Numb feet and hands when cycling: how to combat the cold

Suffering from numbness or loss of feeling in your hands and feet? We're here to help

Losing the feeling in your hands and feet is a common experience for cyclists riding through the coldest months of winter. Cold feet and hands can become numb and even painful when temperatures are low and this can make riding feel like a chore.

The extremities suffer when your body temperature drops, because they’re furthest away from the blood supply which is sometimes diverted to maintain warmth at the core.

Your first step is to try to reduce cooling of the core by keeping your body well dressed for winter. This done, you can concentrate on protecting those hands and feet – here are a few tips to help you on your way…

How to keep your feet warm when riding in winter

Wear thin but warm socks

One of the major causes of cold or numb feet is actually wearing too much sock. Thick or doubled up socks can cause the shoe to become too tight, cutting off blood supply – instead, go for a good quality pair of cycling specific winter socks before you go investing in winter booties…

Cover vents

Cycling shoes are designed to be breathable – which is great in the summer. Come winter and all those lovely ventilation holes can become a bit of an inconvenience. If the breeze rushing through your shoes is starting to bother you, then use tape (duct, gaffa, insulation…) to cover them (before layering overshoes on top to keep it in place!)

>>> Winter cycling clothing everything you need to know

Overshoes and toe covers

cold feet and hands

Castelli Diluvio overshoes

Overshoes and oversocks fit over your shoes, with a hole at the bottom to allow the cleats to engage with pedals. There are many different styles – from thin wool like sock versions to full on neoprene booties.

For milder days, toe covers simply nestle over the front of the shoe – largely serving the purpose of covering off most of the vents.

If you really struggle with the cold there’s nothing stopping you doubling up – toe covers can go underneath overshoes, as can oversocks.

See a selection in our cycling overshoes buying guide. 

Winter shoes

Most riders get on fine with overshoes – these retail at around £30 and usually last a season or two. But if you’re still struggling from the cold then you can go one step further, with full-on winter cycling boots. At this point, you’re looking at spending over £100 on something like the Northwave Fahrenheit Winter Boots we tested here. However, these will be long lasting, fully insulated and sealed – often able to cater for temperatures well below 0°C.

>>> Winter cycling survival guide: 10 helpful tips to keep you riding

Cling film

Another age-old method of keeping feet warm during the winter involves raiding the kitchen draws. Wrapping clingfilm (or plastic bags) over thin socks means that sweat can’t escape, but it also heats up, effectively turning your feet into tiny radiators attached to your ankles.

HotHands Toe warmers

cold hands and feet

Hot Hands foot and hand warmers are excellent

Available in newsagents across the country, HotHands are designed to be used during outdoor sports and the toe warmer version is ideal for winter riding.

Providing 6 hours of heat, these are activated with a quick shake and just need to be inserted into your sock.

There are battery powered versions available, which you can re-use.

How to keep your hands warm when riding in winter

Layer up your gloves for cold and wet rides

Start with good gloves

A good pair of cycling gloves is your first port of call. There are many different styles these days – really heavy duty gloves use heavy padding which does work but removes some of the transmission you receive from the road.

An alternative is a pair of neoprene style gloves – these provide much greater dexterity and work by allowing your own body moisture to warm your hands. Another option is the lobster style glove, which groups together your little and ring finger – a bit like a pair of mittens but with the thumb and forefinger free for braking and gear changes.

Check out Bar Mitts

Bar mitts

Bar mitts are advertised as a helping hand for people who suffer with Raynaud’s Disease – but anyone who is failing to circulate enough blood to keep their hands warm can benefit.

The mitt attaches to the bar, allowing you to slip your also gloves hand inside. This will obviously limit your hand movement, but you’ve got total control of the brakes and gears and many of us will stay fairly static on the hoods during a long, slow endurance ride.

Double up with liner gloves

cold feet and hands

Quality gloves protect against cold hands

Silk baselayer gloves add that final touch of warmth to your layering

If a quality pair of gloves still isn’t cutting it, then you can purchase some (usually cheap) liner gloves. These go inside your main gloves and trap an extra layer of warmth for greater protection.

But not too tight

Numb hands aren’t always caused by the cold – issues can also arise when gloves that are too tight limit circulation to the hands. Make sure this isn’t becoming an issue for you and that there’s plenty of room to flex your fingers.

Use the features on your gloves

cold hands and feet

Use the features of your gloves and tuck the cuffs under your jersey

Many pairs of cycling gloves come with velcro or drawstring adjusters at the cuff – these can be adjusted to sit close to the skin, limiting the chance of cold air funnelling down into the glove. Make sure you’re using these, and ideally place the cuffs of your jersey over the gloves, too.

Keep them moving

It’s easy to settle into a steady state, hunched over the bars, legs churning. As admirable as a good, strong core and resulting still upper body is on the bike it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move at all. To avoid numbness, keep your hands moving – swap between the tops and the drops, or just give those fingers a little wriggle from time to time.

Additional heating

cold feet and hands

Stop and warm up if you need to

Start off with warm gloves – be that popping them on the radiator or wrapping your gloves hands around a pre-ride coffee (or tea).

It’s important to stay well hydrated and well fed during winter rides, your body needs energy to stay warm. So if you’re mid-way through a ride and feel like you’re turning into the snowman, stop and warm those hands up again at the nearest coffee shop. Ideally one serving cake.

Finally – Hot Hands hand warmers are a great addition to the inside of any glove if you’re really suffering.

>>> Top tips for keeping warm on cold rides 

Got any methods we’ve not mentioned here? Tell us in the comments and share the knowledge…