10 Best Cycling Caps for Winter Rides

·7 min read
Photo credit: Bicycling: Courtesy Castelli
Photo credit: Bicycling: Courtesy Castelli
Photo credit: Staff
Photo credit: Staff

Here’s something you might not know: Our bodies lose heat equally through all areas of exposed skin. So although we grew up to believe—or were told by our parents and teachers—that most of our body heat escapes from the top (i.e. our heads), those knees you have poking through your jeans are cooling down at about the same rate as your noggin.

When it comes to cold-weather riding, we put forth a great effort—and lay out a healthy chunk of change—to ensure that we stay warm in the chilliest and wettest of conditions. We invest in winter tights, waterproof jackets, arm warmers, insulated gloves, and even cozy socks. Now it’s time to add a good winter cycling cap to this list.


What to Consider

Some Fit Better Under a Helmet

While every cycling cap and balaclava on our list can (technically) fit underneath a helmet, some do it better than others. The POC AVIP Road Beanie is made of four-way stretch fabric for a slim fit, the Pearl Izumi Barrier Skull Cap comes with a ponytail port, and the Rapha Merino Hat covers just enough of your ears to keep them warm without getting in the way of helmet straps.

And while we always recommend riding with a helmet on to protect against injuries, if you're planning to wear a winter hat primarily off your bike, your options are practically endless, as doing so eliminates the threat of the cap being too bulky or loose to fit underneath your helmet. The Walz Wool 3-Panel Cycling Cap is extra thick, with an ear band and long brim, making it a good option for those helmetless days.

A Balaclava Covers More Skin

On the coldest, windiest days, the more skin you can cover, the better. A balaclava is at once a cap, an ear band, a face mask, and a neck gaiter. Advantages to these one-piece options include more coverage without the bulk of overlapping multiple accessories. A downside is that they’re not as easy to remove or pull down if you start to overheat.

It’s Important to Protect Your Ears

There’s nothing pleasant about the feeling of frigid air whipping into your ears as you’re flying down the open road on a bike. Look for a cycling cap with a dedicated ear band. Conveniently, this style adds a little extra protection at the back of the neck, as well.

Wind- and Waterproof Options Exist

As is the case with all cycling apparel, there are wind- and water-resistant options and wind- and waterproof options. They are not one and the same, however. If you truly want to keep wet weather and cold wind from working their way in, look for the latter. Sportful’s Fiandre Norain Cap is minimalist—no ear band, no thermal lining—but it’s wind- and waterproof, making it a good option for cool, rainy days.

How We Evaluated

In creating this list of the best cycling hats for winter, we drew from our collective experience: Almost all of the products on this list have been tested against the elements. We wore them for frigid commutes and long weekend adventures, winter trail rides and post-ride parking lot beers. This list includes only the hats most highly recommended by our team of test editors. For the items we haven’t tested, we evaluated customer reviews, relied on our experience with similar products and with the brands themselves, and weighed performance features against other products on the market.

Looking for more cold-weather gear and apparel? Check out our picks for the best leg warmers and cycling pants.

―BEST OVERALL―

Pearl Izumi Barrier Skull Cap

With a snug fit that covers your ears and forehead without cutting into your field of vision, the Skull Cap is as minimalist as they come. P.R.O. Thermal Dry fabric wicks sweat and keeps your noggin warm, while a P.R.O. barrier panel on the forehead resists wind and rain. A ponytail port at the back earns this cap major points, as well.

―KEEPS YOU WARM ON AND OFF THE BIKE―

Giro Merino Winter Cap

The Giro Merino Winter Cap packs style both on and off the bike with its subtle brim and earflaps that can fold up and out of the way. Wear it on its own as a fashion accessory or under a helmet on cold days—a breathable X-Static liner wicks moisture, and Merino wool fights stink. Some say it it doesn't properly cover the earlobes, though several Amazon reviewers say it's still a super warming cap.

―WOOL EAR FLAPS―

Castelli Difesa Thermal Cap

This is the thermal version of Castelli’s original Difesa cap with Windstopper, meaning it’s not windproof, but its Thermoflex Core2 fabric is better at keeping your head dry and, thus, warm. Wool earflaps offer enough coverage without feeling bulky under a helmet, and a small brim adds classic cycling cap style. You can also choose between a red or blue liner, depending on your personal style.

―BEST FOR WET DAYS―

Sportful Fiandre Norain Cap

The Fiandre Norain is one of the most minimalist cycling caps on our list, offering water- and windproof protection while remaining breathable. The brim is longer than that of a typical cycling cap, ideal for keeping the rain off your face, but this one doesn’t offer ear coverage like other winter hats, meaning it’s more conducive to cool, rainy days than it is for downright freezing ones.

―BEST FIT UNDER A HELMET―

Rapha Merino Hat

The cozy Merino Hat is mostly wool with a bit of nylon that adds just enough stretch for a firm fit. Merino naturally wicks sweat and dries quickly, ensuring a warm noggin. The two-inch ear band sufficiently covered our ears and can be folded up for a little extra ventilation. Of the hats on this list, this Rapha model is one of the best under-helmet options, and it’s available in three earthy colors.

―AVAILABLE IN HIGH-VIZ―

POC AVIP Road Beanie

The laser-cut AVIP is super slim-fitting, with a cozy brushed interior and slightly longer back. Stretchy fabric made it easy to pull over our ears enough to cover them and the cap is so lightweight it practically disappears under a helmet. This one also has a highly reflective POC logo on the back for added visibility.

―BEST FOR THE COLDEST RIDES―

Gore Windstopper Balaclava

The only exposed skin the Gore Windstopper Balaclava leaves behind can be covered with a pair of sunglasses—everything else is protected. Gore Windstopper fabric on the forehead and ears kept us warm where it really counts. Vents at the nose and mouth increase breathability and minimize overheating, but it still felt claustrophobic at times. Water-repellent Thermo-stretch fabric gave a snug fit without restricting movement, and reflective details add a touch of visibility.

―FULL COVERAGE FOR HELMETLESS RIDES―

Louis Garneau Winter Cap

The Louis Garneau Winter Cap has an extra long ear band that extends low to cover the back of the neck, and a brim to keep cold drizzle off your face. The entire cap, including the ear band, has a cozy thermal lining. It also has a visor to block some elements away from your eyes while you're riding, plus reflective trim significantly increases rider visibility.

―BEST VALUE―

Rockbros Cold Weather Balaclava

Windproof with extra coverage around the neck, this balaclava is great for those looking for a cheap solution to those winter rides. It comes in one size and is super stretchy, creating a comfortable but form-fitting cut, and the interior is lined with fleece for comfortable warmth. Beware, however, that it lacks any reflective accents, so keep those low-light markers on you if you opt for this cap.


BEST STYLE

Walz Wool 3-Panel Ear Flap Cycling Cap

This cycling cap does an excellent job blending form and function. Not only is it warm and cozy on the bike, but it’s also perfectly acceptable for non-cycling outings. The liner wicks moisture and has an ear band around the inside that adds extra warmth plus an additional layer of sweat-wicking protection.

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