What should you wear for gravel riding in any weather?

What should you wear for gravel riding when it's cold and rainy?

Struggling to find a weather window when you can head out on your bike? Follow our tips on all the right gear to wear when gravel riding in absolutely any weather!

Autumn is well and truly here, with winter just around the corner. The temperature has dropped, it's raining more and more often, sunrise is much later, and night falls far sooner. It's not easy to find a weather window for your ride! But you're absolutely itching to get out on your gravel bike. So, what should you wear for riding in wet, windy conditions?
This is now my fifth winter in a row as a bike nomad. I've made plenty of errors, and I've learned plenty of lessons. If I want to be sure I'll be warm and dry when I crawl into my tent at night, picking the right kit is vital! To avoid getting cold, the trick is to stay dry!
So here are some practical tips to help you do just that.

1. The three-layer rule: your secret weapon

What should you wear for gravel biking in the cold? The answer lies as much in the choice and quality of your products as in how many you wear and how you layer them.
There are two crucial points to understand when choosing your gravel outfit.

- First: the best insulator (from the cold) is air. That's why I sleep on an inflatable mattress - to stop the cold coming up from the ground into my back.
- Second: it's me (my body) that's going to generate any warmth. I can't rely on the sun, wind or anything else to warm me up.

Once you've grasped these two points, it's easier to know how to choose your gravel kit.

On my top half, I wear a close-fitting base layer. This might be a lycra technical top, for example, that retains the heat produced by my body while being breathable enough to let sweat escape. Personally, I tend to wear a merino wool T-shirt as my base layer because it's warm, breathable, and doesn't smell bad, which is particularly important if you're sharing your tent with someone else.

The second layer should be a thicker, less close-fitting layer. This keeps in the heat produced by my body, trapping a layer of warm air between the first and second layers.

The job of the third layer is to protect this warm environment from the cold outside world, so it needs to be an effective windproof layer. If it's raining, this third layer absolutely has to be waterproof, as well as insulating you from the wind.

With this technique, I'm never cold. I've even done mountain descents in -11°C without getting cold (or at least, without my body getting cold).

What should you wear for gravel riding in any weather?

2. Protect your extremities to stay warm

It's all very well protecting your upper body, but what about the rest of you?
Another very important thing that I've realised is that we lose a lot of our body heat through our extremities: our hands, feet and head.

Where extremities are concerned, I've found two things:
The first is that it's basically pointless trying to cover up your legs, unless you're someone who really feels the cold. I actually ride in shorts all year round, and only put something longer on when it's wet, using waterproofs to stop the rain streaming into my shoes.

The second is that, if I wear a hat, gloves, warm socks and overshoes, I'll retain the heat I produce in all the right places. This is particularly worthwhile to know for climbs. I tend to sweat mostly through my back, and if I wear three layers, I'll soon end up drenched, which is disastrous in terms of getting coldIn reality, I often wear just a T-shirt on climbs - even in very cold weather - but I'll keep my hat, gloves and overshoes on. Of course, it's really important to put everything back on before I start the descent, because your body doesn't carry on producing heat for very long after you've stopped exerting yourself. 

If it's raining heavily, I always make sure to keep my hands in the same place on my handlebars. Because the more I move my hands around on the handlebar, the more water I'll pick up, rapidly making my gloves sodden. Keeping my hands warm and dry helps me retain control of my bike, and therefore keeps me safer.

What should you wear for gravel riding in any weather?

3. Avoid getting wet at all costs

Everything that I've said works perfectly well, provided that you're dry. The priority for gravel riding is therefore to avoid getting wet. Otherwise, the entire system falls down.
There are 3 ways that you end up wet:

From above, due to the rain and snow. It's very easy to wear the right things to stop this happening. I do so by simply wearing a waterproof third layer, which protects my two inner layers. It has a hood, which also keeps my hat dry. On my lower half, if it starts raining, I'll pull on my waterproof trousers and overshoes. And if the rain is particularly heavy, I can also add waterproof overgloves.

From inside, i.e. from my body overheating and sweating. This is mainly a problem on climbs. Here, there's no miracle solution. I've simply learned to pace myself so that I produce enough heat to stay warm, but not so much that I end up soaked in sweat. However, I still have a handy tip: take advantage of the vents on your jacket and waterproof trousers, which let the cold air come in and slightly cool your inner layer.

From below. This is the worst, when the ground is totally covered in water and your tyre is throwing water all over the place. Not only is the ground more slippery, which makes gravel riding particularly technical, but the water will gradually work its way into your shoes via capillary action, leaving them sopping. It's even worse with gravel riding than road cycling because your knobby tyres pick up so much more water off the ground. That's the down side. But there are three things you can do:

- Wear waterproof overshoes as I've already mentioned, but you need to make sure your waterproof trousers go over the top of your overshoes. If not, the water can run down your trousers and soak into your shoes.

- I also use plastic bags, which I put over my socks, inside my shoes, as a back-up waterproof layer that also has the benefit of being windproof. Similarly, you can stuff kitchen foil into the ends of your shoes, over your socks, which keeps your toes much warmer. While this solution isn't waterproof, it's still compatible with all of the other solutions, which are.

- Fit your bike with mudguards to hugely limit the amount of water that the tyre kicks up onto your back, shoes and trousers. Make sure to choose a mudguard that's far enough away from your tyre that you don't get a load of mud trapped under it, as this would stop your wheel from turning. You should also check whether your mudguard is compatible with your pannier rack, if you have one.

4. Look after your waterproofs

Now that you know how to choose your gravel biking outfit, the question of durability comes into play. Always check the label to see how to wash your clothing. For waterproof items, it's important to wash them at no more than 30°C because, above this temperature, the fabric will lose its waterproof properties.
To find out more, read this article: 

What should you wear for gravel riding in any weather?

It's worth being careful with merino wool too. Merino is a very sensitive fabric, so you should hand wash it, and certainly not wash it above 30°C, otherwise it could quickly develop holes.

All of these tricks will help you stave off the cold, repel the damp and delay the point at which you end up wet. They limit the damage on winter rides. I've not yet found a miracle solution, but one thing's for sure: like with anything else, when it comes to riding outside no matter the weather, practice makes perfect. With the help of these tips, I hope you'll no longer find yourself turning back halfway and cutting short your gravel ride, even in the very worst of the weather.

What should you wear for gravel riding when it's cold and rainy?


French-German, born to expats, I consider myself more a citizen of the world than anything else. The desire to discover new landscapes, new cultures and new languages, together with my passion for endurance and pushing myself to new limits, has led me to dispense with a permanent roof over my head. I am now a bike nomad, continuously in search of the next challenge. THE BIKE: my ticket to freedom, which I love to share with all those who cannot or do not dare to make the jump.

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