(B)Icicle toes
December 6, 2011 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Cold weather cyclists: how do you keep your feet warm riding in ~40F weather for 20 or 30 miles?

Amazingly I lived in a wintry climate for nearly 30 years, but it's those southern California nights that are making my toes numb. I've forgotten how to dress for winter! 2 pairs of wool socks isn't working for me. I guess nylons as a base plus the wool socks is next. What works for you?
posted by mandymanwasregistered to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Shoe covers.

What kind of shoes are you wearing?
posted by supercres at 9:45 AM on December 6, 2011

Many more tips here. I like the one about keeping your core warm; I never noticed it before, but when I wear a double-layer on my torso, everything else does seem warmer.
posted by supercres at 9:49 AM on December 6, 2011

Response by poster: Ah here's the thing, I use toe clips. I generally wear these shoes.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:50 AM on December 6, 2011

Two pairs of socks sounds good intuitively but, in fact, they tend to compress and actually make it easier to transfer cold directly to your feet (no pockets of warm air!).

Wear one pair of really good socks, something like this. Space age material is great. Don't be afraid to pay a lot for one really good pair of socks. It's worth it.

Full disclosure:
I cycle everyday through Edmonton winters. I wear one pair of socks and hiking boots and I'm fine to -30°C (-22°F). I'm only going about 7km (4.5 miles) each way, though.

posted by mazola at 9:50 AM on December 6, 2011

I find that the most important thing to do is create a windproof barrier to the wind (I'm on the west coast as well so I know how biting all that humid air is). This may sound weird but after you put your wool socks on try putting some plastic bags around your feet before you put them in your shoes. The plastic will prevent the wind from getting through and will allow the wools socks to do their job.

Your other option is to use some booties over top of your cycling shoes. That's what I do. Any decent bike or large outdoor retailer should have a good selection. I've always had success with the BBB brand.

Good luck in the wind and rain.
posted by talkingmuffin at 9:50 AM on December 6, 2011

I am happy to no longer be cycling through alberta winters but have also found the coastal winters (vancouver) to be oddly hard on the feet. As a somewhat more durable alternative to the plastic bags may I suggest something like this - gore-tex socks you wear over your woolies, under your shoes.

Reasonably wind and water proof, flexible for use with all kinds of shoes.
posted by mce at 9:54 AM on December 6, 2011

Chemical toe warmers?

posted by jeffch at 9:55 AM on December 6, 2011

I wear goretex socks over regular socks and under tennis shoes. They work great but when the temp drops below 15 or so my toes go numb after an hour. You won't run in to that problem with 40F weather.

If you don't want to drop a lot of money plastic bags over your shoes or at least over your socks (ask talkingmuffin mentions) will also work great, although your feet may get really sweaty and then cold from being wet.
posted by ChrisHartley at 9:55 AM on December 6, 2011

I've done the plastic bags over your socks thing. It makes a noticeable difference. I eventually went with neoprene booties however as the slush was damaging my more expensive shoes. They're warmer, and you don't make crinkling sounds when you walk.
posted by bonehead at 9:56 AM on December 6, 2011

Response by poster: damn, gore-tex socks are expensive!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:58 AM on December 6, 2011

Get shoe covers or something like these. Get them a half-size too large, but don't double up on socks. I'll ride down to about 15F, and have found that any tightness in the shoes is where the cold creeps in. Looseness - allowing a layer of air in there as insulation - is key.
posted by notsnot at 10:04 AM on December 6, 2011

They are expensive though I will note that I purchased these exact socks 3 winters ago, ride ~600mi/mo and wore them nearly every day nov->april and they're still going strong.

Waterproof bike jackets? I buy a new one every fall.
posted by mce at 10:06 AM on December 6, 2011

Wearing a hat helps too. A warm head means warm feet (and hands).
posted by bonehead at 10:10 AM on December 6, 2011

I wear clipless shoes with shoe covers, but when it's really bad I switch to toe clips, wool socks, and waterproof winter boots for my 20+miles/day commute. Unless your toe clips are really small, you should be able to adjust them to fit the larger toe box of a pair of good boots.

My experience from being a skier/snowboarder is that doubling up on socks just compresses your feet and you get less blood flow so your feet stay colder. Maybe a polypro liner with woolies, but that's it.
posted by misskaz at 10:14 AM on December 6, 2011

Remember that if those socks are compressed between your shoe and your foot they are doing no good. You may need winter shoes that are a size up for extra sock space.
posted by bdc34 at 10:15 AM on December 6, 2011

Relevant to my interests. Today I couldn't feel my toes for hours after getting to work! I would support the 'vapor' or 'wind' barrier as a way to make dramatic progress. I like the neoprene booties idea - particularly when the creeks are up.
posted by zomg at 10:23 AM on December 6, 2011

Usually just sneakers and one pair of socks. I've taken to leg warmers to cover where I've rolled up my pant leg, often paired with long underwear. I could make up a justification that protecting the legs helps the blood make it down to the toes while still warm and it might even be accurate.
posted by RobotHero at 10:30 AM on December 6, 2011

... still can't really feel my toes. Dang. And it was only 35F when I left for work today. That's not particularly cold. Harumph.

Yeah, I've tried extra insulation head to ankle, and the toes are still cold. So hat or legwarmers might not do it for mandmanwasregistered's tootsies.
posted by zomg at 10:41 AM on December 6, 2011

For Chicago winters (it's about 35F right now), I've found that a pair of leather oxford shoes give enough insulation without the ankle "support" (read: inflexibility) of proper winter boots. Wear normal weight socks, not the thin dress ones, and make sure you're okay with the toe clips scuffing your shoes up.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:04 AM on December 6, 2011

Wool socks with a thin liner inside. But my feet don't get cold at that temp. And my cycling caps are exclusively wool in the winter.
posted by loriginedumonde at 11:30 AM on December 6, 2011

It doesn't look like your shoes have vents, but this may be useful anyway. What I usually do is wear wool socks, cycling shoes, and then I tape one of those "hand warmer" chemical warmer packets to the toe vent of my shoe. Then shoe cover over the whole thing. I have also used chemical "toe warmers" on my actual socks, but that doesn't work as well for some reason.
posted by TessaGal at 11:44 AM on December 6, 2011

The material that cycle shoe outer-booties are made out of is also made into windproof socks (here's an REI link or just search for "windproof socks... you want the kind that are fleecy inside). I've been using a pair made by Northwave for many many winters and swear by them.
Just getting the right socks is not enough. For maximum comfort make sure that putting your socks and shoes on your dry, warm feet is the very last thing you do before you go out the door on your ride. If your feet are sweaty at all and/or your socks are wet from sweat then your feet get colder much faster. I learned this when I was a skier. I'd leave my ski boots and socks under my car's dashboard heater vent and put them on very last thing before skiing for the day.
posted by No Shmoobles at 12:08 PM on December 6, 2011

N'thing focus on your core temperature. I started wearing a tight wicking shirt close to my skin under my other layers. Thin shirt but instantly my hands and feet were way warmer.
Also if shoe covers arent your style try gaiters. They will keep your legs and especially your ankles a damn sight warmer and thus your toes will be toasty.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 12:20 PM on December 6, 2011

Nthing wool socks (under) and booties (over) your shoes. Also make sure that socks are not too tight! I find that when I wear socks or shoes that are even slightly too tight, my circulation is affected and my toes go numb in the cold. (Could be Reynaud's though, so I'm not sure if this is a problem for everyone, just thought I'd mention it.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:26 PM on December 6, 2011

Here is another link to shoe covers, from realcyclist.com. I was surprised at the range of prices for essentially (?) the same things.
posted by zomg at 12:57 PM on December 6, 2011

I'm a year round biker in Chicago who does hour long rides to/from work during even the deepest depths of winter. I wear these socks along with toe covers for temps down to about 20/25 f and then full shoe covers for temps below that. Below about 15 degrees I also put a chemical hand/foot warmer beneath my toes inside my shoe. It's a little cramped feeling with the thick socks and the warmer, but it's still pretty comfortable. For California nights, though, just the thick socks and some kind of shoe cover should be all you need.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 1:26 PM on December 6, 2011

At 40F, I wear medium-weight wool socks (SmartWool PhD hiking socks) with Keen sandals. Except when I'm going into a stiff wind, they're plenty warm. The Keens have closed toes. If it's really windy, or if it's raining, I put Sugoi neoprene covers over the sandals, though then I sometimes find the PhD socks too heavy. With the neoprene covers I'm good down to freezing.

Many randonneurs--people who think a 200 km ride in one day is not that long--swear by a thin sock with a plastic newspaper bag over it, and then another thin sock on top of that. It makes a cheap vapor barrier. I've never done more than 200 km in one day but I find that those who routinely start the season with a 200K in March or April, then do 300, 400, and 600K rides, rain or shine, have a lot of wisdom about how to stay comfortable in all kinds of weather.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:31 PM on December 6, 2011

If you are wearing cycling shoes and go with covers I would stick with the ones that just cover the toe. The full foot type are overkill at 40F and you can't adjust the tightness of your shoe without removing them.

The toe covers plus wool socks have always done the trick for me down to the mid-20F range (doesn't get much colder here).
posted by Carbolic at 3:12 PM on December 6, 2011

You really should consider getting into walkable clipless pedals and shoes at some point. Shimano's SPD (and similar) are great because the metal cleats and bindings exert enough pressure to melt and displace any ice that builds up. Plus, they're much easier to get out of in an emergency than clips.

Get some good nylon (waterproof) or neoprene (warm) shoe covers and enjoy toasty, wiggly toes.

I rode this way for five years in Ottawa, ON, the world's second-coldest national capital, and I still do it on the wet West coast.
posted by klanawa at 8:21 PM on December 6, 2011

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