How To Layer Winter Cycling Pants and Tights

What do you wear on your legs when it gets really cold out? Let's find out!

Looking in the various bike catalogs you see that the super warm tights are good down to – get this, 45 Degrees (F). Well, that takes care of October, but what about Winter? The availability of cold-weather tights has been spotty at best. This has caused some icebikers to seek other sources of clothing such as cross-country ski pants and general winter wear for cold rides.

For mildly cold weather there are tights by various manufacturers that have a pile (sort of like terry cloth) on the inside. These are quite good if you can find them. Both Nashbar and Performance Bike have these, but the thickness varies from year to year and you can never be sure what you will get when you order.

These can be worn down to about 10 degrees(F) if you are planning a high level of activity, as your legs will generate a lot of heat. If your icebike ride entails any standing around at the end of the trail you will probably get cold in these.

In years past there have been some very cold weather tights made by Performance with a polyester inside like sweat pants (only tighter) and an outer layer of thick nylon and lycra that was almost windproof. I scored some of these one year and never have seen them for sale again. These are good down to Minus 20 (F), maybe more with some Capilene long johns underneath.

Several manufacturers, such as Pearl Izumi, and Cannondale used to have fairly good lines of winter gear, but have of late turned toward style rather than functionality as the driving force in the apparel inventory. As a consequence finding perfect winter tights is still a problem.

However, had been working to find a supplier of warm winter tights. This effort has paid off with the advent of custom Icebike Tights from Col d’Lizárd. These tight are made for winter and are WARM, good-looking, and reasonably priced.

Snow covered nature

Most of winter I find I am using a combination of clothes that is dictated by the weather of the day. I use a small group of garments in various combinations. One day it may be rain pants over shorts, and the next day perhaps light cotton lycra tights if it gets cooler.

(Winter tights are one of those areas where a little cotton in the blend does not hurt too much. Pure lycra is too cold in winter temperatures. Polypropylene also works well, but this does not stretch much, so it is seldom mixed with lycra.)

With a little experience, by noting the temperature, you will be able to judge just how many layers to add and just what sort of layers will be needed. One or two cold rides happen while you’re learning. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself selecting what would seem like goofy combinations to a normal person. (Banish all pretenses of normal ye icebikers).

Shorts in November DO make sense if they are worn under your dual-layer Gore-Tex rain pants. The light tights combined with the long johns may be just the ticket when it is just below freezing. If the wind is howling and the snow is swirling, you may find yourself climbing back into your rain pants if only for the protection they provide from the wind.

If going out for a day trip, throw a set of leg warmers in your fanny pack or pockets. If commuting, maybe stash a set at work in case you miscalculate the temperature on the way in, you can dress warmer to return.

Remember, you can over-dress your legs without feeling as uncomfortable and sweaty as you would if overdressing your torso. So error on the side of the dressing is too heavy on the lower half.

Cycling in the nature during the winter

Finally don’t ignore cold feet. You have to warm them up, when your toes STOP hurting, you are well on the way to serious frostbite. No, don’t rub them with snow. Get them warm however you can, and then buy some winter boots.

  • Fall rains: Because you will probably be in your rain pants, you will often be able to wear cycling shorts underneath. Anything much heavier and you may get too warm. When the temperature dips down to the low 40s (F) switch to lightweight tights under the rain pants.
  • Wet snow: When the snow starts falling, and the temperature is hovering around freezing, it may well switch to rain as the day warms up. You will find that you still often need rain pants. This is the hardest season to dress for because if you plan to ride without rain pants you need warmer tights, but if it then warms up and rains you will have to put the rain pants on and then you will be too warm. Some of the newer fabrics can be a real help here, in that they are warm even if damp, and if the rain is not heavy you can just use tights made of these newer materials.
  • Dry snow: By the time the snow is dry it is usually in the 20s (F), and you don’t need to worry about rain. Now you can wear your insulated (pile) tights. At about 20 above zero, you may want to add something like DuoFold or Capilene long johns underneath. At about 10 Degrees you will want your very warmest thick tights (if you can find any these days), and beyond that, you will be adding your long underwear underneath these. This will take you down to about 20 below zero (F).
  • Arctic conditions: Ok, someone up north e-mail me with what you do in these conditions, down to Minus 40 or more.

Finally, for socks, don’t make the mistake of packing your boots too tightly because this simply cuts off circulation and causes numb toes. Wool is still often used for winter cycling (and everything else for that matter).


Also, some of the newer fabrics make great socks. Especially those that wick moisture away from the foot. The newer synthetic fleece socks are quite warm and keep you very dry. Cotton socks are a winter disaster, no matter how thick they are.

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Should you have any questions or require further clarification on the topic, please feel free to connect with our expert author John Andersen by leaving a comment below. We value your engagement and are here to assist you.

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2 thoughts on “How To Layer Winter Cycling Pants and Tights”

  1. Question you mentioned wearing boots when bike riding. How do you choose your boots. I have not had a car since March and now that it’s September I enjoy no car payments but at the same time I live in a four season state. Where do you find bike boots ? Thank you

    Respectfully ,

    • Hi Kari,

      You might find this article useful:


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