Geared Up: Winter's Last Gasp

By Nick Legan and Alex Strickland

45NRTH Wölvhammer Red Wing Edition, $345

Is there anything in the world better than warm, dry toes during a wet, winter ride? Yes, yes there is. Thanks to 45NRTH, you can be comfortable and super stylin’ thanks to its Red Wing Edition Wölvhammer boots. I love winter riding, but whenever I’ve pushed the limits of my footwear, things go south quickly. With the Wölvhammers, I have toasty toes down to 0° Fahrenheit (45NRTH recommends them for 0 to 25° F). The lace-up design makes them easy to adjust and tighten and the wide last makes room for thicker socks and/or vapor barriers. 45NRTH uses an aerogel insole to insulate your foot from cold clipless pedal cleats. Primaloft insulation is topped by a waterproof, breathable membrane that is in turn wrapped in Red Wing tanned leather. That leather does require a little more maintenance, but looking good is never easy. While they aren’t cheap, it’s hard to put a price on winter comfort, and the quality is high enough that the Wölvhammers will serve for years to come.  –NL

Big Agnes Three Wire Bivy, $330

This roomy bivouac is great for cold temperatures. It sets up easily with two short poles and six stakes, and its Cordura bottom is extra rugged. The bivy’s top is made of a “membrane with electrospun nanofibers” that provide 10,000mm waterproofing and good breathability (30,000 g/m2/24 hrs). While I did experience some condensation during my subzero nights, it was limited to the inside of the hood area and didn’t extend into my sleeping bag at all. Because the Three Wire is smaller than a tent, there is less air to heat, keeping you warmer throughout the night. To top it off, Big Agnes’ bivy packs down quite small and weighs less than two pounds.  –NL

Big Agnes Beryl SL 0° Sleeping Bag, $320

In the pursuit of winter warmth, I probably agonized most over my sleeping bag choice. I’ll admit that I brought along a spare summer weight bag to supplement Big Agnes’ Beryl SL, but I needn’t have. Rated to 0° Fahrenheit, I was cozy inside the Beryl SL throughout a night in the teens. The Beryl SL includes a storage sack that can be used to keep it in place on top of your sleeping pad. The vaulted foot box didn’t constrict movement, and the interior draft collars blocked out any chill. I also appreciated the use of Downtek water repellent insulation. On a snowy night, it’s difficult to keep your sleeping bag perfectly dry and hydrophobic fill helps with that. The only nitpick I have is that a right-side zipper would have played nicer with the right-side opening of the Three Wire Bivy.  –NL

Big Agnes Third Degree Foam Pad, $40

A closed-cell foam pad is great at insulating you from the frozen ground. I used Big Agnes’s Third Degree Foam Pad in conjunction with an insulated, inflatable pad for extra warmth. Its slightly rubberized texture kept my air mattress from slipping around. For $40, it’s also a great option for summer months, especially if you live in an area with thorns as there is nothing to puncture. The downside of a closed-cell pad is the bulk, but at 340 grams at least it’s light!  –NL

Icebreaker Oasis Legging, $90

Merino wool keeps you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm. It truly is a wonder material, and Icebreaker’s Oasis Leggings are great as winter sleepwear. I layered them over a pair of Icebreaker Anatomica Long Boxers and woke feeling warm and dry. During cold rides, one could also wear the Leggings under a pair of rain pants for extra mid-day warmth. Sizing runs true to Icebreaker’s online guide (also available in women’s sizing).  –NL

Klean Kanteen Insulated Classic 32oz bottle, $37

If you’re winter camping, why not bring along some pre-made hot chocolate or even a hot toddy to share with campmates? Even a warm soup or broth would make a night out cozier. With Klean Kanteen’s Insulated Classic bottles, hot liquids stay warm for 24 hours. In warmer seasons, they’ll also keep iced drinks cold (up to 90 hours according to Klean Kanteen). I used the 32oz size, but Klean Kanteen produces a large range of sizes including a massive 64oz version. To carry them, pick up one of the Klean Kanteen’s Quick Cages. They use rubber blocks and Velcro to attach to your bike (or stroller, lawn mower, etc.). You’ll probably want to strap the bottle to your frame as well. Alternatively, consider a cargo cage from Salsa, King Cage, or Blackburn.  –NL

Buff Lightweight Merino Wool, $29

I love the versatility of Buff’s neck gators/hats. Essentially a tube of cloth, the Lightweight Merino Wool is my new favorite. It’s thin enough to use in summer for sun protection, but is also keeps my neck, face, and, if I pull it up far enough, my ears warm in winter. Alternatively, you can double it up upon itself and use it as a hat. In the wilderness, you can use a Buff to pre-filter water before adding purification tabs or drops. I also use mine as a pillowcase for my Klymit inflatable pillow. And because it’s made of merino wool, it won’t stink up after repeated use like synthetic materials can. That makes it a vital piece of my touring kit.  –NL

Toaks Titanium 550ml Pot, $25

In summer months, I often leave the stove at home when bikepacking. But I have no interest in eating cold food or waking without coffee when it’s cold out. Toaks is a line of Chinese-made titanium cookwear. If you have time on your hands (my mug took several weeks to arrive) and are looking for a bargain, then Toaks’s Titanium pots are worth a look. Offered in several sizes, I went small to avoid excess bulk. At 550ml, this pot is still large enough to hold a fuel canister when not in use. Time will tell if the Toaks mug holds up, but construction looks good and the price is hard to beat.  –NL

Toaks Long Titanium Spork, $12

Dehydrated meals, to which you add boiling water, are fast and light. They also serve as their own container while eating them. The only downside is that the bags are often tall. So a long spoon or spork is handy, keeping your hands out of the bag and allowing you to scrape every last calorie out of the bottom. Toaks’ Titanium Long Handle Spork will run you $12 and works great.  –NL

Pearl Izumi Versa Pant, $125

You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to find a good pair of cycling pants. Not tights, mind you, just some decent pants. And yet, with the notable exception of Club Ride’s fantastic Fat Back pant, there isn’t much out there. Pearl Izumi offers another option with the new Versa, a technical pant with standard cycling features like technical stretch fabric, gusseted crotch, zippered pockets, reflective accents, and — bless them — a little style. 

Pearl suggests an ideal temperature range of 50–70 degrees and relatively short rides, though I found the Versa comfortable down to the 20s without extra layers underneath for an hour or two. The polyester construction and DWR (durable water resistant) coating did a solid job with moisture management both inbound and outbound, and the fit didn’t require restraints to keep the cuffs from self-immolating in the crank.

Off the bike, the pants feature a trim, modern fit (roughly a “slim fit” in normal pants), and the pockets are just large enough to hold an iPhone 6, wallet, etc.

The Versa have proven to be a perfect “lunch ride” option — something I can wear into the office in the morning, ride in at noon, and attend meetings in the afternoon with the only alteration being a liner chamois for the cycling portion. I wouldn’t hesitate to stash them in a pannier for a shoulder-season tour.  –AS

Portland Design Works Fatty Object, $35

If you’ve seen one CO2 gun, you’ve seen them all, right? I thought so until PDW dropped a plus-size inflator and monster 38g Co2 cartridge on my desk for winter evaluation. One great thing about fat-tired bikes is that when riding on snow the odds of a puncture are as low as the pressure. But with the white stuff gone, I packed the Fatty Object on a chilly spring ride on my 29+ bike and, sure enough, crusty tubeless sealant had my front tire losing air considerably faster than my out-of-season legs could climb. The huge cartridge allowed me to top off three times during the ride — enough to limp home without having to stop and fool with a tube. 

The cartridge is the fat bike–specific piece of the puzzle, but PDW’s machined inflator is no slouch. The large dial is easy to use with gloves on, and the fit and finish on the unit is top-notch. The high quality Fatty Object has earned a spot in my summer saddlebag too.  –AS