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How to Dress for Cold Weather Running – 9 Must-Have Items

Winter is finally here, so it’s a great opportunity to talk about how you should dress for the cold season so you can keep on running without much trouble.

But running in the winter is not easy task…

The winter months can be really cold and dark—not exactly the type of weather that inspires outdoor runs.

I used to dread running outside during the cold weather months, but after learning how to dress properly for the cold and rain, my winter runs became much more enjoyable and something I’m looking forward to.

Therefore, when you are properly prepared for the conditions and firm on overcoming the cold, weather becomes just a state of mind. In fact, a gut-busting run while the snow is falling can become an amazing experience.

Today I’m sharing with you my guide on how to outsmart winter. So here are the clothing tips to help you stay motivated and safe when you are running in cold weather.

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Image Credit – Nathan Jones via Flickr

The Golden Rule

In my years of running, I always applied the “20 degrees rule”, which advises dressing as if it were 20 degrees warmer than it really is outside.

Abiding to this rule will help ensure you don’t over-layer because putting too many layers on your body in can lead to a sweaty and uncomfortable workout.

Therefore, if it’s 40 degrees F, for example, it will feel like 60 degrees (more or less, depending on the wind) once you start running and breaking a sweat.

Of course, you will feel a bit cold for the first couple of miles, but once your heart rate increases, you will get warm, and feel comfortable during most of your run.

So whenever you are dressing for a winter run, keep the “20 degrees rule” in mind.

How to Dress for Cold Weather Running

Dressing for winter running is all about covering your body from head to toe, leaving nothing exposed. Doing this will not only make running in the cold more enjoyable and protect you from the cold and wind, it will also prevent chapping, frostbites, and a host of other troubles.

1. Your Head and Neck

Keeping your head and ears warm is key for regulating your body temperature. In fact, you can lose up to 10 percent or more of your body heat from your head, making it one of your body parts most sensitive to temperature.

So make sure to wear a thermal hat to help keep your head warm during cold runs. The right hat for winter running should be made of lightweight technical materials to lock in just the right amount of heat, but still keep your head warm and dry.

I really love Balaclava, which is a ski mask that covers the head, exposing only the face or part of it. These ski masks are usually made of wool or fleece and are a must if the temperature or wind shill drops below 10 degrees F.

This hat is also the ideal neck warmer and I love pulling it over my mouth to warm up the air I breathe, which comes in handy especially during the first few minutes of my run.

One of my favorite balaclavas out there is the Nike Pro Combat Hyperwarm Hood ($26 – Get it Here).

And in case you are staring to overheat, you can simply tuck it into your pants.

Nonetheless, if you are not in the mood for a hat (sometimes a hat can trap too much heat while you run leading to excessive sweating and discomfort), then wear a thermal headband or ear warmer to cover your ears and keep them warm while preventing overheating. This will, at least, protect your neck and face on extremely windy and frigid days, while also helping you ward off burning lungs.

Plus, a headband can come in handy for music lovers. If you love listening to music while running in the cold, the airflow between the ear buds can lead, sometimes, to pain in the inner ear. Nonetheless, you can get rid of this problem as soon as you start wearing headbands.

I strongly recommend Saucony Drylete Headband ($16 – Get it Here)

For more, rub on Vaseline or BodyGlide to protect your skin against the cold and prevent frostbite, chapping, and windburn, especially on your lips, cheeks, nose and ears.

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Image Credit – Alexie Meteo via Flickr

2. Upper body

When it comes to dressing for winter runs, you will need to gear up with the right layers. Not only the right layers can keep your body heat in, they will also allow sweat to move and evaporate through the layers of clothing, helping you stay dry and safe.

The right clothing is made of lightweight, comfortable, and breathable fabrics. And please do your body a favor and avoid clothing made of cotton because it holds in moisture and doesn’t evaporate your sweat fast enough, which can leave you freezing and wet, leading to colds and bad cases of chaffing.

Here is how you should layer on your upper body for an enjoyable and safe winter running experience:

Base Layer

The most important rule of staying warm during cold runs is the proper layering and the most vital layer in the one in direct contact with your skin. This layer will determine how happy and warm you stay when you are running in the cold.

So make sure it’s made from synthetic wicking material—meaning it pulls moisture away from your skin— such as polypropylene, Thermax, Dryfit, CoolMax, or Thinsulate.

This moisture-wicking material is key because fabric like cotton holds on to moisture, and of course, it’s never a good idea to run around in chilly, drenched clothes, unless you are looking to get sick or preparing for an obstacle-racing course.

If the temperature is above 35 degrees F, you can opt for a long-sleeve base layer. But that’s up to you and up to what you like the most. Just feel free to experiment with different layers and find what works the best for you.

I usually use a compression material like the Mizuno Breath Thermo running Crew ($70- Get it Here). What I like about this is that it can keep you dry and safe with its synthetic material and won’t chafe, unlike other compression shirts on the market.

Nonetheless, when the temperature drops below 35 degrees F, then you may consider adding midlayer to protect you from the cold. And here is how to do that.

Middle Layer

Your middle or second layer is necessary for any temperature below 25 degrees F because it can help trap warm air, which is vital on those really cold days.

When purchasing a midlayer, look for fabrics like, Dryline, polyesters fleece, Thermafleece, Polartec, Akwatec and Thermax. I usually prefer heavier layers made from fleece or polyesters, or an insulated jacket.

I love the Saucony Drylete SportTop. This is one made of a mix of polyester and spandex, and it’s really comfortable and provides with a lot of warmth. Plus, it’s not that expensive ($30 – Get it Here).

But if you are looking for something on the expensive side with more warmth and protection, then check out the Saucony Nomad Sportop ($80 – Get it Here).

Outer layer

If you are running in any kind of low temperature or precipitations, then you will have to wear a base layer, an insulating midlayer, and on top of that a heavier shell to keep you warm, and to protect you against the rain, snow, wind and the cold.

In other words, the outer layer is your last line of defense against the cold (or your first line, depending on how you are looking at it).

I recommend that you opt for a jacket with a zipper or half-zipper for this layer, because that will give you the option to regulate your temperature by zipping it up and down if you get warm during the run.

Furthermore, if you get too hot, you can take off your jacket and tie it around your waist for the rest of the workout.

Also, make sure to wear a jacket that’s ideally longer to cover your butt and has pockets so you can store your hat and gloves if they start to make you overheat.

When purchasing an outer layer, look for clothing made of these fabrics: Supplex, ClimaFit, nylon, Gore-tex, Microsuplexand Windstopper.

I love the Nike Element Shield because it’s comfortable and water resistant, so it can keep you dry and warm in windy, and wet conditions .Plus, it also has a full zip, a lot of side pockets and reflective elements for more visibility ($115 – Get it Here).

In case you don’t want to wear a jacket, then a vest is a good alternative if you don’t mind your arms being uncovered.

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Image Credit – Cara via Flickr

4. Hands

I used to dread winter runs because I had problems with my hands freezing the moment I step outside and head for a workout. Therefore, I always make sure to put on my gloves for mild weather, and running mittens when it’s frigid outside.

Gloves for Cool Days

Make sure to put on gloves once the temperature outside dips below 40 degrees F. Go for gloves made of technical material to keep your hands warm and dry. In my experience, the polyester blend material is the best for winter running.

If you run with your Smartphone, then you might consider getting a pair designed with “tech tip fingers” to let you operate your Smartphone, or any other touch screen accessories with ease.

I love the North Face Runners 2 Etip Glove. These will help you wick away moisture, and can help you access the iPod’s or iPhone’s with ease ($40 – Get it HERE)

Mittens for Frigid Days

If the weather is too cold and frigid, then you might consider getting running mittens. I highly recommend that you try them. They are a complete “hand saver”. Mittens will do a much better job than gloves when it comes to keeping your hands warm and sheltered against the cold.

Check out the Nike Cold Weather II Mitts ($30 – Get it Here).

You can also keep your hands warm by clenching and unclenching your fists while running. Just don’t clench your fists too hard since that can lead to tension, and tension wastes energy.

5. Lower Body

As I stated earlier, whenever you are planning for a winter run, dress for 20 degrees warmer than it actually is. That golden rule still applies here.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but your options for a bottom piece will depend, mainly, on temperature, your own personal preferences and tolerance to the cold. For me, I usually prefer wearing my running pants or over a layer of full-length spandex or running tights.

A pair of tights or running pants is a must because just like the base layer for the upper body, you want a compression layer in direct contact with the skin so it can easily wick away sweat and keep you dry and warm.

Look for tights or running pants made of synthetic fabrics, like Thinsulate, polypropylene, and Thermion.

Check out Nike Dry-Fit running tights ($60 – Get it Here).

6. Socks

Please do your feet a favor and never wear cotton socks when running since cotton is bad for business. Cotton does not wick away moisture, instead it soaks it up, and once it’s wet it stay wet, leaving your feet cold, wet and prone to frostbites and blisters.

Instead, make sure to opt for a good pair of wicking socks made of materials, such as wool, CoolMax or acrylic to help you keep your footsies warm and happy.

In my experience, Smartwool or Breath Thermo socks work the best for the winter. I prefer the Smartwool PHD Toe Sock Mini. They are the best, and will not only regulate temperature in your feet, they will also hinder the growth of bacteria that make them stink. ($16 – Get a Pair Here).

7. Shoes

Since you will be running on a lot of snow and slippery and wet surfaces, your winter running shoes must protect your feet against rain, snow and the elements, and have a little extra traction to help prevent slipping on ice patches and other similar trouble.

Therefore, your regular running shoe may not be a good fit for the job because they typically have lots of ventilation, which can leave your footsies cold and freezing during wet and cold winter runs.

So what’s the solution here? You have three options to choose from:

Option 1: Trail shoes

In my experience, trail running shoes can come in handy as long as you are wearing moisture wicking socks and avoiding puddles as much as possible. This kind of shoes is usually built to be waterproof and provide more traction and footing than the regular road shoes.

But trail shoes are not always the best option. Sometimes you will need a pair with more traction and protection. Here is your second option.

Option 2: Winter shoes

Get a gore-tex or some other type of winter shoes with waterproof fabrics in the upper of the shoe. In fact, in my experience, even when it’s freezing and raining heavily, I have never encountered any sorts of problems with my feet when I put on my winter running shoes.

Of course, this depends on the surface you are running on. If you do the bulk of your running on bare pavement with no risk of ice or puddles (luck you!), then a regular running pair will do the job. But if you are like the rest of us, then you might need a winter running shoe since running in snow, ice and slush calls for more traction and protection.

Perhaps my favorite winter running footwear is the Saucony Men’s Xodus 5.0 shoes ($100 – Get it Here). This pair offers the stability you need to run trouble-free on uneven terrains and slippery surfaces. Plus, the waterproof Gore-Tex will protect your feet from slush, rain, and snow.

I highly recommend this pair if you have no problem investing a $100 for a dedicated winter running pair.

Option 3: Winter-Proof your Shoes

But what if you don’t have a pair of trail running shoes and can’t afford to invest in a pair of winter shoes? Well, don’t fret yet. There are two things you can do to your existing shoes to make them more winter-friendly.

Use Duct tape

In case you don’t have a Gore-Tex pair, then I highly recommend that you use duct tape to close up the mesh on the upper and the toes of your regular running shoes, which can offer you extra protection against the elements.

YaxTrax aids

You might consider getting a pair of YaxTrax to help provide you with more traction and support while running on icy roads and slippery terrain ($30- Get it Here). These can be easily strapped over your running shoes and can help you avoid a lot of pitfalls, literally.

The only complain I have regarding these “screws” is that they feel clunky and awkward while running on dry concrete. However, you can always remove them once you are running on surfaces with no threat of ice or snow.

But they do serve a great purpose, especially if you love the trails, live in a snowy area, or run in the early morning when most of the roads might not be plowed yet.

In the end—it’s your call

Your comfort level while running in the cold will depend, mainly, on your own personal preference, how fast you are running, how long your run is, how much you tolerate the cold, so your ideal winter running outfit may differ from mine, or someone else’s.

Therefore, nothing is written in stone here. In the end, it’s your call to make. Every person is different and responds differently to different temperature and weather conditions.

Conclusion

I hope you find my tips and dress code guidelines helpful. And in case you have any additional tip you swear by and you would like to share, feel free to add them in the comments section. I will be really grateful.

Featured Image Credit – Cara via Flickr

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David Dack

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