Many runners welcome the cooler/cold temperatures of fall and winter. After slogging through a hot, humid summer, it’s a welcome relief. Yet, knowing what to wear to run in the cold can be tricky. But, the good news is that outside of extreme weather conditions, you CAN get outdoors and run! As the Norwegians say, “there’s no bad weather; only bad clothing.”
Below is a guide on what to wear in the cold, based on the different temps you encounter during the cooler months. Plus some tips to help you avoid the treadmill, and stay consistent with your runs.
Some key things to consider when deciding what to wear to run in the cold:
You should feel cool when you start running. If you are comfortable during your warm-up, then you likely are wearing too much (unless, it’s evening, and the temps will soon drop). If you can stand outside for five minutes and feel fairly comfortable, remove a layer.
The “rule of thumb” is to dress 10-20˚F warmer than the current temperature. That variance depends on if you tend to warm up quickly, are cold-natured, and the intensity/duration of your run. Meaning, if it’s a shorter, or less intense run, probably better to dress a bit warmer (the +10˚F range).
Pay attention to the “feel like,” or wind-chill factor temperature, as the wind can make it feel much colder, and keep you chilled during a run. Also, if the wind-chill factor is lower than the actual temperature, add the 10-20˚ to that number.
Wind – if possible, on those very windy days, try to run into the wind on your way out, and with it upon returning. Running into the wind while sweaty will chill you quite quickly. Also, a good, wind-proof jacket is perfect for windy days, ideally with a hood.
Post run chills. Expect to cool down rapidly after your run is done. That can get uncomfortable if you’re away from home. Therefore, bring at least one dry layer to change into when you finish.
Need some convincing to run this winter in the cold?? Read:
Seven Proven, Surprising Benefits of Running in Cold Weather
Layer, layer, layer.
Your best bet is to layer technical fabrics (poly blend, or merino wool). Layering accomplishes two things. 1) It provides a pocket of air between layers. This “pocket” is warmed by body heat and better regulates your temperature. 2) Layering allows you to more easily control your body temperature. Unzip or take off your running jacket, or remove your hat, gloves, etc. as you run if you get warm..
Technical fabrics for the win.
Layer technical fabrics, for maximum warmth and breathability. Technical means a poly-blend (think dri-FIT), or merino wool. Some runners swear by merino wool base layers, as it’s warm, naturally wicks away moisture and doesn’t trap bacteria/odor. With dri-FIT, a microfiber polyester fabric, it moves sweat away from your body’s surface to the fabric where it more readily evaporates. Avoid cotton, which gets damp and doesn’t dry easily/rapidly.
Protect your extremities (head, hands, feet).
When deciding on what to wear to run in the cold, remember you lose as much as 30% of your body heat through your extremities!
Hands. Gloves are a must for winter runs. And, if it’ s an extremely cold day, mittens may be a better choice because your fingers can “share” the body heat. You’ll also want to choose gloves with the “tech” feature that allows you to access/use your smartphone (assuming you run with it). Otherwise, you’ll need to take your glove off to control your phone. (Here’s a recommended list from Runner’s World with options that are inexpensive to a bit more pricey.)
Head. Headband, ear muffs, baseball cap, or a warm “beanie” are all options, and which you choose depends on how cold it is. A headband keeps your ears warm with too much extra insulation. A baseball cap can keep snow/rain out of your eyes without too much excess insulation. For the coldest of temps, a warm (fleece or wool) beanie/knit hat that covers your ears is a good bet.
Feet. Dry feet are warm feet, therefore, moisture-wicking socks are a must. Wool and synthetic socks move sweat away from your feet. Plus, wool also insulates, even when wet. The finer yarns found in merino wool socks are soft, itch-free, and trap heat efficiently.
In terms of thickness, padded running socks trap more warmth than thin socks. Avoid cotton socks as they keep sweat and moisture against the skin and zap warmth from your feet. Lastly, if your feet tend to stay cold, or sweat excessively, a solution may be a thin wool or synthetic liner under your running socks.
Be sure your socks fit well without constricting as socks that are too tight will make you feet feel colder!
Related Post: 10 Cold Weather Running Tips You Need to Know Now
What should be in your winter runner gear arsenal…
- Running tights, pants, or capris. Different weights are available (and I prefer ones with pocket for phone)
- Long-sleeve tech shirts (wool or poly blend) as a base layer. Base layers can be light, medium, or heavy weight (adjust based on the severity of your winters)
- Running gloves or mittens (mittens better for coldest temps)
- Headband or hat
- A windproof running jacket (recommend with hood, and waterproof if possible)
- Running socks (tech fabric or wool blend)
- Optional nice to haves: sleeveless running vest with hood, arm sleeves, ski mask to protect face
What to wear to run in the cold, based on temperature (F):
- 60+ degrees: tank top, and shorts
- 50–59 degrees: short sleeve tech shirt and shorts
- 40–49 degrees: long sleeve tech shirt, shorts/tights. Optional: gloves, headband or baseball cap
- 30–39 degrees: long sleeve tech shirt, shorts or tights, gloves, and headband/hat. Optional: running vest w/ hood.
- 20–29 degrees: two shirts: long sleeve tech shirt and a short sleeve tech shirt. OR, a long sleeve shirt and jacket—tights, gloves, plus headband or hat to cover ears
- 10–19 degrees: two shirts layered, tights, gloves or mittens, headband or hat, and windbreaker jacket/pants
- 0–9 degrees: two shirts layered, tights, windbreaker jacket/pants, mittens, headband or hat, ski mask to cover face
Note, above guide is primarily from Runner’s World. There are lots of different guides out there, and this guide seems most appropriate to me. As with anything, knowing what to wear will require some trial and error.