cold weather exercise
December 14, 2016 2:33 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for some good exercise gear for Mr Sunny. He rides one of his bikes every weekday morning (at least) and needs something for when the temperatures get below 20, Fahrenheit. It's dark and cold when he heads out.

Right now, he wears some underlayers from Costco by Paradox. These are Poly/spandex, with no wool. Then regular cotton blend sweats on top. Wool socks, wool beanie.

Can anyone recommend something a bit warmer? There are so many new technical fabrics and gear that I am overwhelmed. What brands are good? is there a warmth chart/rating?

Ideally, I'd like to get this stuff for Christmas, but late or just whenever is fine, too.
posted by annsunny to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Does he have gloves? I have to kind of assume yes as it's really painful to bike without gloves, but full-finger cycling gloves are a must in this kind of weather. These from REI are an OK choice but it helps to get a sense of how insulated they are.
posted by GuyZero at 2:35 PM on December 14, 2016

Bar mitts. Otherwise, I recommend lobster or split gloves because they are warmer (like mittens) but let you brake easily (unlike mittens).

A wool beanie is perfect under a helmet, tho sometimes I use my balaclava.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:04 PM on December 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

A little bird told me that neoprene shoes covers help keep toes warm a lot more than thinner ones.
posted by mattamatic at 3:05 PM on December 14, 2016

Something like Smartwool would be great for breathable and warm inner layers. They are pricey though.
posted by monologish at 3:07 PM on December 14, 2016

The Paradox underlayers I've got from Costco do have wool, but I bought them a year or two ago and I think they've changed them. The 32 Heat underlayers they're also selling right now are pretty decent (and certainly a good price). I'm wearing a set of those today (and biked to work this morning at about 20F, did not die). They're not quite as great as wool or silk long undies, but those are a lot more expensive. The other big benefit of wool and silk is that they don't hold the stink that synthetics often do.

The cotton sweats on top won't do much of anything to help retain heat, and I'd go with something thicker and possibly closer to the skin. Too tight and you don't have enough air trapped to retain heat, but too baggy and the wind just sucks the heat away (and especially if it's cotton. Avoid wearing too much cotton.)

Wool sweaters are great for riding in, and you could go for some nice wool bike jerseys if you want to get fancy. (Alchemist has particularly good ones, but they're not the only ones making them.) Layers are a good idea here -- you want to dress so that you're chilly when you start out, since otherwise you'll overheat before you get where you're going.

A lightweight rain jacket or windbreaker works well as an outermost layer either when it's wet or when your other layers aren't doing the job. That'll really trap the heat in there, and features like armpit vents are good to have for those.

The wool socks and beanie are a good start, and in the event that he can't keep his toes warm enough, Costco also sells chemical hand and toe warmers at a good price (and usually discounts them at least once a year). Those things are a lifesaver, but it's best to put them on a bit before going outside since it takes them a while to get going. Clipless pedals and shoes are difficult to keep as warm as with platform pedals and regular boots, but I've heard good things about 45NRTH boots.

Something to keep the neck warm is good; something like a Buff is nice because it can't come off while riding like a regular scarf can, and you can pull it over your chin easily or even breathe through it. Costco also sells balaclavas.

Good lights are key, so don't skip those. If you want something more festive you could add some MonkeyLights or similar.

Warm enough gloves are important, and for 20F something like lobster gloves are a good plan (and potentially glove liners as well; silk or wool are good for this). Pogies/bar mitts are awesome but I don't have any experience with them yet. It's supposed to be possible to wear much lighter gloves (or none! But I am super not trying that) when you've got those on your handlebars.

Keeping your eyeballs from freeze-drying is also important. Ski goggles look ridiculous but I can confirm that they keep my face a lot more comfortable than plain sunglasses or safety glasses do in the cold wind. The hard part is getting them to fit nicely next to a bike helmet. Some special winter bike helmets are designed to allow goggles to go on easily.

Did I leave any body parts out? Oh yeah, ears. You can't have too many ear warmer bands; they're $10-20 and tend to get lost easily.

And depending on what sort of surfaces you're riding on, studded tires can be a wonderful thing in winter.
posted by asperity at 3:27 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wool baselayers are nice because they don't get stinky like polypro. Expensive, but after spending a lot of time in stinky polypro I've found wool totally worth it.

Generally, is his problem staying warm? Bike commuting can be a little tough because a lot of the warmest materials for midlayers, like down, tend to overheat people in a hurry.

A lot of companies have started making very breathable midlayers. The Patagonia Nano Air hoodie is one example. Insulates well but also breathes well once you heat up. I use one for backcountry skiing a lot. Not cheap though. Other gear companies like Marmot etc. have similar offerings.

A cheaper, highly breathable but warm midlayer option is a synthetic fleece of some sort.

The standard layup for cold-weather high-output exercise is base layer (polypro or wool), then a midlayer (synthetics or down), and then a shell (often a waterproof goretex hard shell, but sometimes a soft shell).

Cotton isn't doing anyone any favors here. Down still has the best heat-to-weight ratio out there, but as mentioned above it doesn't breathe terribly well. It sounds like you're probably looking for a synthetic midlayer of some sort.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:32 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bottom half: Sporthill 3SP pants + long underwear and rarely a thin Gortex shell over them if it's windy is what I wear when biking at 5-10 degrees F. They are magical (they do attract pet hair like nothing else however) and are good as a single layer down to about 15 degrees for me and I tend to run cold.

Top half- I do a layer of long underwear + a thin fleece + a breathable down sweater + a Gortex shell.

Hands: thick windproof mittens with a handwarmer cracked inside if it's bad. If it gets very very cold for an extended period of time a lot of people in my northern city do bike pogies.

Feet: thick wool blend socks plus winter hiking boots + very occasionally stretchy shoe or toe covers when it's super cold.

Head: buff, or thin microfiber earband + beanie. If it's well below 10 I use a balaclava. They also make helmet covers.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:28 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

He definitely needs a windbreak layer somewhere in there. Gore-Tex works reasonably well in my experience, but there are newer options that breathe better. There is currently a post on the front page of the blue about what the Army is using these days. It might give you some more specific ideas.
posted by wierdo at 6:43 PM on December 14, 2016

Not cycling specific, but for general clothing suggestions, previously: What do runners do in the winter? and Cold weather running gear for active teen
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:10 PM on December 14, 2016

Oh wow! You guys are amazing! He does have gloves, but I love some of the ones you've suggested. I forgot to mention he has several types of bikes, one is a recumbent, one a cyclocross, and the other three are various types of mountain bikes. I will check out your suggestions and links, thank you!

Please feel free to make more suggestions, too!
posted by annsunny at 7:26 PM on December 14, 2016

Oh, and the Paradox layers we have had for many years, so I suspect the ones with wool are more recent.
posted by annsunny at 7:29 PM on December 14, 2016

Sport Hill or other tapered or close fitting cold gear pants for sure. I use mine for biking and skiing and I always buy Sporthill because they come in tall but there are lots of brands out there: Craft, Suigol, Pearl Izumi etc. Maybe an REI gift certificate? I'd budget $120 for those. You can also buy knock offs on Amazon from brands like Bayleaf for way less which are also really good but come in way less sizes and options.
posted by fshgrl at 9:23 PM on December 14, 2016

I use these mitts or their excellent liners when biking:

I commute on a mountain and road bike and have no problems using the brakes. If he is racing or riding off road these might not work.

I use to use lobster mittens but they are not warm enough for temperatures under 15F. Well, they are better than gloves but they just don't cut it when it is really cold.

The liners of the meteor mitts flip up so they can be used from 50F to freezing. When warmer use them open, when colder use them closed. They lack the finger separators that some flip up mittens have. (Mittens with finger separators combine all the disadvantages of mittens with all the disadvantages of gloves)
posted by bdc34 at 8:21 AM on December 15, 2016

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