How To Layer For Winter Mountain Biking To Stay Warm (But Not Too Warm!)

If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t let something like a little snow or cold weather keep them inside, then you might be ready to give winter mountain biking a try. Sure, it’s not for everyone and a lot of mountain bikers take up other winter sports like snowboarding, but you can still have a lot of fun on your hardtail when the weather turns cold.

For the winter mountain biking beginner, you’ll soon discover that layering is what it’s all about when it comes to keeping warm out on the trails. And a classic noob mistake is bundling up so that you start your ride out warm and toasty…only to end up feeling like you’re in an oven once you start riding. So, to prevent you from making that same mistake, we’ve got a few tips to help you master cold weather layering this winter.

Tips on What To Wear Winter Mountain Biking

Before we give you our tips, we want to repeat how important it is that you start out a bit cold on your ride instead of being so bundled up that you’re actually warm when you start. If you make the mistake of not starting out cold, then before you know it you’ll be sweating like Whitney Houston in that winter coat. So, remember, to stay comfortable on your ride, do over warm yourself when you start.

1. Start With A Good Base Layer

You should look for a base layer that has moisture-wicking fabric to keep the sweat off you skin. Here at Active Weekender, we’re big fans of Merino wool base layers since they keep you warm, are moisture wicking, and naturally resist getting stinky. However, if you’re allergic to wool, then you’ll need to seek out something made of a synthetic fabric mix. It’s still important to choose something that is moisture wicking, even if you can’t wear merino wool.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should always wear a clean base layer. Sure, it’s tempting to put back on the base layer that you only wore out for a few hours last week. But seriously, don’t do that. Not only will you be that stinky rider (unless you’re wearing merino wool), but unclean base layers can cause some skin irritation, which isn’t fun when you’re trying to enjoy your time out on the trail.

2. Add A Mid-Layer

Since you’ll probably end up peeling off that outer layer at some point, you need a good mid-layer that won’t result in you being too cold. Some riders like to use a long sleeve road biking jersey, which is fine. Personally, I prefer to just get a normal outdoors mid-layer, like I would wear out hiking.

It can be difficult to know how thick of a mid-layer you need, and your riding style comes into play here, so you may need to experiment to see what works best for you. If you do a lot of really steep declines, then you’ll likely need something to keep you a little warmer than a rider who doesn’t have the same riding style.

3. Finish With A Good Outer Layer

Your outer layer is going to be your winter mtb jacket. Now, in most situations you’re going to want a winter jacket with a good amount of padding to keep you warm, but that’s not true here. Instead, think of it like this – what you really need is just a waterproof shell for a jacket.

So, the purpose of this outer layer is to block wind and to block moisture from snow or rain. It should fit you well, it should have collars and cuffs that are adjustable, and it should have some pockets for you to put things like your gloves. Speaking of gloves, you’ll find that zipper with those little pull tabs are easier to operate with gloved hands, so prioritize looking for that feature in your waterproof winter mtb jacket.

4. Don’t Forget The Gloves

It’s easy to think that the base layer, mid-layer, and jacket are all you need, but as soon as you start riding and notice how freezing your fingers are, you will regret not having gloves. Yup, you definitely need to get yourself some winter mountain biking gloves before heading out.

You can actually buy cold weather mtb gloves by temperature rating, so if you know what type of weather you’ll be riding in just get yourself a pair that meets that rating. And no, you shouldn’t use normal winter gloves because they’re not designed for keeping your grip on the handlebars.

5. Avoid Frozen Toes

You’ll also want to make sure that you don’t end up with frozen toes at the end of the trail. Fortunately, you can find plenty of winter mountain biking sock options that will keep your feet warm enough without being too warm.

And remember, moisture wicking fabric is also a good option here since wet, sweaty feet will just make those toes even colder while you’re riding.

You should also consider at least one pair of waterproof cold weather mtb socks because you never know how much wet snow you’ll be walking through when you’re out there.

6. Got Achy Joints? Wear Knee Warmers

Sure, this isn’t the sexiest topic out there, but hey some of us got bad knees that don’t like the cold. If you’re one of those people, then you’re definitely gonna wanna listen up. Do you wear knee warmers when you ride in the cold weather? If not, you need to get a pair – such a game changer for those aches!

These are usually worn by roadies, but they work just as well for trail riding on your mountain bike. So, give ’em a try and see what you think. And if you decide that they’re not for you, then a decent alternative is a pair of three-quarter tights.

Oh, and remember to actually measure your knees/legs before buying a pair of cycling knee warmers. The things are hard as hell to keep from sliding down and bunching up at the knee, and wearing the proper size can help.

By following the tips above, you should be able to enjoy your winter mountain biking without freezing to death. And as a bonus tip, make sure that you have a beanie with you that you can put on once you’re done riding. It will help to keep your head warm and regulate your temperature once you’re no longer being active out on the trail.

Shawna Newman

Shawna currently lives in Las Vegas where she gets in lots of great hiking at Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. When she has time, she visits National Parks in a quest to visit each one in the U.S. Shawna’s favorite outdoors activity is hiking and her favorite National Park (so far) is Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

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