We know, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. But there are definitely some questions too embarrassing to ask your local shop or riding buddies. Ask A Stupid Question is our weekly series where we get to the bottom of your questions – serious or otherwise. Hit the link at the bottom of the post to submit your own question!

Even completely healthy, riding in the winter can be extremely hard on your hands and feet. Throw in circulatory issues like Raynaud’s Syndrome and it’s a whole different ball game. Raynaud’s is a somewhat mysterious affliction that is usually brought on by the cold and causes a restriction in blood flow to your fingers, toes, and sometimes nose and ears. The reduced blood flow often results in surprisingly pale looking skin – much different than the typical look of cold fingers or toes.

Raynaud’s is something that Becky has been dealing with as she writes, “I am a 65-year old female recreational road rider, usually going 35-55 miles over a period of 2-4 hours. I live in Northern California where a super cold ride would be in the 30s, although I have ridden in the 20s on rare occasions. My problem is that I have Raynaud’s, and over the years my feet have gotten to where they are cold and numb, sometimes painful, on most winter rides. (Bar Mitts and gloves keep my hands warm enough.)”

She continues, “I have been using my own crazy system of wool socks, toe covers, and two layers of shoe covers, but my feet are always very cold and numb (which then leads to very painful chilblains on my toes throughout the winter). My friend raves about her Northwave winter shoes, and I am hoping that might be the answer for me, because I’m not going to give up riding in the winter, but it sucks to have miserable feet all the time. So, given that I need the warmest shoes possible and am looking for comfort, as opposed to high performance, which shoe would you recommend for me? (And just to throw something else into the mix, I wear orthotics to correct foot pronation, so a narrow shoe does not work for me.) I appreciate any help you can give me.”

That’s a great question. The short answer is, yes, I believe winter boots would be a big help – but there’s far more to consider than just the choice of footwear.

From personal and anecdotal experience, one of the most common contributors to cold feet isn’t the shoe itself, but the restriction of blood flow. Most riders who don’t have specific winter shoes tend to just grab the same shoes they wear for the summer and throw on some shoe covers. But they also tend to reach for warmer winter socks – which are usually thicker. You’re left with a shoe that you initially fit with thinner summer weight socks that you’re now trying to cram a pair of heavier winter socks inside. Even if you loosen the straps/Boas/laces, there’s still less room in the toe box which is where it’s most important for circulation issues. This constriction around your feet is bad for warmth with healthy circulation and I suspect much worse for someone with Raynaud’s. Add in your Orthotics which likely take up more real estate than the stock insole, and there’s a good chance your shoes are too tight to provide proper circulation.

Getting a second pair of shoes for the winter that are usually a 1/2 size or full size larger is the safe bet. But if you’re buying a second pair of shoes just for the winter, they might as well be winter specific, right?

Last year, I had a chance to check out the Northwave Celsius Arctic 2 GTX – great boot for road use, though the drawstring lock was a little awkward under the velcro flaps.

Compared to summer shoes + shoe covers, winter shoes or boots have a few key advantages. They are obviously built with insulation and water proofing so you don’t have to add a cover to protect from the elements. Winter boots also extend past the ankle for better coverage. But one of the biggest advantages is hidden on the bottom of the boot. No matter how many shoe covers you put on, the bottom of your shoes will still be largely exposed to the elements. Considering that summer shoes are designed for ventilation, this is an easy way for the cold air to enter your shoes from the bottom up. Cold from the bottom of your feet is only exacerbated by running clipless pedals with metal cleats which essentially act as heat sinks pulling the warmth from your feet to the pedals. Better winter boots will have a fully insulated foot bed to keep the bottom of your feet insulated and not just the top.

As an added bonus, winter boots make it easier to get out and ride since you’re just putting on a boot. Not a pair of shoes and then struggling with a pair (or two!) of shoe covers over them. You’re also saving your summer shoes from wear and tear associated with winter riding which will allow you to get extra miles out of them in the summer. As someone who struggles with cold feet I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – good winter riding boots are one of the best investments you can make for all season comfort.

Now with that out of the way, yes, find yourself some winter boots. However, since you’re riding on the road, that complicates things a bit. Mostly because a lot of the winter boots I’ve tested are simply too bulky for road riding. You’ll also have to decide on the clipless system you want to use. Winter boots come in 3-bolt SPD-SL/Look style, or two bolt SPD style. My vote is usually for the two bolt style, but that’s because when I’m using my winter boots, I often have snow, ice, and slush to contend with. In slippery conditions you want as much traction out of your boots as possible, hence the MTB outsole. But if you’re in Norcal where it’s cold without the snow, true road winter boots could be the answer.

The new Northwave Extreme GTX shoes use a flexible cuff and dial closure system and could be the answer.

Another thing to consider is the fit itself. Because of the extra material, bulk, and coverage, getting a winter riding boot to fit can be a tricky proposition. Ideally, you want to find the boot that slips the least while pedaling, that’s also the loosest in terms of fit. If the boot slips as you’re pedaling and you have to crank it down to comfortably spin, then you’re back to the constricting problem in the first place. Most winter boots are built on wider lasts than summer shoes, so finding one that’s wide enough shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you do need wider, Lake sells almost their entire Cold weather range in wides. There are a ton of different winter boots out there, but in your case I think fit should take priority.

My advice would be to take a pair of the winter socks you ride with plus your orthotics and head to a bike shop that has boots that you can try on. Bonus points if they let you pedal the boots while on a trainer in the store. You’re looking for a fit that your heel doesn’t slip out of the heel cup, and a fit that doesn’t pinch around your ankle or toes. If you can’t find anyone local that carries winter boots in your size, then you’ll just have to find someone online with a good return policy, and go through some trial and error. Good luck, and keep crushing those miles!

Got a question of your own?  Click here to use the AASQ form, or find the link under the Contact menu header up top anytime a question pops into your mind!

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js
js
4 years ago

While I wish you good luck finding a riding boot that will help you keep rolling, I live in Winnipeg (which can be f’n cold) and found two things that really helped – 1) if your feet are getting really cold, run or jog for a few minutes, it pumps blood back to your toes ridiculously fast (I’ve done hour-long runs in -40c with regular Nikes and one pair of merino socks – renauds might not let you do the same, but running will still help put blood back in your toes). 2) Purchase the MEC Hut Booties and wear them before and after your rides – they’re awesome and way better and safer for bringing your feet back up to comfortable temperatures than hopping in a shower or bath. And if they made them SPD compatible, I’d probably keep wearing them to ride! Best of luck.

Zee
Zee
4 years ago

Here is a stupid question…Having Reynauds, is letting my fingers or toes get to the feeling of super cold and pale looking actually dangerous? Am I at greater risk of frost bite? Or do my fingers and toes simply just get cold and I deal with it?

Michael Plakus
4 years ago
Reply to  Zee

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/raynauds Under complications the NIH lists gangrene. Dangerous enough?

craigmedred
4 years ago
Reply to  Zee

Zee: the short answer is yes. the longer answer is that Raynauds restricts blood flow. restricted blood flow makes your extremities more susceptible to frostbite. doctors here in Alaska actually had some success in altering this problem with biofeedback training. in fact, in some cases, they found they were took successful. they trained some people enough that they were able to move blood to their fingers and toes to such an extent it increased their risk of hypothermia, the lowering of the body’s core temperature.

suede
suede
4 years ago

Solid advise on not “packing” your foot into a shoe with more and more layers, doing so decreases blood flow to the toes. I would also recommend metatarsal pads or insoles with a metatarsal “button” to keep the space between the metatarsal arch as open as possible. I do this across seasons personally and recommend it to my customers with good success at preventing/eliminating foot pain while cycling. Also interesting is a study I read long ago (sorry can’t cite the source) that said the majority of Americans buy shoes a half size, to one full size too small, creating foot issues or exacerbating preexisting conditions.

craigmedred
4 years ago

if you’re only going to be riding for a few hours, and not doing something like the Iditarod Invitational where you’re out in the cold for days, just go buy some heated socks. they are a better and simpler alternative to trying to dial in footwear that will keep your feet warm. http://www.staywarmed.com/rechargeable-battery-operated-heated-socks/

Bob
Bob
4 years ago

Zee your question isn’t stupid. I suffer badly from Raynaud’s and have been warned by my doctor to keep close tabs on my hands and feet to prevent frostbite because he knows I mountain bike & ride my motorcycle in really cold weather.

After several pairs of winter boots I settled on a pair of Diadora Polaris and use them with over the calf snow skiing socks, very happy with these. I bought size 46 instead of my usual 45 so there is some air space and so the circulation doesn’t get cut off. Have used the chemical heated insoles (you can find them in the hunting department of any big store) for long rides with good success. Remember they don’t get hot just warm enough to keep the edge off.

Good info above and I will add the boots I had that laced up didn’t help. The Diadoras I can tighten down the top strap around the ankle, the center one a bit more and leave the lower one loose for more room. Yep it’s not efficient pedaling but at least I’m outside. Have ridden 1-1/2 hours in 12 degree weather and did OK with this setup. Also find it’s really important to keep your core temperature really warm.

I live in western NC and have seen road riders switch to mountain pedals in the winter to use with boots.

js is right too, bought a pair of hut booties 6 weeks ago and those have been one the the best investments for winer I’ve made.

brassnipples
brassnipples
4 years ago

Keeping your legs warm can help too. I’ve got circulation issues, possibly Raynaud’s, and when I started ‘overdressing’ my legs the feet seemed to improve along with that change. My hypothesis is that adding extra insulation to the legs keeps the blood warmer on it’s trip down to the feet but either way it’s helped a lot with keeping my feet warm and my toes a normal color.

Doug Jones
4 years ago

Zee that’s a smart question. You are correct the intense vasospasm from Raynaud’s is very bad for you. Your fingers could get damaged from lack of blood flow. Frostbite way more likely. Very important to keep the affected area warm to avoid injury due to lack of oxygenation from lack of blood flow. Smoking intensifies the vasospasm and can cause you to lose the affected extremity. If you smoke you should quit immediately.

John Aitken
John Aitken
4 years ago

I have Reynauds, and find several things help…but never completely,solve the problems..don’t buy shoes too tight, wear warm mitts vs gloves..lobster gloves work..so,you can curl your fingers up at times..wear a hat..

But my tricks are to wear a neck warmer, silk scarf even…plus don’t overdo the core ..if my core stays slightly cool, I seem to get more warmth at the extremities. Stick a few instant heat packs in your jacket so if you get an extreme episode you have backup to get home warm…don’t get sweat sodden ..staying just this side of sweat really helps ..

And stay loose and relaxed..especially,into the wind ..

Miles
Miles
4 years ago

This is what you all need : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nifedipine

VeloKitty
VeloKitty
4 years ago

Excellent response by Zach. You definitely want to up size your footwear to allow for the increased space of thicker or multiple socks.

Some other suggestions:

1. You might want to try fleece socks.
2. You might want to try a waterproof breathable sock such as Gore, SealSkinz, or Showers Pass to 100% block the wind.
3. You might want to try 2 over 1
4. You might want to try chemical warmers.

JustSomeGuy
JustSomeGuy
4 years ago

Another Reynauds sufferer here and I find winter cycling boots to be amazingly helpful. Before boots my feet would go numb below about 50F. Now I can comfortably ride down into the 30s. I choose Gaerne road boots because I like the fit of my Gaerne road shoes. They are waterproof, windproof and insulated, including an insulated unvented foot bed.

Other things that have helped me are preventing my fingers and toes from ever getting cold at any time (wearing gloves when driving, wearing wool socks and slippers inside, etc.) seems to help them not react so badly when it does turn cold. I put on long fingered gloves at about 60 degrees and I’ll frequently ride in short sleeves and long gloves. Getting off the bike and running a little should help too; my feet never got cold when I raced cyclocross in the winter.

But definitely get winter cycling boots.

Matt
Matt
4 years ago

I have Raynauds and neuropathy so I have no idea when I lose circulation. After getting blood blisters on the bottom of my toes I saw a podiatrist who prescribed nitro glycerin cream. It was expensive and kinda worked. I started using instant heat pads sandwiched between two pair of thin wool socks and solved my problem.

Danny P
Danny P
4 years ago

Another very important point to make is that you need warm blood to get to those places in the first place! Warm shoes can only help retain the warmth that gets inside of them. You should also consider the layers you have over the rest of your body to make sure that the blood getting to your feet is as warm as possible. Use a little loser layers on your legs to make sure the blood moves easily and used a good wind protection layer to make sure that the airport is not robbing you of warmth. If the rest of your body sweats a bit but it keeps your feet warm then it’s a huge win. Being tall 6’5″ my blood has a long way to go to get to my feet and this with warm shoes ( lake mxz303 ) have made it possible for me to ride into some very cold weather (0°f) for hours on end.

Ben
Ben
4 years ago

I’m a winter commuter and have noticed myself becoming more sensitive to the cold over time. Dedicated cold-weather boots are the biggest help; sized up to handle thicker socks. I use socks to adjust to different termerature conditions: 55-40F – normal sox with my MX145 shoe; 40-30 – normal cycling Sox with a wind proof sock – both are thin and I think more effective than a single thick sock; 30-25 I substitute a neoprene sock for the wind-proof sock; below 25 I may add a chemical warmer (with perhaps less socks). When I use a chemical warmer, I try to keep it near or above the toes and not between my foot and the sole of my shoe. Below 20, I use a thicker winter shoe, the MX303, and continue to adjust the socks as the temps drop.

If you’re cold, try different solutions to remedy the problem – you’re likely to come across something that works for you.

Seth
Seth
4 years ago

My wife suffers from Raynaud’s; both her feet and hands. We have a fat tandem that we ride in the winter, and we get some pretty cold temps and crazy wind here in North Iowa.

She uses either 45NRTH Wolvhammers or Wolfgars when it gets really cold; she went up two full sizes in the boots to allow good sock layering room without adding constriction. I also got her a pair of the Flambeau Rechargeable Heated Socks that Anna referenced in her Holiday Gift post… it hasn’t been cold enough yet this year to try them. She also uses some North Face Himalayan mitts with 45NRTH pogies for her hands. All that gear will keep her comfortable for about two hours with temps into the single digits… as long as the sun is out.

I work in a shop, and some other helpful tidbits our customers have had success with include switching to carbon bars and using non-metal platform pedals – both conduct less cold than their metal counterparts.

We’ve also installed headed insoles that are commonly used in downhill ski boots in some folks’ cycling shoes/boots with good results.

Hats off to all of you that keep on pedaling outside when the mercury drops; it takes a lot of motivation, especially if you also have something like Raynaud’s to contend with. Cheers!

Miles
Miles
4 years ago

Trust me. I take nifidepene 45 mins prior to any ride less than 5 degrees. I have hundreds of pairs of gloves . None work and my rides would be horrendous with desperately trying to centrifuge blood into my hands and then the “screaming banshee” 5 minutes when I got home and the blood did finally flow. The drug gives you a mild headache when you’re a newbie and a slightly elevated heartrate and IMO a slight performance de-enhancer but your hands are “on” for about 3 hours making cycling (and skiing) a pleasure again in the winter. I get it on prescription (in the uk). It’s frankly marvellous and I wish I’d found out about it years earlier. Though I’ve used it now for about 6 years. I would imagine it has the same effect on feet but I don’t have a foot problem and I think most sufferers are hands only too.

BNystrom
BNystrom
4 years ago

I don’t know this applies to the original poster or not, but one key component to keeping feet warm is managing perspiration. My feet sweat a fair amount and once my socks get damp, the increased heat loss quickly leads to cold feet (water conducts heat 25 times faster than air). My solution for cold winter rides is a thin wool liner sock, covered by a plastic vapor barrier (I use newspaper bags), then thick insulating socks. Combined with properly fitted winter shoes or boots, this keeps me warm in temps as low as 10 degrees F (I haven’t tried riding in temps colder than that).

The way it works is that the vapor barriers trap perspiration. The liner socks and my feet get damp, but my insulating socks stay dry and retain their full insulating properties. Consequently, my feet stay warm. The key here is that the liners are thin and really just for comfort, with the bulk of the insulation in the outer socks and the shoes/boots.

Another option is to use antiperspirant (not deodorant) on your feet to reduce sweating and there are even some specific – and expensive – products designed for hands and feet. My limited testing with one of them hasn’t shown good results, so I’m sticking with the vapor barriers for now.

One more item that I’ve found to work well is Aerogel footbeds. Aerogel is the lightest, most efficient insulator known to man and there are several companies incorporating it into footbeds. Their thickness is similar that of the stock footbeds in many winter shoes & boots, so you can swap them without creating fit issues.

Greg Matyas
4 years ago

Lots of good suggestions here. In addition, I would add no matter how much insulation you put on your feet, if you don’t have blood flow, they are going to be cold. Cycling doesn’t allow enough lag time on the upstroke to replenish the blood supply. Going for a jog before your ride can be helpful-always start with warm hands and feet. Hopping off the bike mid ride (or as soon as you feel them getting cold), for a short walk or run will get them warm again. I prefer as low tech and foolproof solutions as possible when it’s something so critical.