foot. Keep the paper from going far off to one side or the other.

Step 7: How It Will Look

This photo shows how your shoe will look when the paper is in place. Lace up your shoe as normal, but not too tight. Any extra air around your foot is additional insulation. A shoe that fits a little loose is better than one that fits too tightly. When I ride for an hour or so, my feet will get cold, but not nearly as soon as without the newsprint. I do wear a woolen sock I got in a hunting department. Between the socks and the newsprint, I can ride down to about 15 degrees F., maybe even colder. I add newsprint to my shoes when the temperature drops below about 25 - 30 degrees F.

One set of newsprint strips will last for a couple of weeks, maybe longer before it needs replacement. Leave the newsprint inside your shoes when you remove the shoes at the end of your ride.

Step 8: A Warm Winter Glove With Mitten Cover

I got this glove/mitt from a hunting section at a sporting goods store. It has Polar Fleece gloves inside a water repellant mitt. The mitt fits loosely so it holds and traps insulating air. It has a slit opening so the hunter can use his gun at critical moments.

I wear cotton jersey gloves below about 45 degrees F. When the temperature drops below 40 degrees F. I wear these glove/mitts, but I am apt to pull the mitt cover away from the fingers until the temperature drops below about 35 degrees F. When the temperature drops below about 25 degrees F. it is time to add something extra. My extra is strips of newsprint, just as with my shoes.

Step 9: Add Newsprint Inside the Mitts

Tear newsprint strips exactly as before for your shoes. Stuff it between the glove and the mitt to cover the back of the hand.

Step 10: Fold Over the Fingers

Bring the newsprint around over the front of the fingers.

Step 11: Close the Glove/mitt

Close the mitt flap over the fingers. I find my fingers still have enough flexibility to operate my STI (Shimano System Total Integration) shifters. I have not ridden in temperatures colder than 18 degrees F. with a wind chill of 11 degrees and my hands were comfortable, although cool. I was out for a little longer than an hour on that ride. I would like to get or make a large pair of mitts to go over these glove/mitts. A lot depends on how acclimated I am to the cold. You can leave this newsprint in your glove/mitts for most of the winter before it will need replacement.

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    12 Discussions


    5 years ago

    Great post! Just moved to a cold climate & am already feeling the change in temp.

    1 reply
    Phil BMicasaloca

    Reply 5 years ago

    I have moved, too; and, am in an area (near Portland, OR) where winter temperatures seldom get or stay below freezing for more than a few hours. However, there is humidity and rain; and, it does chill a person. My bigger problem is that my doctor found the beginnings of some skin cancer on me. I have become very cautious about going outdoors when there are UV rays. But, I always enjoyed riding at night. In a few months a construction project will be finished and it will give me easy access to a nice area where I can ride in the very early hours before the sun comes up.

    People in places like Chicago and Milwaukee are of the opinion that no one should be cold on a bicycle in the winter. There are whole web pages dedicated to winter cycling with all sorts of tips. Thank you for your comment.


    10 years ago on Step 8

    I'm a mitten man, but flat bars can be tough with mittens. It's hard to grip the bars and brakes simultaneously. swept back cruiser bars or drop road bars can work well with mittens.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 8

    There is a special product for bicycle bars called 'pogies' that fit over the ends. Think giant gloves for the bars. They can allow you to use much lighter gloves, or none at all, depending on conditions.

    What I find works moderately well for me is to use a thick (2mm) pair of polyester/spandex gloves, with some cheap army surplus wool liners pulled over. My hands are not warm by any stretch of the imagination, but allow a great deal of finesse with the bicycle controls. Some spare bar tape keeps my hands from sliding around the bar ends.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    This reminds me of this:


    Cresson H. Kearny wrote the book on nuclear survival skills. The linked to page shows the author emerging from a trench shelter wearing improvised clothing made mostly of newspaper.

    This is a bit more hardcore than you are doing, but I'm going to guess you will find the link interesting.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I used to frame houses, and we'd work outside all day until the temperature got below about 18 degrees F. The trick to keeping your feet warm is to keep the perspiration from your feet from making the insulation wet with a layer of plastic. You need a pair of loose-fitting shoes for this. I bought a special pair.
    ~~ I'd use a thin sock (wool, silk, cotton) to keep the plastic away from my feet. I'd cut a garbage bag in half, vertically, and lay one of the halves down on the floor on its "edge", and stick my toes into the corner, aligning the center of my foot along the "edge". (By "edge" I mean the edge of the uncut, unfolded bag, if you held it upright by the top corners.) Begin with the part of the bag that's over your toes and flatten it against the top of your foot, and then bring up the part of the bag that's behind your foot, and wrap it around your ankles from the rear. Put your thick sock over it all. When putting on your shoes, be careful not to poke your toes through the plastic, and with a little careful forward-and-back sliding, try to leave a little slack in the plastic and the thick sock at the toes, so you're feet aren't all squeezed by the plastic, and so you don't poke a hole in it. And you don't want to stretch the thick sock so tight that it doesn't insulate. This the most important thing here is not to rip or poke through the plastic. This can be a little tricky at first.
    ~~ This will keep your feet warm when it's really, really cold, but it will leave your feet a little funky at the end of the day, even if you're outdoors in temps lower than 20 degrees F. If you're going to be indoors all day, yuck! So if you're commuting to work, take a change of socks and shoes, and re-do the bag thing for the way home.
     ~~ Getting your insulation wet from the outside defeats it just as much as wetting it from the inside. Waterproof boots are required in wet conditions.
      ~~ Your feet and your head can release a lot of body heat, so a warm hat is important too. Wool is better than synthetics here. If you spend a lot of time outdoors on cold days, your body acclimates itself, and the heat you retain at your feet and head (and elsewhere, but the rest is easier to keep warm) can aid your body in warming your hands, which helps when you have to limit your gloves for dexterity. In fact, we used to omit the gloves altogether, and people would drive by and think we were crazy for working without gloves in windy 20-degree weather, but we were comfortable.
    ~~ This technique works too well to use when the temperature is much above freezing, so it's only for the really cold days. Which is fine, since it's kind of a pain in the neck to set it up.
     ~~ Silk long johns are awesome for cold-weather activity, not only because they keep you warm, but because they slide against your outer layers better than most other fabrics, and you don't get so fatigued by struggling against binding clothing, an obvious benefit for cycling.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    The easiest way to keep your feet warm is to wear rubber boots over your shoes. For the hands, rubber gloves over some knit gloves. Sometimes insulated rubber gloves are good enough.


    10 years ago on Step 4

    My toes are very sensitive to cold, from skiing. I've noticed a huge difference with just blocking my little piggies from the cycling induced wind. If there is any chance the air may drop below 25 degrees I won't leave home without a pair of wool socks and two plastic newspaper bags. I like to pull on plastic newspaper (doggie-doo) bags over my wool socks. I wonder at Combiing all three(wool, paper, plastic) under your shoes!

    1 reply
    Phil Bdirtybagg

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 4

    From my experience, the first effect is to crowd out considerable space for air, which is a great insulator. A combination of plastic and newsprint will produce perspiration that will make the newsprint moist. Space for air is pretty important. But, sometimes bigger shoes are hard to find, too.


    10 years ago on Step 11

    There is a tendency towards one-piece construction in heavy duty winter gloves/mitts. After 1/2 hour of cycling, one-piece mittens can take over 24 hours to dry out. My layered system can be easily taken apart and dried in 2-3 hours, well before I need to ride home from work. I haven't thought about newsprint as a little extra insulatin in the mitts. I'll keep some strips handy for next time.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Hey now, I've had plenty of miserable return trips because of unexpected turn of a weather front; now I know a quick recycle-bin dive could've saved the day. Plus, now I'll be more inclined to head out on a sketchy day without a burdensome "just in case" stash of gloves, hat, etc. Darn clever, say I. Thanks, Phil B!

    1 reply
    Phil BToniRose

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks. You can probably avoid dumpster diving. Just go into a restaurant, a motel, or a grocery store and pick up one of those apartment or real estate guides with a slick cover, but printed on newsprint. Those things are everywhere. Tear out the pages you need to serve as insulation. "Recycle" the rest of the thing in a nearby round container.