Ultimate winter apparel for freezing rides

Ideal head-to-toe gear for those brisk wintertime adventures

Apparel Winter Guide
The right wintertime apparel breathes well and wicks moisture away from your body.

The right wintertime apparel breathes well and wicks moisture away from your body (click to enlarge).

Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Mtbr Ultimate Guide to winter mountain biking, fat bikes, gear, apparel, lights and trainers. We are taking a deep dive into all manner of cold weather mountain bike gear, with round-ups and reviews of fat bikes, tires, wheels, apparel, trainers, lights and more. To see all the articles, head over to our Winter Guide Hub Page.

Unless you live in a perpetually warm and sun-splashed locale, dressing for wintertime rides can be tricky business. The right outfit for that long chilly descent may be too toasty when the trail turns back uphill. The key is finding apparel that keeps you warm, but also breathes well and wicks moisture away from your body. Of course looks and comfort count for something, too.

During the last two and half months, we’ve been testing all manner of winter riding apparel, from budget priced to budget busting. Some of it flashy, some subdued. In this second installment of this three-part series, we’re revealing our Ultimate Head-to-Toe Freezing Weather Kit, with freezing being defined as roughly 20-31 degrees. You can check out our Ultimate Cold Weather kit here and stay tuned for our final round-up on kit suitable for truly arctic rides.

In all cases, we offer this important caveat: What has worked great for us wont necessarily be perfect for you or your weather. Some people’s bodies simply run hotter (or colder) than others. And obviously a sunny 25-degree day in Colorado (our test HQ) is not the same as 25 degrees with lots of bone-chilling Midwest humidity mixed in. That said, we stand by all the products featured here, each one offering exception performance, value, and sometimes both. Here’s a full round-up from the inside out.

Bontrager B3 1/4 Zip Long Sleeve Baselayer

Bontrager B3 1/4 Zip Long Sleeve Baselayer

As you’ll soon discover, we’re big fans of Bontrager’s entire line of cold weather apparel. Here we give the nod to the merino wool B3 1/4 Zip Long Sleeve Baselayer due to its taller neck, soft-on-skin feel, superb moisture wicking, and that handy zipper, which allows for critical temperature regulation. Fitted cuffs and a drop tail enhance overall performance. Price: $110 | More info at www.trekbikes.com

Bontrager RXL Softshell Bib Tight with inForm Chamois

Bontrager RXL Softshell Bib Tight with inForm Chamois

You’ll feel a little bit like a longshoreman when you pull on these robust softshell bib tights. But on truly freezing days that’s a good thing. Standout features include windproof and water resistant material that has an almost wetsuit like feel on the front and upper back area that’s kept us warm and dry across a variety of temperatures. Add in a comfortable higher-end chamois, and great core coverage, which is key to staying warm when the mercury plummets, and this is truly a great wintertime piece. There’s also a handy frontal zipper that makes calls of nature easier, and the legs have an elastic gripper, semi-locking zipper, and scalloped ankle cuffs that help keep snow out and make these tights easy to get on and off. Sizing tends to run a little big, so try before you buy, and consider sizing down if you’re in between. Price: $165 but currently on sale for $90 | www.trekbikes.com

Voler Black Label Wool Jersey

Voler Black Label Wool Jersey

There are many great winter-weight jerseys on the market, but few are actually made in the USA like Voler’s Black Label Wool Jersey. But manufacturing locale along isn’t what earned this skin-soothing merino wool winter top a place on our Ultimate Kit list. Indeed, we love the understated look, sturdy (and easy to grasp) full length zipper, and trifecta of secure rear pockets. Of course it also breathes well and doesn’t get soaked even when you heat up. Price: $139 | More info at www.voler.com

Gore Power Trail Windstopper Soft Shell Jacket

Gore Power Trail Windstopper Soft Shell Jacket

While the near-$300 price tag will scare off some, this jacket starts to feel like a bargain when you list out all the features. There’s an oversized zip pocket on the back for storage, a pair of ventilation zippers with integrated zipped pockets up front, a zip-away drop tail, a concealed zip pocket on the chest, and a grippy main zipper pull that’s easy to manipulate with gloves on. Reflective tape at the hem increases low light visibility, while fleece lining at the collar enhances comfort, and elastic sleeve cuffs keep heat in and cold out. But none of this matters if the jacket doesn’t keep you warm and dry, and here again Gore delivers. The windstopper material with fleece lining has worked as advertised, especially when the sun sets (and temperature plummets) on short winter days. And if you don’t like this color (which admittedly isn’t our favorite) the jacket also comes in red, dark green, and black. Price: $280 | More info at www.goreapparel.com

Continue to page 2 for more of our Ultimate Winter Apparel for freezing rides »

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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  • Don says:

    Mother Of God… $1500 worth of clothing to ride a bike in the snow?!

    • Jason Sumner says:

      Don — No doubt there are some spendy pieces on this list. But nowhere does it say you need to buy it all to ride outside in the winter. This is simply a compilation of gear we have used with great success this year that one might consider when they’re outfitting for their next wintertime ride. It’s also worth pointing out that when well cared for, apparel such as this can last a very long time, and thus could be a worthwhile investment. Thanks for reading — Jason

    • Liam says:

      Nobody said you had to buy everything at once.

      Invest in one or two items and save for the others. Probably some deals going on soon.

      Cannot put a price on being comfortable and warm when most people wouldn’t venture out.

      My personal favorite is Endura. Very well thought out stuff.

      • Jason Sumner says:

        Exactly — Thanks for chiming in, Liam. And yes, Endura makes some great winter and summer kit. We’ve been testing a new jacket lately and love it.

  • paul says:

    The items may last, but you’re shape may not. And yes, you CAN put a price on keeping warm and comfortable…apparently it’s $1500.

    Over-and-above the normal summer kit, I’ve acquired the many pieces, on sale, for much less using the same layering strategy. I’ve ridden down to -25 for much cheaper comfortably. And to boot, I use many of these pieces in other outdoor adventures. If it’s about vanity, fine, but functionally, at best, these pieces may be marginally better than what I have used and for me, certainly don’t justify the x times increase in cost.

    Here’s what I use..
    1-REI Rainwall jacket: $75
    1- Next-to-skin layer from Costco (tops and bottoms) $20
    1- 200wt North Face Fleece Layer from the outlet stores $30
    1pr – Smartwool light ski socks. $13
    1pr – Goretex socks from Cabelas $13
    1pr- old mountainbike shoes that are 1 size too large $100 that’ll take years to wear out during winter riding.
    1-balaclava from costco $15
    1pr Swany gloves $75
    1 – old pair of bibs that no one’s going to see anyway under all that gear. $0
    1 – old long sleeve jersey that no one’s going to see anyway. $0

  • paul says:

    Woops, forgot the Novara windfront tights or, lest it ages me, the Bellweather windfront tights, from the early 90’s. $50

  • mort says:

    I used my Chili’s longjohns…Key Biscayne dipped into the 60’s today…the fight is real on VK trails!

  • brian tunney says:

    Getting great laughs from many comments. I see people out spending $3000 – $5500 on bikes and now go bonkers over some high tech outer-wear ! The ski industry has been thriving on higher end gear and name-dropper lables for decades !! 🙂
    No, I’m not going out buying it all up either but much of the information is a good guideline for any not experienced in outdoor recreation in sub 20 degrees or colder. I’m a bit more reserved so I either look for similar gear less pricey and take my chances or I look through the closets at home using or testing stuff already acquired. I’ve been thru the gamut-
    Michigan or Colorado; 30 years of biking / 40 – skiing so I have stuff that has proven effective may times over the years. Some of it was the high tech or high end “of the day” and some will eventually have to be replaced.

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