Cold hands? Mittens.

I have many gloves. Sometimes, gloves don’t do the trick. Ever have one of those mornings where no matter how hard you pedal, no matter how hot you get, your fingers feel like they’re about to freeze solid? Ever find yourself making a fist INSIDE the gloves to keep your digits from going numb?

When my name-brand “winter” cycling gloves weren’t cutting it, I went big, and bought an expensive pair of thick, waterproof lined alpine ski gloves from one of the sporting goods stores. When THOSE weren’t working, I was left in bewilderment. What on earth could possibly be wrong with my hands?

The answer was an $8 pair of mittens I found near the checkout aisle at the grocery store. Mittens keep all your fingers together. While they make shifting with STI/Ergo/DoubleTap a bit more difficult, trigger and grip-style shifters are just as easy to operate with mittens as they are with five-finger gloves. It might also take some time to get used to braking if you’re used to reaching up to them without using all of your fingers at once.  The warmth benefit is usually worth it if you have trouble keeping your hands warm on those cold commutes.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of the ways I keep my feet nice and warm even when the wind chill is -20°F (-29°C).


  1. Murali December 10, 2009 9:54 pm 

    My trick for when my hands are frozen in my gloves is to take my hands off the bars, sit upright, and hold both my hands behind the small of my back.

    Sure, pedalling with the hands off the handlebars does not work for everybody. (And obviously this cannot be done when the road surface is not dry.)

    Since my hands are no longer cutting into the wind, my body (the warmest part of me) takes the coldest bite of the air.

  2. Jonathan Greene December 10, 2009 10:16 pm 

    Have you tried the lobster claw variety of gloves which are more of an in-between glove mitten. Fingers get clustered …

    I’m currently wearing a two glove system from Assos and it’s working well.

  3. Rob Sayers December 10, 2009 10:32 pm 

    Timely post, this morning’s weather reminded me that I meant to buy new gloves before *this* winter.

    Last year it was the shifters that kept me from getting mittens, but my new commuter has downtube shifters which should not be a problem at all. I’ll have to swing by the store tomorrow and pick up a pair to try out.

  4. Elizabeth December 11, 2009 12:48 am 

    Noah, I second the mitten choice! After trying PI lobster gloves a few years ago – and freezing! – I went to REI and got a pair of mittens. I wear a pair of wool or silk glove liners underneath and sometimes even use the chemical hand warmers on the coldest of days. I just remember the despair I felt during my first bike winter and just hoping I wouldn’t have to stop bike commuting due to my hurting frozen fingers. Riding a mountain bike with a flat bar helps – I hide my thumb behind the bar to block the wind – keeps it a bit warmer.

  5. Noah December 11, 2009 4:40 am 

    Elizabeth and J.G. – I had similar (lack of) luck with Salsa Tostada lobster-style gloves. Maybe some of them are warmer than others, but these wouldn’t hold up below 10 degrees fahrenheit. Yesterday, at 3*F, I was almost sweating in my mittens.

  6. Dottie December 11, 2009 6:00 am 

    Yes, yes. I always feel like that. This winter I bought fancy skiing Gore-Tex lined, goose down filled mittens. Yesterday I wore them with two glove liners (not tight, plenty of room for air) plus chemical heating packs and I had to park my bike after a mile and take public transportation. My hands were dying – way colder than they ever were last year with my J Crew suede and shearling gloves. (Granted, the temp was 2 F, -20 windchill but other cyclists managed it.) I don’t know what to try at this point. Maybe some old school wool mittens?

  7. ethan December 11, 2009 6:42 am 

    I’ll toss my hat in the “lobster” glove ring as well. My brother got me a pair of Sugoi gloves that keep my middle to pinky fingers together. They’re great. My thumb is the only thing that gets cold, and I’ve worn them in single digit (F) temperatures.

  8. Elizabeth December 11, 2009 6:43 am 

    Dottie, also being stressed about the riding conditions (which happens when it’s windy, cold and there’s snow/ice) can cause us to grip our handlebars tighter and restrict circulation. Think happy thoughts and do some deep yoga breathing. If nothing else, it takes your mind off the bitter cold… and could even help get the warm blood flowing to the fingertips. 😉

  9. Steven December 11, 2009 7:18 am 

    My solution is a pair of taped shell mittens over a much thinner pair of gloves. The shell mittens do not have any insulation – they are only there as a wind-blocking layer. With no wind and a little bit of air in the gloves, my hands are able to stay warm and dry in a wide range of cold – I’ve ridden from 35 degrees down to 10 degrees F with the same combination.

    I’ll also add that my fingers are always cold, and I use gloves before I use long sleeves, pants, or wind blocking layers. People look at me weird when I ride in a t-shirt, shorts, and full finger gloves.

  10. Iron_Man December 11, 2009 8:50 am 

    A good trip I learned off the Japanese is to swing your arms in a full circle a few times (you can do one at a time so you can still steer). The motion is like an old time baseball pitcher doing a wind up. By doing it fast and for a few rotations it forces more blood down into your hands. Looks goofy, but works pretty well.

    I don’t advise trying this with the legs though.

  11. Jack December 11, 2009 10:42 am 

    I like these combination glove/mittens. Basically they are like what Steven rigged up. In this case a pair of fingerless gloves that allow you to do stuff (mine are used camping too) and then pull the mitten part over for warmth.

  12. Jamey December 11, 2009 11:02 am 

    Garneau lobster mitts don’t do it for me below, say, 30 (f). Even with liners. Pearl Izumu AmFibs with poly pro liners only take me a couple of degrees lower. This AM it was ~20 (f) with single-digit windchills (in NYC). I had to stop in an ATM to warm my hands, and was mostly miserable all the way. I’ll try mitts, but I think that my hands just don’t cotton to the cold the way they used to.

    The rest of me seems to manage fine with thin woolen base layer under Castelli lined jacket, and regular bib shorts under Cannondale wind-front tights (greatest cold-weather cycling item EVAH!).

    Am working on electric-powered solutions and will keep you all apprised of my progress.

  13. Matt P December 11, 2009 11:05 am 

    Great topic. I’ve been trying the mittens that flip open to let you use your fingers. Unfortunately, the part covering the fingers is VERY cold. I just picked up a pair of the Perl Izumi lobster mittens and I’m going to try those out.
    I think I’ll also try the swinging the arms around method.
    Thanks for the tips.

  14. db December 11, 2009 2:37 pm 

    I have the PI Amfib lobster claws. They are good by themselves down to about 15 degrees F. Below that and you need at least liners.

    In the single digits, I’ve been using a thin neoprene glove as a liner. Got them from an Army-Navy store here.

  15. ksteinhoff December 11, 2009 8:13 pm 

    I don’t have to deal with this problem down here in S. FL, but when I was a photographer working up north, I would go to army surplus stores and buy wool gloves that were the “lobster” design mentioned by others. They have have “fingers” for the thumb and index finger and a mitten for the other three.

    I’d wear a light-weight glove under that.

    The outside glove/mitten gave me enough freedom of motion to be able to press the shutter, advance the film and change settings. If I had to change film or do anything more precise, I’d take off the outer glove and work with just the light inner glove.

  16. R A N T W I C K December 12, 2009 7:40 pm 

    You are right – cheap-o mittens will be warmer than most gloves. When wearing gloves (at least on a flat bar bike) I have found my fingers stay warmer if I rest them on the brake levers rather than fully gripping the bar.

  17. Guy December 13, 2009 11:34 am 

    Although San Francisco will never compare with most of the cities when it comes to freezing tempature, I normally ride with some cheap 5 fingured mittens. But sometimes I’ll use a 5 finger thinsulate lined glove on much colder days like we had last week. They put some space between the fingers themselves and the outerlayer of the glove. As long as your core is warm and comfortable so will your digits.

  18. plutosdad December 14, 2009 1:03 pm 

    I had to upgrade to some Scott skiing mittens. We had a few single digit (F) temperature days last week in Chicago, and nothing was working (including some gortex mittens w/ other fleece gloves inside) until I got these. The only problem is my hands sweat, but they are washable.

  19. Dean Peddle December 15, 2009 9:17 am 

    I made this comment on another blog but a friend of mine gave me a set of Ski Doo mits back in 2000 and they are incredible. I have the bike riding lobster gloves that are good for cold temperatures but when the winter really kicks in up here in Canada my hands still get cold. In the Ski Doo mits…..I have never ever gotten cold fingers…..and I’m talking about 3hr rides in -20 degree weather.

  20. Sirinya December 27, 2009 7:25 pm 

    Mittens all the way for cold weather biking! The best pair I ever owned were double-layer working man wool mittens – got them at REI-Outlet for like $10, and they kept my fingers warm during my bike commutes throughout winters in Massachusetts. I lost them years ago, and make do with cheapies from Target — and yes, it does get cold while biking here in LA.

  21. Hamish January 23, 2011 8:05 pm 

    I had great difficulty keeping my hands warm commuting in the winter so I designed the It is a cowl that covers the entire handlebar and keeps the cold wind off my gloved hands.
    There is plenty of room underneath the cover for a bell and lights.
    It is even better when there is freezing rain because the gloves stay completely dry even in a downpour.

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