Toe Warmers Aid Winter Riding

Lack of snow on the local trails has made outdoor cycling in cold weather the preferred alternative to my stationary trainer. Yesterday was a great day at 28 degrees Farenheit with a wind of around 10 mph. I wanted to ride in snow flurries, but the snow that was predicted didn’t happen. Flurries would have been fun, but the important thing was that  I enjoyed a 23 mile round trip on the Minuteman Bikeway.

It was the second day in a row when I had an opportunity to test my toe warmers. I have used two brands, HotHands and Grabber, and both performed well. Both are made in the USA.

Toe warmers come as a pair in a plastic package and they are activated by opening the package, exposing them to the air. The warmers themselves are small envelopes with an adhesive backing. The warmers contain iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal, and vermiculite, all of the ingredients needed for a low-energy thermite reaction to generate heat.

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HotHands Brand Toe Warmers

The adhesive allows you to stick them to your socks. Follow the instructions: there are warnings concerning proper use to avoid injury or harm. One of the warnings is that you should not apply the warmers directly to your skin.

The socks should be thick so that you get some insulation from them as well as retention of the heat generated by the warmer. They should be used with shoes that do not have mesh or vented toes. The warmers do not get very hot and vented toes will allow cold air to get into the shoes, reducing the heating effect to nearly zero. When it’s cold, I switch to platform pedals so that I can use cross training shoes with closed toes. I have used toe warmers in conditions slightly below freezing. In my opinion they would not be very effective below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, even with appropriate shoes.

When I am finished riding and remove the warmers from my socks, I leave them on a fireproof surface until they are completely dissipated. I am wary about throwing a thermite reaction into the trash where it could cause a fire. They don’t get very hot, but I would rather be safe.

Toe warmers have made cold weather rides much more comfortable for me. Layering over legs and body is also important. Under my helmet I wear a stretch head covering that has a flap that I can use to cover my mouth. I stretch the hood of my sweatshirt over my helmet to cover the air holes. You can buy helmet covers that will also serve that purpose. I use insulated mittens on my hands.

All of this preparation has made riding enjoyable for me below freezing. As long as the trails are snow-free, this extends my cycling season and keeps me in training for tours. My low temperature riding threshold is probably 20 degrees Farenheit, but fortunately the winter is mild and that hasn’t happened very often this year. Still, I will be very happy when spring arrives.