How to Keep Ears Warm When Cycling

The winter season can get pretty nasty around Tundra North America and other similar places.  There’s snow everywhere, but that’s not always a bad thing. Because snowboarders, skiers, cyclists, and fat bike riders of all stripes can venture out and enjoy the cold outdoors.

Related: Types of Cycling Sports 

Cruising on your MTB through breathtaking yellow aspen trees can be exciting, but the ears can get pretty cold. If you don’t want your ears to freeze up and possibly fall off (just kidding), you’ve gotta learn how to keep your ears warm when cycling. 

Your ears can get dang cold even when you have a well-padded helmet on. And the cold can build tons of unpleasantness into your overall outdoor winter-weather cycling experience.

To keep your ears warm when cycling, use a cycling buff, a beanie, earmuffs, a balaclava, a neck gaiter, a helmet liner, a trapper hat, or an ear-warming headband. A balaclava is for most cyclists the best way to heat up the ears when cycling in cold weather, but you can try out any of the other strategies and see what would work best for you.

9 Ways to Keep Your Ears Warm When Cycling in the Cold

  1. Wear a cycling buff.
  2. Wear a beanie when cycling in cold weather. Also, tape up the helmet’s air vents.
  3. Put on earmuffs.
  4. Cover every part above your shoulders using a balaclava.
  5. Use a neck gaiter that has ear covers.
  6. Wear a skull cap.
  7. Use an ear-warming headband.
  8. Use a helmet cover.
  9. Wear a trapper hat.

*Note: I’m not qualified to advise anyone about illnesses or conditions of any kind. If you suspect your ears have an infection of any kind, talk to your physician.

1. Wear a Cycling Buff

A buff is a tubular piece of cloth that cyclists use to block coldness out around the ears. You can cut it down into mini buffs for when it’s not super cold. Another idea: wear a cycling cap to keep the top of your dome warm and then put on a half-buff to cover the ears and finally put on a cycling helmet

A mini buff can also work as a sweatband to prevent sweat from streaming into your eyes when riding on warmer days.

But when riding a bike on the coolest days, use your buff to cover your neck. For an even warmer experience, pull the back of the buff over the back of your head similar to how you wear a balaclava.

And to keep the cold out of your mouth and nose, pull the bottom of the neck warmer up so that it covers the mouth and nose similar to how Ninjas do it in the movies.

A wool cycling buff works best, but you can also use a synthetic one. I recommend the Coolnet Buff. *As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at zero cost to you. 

2. Wear a Beanie Under Your Bike Helmet

Everyone has their own bad hair day, but a good beanie makes a difference. I even saw a beanie called the Bad Hair Day Beanie.

But who says you can’t wear a beanie for winter cycling? A beanie covers the ears adequately without preventing you from wearing your helmet properly.

A beanie is like a skull cap, only thicker and warmer. You’ll never see me without a beanie on a winter morning. My beanie is knitted, and the way it pampers and warms my ears is indescribable.

Whether you’re biking to work on a cold winter morning, shredding on wet snowy trails, or just having fun at the local bike park, wearing a beanie helps. A good cycling beanie keeps your ears cozy and adequately protected against the elements.

What’s the Best Winter Cycling Beanie for the Money?

I recommend the Minus33 Merino Wool Men’s Beanie. It is merino wool-warm, looks nice, is affordable, and offers a great fit (one size fits most heads). Plus, the beanie feels super comfortable under a bike helmet. See what this beanie looks like below.

beanie for winter biking

Another reason you need this beanie is that it’s a knitted item that keeps ears warm even when temperatures are below 50 degrees. No more frozen ears — ever.

What’s more, this beanie tackles sweaty smells well no matter how hard you ride. You’ll never wear acrylic beanies ever again when cycling in cold weather.

Whether you live in Colorado or spend your winters fat-biking in Illinois, you’ll love the itch-free Minus33 Merino Wool Beanie.

The only gripe I have is that the beanie isn’t stretchy enough. If you have a really large dome, it could feel a tad too tight.

3. Put on Earmuffs

Earmuffs can be a great seasonal fashion item, but that’s not all they are. You can use them to keep your ears warm when doing chilly winter rides.

You can wear around-the-head styled earmuffs that fit like a headband. Or you can go with earmuffs with a behind-the-head fit style.

Newer earmuffs don’t have adjustable bands. Instead, they rely on some kind of cup-and-clip mechanism to stay in place.

Around-the-head earmuffs work best for me and most bike riders. But there’s no reason you can’t wear a bandless version.

What are the Best Winter Cycling Earmuffs for Men and Women?

The Sprigs Bandless Earmuffs with Thinsulate is a decent option. Wear these earmuffs on chilly blustery nights as well as for cycling through cold winter weather.

earmuffs for winter biking

They snap into place and stay on your ears, and the fabric they’re made out of doesn’t itch or pinch, Plus, they’re more affordable than most. Some riders have reported their earmuffs’ attachment mechanism losing its power over time. But don’t all things degrade with time?

But Do These Earmuffs Shut Out Traffic Noise?

No, they won’t prevent you from hearing traffic. They’re safe to use on the road. Still, you should stay alert and careful the entire time you’re riding through road traffic.

Whether you’re enjoying a cold-weather mountain trail ride or a cold-morning commute to your job, wear earmuffs.

4. Wear a Balaclava for Full-face Coverage

Motorcycle riders wear balaclavas to stay nice and warm when it’s chilly outside. Because balaclavas are really good at keeping the entire head warm throughout the ride.

This item covers everything above your shoulders. It covers your neck, ears, nose, mouth, and the rest of the head but not the eyes. It features a horizontal opening around the eyes so you can have perfect forward and peripheral vision. Look at the image below to see what the eye “window” looks like.

balaclava for winter cyclists

You can certainly use a balaclava for heating up your ears when cycling against chilly winds in the winter. But if you get into a black balaclava and choose not to wear a helmet, you might scare some people. So, get a nice balaclava and look like the friendly cycling ninja you are.

With a helmet on — and the item fits perfectly under a helmet — you’ll get an even snugger fit. Plus, your ears and face will stay warm. And you’ll terrify no one.

What’s the Best Balaclava for Winter Bike Riding?

Amazon sells loads of decent balaclavas. But to make your shopping easier and save you time, I’ll recommend something I use and love.

I recommend the Sirek Cold Weather Ski Mask for cycling in chilly weather. It’s the best bet for cycling ninjas who stop at nothing, not even cold. Whether you’re shredding snowy mountain trails or just biking to work in stormy weather, you’ll love how this balaclava traps warm air inside.

The Sirek is in my opinion, and that of many cyclists, the ultimate insurance against the wind, cold, and snow when riding through snowy days.

Breathing under this full-head covering shouldn’t be a problem because it’s pretty porous around the nostril. Unless you have breathing issues, you’ll love wearing this item.

This balaclava fits different-sized heads without issues, plus it’s breathable. It’s affordable, too, and it won’t pinch your face. And the best part? You’ll enjoy your bike even on foggy, windy days.

5. Wear a Neck Gaiter With Ear Covers

A neck gaiter prevents water from streaming downward and wetting the lower parts of the body. It keeps your neck warm, too.

winter biking neck gaiter

A good neck gaiter adequately covers your mouth and ears. It’s like a Covid mask combined with earmuffs.

Whether your favorite winter outdoor activity is cycling, snow hiking, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or skiing, a decent neck gaiter helps.

Remember to wear your helmet because it’s easy to slip and fall on snowy surfaces. I wear a Triple 8 dual-certified cycling helmet most of the time and I’m sure it would protect my noggin in a crash.

Any Good Neck Gaiter That Covers the Ears?

The Tough Headwear Winter Face Mask is a good option. It’s well-made and stays in place, at least most of the time.

It protects decently against the elements and is most suitable for when the weather is mild to moderate. But when icy blizzards are ruling the outdoors, this neck gaiter might turn out to be a complete disappointment.

It has a vecro closure at the back so you can have a nice and snug fit around the nose. But the fit can be too tight if you have a round head. It fits looser around the neck and tighter around the lower half of the head. Actually, the snug fit on your face is what holds this neck warmer in place.

And if there’s too much tension on the vecro closure, it could come unstuck. If you get this issue, a quick fix would be using a velcro extension strap.

6. Wear a Skull Cap/Helmet Liner

A skull cap made out of moisture-absorbent fleece fabric is the ultimate winter protection against the cold. This beanie-like head cap fits snugly on the head. And you can wear your helmet without issues.

The ears and top hemisphere of your dome stay covered and warm. Whether riding recreationally, cycling marathons or participating in a cross-country competition in snowy weather conditions, wear this cap.

And if you like flying down gnarly descents on your bike in the coldest seasons, be sure to have this skull cap under your helmet.

skull cap for cycling

One thing I love about this skull cap is its comfy fleece interior that traps heat beautifully. And its headband-like properties prevent sweat from dripping into your eyes.

Even though this one-size-fits-most helmet liner covers the ears, it’s thin enough and allows for perfect hearing. You’ll hear road noises and traffic without a problem. What’s more, the cap has a hole at the back in case you have long hair.

One downside is that this cap can make the air inside your head pretty hot, especially if you’re doing an intense cycling session. Also, air circulation isn’t great. But it definitely keeps your ears warm and toasty.

What’s the Best Skull Cap for Winter Weather Cycling?

The Tough Headwear Skull Cap offers perfect moisture wicking and great thermal retention. It fits under helmets perfectly, and it stretches to fit heads of all shapes and sizes. Finally, it’s cheaper than most, and it’s available in at least 5 nice colors. I love the Camo one.

7. Put on Headband-style Ear Warmers

Ear warmers work really well. These headbands are adjustable, and you can shift them around until you have the perfect fit.

With a good headband on your head, sweat won’t dribble down over your eyes. The back portion comes down longer than the forehead one.

And you can pull the back part to make it come down and cover the ears better. You can also choose to have the front part of the headband stay under your helmet’s rim.

headband ear cover

Most headband-style ear warmers don’t do anywhere near amazing when you throw blizzards at them. They work best when used for short periods of time, such as when you want to enjoy a short recreational winter ride. Or when walking from your car to your job in foul winter weather.

What’s the Best Headband-style Ear Warmer for Bikers?

I recommend the Turtle Fur Chelonia 150 Fleece Winter Cycling Headband. It’s a one-size-fits-most, fleece headband that lets you wear your helmet and glasses without trouble. It’s unisex, which is nice.

Also, it’s super soft, warm, and comfortable. It’s best suited for moderately cold weather rather than the severest winter weather. Oh, and I love the tiny turtle logo on the forehead portion of the band.

Here’s another I recommend: The Winter Freeze Ear Warmers Muffs Headband for cyclists. This one works for both men and women. Unlike others I’d tried before, this one offered adequate ear coverage. The material it’s made of is 75 percent fleece and 25 percent polyester.

It’s lightweight, won’t irritate your skin, and dries fast. Wear it over your helmet and be sure to use a helmet cover, and you should be ready to take on mild winter weather.

8. Wear a Trooper Hat (a Trapper Hat)

Nothing works better than a good trooper hat (also called a trapper hat) when it comes to blocking out icy cold air during a winter cycling tour.

The best trapper hats have a skin-soothing furry inner liner that plays second fiddle to no other as far as trapping in heat.

A trapper hat should fit nice and snug around the chin. Also, it should cover the entirety of your head but leave the face open so you can wear your winter cycling goggles.

What’s the Best Winter Bike Riding Trapper Hat?

The Unigear Ushanka Unisex Trapper Hat comes highly recommended. This trapper feels super soft against the ears and is what to wear when exploring Iceland on your bike or any other similarly cold destination.

It blocks strong cold winter winds well, and you won’t get from precipitation. But it’s not waterproof though. It dried quicker than I expected even after being soaked.

If you wear this trapper-style cool-weather cycling hat without a helmet, you’ll be fine. That’s how warm it is. Armed with this, you’ll face freezing-point Montana-like winters or cold Canadian winters without worry.

It seems roomy in the picture, but it’s smaller in person. People with 24″ or larger heads will find it a tad too snug.

9. Use a Helmet Cover to Block Out Cold Icy Air

A helmet cover isn’t designed to keep your ears warm, but it helps — a lot.

If you’ve ever ridden a bike on a cold, windy, misty morning you must have experienced what I’m about to describe.

You have a nice cycling helmet on and some earmuffs or headband-style ear warmers. But for some reason, cold air currents still manage to drift in, freezing up your scalp and ears. Why does this happen? 

It happens because bike helmets have air vents. These ventilation openings can let in cold air, causing discomfort. Fortunately, using a helmet cover solves the problem. This cover blocks cold air, and the warm air trapped inside your helmet retains its temperature. Alternatively, you can tape these air vents.

Any Good Helmet Cover for Winter Biking?

The Ayamaya Bike Helmet Cover for Winter Cycling is what I recommend. It’s green, a highly visible color for more safety. Also, this cover has reflective features so that drivers and other riders can spot you with ease.

What’s more, this rain cover is waterproof and windproof. It’s precisely what you need for those cold morning winter bike trips. Also, the cover packs down pretty small; it can fit in your pant pockets.

To prevent windchill from assaulting your scalp and ears, use this helmet cover in combination with earmuffs, beanie, buff, balaclava, helmet liner, neck gaiter, or trapper’s hat. Don’t want to buy it? No worries, find a clever way to tape up the helmet’s vents.

Cold Ears Can Happen Even When You Layer UP

If you’re like most cyclists who choose to chase outdoor fun even on the coldest winter days, you’ve noticed that your ears remain cold and sometimes painful even when you’ve bundled up. And nothing discourages people from pursuing happiness outdoors more than discomfort, especially when it’s freezing cold outdoors.

Why Keep Your Ears Warm When Biking In the Winter?

Many cyclists ride in sub-zero temperatures and are just fine at the end of the riding session. Actually, you can ride in such temperatures without covering your hearing organs and not have any issues.

But if it gets too cold outside, like sub-50 F temperatures, that can cause problems. If you don’t want to have any kind of cold-related infections, use extra ear protection before hopping on your road bike or MTB.

Chronic exposure to extremely cold wind and water can cause Surfer’s Ear. This is a condition where your ear canal gets blocked due to irritation resulting from too much exposure to cold conditions. Eventually, trapped water and wax in the blocked ear canal can lead to various infections. Here’s another research article published on NCBI that explains the condition in greater detail.

Cold-water surfers are familiar with this condition because it’s pretty common in varying degrees in the surfing community. But Surfer’s Ear can happen to pretty much anyone that spends their winters having fun outdoors.

Surfer’s Ear can happen to kayakers, windsurfers, sailors, kitesurfers, and jet skiers. And according to Ear Hygiene Clinic, it can happen even to cyclists and hikers. 

How to Warm Your Ears When Cycling In Cold Weather: Conclusion

If a day is cold and windy, you can stay indoors and be warm and toasty. Or you can use any of the ear-warming ideas above to venture out and enjoy life on your bike.

You can wear earmuffs, a helmet cover, a trapper hat, a skull cap, an ear warmer headband, or a neck gaiter. You can also put on a balaclava or its closest rival, a cycling buff. A beanie hat is also a great way to cover your ears and shut the cold out when out winter riding.

These ear warmers certainly cost money. But isn’t the comfort and peace of mind you’ll get when shredding through cold windy days better than money?

I believe the best strategy to warm up the ears in harsh winter weather is using a balaclava under a helmet. But hey, to each their own.