Winter riding can be a blast. When the conditions are good, we call it 'hero-snow.' The affectionate term used to describe fast, high-traction conditions cousin to summers 'hero-dirt.'
There are, however, some challenges to winter riding. Namely the colder temperatures and the difficulty with keeping our extremities warm. Even when your heart rate and breathing are jacked up from slogging that fatbike around the river valley, it can still be hard to keep your feet warm. Everything on you is BOILING... except for your toes. They're blocks of ice.
Cold and frozen feet are uncomfortable and it's that discomfort that can be enough to wuss out of a ride and choose from a list of lame excuses. We get it. No one wants cold toes. Or worse, frostbitten toes.
Comfort while riding in cold conditions takes practice and often needs a little trial and error to see what works. We have found one particular area that people are making a critical error. Your Boot Size!
We've found that with cold feet, in a lot of the cases, people have winter cycling boots that are sized too small. That is, the boot might be "their" size of shoe, but for the purpose of winter cycling comfort, their winter boot needs to be a little roomier.
When your boot is fitted, you might not be able to get a nice thick wool sock inside. A thick wool sock helps with our goal of achieving "loft" (insulation), which is a critical part of the pursuit of warmth.
If you want to refute with "I can totally fit a pair of wool socks in my shoes," I'll respond with GREAT, but can you wiggle your toes? Like, really wiggle them? Can you even move your foot a tiny bit? Do your toes press against the toe of your boot and do you lose feeling in your feet because your shoes are so tight?
Yeah... thought so.
So while we need to think about 'loft' inside your cycling shoe - we also need to think about having 'thermal trap.' We need a little space inside our boot for our feet to move. Just a bit. Wiggle our toes easily. A little room means space for warm-air. That warm air + Loft is going to be a much warmer environment for your feet. With sufficient space or a roomier boot size, you can even get away with maybe a few layers of wools socks. MORE LOFT and still have a little-bit of room for warm air. Now we have a system that helps wick moisture away from our foot along with the loft to increase the insulation and we have the warm-air to keep our tootsies toasty. Mmmmm. Warm toes.
After this, take your warm-foot game to another level and choose a boot that has a wind-resistant outer AND a good thick rubber sole. The thick rubber sole increases the distance our precious piggies are from the snow and the wind-resistant exterior keeps our pocket of warm air from cooling too fast.
1) Size your winter boots with a little room.
2) Figure out how to add loft (insulation), without eliminating all the space inside your boot.
3) Protect from the outside - sole thickness and wind-proof outer's.
More and more options for winter cycling boots are hitting the market. The good ones are not cheap, but it's a small price to pay for an exponential increase in your winter riding enjoyment.
We like the Louis Garneau Klondike winter cycling boot.
Let's check the boxes:
Thick sole! Look at all that rubber meat keeping your foot off the snow. CHECK!
It's an insulated inner boot with an insulated outer boot design - wayta go LG for nailing the 'layers' and 'Thermal-trap' and 'Loft' principals we love so much. CHECK!
Boa closure system - with easy mitt-friendly adjustment. CHECK!
Zippers that actually work . CHECK!
Relaxed fit - so even easier to size for wool-socks in mind. CHECK!
Breathable - I've seen a lot of boots fail in this department as they trap moisture. A wet foot is guaranteed a frozen foot. CHECK!