Winter Fat Biking: How to Dress and What to Pack
Stay warm, ride happy.
When I started fat biking there were no specific boots or other gear for the sport and I wore what I used for winter hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Most of what you need isn’t specific to fat biking and you can always make upgrades to your kit as you go. Here are my suggestions for cold weather cycling clothes and gear.
1. Bra. Wool is your BFF because even when damp it insulates. A company called Branwyn makes a soft-as-cashmere merino bralette ($44). It has a wide range of sizes (XS-XXL) and is especially ideal for bustier gals compared to ones made by by Icebreaker and Smartwool.
No matter your cup size, if the Icebreaker and Smartwool bras are uncomfortably tight in the band (like they are for my A-cup bod), Branwyn may work for you. (See Branwyn Review for details.)
2. Wool base layer top. Look for one that is long enough in the torso so that it doesn’t ride up in the back. I like the Women’s Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer 1/2 Zip Hoodie because it is a good weight for most conditions.
The reason I wear a base layer with an attached hood is because I can swap my winter wool cycling cap with the hood. This helps for several reasons: 1) it provides a dry layer for the downhill; 2) the back of the hood keeps my neck warmer than a buff, especially with damp hair; and 3) I don’t have to dig in my bag for my extra wool hat.
3. Windbreaker. On top of my wool base layer, I wear my lightweight (Patagonia) windbreaker. It’s not cycling-specific but it sheds light snow. The wool baselayer top and windbreaker make a good combination for a ‘cold’ start, especially since most of our trails start with an uphill slog.
4. Wool cycling jersey. I wear a wool cycling jersey over my base layer as needed. My partner bought it for me on eBay for around $40. It’s an old-school solution that instantly makes me feel warm and cozy.
5. Thermal cycling bibs, tights, or leggings. Depending on the temp, this can be a standalone layer or worn under wind front or gortex pants. Bibs (opposed to tights or leggings) will keep cold drafts from creeping up your backside. I like the Velocio Zero Bib Tights. They are criss-crossed in the back which allows you to pull them down easily for pit stops. They are an improvement over halter-style bibs that tend to get tangled in layers of clothing. The Velocio bibs come in sizes XXS to 3XL. They are pricey at $299 but in my opinion worth it. (see Review).
For a less expensive option, the Giro Chrono Thermal Halter Bib Knicker is a bib that I wore for several years and fits the bill nicely. I like the 3/4 length because it avoids the problem of extra material when wearing tall wool socks and winter boots ($175).
Note: I wear the same kit on every ride and keep it in the same place (a laundry basket). This makes it easy to gear up, which is especially helpful when I’m not super motivated! I also carry the same items on every ride. Staying consistent ensures that you won’t forget the essentials.
6. Wind-front pants. These can be anything that you use for winter sports. I wore my Swix cross-country ski pants for many years.
My favorite cycling-specific pants are the Bontrager Old Man Winter (OMW) Soft Shell Fat Bike Pants. I tried a few other brands (such as Club Ride’s Fat Jack) but the OMW pants have the following advantages:
- available in women’s version
- have high coverage in the back
- built-in belt
- zippered cuff at ankles to fit over winter boots
- removable internal gaiter
- zippered front-thigh pockets where I put chemical hand warmers when my thighs get cold.
The OMW pants are $150 – $210, size XS – 2XL.
The Club Ride Fat Jack is $109 and a solid option but they only come in a men’s version which was too long for me. I am 5’5″ and at the time I bought them I was 130 lbs and ordered the small. I shortened them with my limited sewing talent and still wear them. Also, they don’t have a zippered cuff so it can be a challenge fitting them over bulky winter boots.
7. Wool Cap. I have several wool caps but my favorite is 45NRTH’s Greazy. It’s lightweight and provides full ear coverage. Because it’s wool it will keep you warm even when damp with sweat. It fits snug under my helmet and is easy to care for. I throw it in the washer and dryer. I like it so much it’s become my winter hat for everything.
7. Wool socks and oversized boots. I have the men’s Keen Revel IV High Polar winter boots (400g thinsulate) that are a size too large. I wear medium-weight wool socks and duct-tape hotties (chemical hand warmers) to my toes. I sized up because it’s crucial to have plenty of air flow around your toes in order to preserve circulation and heat. The nice thing about Keens is that they have a wide toe box. Riding with flat pedals, I found that these boots have the perfect stiffness.
Note that the women’s version only has 200g of insulation.
At the end of last season I bought the fat bike specific 45NRTH Wolvhammer boots. The comfort zone is rated at 0 – 25F. I’ve always had problems with keeping my feet warm and I purchased the Wolvhammers so I could do away with placing hotties in my boots. These boots are the industry standard for fat biking and most people swear by them. Unfortunately my toes get cold in them when it’s below 32F.
The other thing that disappointed me was is the boa closure. The boa system works fine with my mountain bike shoes but with the bulky Wolvhammer boots I can’t get the laces cinched tight enough.
As a note, 45NRTH makes an even warmer boot, the Wolfgar Boa with a comfort zone down to -25F. I ordered them for a test run but they felt like a downhill ski boot, not something I could get used to riding in.
Suffice it to say, if you have good winter boots that you use for hiking (or ice fishing!), odds are that you can use them for fat biking and save your money for bar mitts and bike bags. When I first started out I rode in my Sorel pak boots.
Also see Winter Cycling Boots for Fat Biking and Tips for Keeping Your Feet Warm. Written by women ultra-endurance athletes, this is a great guide for everything from boot reviews to moisture management.
8. Bar mitts/pogies. Bar mitts, also called pogies, are oversized mittens that slide over your handlebars and velcro in place. You can experiment with wearing your regular full-fingered cycling gloves with them but will likely want to have a heavier pair of cycling gloves as well such as insulated lobster gloves.
There are many brands of bar mitts but but they all have a similar design. Bar mitts are a fun way to bling out your bike with the colors and patterns that are available!
- Dogwood Designs $145 – variety of colors
- Bar Mitts $74.95 – black only
- Apocalypse Design $125 – $135 – variety of colors
- 45NRTH $150 – 400 g of thinsulate rated 0°F (-18°C) to 15°F (-9°C) black only
- Moose Mitts $99.99 – (Made in Michigan) comes in hi vis and unique designs
- Revelate Designs $225 removable liners with shearling/velour, black only (expedition pogies for extreme cold)
I have the 45NRTH Cobra Fist Pogies that are meant for frigid temps. I also have several pairs from other companies. Some of the ones from other companies are not ‘stiff’ like the 45NRTH ones. Bar mitts that aren’t stiff (have internal stays to maintain their shape) are advantageous because you can scrunch them out of the way when your hands get too hot.
My hands don’t stay any warmer in the pricey 45NRTH pogies than the less expensive brands. They have a zippered vent when your hands get too warm but overall, I feel like they are overengineered. I also prefer pogies with fleece lining which the 45NRTH ones don’t have.
9. Gloves: In addition to regular cycling gloves and insulated lobster gloves I have Gerbing Heated Gloves. The heated gloves have a rechargeable battery. As with my feet, I have trouble keeping my hands warm and these were a game changer. They cost around $160 and I’ve had them for four years. It was the best investment in my kit.
Other items I typically carry on a winter ride:
- Down winter puffy/jacket (800g) with helmet compatible hood (Patagonia Fitz Roy)
- Thermos of hot tea and honey, water
- Extra base layer (often I’ll take off my bra and change into a dry base layer for the long descent back to the trailhead )
- Gaiters if you have a deep snow base – if you step off the trail you will need them!
- Wool balaclava
- Extra wool hat
- Chemical hand warmers
- Extra batteries for my heated gloves
- Goggles (for severe weather and long downhill sections)
- Handkerchief stashed in my pogies
- Lighter and dryer lint for fires
- Flask of whisky (optional?)
- A wool buff
- Lobster claw gloves
- Gortex pants and jacket (for wet days or if I’m going overnight)
- Bike light because it gets dark so early
- Assorted food items
- Bike tools, pump, zip ties, etc.
Out of everything on this list the item that keeps me the warmest is my down puffy with the hood pulled over my bike helmet. I always carry it in case of an injury or mechanical.
All of these items get stashed in my bike bags, not in a backpack. It’s too difficult to take layers on and off quickly with a backpack. Also, a backpack makes your back sweatier. I carry my hot tea and/or water in Revelate Mountain Feed Bags. I also have fork mounts for thermoses.
Don’t let this list overwhelm you. I’ve been riding fat bikes since 2012 and it took time to amass everything and figure out what works best for me.
**I’m in Wyoming don’t have the added challenge of humidity. I ride in winter temps ranging from 40F to -5F (not including wind chill).