Josie's Guide to Fall/Winter Layering.

Photo Credit: Touch The Sky Blue
I will be 100% honest, I absolutely suck with knowing for sure what to wear on any given day during the fall/winter/spring months when temps are 50 and below. It's been a struggle for multiple seasons, and each fall Travis says "You should start a journal!"

I think "Great idea!" and subsequently do nothing. I found a website about 2 years ago that I used religiously, until they relocated and that handy guide went into oblivion. Drat. Now I was stuck looking at various sites and wishing I could find something as good as I had found.
Then I said..."Maybe you should create your own?"
Well, now, isn't that a genius idea?

So, without further adieu, this is my temperature/layering guide. What works for me may not work for you. I may have Raynaud's, too, which further complicates things when it comes to keeping my hands/feet warm. I'll throw in my two-cents on a few choice gear items that I love, and leave the rest up to you! Full disclosure, I live in Iowa.

This may not be the best guide for folks who live in warmer climates.

50-60° F/ 10-15.6° C
When temperatures are hovering around the 50's to 60's you might feel chilly at the start, but on a sunny day you'll warm up quickly. Start with a short sleeve jersey, shorts and arm warmers/sun sleeves if you're riding gravels/roads. You might try arm warmers up on the mountain bike trails, too, but you will be in trees so not as exposed to wind. Use an arm covering that is lightweight (not thermal) as you are simply looking to cut the crispness. Nice thing about arm warmers/sleeves is they are light and easily packed away once you warm up. For roads/gravels, even mountain biking- folks will wear fingerless gloves. Personally I prefer a lightweight full-finger glove to keep sun exposure at a minimum and to help further with avoiding scraping up my hands/knuckles if I were to crash. Wool socks may not be a bad idea, tho I'll typically wear whatever SockGuy sock I pull out of my drawer. Wool is a wicking material and can keep you warm if your feet get cold easily. I almost always wear sunglasses- but if it's not bright and you want to help avoid watery eyes due to temps, throw on some glasses with clear lenses! It's really helpful if you're blasting down a hill- you'd be surprised how your eyes can water in cooler temps.
40-50° F/ 4.5-10° C
I find this temperature range to be tricky, especially if it is cloudy and humid (aka damp cold.)

Sunny, closer to 50 degrees, and no wind: Long sleeve jersey and maybe a wind-breaking vest. Otherwise I'll go with a lightweight, long-sleeve Smartwool base layer or a Craft Warm baselayer and a short-sleeve jersey. A wind jacket/vest all depends on the chill and how much riding on the road I'm doing. If I'm hitting the trails right away, I'll tough it out and skip the jacket/vest.

On gravels or roads, I would opt to go with a wind jacket that can be tucked away in a jersey pocket. This is where layering is good- you can remove anything you don't need after you warm up- the objective during cooler weather days is to start cold but have yourself warmed up mid-ride.

During a race when it was 44 degrees and damp-cold I wore a long-sleeved base layer, a short-sleeved jersey, and my Element 1.0 jacket. I definitely worked up a sweat.

Some folks might opt for bibs for additional core warmth.

These temps I'll often break out non-thermal knicker tights (especially in the 45-40 degree range) but you can likely do the trick with lightweight knee warmers, too. It's all about preference, where you're riding, and what works for you.

You might opt for a lightweight headband to wear over your ears and wind-front, long-fingered gloves if you're riding in temps below 45 and on roads. If you're mountain biking you may not need to go the wind-front route.

35-40° F/ 2-4.5° C

When temps start dipping below 40, it's a good idea to cover up more. Instead of layering as much, I might grab a long-sleeved thermal jersey and put a wind-breaking vest over the top. If it's closer to 40 and sunny I might wear a base-layer under a non-thermal, long-sleeved jersey (when mountain biking). I might experiment with wearing wearing my Element 1.0 jacket and a lightweight base layer for temps closer to the mid-30's and if it's cloudy or windy. Wind-front or Deflect gloves will typically come out, and I'll be wearing non-thermal tights (sometimes with a pair of baggies over top, for additional wind-breaking if necessary.) Wind jackets are awesome and they can keep you surprisingly warm! I wouldn't shy away from wearing one this time of year. In addition, I'll wear something over my ears more times than not- likely a thermal headband. You might find an additional sock layer to be a good thing and if clipping in for road riding, some toe covers or shoe covers.

30-35° F/ -1-2° C
Now we're getting into freezing temps where keeping your extremities covered is vital. Thermal tights are a great investment- some come with a chamois pad and others you can wear over shots/liner shorts. Do not neglect to invest in a pair of wind-front tights. They are thermal, but have more of a wind-front covering to the front that can be just as important as the thermal quality. Those would be ideal for gravel/road rides. Heavier, warmer gloves and some thermal shoe covers (for road/gravel riders) aren't a bad idea. I tried out with the Deflect H20 gloves last winter and quite liked them. This time of year we start using Bar Mitts on our off-road/commuter bikes, for most folks, Bar Mitts or a similar brand keep your hands from being exposed to the wind and elements. This may allow you to wear lighter weight gloves, however, I have Raynaud's so even with Bar Mitts I have a hard time keeping my hands warm. Without Bar Mitts, you'll want to break out some heavier gloves and more weather-resistant shoe covers (or weather-resistant shoes).
I'll usually start with a softshell jacket, a base layer, and either a lightweight long-sleeve or a thermal long sleeve depending if there is sun or not. Sunnier days=warmer and eliminates the need for thick layers. If I'm wearing a jacket, I try to do what I can to layer smart so I don't have to take it off and stow it.

A thermal skull cap or thermal headband, maybe both under your regular helmet (if you aren't wearing a winter helmet already) to keep your ears covered.

A neck gaiter or a Buff to keep air off your neck isn't a bad idea. If it's damp-cold you might find it helpful for breathing.

25-30° F/ -4--1° C
If you haven't already invested in Bar Mitts or a similar product, do so!

In temps like this, some sort of lobster-claw glove will help keep your fingers warmer.

Folks may find wearing a light-weight balaclava with a winter helmet is sufficient to keep their face/ears/head warm. For those who can't stand wearing balaclavas, I would recommend a wool neck gaiter or a wool Buff.

I will use a winter skin stick from JTreeLife, but you might consider using Vaseline or some sort of thicker lotion to keep yourself from getting windburned. Protecting any exposed skin is important!

You can use a traditional helmet if you layer up, I've done this on warmer 30-degree days. You might use both a thermal cap/headband or balaclava and headband. Some might use a cover over their helmet. A winter helmet usually will have ear covering and vents you can open up to regulate your temp.

If it's on the colder side, you might use thermal arm warmers or knee warmers under your shirt/tights.

I've had great success with the Craft Warm base layer and my Specialized 686 jacket. The jacket has zippers for venting, which is important to keep sweating minimal (sweating=cold). The jacket protects me against the elements & I like the added thumb hole sleeve so I can keep my wrists covered with my gloves.

I can wear a light & small Camelbak type hydration pack under the jacket.

I'll break out my Craft Storm tights when it's closer to the 25 degree temps. If it's closer to 30, I may stick with wind-front or thinner, thermal tights and wear baggies over top.

25° F/ -4° C and below…
Craft Storm tights, all the way. I haven't tried out the updated design- but I sure love the ones I have. If it's below 25 degrees into the negatives, I won't shy away from wearing knickers or full-length (non-thermal) tights under. I'll try to wear goggles, but I often have the battle with them fogging up on me. I'll usually stick to sunglasses. I still have fogging here and there, but it's helpful to not have direct bitter cold slamming into my eyeballs.

I'll use plastic bags in my boots, too, for added warmth. I was told to try socks, plastic bag, and sock over top the bag.

I'll wear my Craft Warm base layer and a thermal long-sleeved jersey under my 686 jacket for the coldest temps. Sometimes I'll break out a thermal jersey with a hood that will fit under my helmet if I don't want to deal with the possibility of cold on my neck.

Bar Mitts and the H20 gloves are my usual go-to setup. I might break out lobster-style gloves if I have to, but I struggle with how awkward it is to work my brakes/shifting. You can always take a hot hands pack or two with you!

A winter helmet is definitely a great investment for temps in this range.

So there you have it, a basic "what to wear" in the Midwest for cold weather riding. Almost all of this
is applicable for both road/mtb, but remember with mountain biking- you will be less exposed to the elements in the woods. So don't be afraid to nix the wind jacket once you're in the trees!

Everyone is different and some stuff will work for one while it won't work well for the other. To be honest- I'm still figuring stuff out, but I've found a couple pieces of gear that definitely work and that does make a huge difference!

Be open to experimenting and remember, if you recreate outside in the winter already (say skiing/snowshoeing) you'll likely have gear that will work for fatbiking. You'll warm up quick; so bundle up and hit the trails this season!