Arm warmers are one of the most versatile ways to protect yourself in cold or changeable conditions. They come in plenty of different shapes and sizes, from heavy-duty thermal construction with windproof panels protecting your joints, to lightweight materials designed to fend off UV rays.
They can be worn with just about any jersey, then peeled off and stuffed in a rear pocket when the sun comes out, making them a quick and easy way to protect yourself from variable temperatures.
The use case options for arm warmers is a list as long as your arm itself. The humble arm warmers can serve as a backup option stuffed into your pocket on those warm-but-cloudy days, they can be paired with a short sleeve jersey to form a versatile replacement for your long-sleeved option, they can be pulled on at the top of a long Alpine descent at the height of summer. They can even form a second (or third) sleeve on the coldest of winter days, where a winter jacket and waterproof layer still don't cut it.
Here is some advice on how to choose a good quality, well-fitting pair of arm warmers, with our pick of some of the best available to buy.
What to look for in a pair of arm warmers
Size and cut
Like most cycling gear, getting the right size warmers is paramount: too loose and they'll fall down; too tight and at best, they'll cause discomfort, but could lead to affected circulation and numb hands. The same applies when it comes to length: if they are too short, there will be an awkward, chill inducing gap below your sleeve; on the other hand, too much material will make for an uncomfortable bunch of fabric around your wrists.
When trying on warmers watch out for folds in the bend of the elbow. While some warmers are just a tube of fabric, others are articulated to accommodate bent elbows. The skin in this area is surprisingly sensitive, and over time bunched fabric can chafe, and will only get worse as sweat and/or rain is introduced. Watch out for warmers with lots of crisscrossing seams, as these are less pliable than the surrounding fabric and can often cause bind points.
Most arm warmers are made from 'Roubaix' fabric, which is basically a fleece-lined lycra and nylon blend.
A few brands such as Defeet and Rapha also make knitted warmers out of merino or synthetic fibre. These come in several sizes and are usually devoid of seems.
There are plenty of basic warmers on the market that are essentially just fabric tubes; however, some also see panels of windproof fabrics sewn in over the joints or have received a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment.
As cyclists, we aren't known for our biceps, but thankfully, most arm warmers have silicone grippers around the top cuff to prevent them from slipping down our t-rex-like arms. Most brands place these on the inside of the cuff to grip the skin, while others place them on the outside, so they grab onto your sleeve.
Many warmers feature some definition of a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment. This is a fabric treatment that binds to the individual fibres and creates microspikes that increase the contact angle water droplets have with the fabric. These mini-pegs force droplets to maintain their surface tension and roll off the material rather than spreading out and seeping in.
DWR treatments are not permanent and wear off over time, however, there is a range of wash-in or spray-on treatments available. 10 minutes in the tumble dryer can do wonders for extending the life DWR treatments.
Best arm warmers you can buy today
Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Arm Warmer
Best for those who are finicky about fit
Price: £30 / $35 / AU$60 | DWR Treatment: Yes | Gripper: Yes
Pearl Izumi updated its best-selling thermal arm warmer with 'PI Dry' hydrophobic treatment, allowing them to shed rain and road spray. They are anatomically cut, with the left and right arm warmer labelled as such.
Pearl Izumi has also updated the gripper around the top cuff to prevent pulling and added reflective logos for increased visibility. Should you want to go full day-glow they are also available in fluorescent yellow.
Castelli Nanoflex +
Best for those who live in wet climates
Price: £35 / $50 / AU$65 | DWR Treatment: Yes | Gripper: Dual side
Not to be confused with the lightweight laminated fabric seen in the Gabba jersey, Castelli's Nanoflex fabric gets a DWR treatment to keep airborne moisture from soaking in. The latest version uses a lighter material on the back to help the fabric conform to tight angles and to prevent pinching with seams routed down the outside of the arm.
The Nanoflex + warmers also have a double-sided gripper around the top so it can grab onto your arm and jersey to prevent them from falling down.
Best for those who regularly forget to wash their arm warmers
Price: £22 / $30 / AU$22 | DWR Treatment: No | Gripper: Yes
Wiggle's in-house brand, DHB, continues to up the quality of its gear, and the merino arm warmers are some of our favourites. Using a super-fine 18.5-micron grade of Australian merino yarn, they are seamless and soft on the skin. While they aren't as warm as options made from Roubaix fabric they are perfect for moderate temperatures where fleece-lined fabric is overkill.
There is plenty of stretch built-in, and with the wool's natural propensity to stave off odour, they can be used for plenty of consecutive rides without getting funky. At the top, DHB has also added a silicone gripper to keep them from creeping down your arm.
Best for the budget-conscious rider who lives in a wet climate
Price: £27 / $40 / AU$49 | DWR Treatment: Yes | Gripper: Yes
As the name suggests, the Sportful NoRain warmers receive a DWR treatment to keep moisture from soaking into the fabric. To be clear, they are not waterproof and you'll need a jacket for that kind of protection but they keep a surprising amount of moisture out.
Those with long arms will be happy to learn the NoRain warmers feature a lengthy cut that helps avoid gaps between the arm warmers and your jersey or gloves. They've also got reflective logos and come in a touch cheaper than other water-resistant options, depending on where you live.
Best for those looking for a comfy set of warmers where price is no issue
Price: £35 / $50 / AU$80 | DWR Treatment: No | Gripper: Yes
For a long time we wrote off Assos warmers as overpriced — and then we tried some. They are expensive but they are also some of the most comfortable warmers we've come across to date.
With a right and left arm-specific cut, the ultra-fine fleece on the interior is appreciably warm with the material providing a surprising amount of insulation for its size.
There is no silicone gripper at the top but the elasticated band seems to hold them up just fine.
Best for those battling cold temps
Price: £20 / $30 / AU$21 | DWR Treatment: Yes | Gripper: Yes
The Thermolite warmers are on the thicker end of the spectrum with the 'Thermoroubaix' fabric treated with a PFC-free DWR treatment to help repel water and rain. Even with the heavier material they aren't restrictive and don't bind or pinch at any point. The lower portion of the warmer also sees reflective detailing and logos.
If these warmers tickle your fancy, be aware that Endura has employed some interesting sizing, and they seem to run a bit small even on our scrawny arms.
Rapha Classic Thermal
Best for those looking for the best of both worlds
Price: £40 / $55 / AU$70 | DWR Treatment: No | Gripper: Yes
Made with a plush merino-polyester blend, Rapha's Classic Thermal arm warmers see a terry-brushed interior for a bit of added warmth. They aren't as toasty as roubaix fabric but they also don't pick up an odour anywhere near as fast.
With an articulated left and right arm-specific cut, Rapha has placed all the seams on the outside and back of the arm to prevent pinching. The top elastic band features silicone dots to keep them in place and the logos near the wrist are reflective for added visibility.
Best for those with sensitive skin
Price: £40 / $55 / AU$70 | DWR Treatment: No | Gripper: Yes
With an almost waffle-like texture, the Chrono arm warmers from Giro are unique among this bunch. They are a touch smaller in diameter than most of its rivals but they are very stretchy, and there is no need for a gripper of any kind.
The material is woven and is air permeable but aren't nearly as warm as some of the segment leaders.
Gore Bike Wear Thermo
Best for those with short arms
Price: £30 / $40 / AU$60 | DWR Treatment: No | Gripper: Yes
While the Gore Bike Wear Thermo arm warmers don't have any of the laminated, technical membrane fabrics for which the brand is best known, they do possess a unique take on the gripper.
The wide elastic cuff on the wrist and bicep are made from a lighter fabric and seem to hang on pretty well. The bulk of the garment is made from a fleece-lined Roubaix-style fabric and the warmers have an asymmetric design, meaning they are left and right arm-specific.
GripGrab Light Midseason
Best for those live who in mild climates
Price: £30 / $40 / AU$50 | DWR Treatment: No | Gripper: Yes
Ideal for milder climates, the GripGrab Light Midseason warmers still have a brushed interior, but the lighter weight of the fabric retains less heat.
They fold away with ease and serve as a good emergency layer, and are easily stuffed into a pocket. There is a good sized silicone gripper around the top cuff and reflective detailing around the wrist, too.
Rapha Pro Team Arm Screens
Best for sunshine seekers
Price: £35 / $50 / AU$65 | DWR Treatment: No | Gripper: Yes
The Rapha Pro Team arm screens mightn't even belong in this list. Rapha themselves don't even consider them arm warmers, instead titling them arm screens in reference to their SPF rating of 40. However, protection against the elements doesn't limit itself to the cold, wind or rain.
For those of us fortunate enough to live in warmer climates and looking for to block out the sun's harmful UV rays, the Pro Team Arm Screens are a convenient addition to your kit-list that prevent the need to lather up the sun cream each morning.
The reflective Rapha stripes add function as well as form, and while the construction makes for a slightly under-compressed fit on a cyclist's typically thin upper arms, when worn under a race-fit jersey, there seems to be enough adhesion to keep them from falling.
The best part is their sheer size - or lack thereof - making for an incredibly lightweight, packable addition to every ride.
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