5 Step Guide on What Clothing to Pack

Step 1 – Forget Fashion.  While you may think you look silly in cycling clothing, it is notoriously functional and you will appreciate the comfort while cycling. Cycling shorts are padded for comfort, tight to reduce chaffing and eliminate flapping in the wind, and black to hide grease stains. Similarly, cycling jerseys wick away moisture to keep you cool when it is hot, and warm when it cold, have pockets in the back for easy access, are tight to eliminate flapping in the wind and brightly colored to increase visibility on the road. So ditch your latest fashion appeal and dress to ride.

Step 2 – Think three-season layering system.  In the course of a day a cyclist can cover a lot of terrain and experience a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions. In a typical day it may be cold just before dawn, cool in the morning, hot by the afternoon, and chilly in the evening.  And it can rain at any time. To be comfortable think of your shorts and a jersey as the base layer, add leg and arm warmers or tights and a jacket as it gets cooler, and a waterproof breathable shell and rain pants for a safe ride when weather gets cold or rainy. Nevertheless, if you’re prepared properly, most days can be a great riding day.

Step 3 – Make Incremental Change.  Start with a closely fitted base layer that wicks away moisture and add and substitute clothing to stay comfortable and warm.

Hot (80° and above)

  • Cycling sandals
  • Padded shorts
  • Three pocket short sleeve jersey
  • Cycling gloves

Warm (70 to 80°)

  • Add light weight socks
  • Replace cycling sandals with shoes

Cool (50 to 60°)

  • Replace light weight socks with wool socks
  • Add arm warmers
  • Add leg warmers
  • Add knit gloves
  • Add fitted vest.

Cooler (40 to 50°)

  • Replace leg warmers with cycling tights
  • Replace short sleeve jersey with long-sleeved jersey or add over short sleeve jersey
  • Replace vest with a wind jacket
  • Add head ban
  • Add wind protection gloves over knit gloves
  • Add toe covers

Cold (30 to 40°)

  • Replace long-sleeved jersey with a thermal or insulated long sleeved jersey
  • Replace head ban with head beanie
  • Replace cycling tights with thermal and/or windproof tights
  • Replace toe covers with wind and waterproof booties
  • Add ear muffs

Freezing (Below 30°)

  • Replace head beanie with balaclava for added face protection
  • Replace with a wind jacket with insulated and wind protection jacket
  • Add Light weight socks under wool socks

Adjust according to your own internal thermometer.

Step 4 – Stay Dry.  Staying warm and dry is not only a matter of comfort, it is a matter of survival. Hypothermia is a killer that can occur not only in the winter but in the summer, spring and fall as well. The clothing in step 3 will keep you warm only if you stay dry, so add waterproof socks, rain pants, a rain shell and helmet cover to the packing list. It may sound like overkill, but it could save your life.

Step 5 – Enjoy the Ride.  With the right clothing bicycle touring can be safe and comfortable in all weather conditions. The key to success is simply to be prepared for changing temperatures and weather conditions.

I welcome your thoughts and experiences on cycling clothing during a cycling journey.

Ken Whittaker

Last updated April 8, 2018