Sweat frozen into mini icicles on your hair. Cold wind blowing on your face. Frozen tootsies.
Winter running is not for the faint of heart. But the above maladies only happen if you are not dressed properly. Wearing the right gear can make the difference between a good run and an uncomfortable run. It can also make the difference between going for a run or deciding to stay inside and eat bonbons.
In the summer, what to wear is a no-brainer: shorts and a running bra with or without a singlet for girls; running shorts and singlet – or not – for guys. Winter is trickier. I've been keeping notes for years about what to wear during the cold weather, mainly because I forget in the lull between seasons. Below, I've listed the running gear that works for me in every chilly temperature range.
Do you like to be warm, cool or comfortable when you are running? Bear in mind everyone is different. You will need to tweak your clothing choices depending on your individual preferences. I like to be comfortable-to-slightly-cool when I run; cool when I am doing speed work. This means I am willing to tolerate being slightly cold for the first mile or two. So my running outfit choices below reflect this preference.
I have friends who wear shorts in the 30s. I just can't do that. My personal bugaboo is cold hands. I will wear gloves even in the 50s if the wind chill kicks up. I have a friend who has Reynaud's Syndrome and suffers from numb fingers, so in the winter, she always runs with 2 pairs of gloves.
If you are not slightly chilly when you venture out, regardless of your preference, you have too much on.
Special considerations for choosing winter running gear
- Run distance: The shorter the run, the more you'll need to wear. If you're going out for, say, an easy 3-mile jaunt when it's 30 degrees out, you may need tights, a heavier long-sleeved top, hat and gloves, whereas if you were going out for 8 miles, you may instead opt for a lighter top, capris and a headband.
- Run intensity: If you are doing speed work, consider dressing lightly. You may be chilly for the first mile or two when warming up, but once you start working hard doing intervals or a tempo run, you'll be very glad you opted to wear less. There's nothing worse than running hard in sweaty, heavy clothes.
- Lip balm: I hate-hate-hate dry lips. I religiously apply lip balm before I run, even in summer. But during winter, I usually carry it with me on my run either in my glove or in a zippered pocket, so I can reapply it on the go. My go-to is Hurraw. All natural and lots of amazing flavors. My favorites are Grapefruit and Vanilla Bean.
- Your hair and hats: Your hair texture and quantity will likely affect your choice of head ware. I have baby-fine hair, so I always wear a hat or a heavy headband when it's chilly. (My favorite is this one by Mizuno.) If you have fine hair, are bald, or shave your head, you will also likely want to cover up the cranium. On the other hand, if you have very thick hair or very long abundant hair, you may opt for no hat or a hat in a lighter fabric.
- Snow: The first rule of survival is to stay dry, and this also applies to running. Running in the snow is much more poetic and picturesque than running in the rain, but it will still get you wet. And make you very cold. So wear a waterproof jacket. My go-to is a waterproof In Your Element rain jacket I bought years ago from RoadRunnerSports. It has thumb holes, tons of pockets and a hood, and it keeps me dry and happy. Despite its name, I think it's too warm for running in the rain but it's perfect for winter running. I have also worn a ski shell when it's frigidly cold – not comfortable to run in, but better than skipping my run. A GoreTex shell also works. YakTracks or IceSpikes are a must to give you traction if the snow is a few inches deep. I have a pair of YakTracks, which I leave on an old-but-reliable pair of Nike Air Pegasus shoes since they are tricky to slip on and off. They are always there mounted on those shoes if I need them. If there's just a coating of snow, you don't need spikes but you really need to be careful and keep your eye on the terrain to avoid slipping. I recommend wearing trail running shoes since they have a bit more traction. (My favorite is Brooks Cascadia.)
- Ice: First things first – If it's treacherously icy, you are better off running on the treadmill or just skipping or postponing your run. One run is not worth 6-8 weeks off with a broken bone. But if it's slushy or just slippery in spots, it's possible to still run as long as you cut down your pace and seriously keep your eyes on the terrain in front of you, always assuming that there's ice up ahead.
Running: What to wear when it's 30-40 degrees
- Balaclava or Rundana/Buff fashioned into a balaclava
- Ski mittens (Or 1 pair of gloves layered under a pair of mittens)
- Running bra for ladies
- Roubaix shirt
- Running jacket
- Thick or double-layered tights (I snagged a double-layer pair at Lululemon on sale a few years back)
- Socks. Consider ski socks if you're feet get very cold.
What is your main tip for choosing running clothing for winter weather?