Geared Up: Winter Apparel

Velocio Men’s RECON Quilted Vest, $279

By the time you read this, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere will have passed. For those of us surrounded by snow and cold temperatures, that’s the day we start dreaming about riding on pavement again while not wearing enough layers to feel like a stuffed Butterball turkey. Velocio’s RECON Quilted Vest is an excellent garment to have at your disposal when those first glorious days come because we all know they’re never as warm in reality as they are in our minds.

The Recon is constructed of Global Merino Ponte wool layered with a Pertex Quantum DWR 100% windproof shell up front and around the shoulder while the side and back panels are quilted with a material that stretches just enough to not restrict movement. These design qualities offer a garment that is warm and breathable, and stylish enough to wear off the bike as well. The Recon also features two front zippered pockets and one rear zippered pocket. The rear pocket's zipper, like the full-length front zipper, is a YKK nickel-plated job and the front zipper offers two way use. 

Other nice features are reflective logos and trim, a shaped collar, a longer back hem, a light loop, and a relaxed fit. In addition, Global Merino fabrics meet Bluesign certification underlying their commitment to making sustainable, long-lasting fabrics. –MD

Sealskinz Brecon Gloves, $70

While some people ride bikes with their hands in their pockets or holding their mobile device to their ear, I prefer to keep mine on the handlebars. Silly me. Since I value this interface so dearly, it behooves me to keep my hands protected and warm. One way to guarantee that is to wear a pair of quality gloves, and my current choice is the Brecon Gloves by Sealskinz. They are waterproof, windproof, and breathable — the trifecta of protection from the elements. More important, they are designed for cycling, offering soft and durable AX Suede Quattro palms with foam pressure-point padding for increased grip, comfort, and anti-slip technology. The Brecon gloves also offer the obligatory soft fleece thumbs for whatever needs to be wiped, easy pull-on design with Velcro closures, and tactile index and thumb pads so you can use the devices we all lived just fine without a mere 10 years ago. 

If you’re looking for a great cold-weather riding glove, look no further than the Brecon. –MD

ONE GORE Thermium Jacket, $400

Few things keep you as reliably warm as synthetic insulation during cold winter months, especially when it comes to exercise clothing. GORE’s new One GORE Thermium Jacket sells for a whopping $400, but it offers windproof protection and a lot of warmth without a lot of bulk. 

The Thermium Jacket is definitely cut with the cycling position in mind with longer sleeves and a drop-tail, something this lanky reviewer appreciates. The amount of PrimaLoft Gold insulation is great for riding too, enough to add a significant level of warmth without the bulk of a jacket intended for standing around in cold temps. The Thermium also packs down pretty well, and because of that I often carry it in a bikepacking seatpack on winter rides in case of a quick downturn in temperatures or a mechanical. On winter descents, there are few things more luxurious than piling on a good jacket and smiling your way downhill instead of shivering.

The Thermium is also at home on hikes or would be great for cross-country skiing. In fact, its low-key looks makes it a good option for daily use even off the bike. It has a pair of front zip pockets as well as a small back zip pocket. Its adjustable hood is super comfy, although you will need a helmet with some room if you need to put it on. I prefer to think of it as an emergency or pre- and post-ride feature. As expected, there are also reflective logos on the sleeves and back of the jacket. 

While expensive, the Thermium Jacket definitely performs. If you’re in the market for a synthetic insulation layer for riding and camping in cold temperatures, be sure to check out GORE’s option. –NL

Bontrager OMW Softshell Pant, $175

Bontrager’s OMW (Old Man Winter) Softshell Pants have become a regular part of my clothing lineup for frigid weather. With cycling shorts and wool tights underneath, I’m comfortable down to single-digit temperatures. Aimed at fat bikers who brave the gnarliest conditions, Bontrager’s OMW Pant offers a great fit, loads of pockets, and two large vents to ensure you don’t overheat. 

Bontrager calls the cut “semi-fitted,” which in this case means snug without being tight. I rode in a pair of medium pants (I’m usually a  32/32 jean) and they offer easy pedaling even with thick socks, thin wool tights, and a pair of summer cycling bibs underneath. To keep small items like lip balm, keys, or a multitool handy, five pockets dot the pants, two high on the legs like on jeans, two lower down, and one more on the back at hip level. 

Zips at the ankles open wide, making for easy on/off. Also at the ankle is a really smart feature, a set of detachable gaiters to help keep snow out of your boots. 

The only gripe I have is that the double snaps at the waist are a bit tough to open and close. Thankfully a cinch belt acts as a redundancy, meaning I could zip up, snap one of the snaps, and attach the belt. 

If you’ve been looking for that perfect pair of pants for winter riding, Bontrager’s OMW Softshell Pant is a good option. Although I should warn you that they are best used on truly cold days. For rides with a lot of freeze/thaw, I usually go for rain pants. –NL

Sunday Afternoons Elements II Cap, $32

Sunday Afternoons is hardly the right visual for this insulated cycling cap, but thanks to an unusually brutal winter, I’ve worn it on Sundays — and about every other day of the week. A four-way stretch fabric that repels water on the outside and features brushed fleece on the inside is comfortable alone or under a helmet, and the two-inch brim keeps snowflakes and sleet more or less out of your eyes on the bike. It’s not heavily insulated, but it has kept my ears and head reasonably comfortable even on a pair of -20° F morning commutes.

The Elements II only comes in one size, which should be fine for most average-domed folks, although I suspect a loose fit would be annoying (especially with a helmet) for people with small heads. My issue is on the other end of the spectrum, however. I immediately popped a few threads on the back seam as I stretched the hat over my extra-large cranium. I’ve been wearing the hat almost daily for two months with no ill effects from the rupture, and the rest of the hat looks good as new. I don’t think I’ll be breaking out the Elements II on sunny summer Sundays, but it’s all the winter cycling cap I’ll ever need. –AS

Search and State Long Sleeve Merino Jersey, $180 and S1-V Riding Vest, $215  

Yes, they’re expensive. Let’s get that out of the way up front. But this jersey and vest combo are made in New York City’s Garment District, and the quality is top-notch, so if you subscribe to the “buy it nice or buy it twice” school of thought (and like to buy American when you can), Search and State could be up your alley. 

I’ve worn the jersey both against the skin and with a snug-fitting merino shirt underneath and found it to be an exceptional winter riding piece in a range of temps — seriously, merino fabric is some kind of witchcraft. It’s cut for cyclists with a nice drop-tail and long arms (it’s also cut trim, so size accordingly) and was comfortable and free of any weird binding or rubbing in the cycling position. I especially appreciated the slim cut of the sleeves, which prevented tunnels of cold air coursing up my arms, which would never be mistaken for those of a bodybuilder.

The S1-V vest has been more of a layering piece for me as wintertime temps have strayed too low on most rides for the vest to end up on the outside of whatever I’m wearing, but it’s done an admirable job cutting wind and providing a bit of extra insulation. I have full confidence, however, that it would be a Swiss Army knife–like piece in shoulder-season riding, as the Schoeller C-Change fabric is waterproof, breathable, durable, and explains its expense as it’s one of the most impressive (and costly) technical materials on the market. The vest is cut in a very aggressive cycling orientation, so the front is awkwardly high when not on the bike — wear bibs or prepare to bare your navel. –AS