What to Wear in the Winter Thread- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    What to Wear in the Winter Thread

    As a rider with some experience with cold riding including a few ultras, I get asked about set up. I figured some may benefit from a breakdown of what one rider does.

    So here is a breakdown of what I ride in the winter. This has been a process of trial and error and is different for everyone. Most of my gear I begged for for Christmases and birthdays, I wish I had the funds to go randomly try the latest multi hundred dollar gear.

    On the bottom I typically wear my Velorochester bib shorts. If I know I will be out there for awhile under 0 degrees I may throw on my craft base layer. If not, the storm tights I use are by far the most impressive piece of clothing I own. They really are great at a huge temp range, maybe +30 to -20ish. It is hard to be super accurate because despite my pleas, the weatherman does not bless us with a lot of sub zero weather. My coldest ride this year was -4 up in WI. The base layer got the nod and I was snuggley warm.




    Up top I will typically wear a craft base layer, then my 100 ounce bladder (not pictured), a cheap Bellweather rain jacket, and an older Nike winter cycling jacket. I sweat a decent amount. If that sweat gets into the jacket it can freeze and cause me to lose insulation properties. I have actually had my arms start freezing up before. This set up is hot for 20 degrees+. Arrowhead last year I was hot quite a bit, but my jacket stayed dry and when the temps dropped I was not in trouble. For regular rides I will forgo the rain jacket at warmer temps, but it does allow me to ride about 15 degrees colder. If you want, you can google "vapor barrier" and find out more info, I will not try to explain it all. Plus, it is not for everyone. I definitely prefer it. I rode at Arrowhead in -20 temps with this set up. I have a super warm Nike thermal hoodie to go over if needed.



    On the bars I upgraded to the Dogwood Pogies. First year I used Bar Mitts, and they are adequate, but lack in many areas. I would use those for commuting maybe, but nothing else. Then for 2 years I used a pair of ATV pogies I modified some with good success. The Dogwoods are not necessarily warmer, but they do the job much better than my old set up (they do make a plus version that is much warmer). Thanks Fatbikes.com for the pogie hook up! Underneath it is my favorite mountain bike glove ever, the Bontrager Rhythm



    Onto my feet. I start with a thin base layer, than a baggie (usually Target as that is what we have a lot of) and then a thick Wigwam -40 sock. My feet run a tad on the cold side. I got myself a 45Nrth boot a few sizes too big, I added my insole from my big lakes to the inside (that is 2 insoles if you are counting), and I still have a bit of room. I may add a thin or med weight sock when needed, but this set up was toasty on my -4 degree ride. These boots are definitely warmer/nicer/better than my big Lake boots with booties.



    Up top I always have my Cold Avenger on. It keeps my lungs SOOOOOO much happier. Unless I am in a full on XC pace, I notice little to no resistance. I took it down for most of the race on Saturday and payed the price for it later. This mask keeps me head really warm and ears covered. The temp needs to get about 0 for me to throw a hat on, and it is usually a dry fit like this Arrowhead hat.



    So there you go on my little "what I do" tutorial. Like I said, I wouldn't mind having access to trying different things, but this sport is expensive enough. The funds are not there to do everything I would like, but I have come this far after many years. I hope that helps some people out there.
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  2. #2
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    Bib shorts have one major advantage over regular shorts in the winter- when you fall over (and you will) the snow will still get shoved up your jacket and under your jersey but the bibs will keep the snow off your bare back.

  3. #3
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    Nice job OP! Where were you when I commuted??! So much trial and error(okay, my hands say LOTS OF ERROR!)

    No pics but I wear:
    Zensah skullcap
    Brooks infinit earband
    Unknown brand neck gaiter
    Moving Comfort softshell jacket with peached fleece interior(is a running insulated spandex thing)
    IXPA long sleeve tech shirt
    Athleta softshell snowpants. Nearly the same thing as my jacket, just heavier and by a different company.
    Smartwool hiking socks.
    Nike ACG hiking boots.
    Sometimes, an ATV/Motorcycle neoprene facemask depending on windchill factor.
    Pogies(ATV mitt kind, they fit and overlap on my Jones Loops Bars)
    Fox racing gloves.

  4. #4
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    +1 for the Craft Storm pants. I got the matching Storm jacket last year and love the combo.

    I also like using bibs in the winter.... Until I have to relieve myself.

    I've never tried the vapor barrier stuff but I must admit that I'm curious. I did some research into it a while back and it makes sense to me. Maybe I'll give it a try this year.

    Nice post. Thanks.

  5. #5
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    I never tried the vapor barrier either. Doesnt the sweat drip down your body into your pants?

  6. #6
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    If you use a VBL correctly, there is very little to any sweat. The key is staying comfortably cool so that you don't sweat. If you do start to sweat, VBL's can vent the moisture when and where you want it, thereby avoiding moisture in any insulation layers you may have on. I use my system in the -20's, -30s (f) pretty easily...totally doable in the -40's too, but it requires additional layers...
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by buckfiddious View Post
    Bib shorts have one major advantage over regular shorts in the winter- when you fall over (and you will) the snow will still get shoved up your jacket and under your jersey but the bibs will keep the snow off your bare back.
    I was given a skin suit. Haven't used it for fat biking, but based on that logic it should be even better than bibs. But then I might get kicked out of the fat bike threads for being a roadie geek.

  8. #8
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    Great post I totally agree with your lower body selections, silk long johns, and the Craft pants are my typical choice unless it's really cold, then I use soft shell overpants. For above my waist and my feet however, I am totally sold on WOOL. Ice Breaker base layer, wool jersey, Smart Wool hoodie, then a Goretex over-shell with pit zips if needed. I sweat tons out the upper body but almost none below the waist, so wool just works and doesn't stink like synthetics. Wool socks and a skull cap fill out the bill. Lake boots, oh yeah. I'll save the pogies vs. gloves debate for later.
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    This is my first year winter riding, but I have been testing a few different things out. Nothing too cold yet ( lowest is 5-10F).

    Below the belt I have used the PI amfib tights. They do a great job keeping the wind off the front, but I have always had cold skin in the back due to the thin material used for venting. I did just wear another base layer under them tonight for a fairly hard XC ride and was a little too warm ( 30ish degrees)

    I have some lightly insulated Keen boots for my platform pedals ( I don't know how use guys using clipless in the snow do it....way too much work I would imagine) with wool socks. Feet stay warm unless I stand around in the snow for too long.

    Up top I wear a Work and Sport compression base layer, it has longer sleeves with thumb holes which is REALLY nice to keep the hands warm, and doesn't ride up at all when putting on gloves. I put a UA Cold Gear Mock over that, and then if really cold a North Face Soft Shell jacket ( my arms get too warm in that jacket if I am pumping hard ) or a PI barrier Wxb jacket. I want to try bar mitts, but currently a pair of Serius gloves are more than warm enough ( again, haven't ridden in really cold stuff yet)

    For my head I just bought a Giro G9 snowboarding helmet which has good venting, and comes with vent hole plugs that are easily removed when you need more air. I do find myself sweating a lot with it on, but I think it has been a little too warm to be wearing it right now. I wear ski goggles with the helmet and like the wind staying off my face. I will often wear my regular mtb helmet with a Novara headband and skullcap thingy when its a little warmer (32ish plus). I usually end up taking off the skullcap mid ride as I get warmer.

    I do plan on getting the Craft Storm pants, as many different people rave about them. Other than that, I think I might do a UA Coldgear sleeveless shirt as another option to keep my core a little warmer.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtbeagle View Post
    I was given a skin suit. Haven't used it for fat biking, but based on that logic it should be even better than bibs. But then I might get kicked out of the fat bike threads for being a roadie geek.
    Other than the bibs, I just wear whatever I'd be wearing for cross country skiing.

    The biggest problems I have are moisture management, no matter how cold it gets. It's easy to forget how biking is an incredibly aerobic sport, even in winter.

    One thing I've learned is that for short rides, say, an hour or two, goretex and waterproof/breathable stuff is pretty much useless- it's not breathable enough to keep me from getting soaked in sweat. I can't say if it has more value for longer rides or overnight trips.

  11. #11
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    I would just wear budgie smugglers and a good pair on military boots, you can get anything done in this combo.....
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by EPcycles View Post
    +1 for the Craft Storm pants. I got the matching Storm jacket last year and love the combo.
    What do you wear under the storm jacket?
    I have done several rides this year... temps range 20 to mid-30's and I am getting soaked with sweat. I don't want to go too heavy, but not too light.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bacons View Post
    What do you wear under the storm jacket?
    I have done several rides this year... temps range 20 to mid-30's and I am getting soaked with sweat. I don't want to go too heavy, but not too light.
    Have you considered just going with a fleece jacket? I tried this as an experiment last time I rode and I was amazed at how much drier I stayed.

    The wind could blow through the jacket which made it chilly if I got moving fast, but that didn't happen very often. Ended up staying fairly dry- can't beat the breathability of a basic fleece with no fancy coatings.

    Might make sense to try that and bring a simple superlight windshell along in a pocket just in case.

    The only place where the fleece jacket sucked was when I fell over and got covered in snow- had to brush the snow off before it melted.

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    Do you wear a base layer under the fleece?
    I may try this as my shell traps all the moisture.

  15. #15
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    +1 on craft storm tights and jacket. Those things are lighter and stop wind like no other! I wear wool baselayer up top with smartwool ski socks with a sock liner. Keen Pac boots with a gator. Craft lobster gloves and balaclava. Still playing with my setup. But the storm top and bottom is a for sure!
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bacons View Post
    Do you wear a base layer under the fleece?
    I may try this as my shell traps all the moisture.
    I usually go with a long sleeve jersey or a long sleeve insulating shirt (wool or capaline) under my jacket- This mainly works for me because I'ma reasonably big guy at 6'2", 220 and so for me shedding heat is always more of a problem than retaining heat.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bacons View Post
    What do you wear under the storm jacket?
    I have done several rides this year... temps range 20 to mid-30's and I am getting soaked with sweat. I don't want to go too heavy, but not too light.
    Depending on the temps, but I pretty much wear just a wool base layer for 30-0 and two for below 0. It's super easy to adjust your temp with this jacket. If you are cold just zip it up all the way. When you get warm just start zipping it down a little bit at a time until you are comfortable. Works great for long climb/descent combos since it's windproof up front. I'll unzip for the climb and zip up for the descent. In the land of hills and lake winds this thing rocks.

  18. #18
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    I don't agree with plastic Baggie vapor barriers, asking for a sweat soaked base layer, leading to wet skin (own issues), and also a wet layer to deal with if you were to have a mechanical in the cold, which could lead to hypo problems real quick. Having guided a LOT of winter hike and ski trips, and doing a fair bit of fat biking, there is but one rule. If you are sweating, you need to shed a layer. It will be different for everyone, every day, but it is a rule to live and die by.

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    Back to the sweating thing. The only time I had a real problem with sweating was last year during the Arrowhead as the temps got freakishly high, above 32F. I found myself getting sweat accumilating quite a bit up top. I tried Vaperthrm socks by RBH (I think that is the name). They sent the sweat straight up to my pant legs, soaking them. My simple method does not. Again, YMMV.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by EPcycles View Post
    +1 for the Craft Storm pants. I got the matching Storm jacket last year and love the combo.
    EPC, is the Storm jacket made from the same material as the pants? I have the pants and am really happy with them. Seems like a jacket that performs as well would be just about perfect! Thanks...

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    Quote Originally Posted by cendres View Post
    EPC, is the Storm jacket made from the same material as the pants? I have the pants and am really happy with them. Seems like a jacket that performs as well would be just about perfect! Thanks...
    It's the exact same material as the pants.

  22. #22
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    Who would have thought, another purpose for Walmart bags. When I was young, my parents had us wrap our feet in newspaper between socks. I think it worked to keep the feet warm?
    Last edited by alphazz; 01-14-2013 at 10:56 AM.

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    Regarding the sweating thing.
    I sweat buckets and do rides where I'll have to maybe climb a hill through a forest which is sheltered and warm and then ride accross open hills which are windy and cold, bad mix if you're soaked with sweat. The coldest I've ridden is -14oc. and all I ever wear is my Buffalo big face top, no base layer or anything else and I've never wanted for more. Not waterproof but that's why they work so well, they wick for fun. I find that I sweat and get cold and wet in waterproofs anyway.
    Myself and the guys I ride with all wear Buffalo and have for years, it lasts, it's good value and it works. Check out Buffalo systems if you are interested, it's a UK company but I'm sure that you could get stuff shipped.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by alphazz View Post
    I too disagree with the plastic vapor barrier especially in a shoe where one will not possible be in tune with problems until they are real problems. Sorry Charlie. Might as well add cotton to the wardrobe.
    I have to wear VB socks on cold rides of over an hour or two. My feet sweat no matter what. If I don't wear the VB I end up with a boot full of wet frozen socks and very cold feet. If I wear them over a very thin sock everything else stays dry and the feet stay toasty. So far no VB for the rest of me. YMMV
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  25. #25
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    I tried wearing VB socks a few times. Ended up with frozen sweat inside the VB sock and, the last time I used them, minor frost bite on two of my toes. The icing occurred at temps around -10, the frostbite occurred at @ -45ish. Abandoned them after that, and my feet were toasty warm with the same boots, fleece socks and liner socks at -30 for several hours. The key for me has turned out to be eVent trail running shoes in the correct size and warm socks. They vent well enough to keep my sweaty feet moist, but not wet, yet trap enough heat to keep them warm. I have overboots for if it gets ridiculously cold. Bonus that they're actually comfortable and efficient to get off and run in or push in and really light. At night, if bivying, I turn the dry sac from my sleeping bag inside out, untie the shoes but keep them on and put my feet inside the dry sac before getting in the sleeping bag. Feet stay warm, shoes and socks dry out, and my feet smell like poop.

  26. #26
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    I guess it's all depending on the temperatures you ride in. I agree with Sean for the most part although depending on the rest of the setup I think one can go somewhat below -10 before icing occurs. But when it does happen, it's going to be ugly.

    I tried it again on my ride today. The entire ride was below zero, most of it was about -10 and dipped down in the negative teens. Even though my feet stayed warm, they would have stayed warm without the plastic. The difference, when I got home and pulled off the outer sock and plastic bag, my base layer sock was soaked.

    The problem with that is that it just felt warm while riding. I was using a pretty warm setup besides the plastic bag and would have probably been okay til about -25, at which point my foot would have started icing up and that happens very quickly at those temperatures. I think the plastic hides what is actually happening which might be okay as long as you aren't far from home or the temps don't get very extreme.

    Last edited by alphazz; 01-16-2013 at 10:02 AM.

  27. #27
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    I am having a hard time keeping my upper body warm. My arms and back are fine, buy my gut and chest are getting pretty cold, even at 10 degrees.

    Wearing:

    Work and sport synthetic compression base layer
    Under Armor Cold Gear Mock
    Pearl Izumi Barrier Jacket (not thermal)

    If I wear my North Face Soft Shell jacket my arms get way too warm, and my back sweats a lot.

    Any suggestions on how to heat up my core? Maybe a vest.

  28. #28
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    jonshonda, two thoughts. What are you wearing on your head/face?

    I wear a balaclava when it is really cold that has a long portion that can be tucked into a jacket. Keeping you upper chest and around your neck warmer does a lot for your core being warmer.

    Quite often our backs don't extra warmth but our chests do. When I'm needing a little more I put on a Cannondale jacket that I can choose to remove the sleeves so it can be just a vest. But the important part is that the upper back section is mesh so the excess heat off of my back can escape.

  29. #29
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    The pros just stuff a newspaper up the front of their shirt.

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonshonda View Post
    I am having a hard time keeping my upper body warm. My arms and back are fine, buy my gut and chest are getting pretty cold, even at 10 degrees.

    Wearing:

    Work and sport synthetic compression base layer
    Under Armor Cold Gear Mock
    Pearl Izumi Barrier Jacket (not thermal)

    If I wear my North Face Soft Shell jacket my arms get way too warm, and my back sweats a lot.

    Any suggestions on how to heat up my core? Maybe a vest.
    Compression gear might be an issue?

    maybe you need looser layers up top? Try a regular insulated base layer and see if that makes a difference.

  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by alphazz View Post
    jonshonda, two thoughts. What are you wearing on your head/face?
    I am wearing a Giro G9 snowboarding helmet, Oakley goggles, and a half faced ski mask with a nose and mouth hole.

    Do people really stuff newspapers up their shirt? Wouldn't the print transfer when the sweat hits the newspaper?

    I did score an V-neck sweater at Savers today, it is 100% extra fine merino wool. I will try that as a base layer.

  32. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonshonda View Post
    I am wearing a Giro G9 snowboarding helmet, Oakley goggles, and a half faced ski mask with a nose and mouth hole.

    Do people really stuff newspapers up their shirt? Wouldn't the print transfer when the sweat hits the newspaper?

    I did score an V-neck sweater at Savers today, it is 100% extra fine merino wool. I will try that as a base layer.
    The newspaper really just blocks the wind when you're wearing really non-windblocking layers. But, when you are wearing something that open to the wind, sweat is not much of a problem.

    One thought- a whole lot of the stuff we wear for winter is overly waterproof and underly breathable. Gore Tex is great in the rain. Not so great in dry snow. If it's 30 degrees and it's snowing big, wet, chunky flakes, goretex is your friend. If it's 20 degrees and the humidity level is somewhere around 1%, goretex is gonna be a big sweaty mess.

  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonshonda View Post
    Any suggestions on how to heat up my core? Maybe a vest.
    Vests are great for keeping you warmer without that bulky feeling. But don't go crazy with bulky insulated vests, a little goes a long way. I choose from a sleeveless undershirt (wool,or synth), lightest weight fleece vest, or an insulated but really lightweight one for <10F-ish.

    I'm not familiar with your jacket but I find a lightweight softshell best for all but the wettest conditions. It blocks wind well on the downhills but doesn't overheat as much on the uphills as waterproof shells.

  34. #34
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    I like Gore Tex.

    For winter fat bike riding, you will always find me in my North Face Gore Tex pants. The temperature dictates what goes underneath.

    The problem is that not everyone is riding in the same conditions. My buddy in Phoenix thinks it's too cold to ride if it is less than 50 degrees. I would rather it stay below 25 in the winter.

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    North face gortex pants...any details?

    I rode tonight with the wool shirt at a base layer and it was very warm, too warm for 27 degrees.

    I threw this stuff on for fun too!! Its kinda hard to look tough in front of a shower curtain like that!


    IMG_2392 by jonshonda187, on Flickr

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    Do you guys carry a down jacket with you on winter ultra races? I mean, just in case?

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    Craft storm tights are probably the best piece of clothing I own. I don't usually wear a base layer under them unless it's well below 0.

    I like wool on top. base layer and jersey or just jersey depending on temps. I use a PI softshell that is quite nice. it keeps me warm even when frozen.

    for my feet i've switched to sorels with 2-3 socks this winter.

    I'm not wild about my barmitts. they are not as warm as I hoped they would be. I'm trying to figure out the proper glove to wear with them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by shredder78 View Post
    Do you guys carry a down jacket with you on winter ultra races? I mean, just in case?
    I have a down jacket that I carry on winter trips and I carried on the ITI. I brought it for warmth when stopped to fix the bike etc. but I ended up only wearing it one morning to use the outhouse. It weighs just over a pound, but it is versatile and good insurance for serious cold.
    I had been using mylar balloons as VBL for my boots, but I have been neglecting them since I switched to Steger Mukluks.

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    ... and if we just ...

    Quote Originally Posted by coldbike View Post
    I have a down jacket that I carry on winter trips and I carried on the ITI. I brought it for warmth when stopped to fix the bike etc. but I ended up only wearing it one morning to use the outhouse. It weighs just over a pound, but it is versatile and good insurance for serious cold.
    I had been using mylar balloons as VBL for my boots, but I have been neglecting them since I switched to Steger Mukluks.
    I would definitely take a down jacket for ITI,I was thinking more like the Arrowhead.
    I converted my old Milett Everest mountaineering boots to my winter bike boots,these are double boots rated to -60 deg, and incredible warm.
    Last edited by shredder78; 01-16-2013 at 11:35 AM.

  40. #40
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    Anyone not planning on having to stop in the cold for a decent chuck of time is an idiot. With that, at Arrowhead, we are carrying a -20 degree bag plus a bivy. Not exactly clothing, but it is there just in case your other options have been used up.
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  41. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by shredder78 View Post
    I would definitely take a down jacket for ITI,I was thinking more like the Arrowhead.
    I converted my old Milett Everest mountaineering boots to my winter bike boots,these are double boots rated to -60 deg, and incredible warm.

    There's no reason not to take a lightweight down jacket with you if you're riding in temps below 20 degrees F. They barely weigh anything, take up very little space and could save your life. If it's between 20 and 40, and might rain, a light synthetic jacket would be better. They'll also keep the beer from freezing if it's tucked inside them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jonshonda View Post
    I am having a hard time keeping my upper body warm. My arms and back are fine, buy my gut and chest are getting pretty cold, even at 10 degrees.

    Wearing:

    Work and sport synthetic compression base layer
    Under Armor Cold Gear Mock
    Pearl Izumi Barrier Jacket (not thermal)

    If I wear my North Face Soft Shell jacket my arms get way too warm, and my back sweats a lot.

    Any suggestions on how to heat up my core? Maybe a vest.
    Try the marmot variant jacket. I think it would be perfect to solve the problem you describe.

  43. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonshonda View Post
    Any suggestions on how to heat up my core? Maybe a vest.
    I used to have the same problem. The Craft Storm jacket cured that. Also, a breathable back windproof front vest works and is what others I know use for the same problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by Logantri View Post
    Anyone not planning on having to stop in the cold for a decent chuck of time is an idiot.
    Quote Originally Posted by sean salach View Post
    There's no reason not to take a lightweight down jacket with you if you're riding in temps below 20 degrees F. They barely weigh anything, take up very little space and could save your life. If it's between 20 and 40, and might rain, a light synthetic jacket would be better. They'll also keep the beer from freezing if it's tucked inside them.
    I totally agree with you both. Now that it's finally getting cold I'm bringing mine with me all the time. Weighs almost nothing, takes up almost no space, and is crazy warm. It's one of those pieces of gear that I hope I never need to use (like a spare tube) but it'll be there when I do.

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