Fatbiking Starter Kit: So You Just Spent a Fortune on a Fatbike... Now What?!
This article was inspired by SW Shredder, Danielle. Shout out to Danielle for her contribution! If there is a topic you’d like us to cover, please follow this link.
You’ve just spent a small fortune on your new favorite bike, your fatbike. She’s beautiful. You love the way she handles — grippy around the corners, steady on ice — it’s almost as if she steers herself. She’s efficient and sleek. You can tell she’s built to take you as far as you’re willing to pedal. You look at all of the mounting brackets on the frame, wondering how you’ll possibly acquire enough gear to use all of them. You can’t wait to try. She looks like she could take you anywhere you want to go.
Now it’s time to head out for your first cold weather ride…
...and shit. You took our advice and spent so much money on your new whip you’ve got nothing left to spend on winter riding gear.
Below is a guide to help you decide what gear is worth investing in, and what can wait until next season.
As a general rule, despite budget restrictions, we encourage riders to first and foremost protect their feet and hands. If you have a little money to spend, spend it on your digits.
If you fall in love with fatbiking (like we know you will), eventually you’ll own every single piece of gear on this list. However, it might take you a few seasons to feel comfortable making the investment. We’ll start out with the bare minimum kit, and move through to our dream kit. This post does not list required gear for on trail maintenance, so please factor in the expense of a maintenance kit.
The Broke Kit ($0.00 - $48.00)
If you’ve spent all your available cash on your fattie, you’re probably reeling from sticker shock. Below is a guide intended to get you out riding on the cheap, ASAP. If you ever question the quality of your gear, throw a pair of chemical warmers in your pocket—just in case.
If you can’t afford pogies, winter gloves will have to do the trick. However, there are a few obstacles to riding in winter gloves to consider:
Winter gloves are bulky.
The bulkiness of heavily insulated gloves can impede your braking and shifting ability. Make sure you can comfortably shift and brake in whatever glove you choose.
Your hands will sweat.
The problem with winter gloves is that on the climb they may be too warm. Once your hands start to sweat, the descent will be chilly—potentially painfully chilly. You can control your hand sweat by being mindful and taking your gloves on and off as needed, swapping a lighter pair for a warmer pair during the climbs, or even by riding with a latex or neoprene glove as a liner.
Before writing off pogies as too expensive ($50.00 - $100.00), be sure to look at sites like Ebay and GearTrade for used pogies. While writing this article I saw a pair of Bar Mitts on Ebay for $25.00.
Your feet are the most difficult part of your body to keep warm. Unlike your hands, you can’t simply grab a hand warmer, stuff them in your pockets, or do a few windmills to warm up. Unlike your core, you can’t just add or subtract a warm layer to manage your temperature.
For that reason, I sincerely suggest factoring in the price of nice winter boots into the overall cost of your fatbike.
However, if you can’t afford to purchase them just yet, you can get by with a few items that are probably in your closet. I’ve heard people claim to use their snowboarding boots, however I won’t recommend them. Snowboarding boots are designed to create a slight bend in your knees, and therefore won’t allow a full leg extension. They also aren’t known for being flexible, no matter how warn out, and flexibility around the ankle is paramount to riding.
Super warm winter boots can work great. Of course, a nice pair of winter boots is the same price as a nice pair of cycling boots, so if you’re going to buy new I recommend going with a cycling-specific boot. You may think you don’t want to clip in now, but after a few months of riding you’ll likely change your mind. A clipless setup offers the rider more efficiency and an even pedal stroke for hammering up icy climbs. Just make sure to adjust your pedal to make it really easy to clip in and out.
I don’t recommend a winter boot with a rubber cap on the toe. During my first month of fatbiking, I tried using a pair of Sorel Winter boots (right). That was a big mistake, and made for some unnecessarily cold days on my bike. Once you start descending, the toe cap acts like an air conditioner next to your toes.
If you don’t have a winter boot, you can put a cycling shoe cover over your regular riding boots.
The first time I wore a shoe cover, I was astounded by how warm it kept my toes. I have a pair of Bontrager Stormshell MTB Shoe Covers (~$30.00). While I don’t recommend these for super cold days, they will keep your feet warm from 30 degrees F (-1 C) on up. Just slip them over your regular shoes and boom, you’ll be warm during the shoulder season.
Slip a toe warmer between the cover and your cycling shoe, and you should be okay down to 20 degrees F.
Beware, if you’ve got beautiful, wide ankles these dainty little buggers will be a stretch. If you can, try them on before purchasing.
Make sure to wrap your feet in a pair (or two) of wool socks. Darn Tough’s are backed by a lifetime guarantee.
When it comes to keeping your legs, arms, and torso warm, you need less than you think. A lot less, we’ve found!
There is absolutely no need to spend money on burly coats and pants. Fatbiking is such an aerobic sport that you’ll sweat through heavy gear in most conditions. We’ve found that our heavy gear is only really necessary if it’s below 0 degrees F, if we’re stopping a lot on trail, or if we’re on a winter overnighter.
Try a long sleeve paired with a light jacket and some yoga pants or baselayers. We recommend wool, but realize that wool baselayers aren’t a luxury that everyone has laying around. Cotton is useable, but will become saturated if you sweat too much on the ride. Synthetic fabric is better, but may get a little chilly while descending. You may have to mix and match layers to find something suitable.
An old rain jacket does wonders to keep heat in and cold out. Just remember that they aren’t designed to breathe, and so you’ll have to be careful not to sweat the jacket out.
An old puffy or synthetic jacket is perfect to stuff in your backpack. You’ll want to throw it on to keep the chill off every time you stop to take a break or rip an extended descent. In super cold weather, you’ll throw this jacket on over your wind layer and base layer for an ultra warm setup.
The general rule of thumb is to have your lightest layer closest to your body, and your thickest layer on the outside. For example, for cold winter rides I wear a thin wool baselayer, a thicker wool/synthetic blend hoodie, and a shell jacket. I have a puffy stuffed in my frame bag or backpack for stopping and descending.
If you’ve spent much time in the cold, you know how important it is to keep your head warm. However, when it comes to fatbiking you can pretty much break all the rules. If you’re trying to get ready for cold temps on a budget, there is no reason to spend money on an expensive hat system. There are great merino wool caps and balaclavas out there, but they are far from essential riding gear.
In most conditions, and especially if you have long hair, your head will stay warm just fine on it’s own. I don’t even use a hat for 20 degrees F (-7 C) and warmer. When it gets colder than that (or if you’re riding really fast) carry a cheap headband with you to cover your ears and forehead. An old beanie from college will do the trick, as well. When it’s really cold, you’ll want to put a headband around your nose, too, and consider doubling up on the hats.
Shreddy Tip: If you’ve got long hair, try braiding it over your ears as an extra layer.
Winter riding requires a little more gear than summer riding, and that means you’ll have to figure out how to carry it.
Carrying your layers
Lots of winter riders leave their bikepacking bags on all winter. However, you can get away with stuffing all that gear in your old backpack from high school or an old hydration pack bag.
Another challenge to overcome when riding in the winter are frozen water bottles. If you’re carrying regular sport bottles, always start out with hot water and tip them upside-down in your water bottle cage to keep the mouthpiece from freezing. Don’t put boiling water in plastic bike bottles. Be aware that if it’s cold enough, these bottles will likely freeze in an hour or two.
SW Shredder Heather recommends putting a little bit of vodka in your water bottles. Just a little (or a lot!) will lower the freezing point of your water and give you a little more time with your liquids. Try covering up the taste with Gatorade powder! If you use a hydration pack, Heather recommends putting Vodka in the spout. You can spit it out on your first sip.
A note on alcohol and the cold: According to this study, consuming large quantities of alcohol decreases body temperature. This is exacerbated by the amount of alcohol consumed, the rate of consumption, the temperature and wind chill, the body type of the individual, and the alcohol tolerance of the individual. The study did not specify whether women were affected by alcohol and the cold disproportionately to men. According to the study, participants who ingested 1 unit of alcohol (1 12oz beer, 1 shot of spirit) and then exercised in the cold for 40 minutes showed no decrease in body temperature. Keep it at a safe dose! Thanks to EndurElite for the info.
If you do use a hydration pack, wear it between your base layer and your coat. Feed the tube under your armpit and under your sports bra to keep the hose from freezing solid. Make sure to blowback through the hose after every drink.
You’ll want to keep your eyes from tearing up in the cold and from the harmful rays of the sun. I like to use safety glasses. You can purchase these for as little as $0.79.
Some of the best fatbiking happens at night, when the groom is super hard and smooth. Eventually, you’ll want to invest in a high-lumen handle bar light and helmet light. For now, throw on an old headlamp and attach one to your handlebars. At the very least, throw one into your backpack in case you get caught in the dark.
There have been lots of evenings where I find myself ripping through town after a ride. Consider purchasing some cheap rear lights. For long races or rides, I recommend ones that take a lithium battery, as opposed to environmentally friendly rechargeable ones, because lithium preforms better in the cold. This 6-pack is $8.00.
SW Shredder Heather also recommends using plastic grocery bags as liners for your feet. Similar to our suggestion to use latex gloves as a liner, plastic bags will help control your sweat and the dryness of your socks by acting as a barrier between your skin and your woolies. Plastic bags also offer a bit of wind protection. Thanks Heather!
The Necessities Kit ($200.00 - $350.00)
If you can swing it, I recommend purchasing a pair of pogies. Pogies are those weird mitts that cover the grip of your handlebars all the way up to your forearms. They keep your hands so much warmer than a pair of gloves because they block the wind while trapping body heat. Another huge plus is that they don’t compromise your ability to shift and brake. Furthermore, they are a perfect place to stash spare gloves, nutrition, or hand warmers.
There is one thing to consider with a pogie: they are attached to your handlebars, and therefore when you stop to adjust your tire pressure or take a drink you expose your hands to the cold. I always carry, at the bare minimum, an additional pair of thin liner gloves. Toss them into the cavernous pit of your pogie and forget about them until you need them.
On warm days, the pogie itself will likely be all you need to keep your hands warm, so you can keep your gloves in your pack. On cold days, a thin liner glove will do the trick. On brutally cold days, most pogies are large enough to squeeze a full winter glove inside of them.
Bar Mitts ($50.00 on Amazon, $75.00 on product site) are the least expensive pogie I recommend. This version does not have nearly the insulation or venting capability of more expensive pogies, but at nearly half the price they are well worth the cash. None of us at ShredWorthy have ever personally used them (opting instead for a thinker pogie, (see below)), however without trying them we can say with certainty that having any sort of wind/cold barrier is really important. We assume, because of the lower amount of insulation, that Bar Mitts will actually be more comfortable than heavily padded pogies in warmer conditions (40-20 degrees F, 4 to -7 C).
Generally speaking, the colder the rating for a boot the more expensive it will be. Therefore, the shoulder-season/mind winter boots are going to be less expensive than the extreme winter boots.
We’ve both had success with Specialized Defrosters (~$200.00 MSRP, ~$40.00 for odd sizes) down to about 20 degrees F (-7 C). However, I don’t recommend these shoes for smaller feet. When made smaller (I wear a size 5.5), the ankle wrap system fits funny, resulting in pressure points and bruising around your ankle. I also don’t recommend these shoes for anything colder than 20 degrees F. They simply aren’t thick enough to insulate your feet. If you can find them on sale, they can improve your experience on a fatbike. They were clearly designed for winter riding, and easily accommodate thick socks and toe warmers!
My next +25 degrees F boot will likely be 45NRTH’s Ragnarök (~$150.00).
If you want to get some more mileage out of this boot, pair it with a cycling shoe cover, like the Stormshell MTB Shoe Covers from the Broke Kit.
Unless the thermometer dips below 10 degrees F (-12 C), I keep my legs warm with a regular, summer chamois and a mid-weight base layer. Whatever you put underneath your snow pants for skiing and snowboarding will work just fine. I do suggest wool for its ability to wick moisture, but wool isn’t 100% necessary, as long as you are careful not to get too sweaty.
If you have a little money to spend on base layers, Molly really recommends Endura’s BaaBaa Base Layer. Wool never fails to feel like a luxury that you can wear ride after ride.
When temps dip below 10 degrees F, you’re less likely to go for an extremely long ride, so there isn’t a burning need to invest in cold weather cycling pants. For now, go ahead and whip out those good ol’ snowpants from the basement from time to time.
For your torso, it isn’t imperative that you go out and buy an expensive cold weather jacket. Like your legs, your torso won’t get very cold except in the most extreme conditions. In almost all weather I pair a wool base layer with a light wind jacket. Pearl Izumi makes a decent wind jacket (~$30.00) that can handle most conditions.
You will need a warm coat to throw on when you stop moving. If you don’t already have a puffy, check out REI’s used gear program.
Insulated bottles can seriously lengthen your ride time.
Hydro Flask, Yeti, and Polar Bottle are the leaders in the industry. Hydroflask and Yeti make a great product, and if you’ve already got a few laying around the house then great! You’re all set to rip.
Polar Bottle makes biking specific insulated bottles. Their insulated sport bottle (top right) will give you an hour or two more of liquid water than a non-insulated bottle. These bottles are great because they are lightweight and will keep your liquids liquid for three hour rides. Polar Bottle also makes a vacuum sealed, stainless steel insulated bike bottle. It’s similar in weight and quality to Yeti and Hydro Flask, but we like it because the cap is considerably smaller. This might not seem like a big deal until you’re cramming the bottle into your frame bag or packing up for your first winter expedition. When it comes to carrying items on your bike, smaller and lighter is best.
Lastly, don’t forget some cheap safety glasses from the Broke Kit. They really work well for most conditions and will retain your visibility while snow is falling during a ride.
The Rad Kit ($500.00 - $1,170.00)
The Rad Kit includes the puffy, insulated bottles, and shoulder season riding boots from the Necessities Kit, as well as the items below.
45NRTH makes a burly pair of pogies called the Cobrafists (~$90.00). I’ve tried Specialized Insulator Mitt pogies (~$90.00) as well, and while they are every bit as warm as 45NRTH’s pogie they do not offer a venting zip (which is absolutely wonderful once you work up a sweat—it can get surprisingly hot in there!). Both of these pogies are made for seriously cold weather riding and are large enough to fit a winter glove in.
Hands down the best pair of cold weather riding boots are 45NRTH's Wolvhammers. The MSRP is $325.00 (however I’ve seen odd sizes for sale at $160.00). They are rated from 0 to 25 degrees F (-18 to -6 C), but it’s widely agreed that with the right socks and/or vapor barriers, these boots can keep your feet warm in temperatures well below 0 degrees F.
Lake makes a winter riding boot as well, however we’ve never tried them and we can’t recommend them. We’ve never heard anything good about this boot from other riders. The MSRP is less than 45NRTH, but still costly at $225.00-$330.00, depending on the model.
If you do want to invest in a winter cycling pant, 45NRTH makes a unisex pant (~$275.00) that fits a woman’s body surprisingly well. I was skeptical at first, but ended up liking the fit. As opposed to regular cold weather athletic pants, these are designed to work with a burly riding boot and offer venting along the leg. If you plan to ride and/or camp in winter’s coldest, these pants will keep you comfortable.
686 and Specialized teamed up to make a technical jacket (~$150.00) that is incredibly warm and actually looks good. I wear mine around town all the time.
There are great merino wool options out there, such as Giro’s Winter Cap, 45NRTH’s Greazy, and Surly’s Wool Cap. Balaclavas are great for winter riding, as well! My only advice on balaclavas is to pick one that is designed for heavy exercise. Nothing is more annoying than struggling to breathe through thick, moist fabric. If the weather is cold enough, a poorly designed balaclava will turn into a useless, frozen hunk of junk.
I keep a few of my bikepacking bags on my fatbike pretty much all winter long. My top tube bag ($50.00) carries my cell phone and bike lights, my grub bag (handle bar bag) holds a few snacks, and my frame bag ($165.00) hauls water bottles and extra layers (puffy, extra gloves, hat). For long rides, my seat oriented top tube bag holds odd things like batteries or chap stick. During the shoulder season, I use a small frame bag that just holds my on trail tool kit. These bags are a great investment if you plan on bikepacking in the future, and many brands (including our favorite, DirtBags) offer a lifetime guarantee.
Last but not least, our Rad Kit includes a set of powerful bike lights. I recommend two NiteRider Luminas (one attached to your handle bars, the second to your helmet). At ~$100.00 a pop, some would consider these a luxury item. However, you’ll likely find that you’re waking up early and staying up late to ride when the snow is at its absolute best. That means you’re going to want to be able to see out there. Don’t settle for anything less than 1200 lumens. Also, pay attention to the weight of the product as well as the battery life. Some claim up to 18 hours.
The Dream Kit ($1,500.00+)
The Dream Kit includes everything from the Rad and Essentials kits, plus a few dreamy items!
You're likely scoffing at the price tag. When I bought my fattie, I spent a total of $100.00 that first season. I couldn’t justify spending any more than that on warm weather gear. Don’t get me wrong, the pogies and shoulder season boots I purchased served me well that first year. I truly didn’t need anything else.
However, now that I’m spending the night outside in the winter, I’ve spent a serious chunk of change on my equipment…and I haven’t regretted it for a second. Being able to stay warm in the cold is part of what makes our sport fun!
If you’ve invested in some warm pogies, they’ve likely always been warm enough for your adventures. However, if you’re considering getting into winter camping or ultra winter racing, 45NRTH makes a pair of insanely warm riding gloves. Insanely warm. If there is a temperature that these gloves paired with a pogie can’t tackle, I’ve certainly never experienced it.
The Wolvhammer’s double layered, extreme weather cousin is the Wolfgar. This burly boot ranges from $475.00-$380.00. If you plan to ride in subzero temps regularly, I encourage you to consider investing in these boots. They claim comfort down to -25 degrees F (-32 C) and have a carbon fiber construction on the heel and midsole, making them a surprisingly light boot.
Check out what your local dealer has in stock and try a pair on. No one has ever skipped out on a ride for fear of their feet being too warm, and frostbite is a real-yet-avoidable reality of your new favorite sport.
Some riders swear by a CamelBak for winter riding. If you’re going on a long, all day or multi-day trip you might want to try one out, too. Personally, I’m saving up for the Wampak by Revelate Designs. To my knowledge, it’s the only cold weather riding specific hydration pack on the market. It’s designed to keep water liquid on ultra-endurance rides in the most extreme temperatures. Feed the hose under your armpit so the spout rests on your chest. Your body heat will keep the water from freezing, and you’ll be spared carrying huge quantities of heavy, insulated bottles. Make sure you blow back the water in the hose after every use.