Bikepacking Clothing For Extreme Conditions

by Andy Amick on March 20, 2013

in Bikepacking, Gear

Spring has sprung which means summer bikepacking trips are on the mind.  But before winter disappeared, I decided to give my bikepacking clothing an extreme shakedown on a recent snowy, windy, and cold afternoon.  Even if your bikepacking trips are in the summer, you never know what kind of weather you might encounter on the top of a mountain.  It’s a good idea to know how your clothing choices will protect you and keep you warm.

The Test Environment

It was 15 degrees with light snow and steady wind from the north.  The roads were mostly clear of snow.  The trails had 6 inches of fresh snow from the day before.  I’d call this a perfect day for a bike ride 🙂

testing bikepacking clothing in the snow

Clothing Setup

For this year’s bikepacking adventures, my clothing selections have changed just a little bit. The first addition is a pair of knee high Smartwool socks for cold weather coverage.  Also added was a pair of cuben fiber mittens from ZPacks to layer over my gloves.

cuben fiber rain pants and wool socks

Clothing list for the extreme shakedown:

  1. Bib shorts
  2. Sleeveless base layer
  3. Jersey
  4. Arm warmers
  5. Knee warmers
  6. Toe warmers
  7. Knee length wool socks
  8. Wool winter cycling cap with ear flaps
  9. Waterproof rain jacket
  10. Short sleeve down jacket
  11. Cuben fiber capri length rain pants
  12. Polypro full fingered gloves
  13. Cuben fiber over mitts
For this ride, I did not bring my long sleeve wool base layer or my wind shirt which are usually part of my bikepacking setup.  Funny how the items not brought are mentioned.  You can probably guess that they would have been “nice to have” options for the ride.

Test Results

During the ride, I was never cold, and actually spent more time trying to prevent sweating than I did trying to keep warm.  All items in the above list were worn during the ride except for the down jacket.  It was brought along as an emergency item in case the other layers didn’t keep me warm enough.

Riding generates a lot of body heat, especially when you are climbing and your outer layers don’t breathe.  It would have been nice to have my wind shirt instead of the full rain jacket because the wind shirt doesn’t trap in as much of the heat.  I probably would have started with the rain jacket and then switched to the wind shirt once I started to sweat or started a long-ish climb.

Another item I could have used was the long sleeve wool baselayer.  It would have been perfect to use as a neck gaiter to take the sting off of those cold descents.  Hey, you gotta think multi-purpose when you are bikepacking and trying to limit what you carry.  Why bring a neck gaiter when you can just tie your extra wool shirt around your neck for the same effect?

The knee high wool socks worked perfectly to keep my lower legs and toes warm.  Even when the socks got covered with snow from me walking one section of snow covered trail, they still insulated well.

Speaking of new items, the cuben fiber mitts did an excellent job of keeping my hands warm.  The mitts are super lightweight while keeping wind and moisture off of your hands. Layering the mitts on top of thin polypro gloves works even better than a heavy insulated glove.  If you need to stop and adjust clothing, get a snack from your backpack, or work on your bike, you can take off the mitts but your hands are still protected from the cold by the thin gloves.

Final Thoughts

Wind is still the hardest aspect to manage when cycling.  If it’s in your face (either on a downhill or uphill), you will get chilled.  When it’s at your back, you’re going to heat up in a hurry.  The only way to manage this in cold weather is to have lots of layering options.  I’d rather have several thin layers than one thick fleece or heavy baselayer.

The ride ended with a long climb to my house with the wind at my back.  By the end of the climb, I had taken off the rain jacket was was riding in just my jersey, baselayer, and arm warmers even though it was 15 degrees.  It was a little too chilly (again, it would have been nice to have that wool layer), but it was better than sweating like crazy and being soaked when you stop.  Sweat and cold do not mix.

Overall, the clothing setup worked very well and the test was a success.  As long as I bring the wind shirt and wool baselayer, I can comfortably bikepack in temperatures ranging from 15 to 100.

About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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