There is nothing worse than going out for a mountain bike ride in winter and getting your feet wet. First, riding in winter is already a challenging endeavor, especially on the soppy cloud-wrapped Appalachian trails that barely see the sun for three straight months. Second, getting your feet wet on a ride is never very fun. Still, it can lead to a maddening experience that might have you wishing you bought a Peloton in the winter. But before you go trading in your new full-suspension rig for On-Demand cycling classes, consider some of these products to help keep your feet dry and warm mountain biking.
The right shoes for the right conditions.
The first barrier to the elements for your feet is, of course, your shoes. Hopefully, at this point, you have some solid shoes that you’ve rocked all summer, either clipped-in or on your platforms. But, unfortunately, the chances are that these same shoes won’t hold up well in the winter.
As you may imagine, there are quite a few Gore-Tex options available for mountain biking that are well worth the money. However, I think the Northwave Raptor Arctic GTX is an excellent place to start and end for any XC or even Cyclocross rider. The shoe has a rugged, stiff, integrated design that repels water from the toe to the top of the ankle. I’ve been hard-pressed to find a shoe that is as sleek and still aesthetically pleasing as the Northwave Raptor. It’s also effortless to clean, so feel free to bulldoze through those shallow creeks as much as you want to in January.
Another great shoe for platform pedal riders is the Adidas Five Ten Trailcross GTX. Like the Northwave Raptor, it also comes in a high-top that encapsulates the foot high above the ankle, making your foot capsule all entirely cut-off from the elements. It’s casual and stylish but will also keep your feet dry as you rip down any downhill section in the rain. Cinch down some rain pants over any of these two shoes, and you’ll be practically impenetrable from the outside slop.
Socks make all the difference.
The second barrier to the wet and cold is your socks. Most people think that shoes are the essential element in keeping your feet dry and comfortable. But the truth is that socks have a crucial role as an insulator and moisture-wicker. Plus, you will still sweat in the winter, especially if your shoes lock your feet down and restrict airflow. So how can you keep your feet warm and dry? Rugged wool socks that can handle the rubbing of high-intensity exercise but also deliver on insulation and moisture-wicking.
One of the most challenging things about mountain biking in wool socks is feeling like my shoes are too snug on my feet relative to other fabrics. The key is to find a wool sock that is light in cushion and not clunky like a serious wool hiking sock. I love the Darn Tough Men’s Light Hiker Micro Crew socks for mountain biking. They aren’t too bulky, wick sweat away, and last much longer than the light-weight wool running or cross-training socks. If you want to double the life of these bad boys, hand wash them in the shower or sink. It may sound gross, but you’ll end up saving a good amount of money in the long run.
Full winter riding series send coming your way.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing a series of how to make it through the winter and still ride outside. Gear is, of course, essential, and for me, it all starts with my feet. If my toes are numb, I’m not going to have fun and opt to go to the gym or ride the trainer. But riding in the winter can and should be fun. Fortunately, companies are making some incredible products that will allow all of us to feel awesome even in the worst winter conditions. So check back for more updates!
Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.
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