The weatherman has declared that winter weather will likely arrive in my area this weekend. We have had gorgeous fall weather this year, but I recognize that it won’t last forever. Snow and cold and dreary days are coming. Since this is my second year of running outside every day in Northern Indiana, I know that frosty, snowy runs are in my near future.
If you are new to running outside or just looking for some extra tips for what to wear during cold, winter runs, I wanted to put together a winter running clothes guide to help you prepare for the days ahead. A few months ago, I shared my top tips for summer running clothes, but winter is a whole different ball game.
The Rule of 20
The most important thing to remember when getting dressed for any run is to remember the rule of 20 degrees. When getting dressed for your run, take the current outside temperature and add 20 degrees, that is the temperature it will “feel like” while you are running. So if it is 40 degrees outside, dress as though you are going to hang out outside on a 60 degree day.
Cover your extremities
The first thing to get cold during winter runs seems to be my ears and my hands. I’ve gone on runs in a tank top while wearing gloves and a headband over my ears. My core warms up pretty well, but if my ears are cold on my runs, I feel downright miserable. And winter wind just makes it worse.
On the warmer fall days (in the 40’s), I just pull my usual headband over my ears to get some wind protection. I wear Hippie Runner Headbands, so they work perfectly for this. When the temperature gets lower (in the 30’s), I switch to a warmer ear warmer/headband. I’m looking for a new headband this year, but I think I’ll probably order this one soon.
When the weather is windy, snowy, and/or below freezing, you will want to have more on your head than just a headband. I try to avoid wearing a hat until it is really cold because hats tend to keep me too warm. You lose a lot of heat out of the top of your head, which is a good thing unless it is really cold. In the 30’s, you’ll probably just need a standard beanie to keep warm on your runs.
Once the snow, wind, and bitter cold temperatures arrive, I switch to my balaclava to keep my neck and face covered. It is not the most fashionable thing in the world, but on cold winter runs, fashion is not the point. I usually start out with the face mask up and then once I get warmed up I pull it down. I find it too claustrophobic to run with the face mask on for too long unless I really need it. (I have exercise induced asthma, so cold weather runs can be particularly challenging to breathe).
I start wearing gloves when the temperature dips into the 40’s. A lightweight tech glove works great for temperatures in the 30- range. Once things get below freezing, I usually need more protection for my hands. Last year I just wore two pairs of lightweight gloves most of the time so I could take off a layer once my body warmed up. On the really cold days (maybe teens and lower), I threw on a pair of ski gloves. Those get really hot, really fast, so I only wear them when the temperature and wind are really bitter. It is better to layer your gloves if you can.
For your feet
I don’t change much with my footwear when winter comes. I stick with my regular shoes (currently I rotate between New Balance 1080’s and Vazee Rush’s). I keep telling myself that I need to spray my shoes with something to help them be more waterproof, but I’ve never gotten around to it.
I also stick to my regular socks most of the time, but I do wear tall compression socks when the snow gets deep to help keep my ankles and calves protected. I don’t like to double up on socks too often because that can lead to blisters, I prefer to just choose a thicker sock (but stay with wicking fabrics).
When the snow and ice begin, things start getting slippery. A dusting of snow and even freshly fallen snow are usually not very slick, so you can get by in your regular running shoes. However, if there was freezing rain, ice, or if the snow has started to get packed down by cars or other runners, you will definitely want to get some extra traction on your feet. I have these Yaktrax running cleats and they work really well. Just remember that you don’t want to wear cleats on bare ground as it could damage the spikes, so be sure to only wear them when you actually need them.
For your body
The key to your actual clothing is simply to layer. Depending on the length and intensity of your run, it doesn’t matter how cold it is, you are likely to start warming up and getting sweaty. You may want to remove layers at some point, so make sure you give yourself that option.
The layer closest to your body should absolutely, positively be made of a sweat-wicking fabric. You will sweat. If that sweat clings to you and the cold air sneaks into your layers, your sweat can make you really, really cold. As you add on layers, the type of fabric matters less and less, just keep flexibility and motion in mind and don’t pick your fluffy winter coat that restricts all movement (and would be way too hot, no matter the temperature).
If it is rainy, snowy, or windy, you will likely want a waterproof and windproof outer layer. I have a simple windbreaker jacket (similar to this one) that I wear on top during less than ideal conditions. It keeps me dry and blocks the wind, but doesn’t add any bulk.
I have a large number of shirts that I’ve earned from all of the different races I’ve run. I use these shirts to run each day and just add layers of them depending on the temperature (see below).
For pants, if you run outside often, you may want to consider having a variety of types and styles. I have some thin running leggings that I use either on warmer days or to layer on the really cold days. I have a few fleece lined running pants for the really cold days, and I have a good number of “plain old running pants” to rotate through on the in-between days or to layer as needed. I don’t often need to layer my pants, though, as my legs are generally the easiest part of my body to keep warm since they’re doing all the work.
By the Temperature
Temps in the 60’s
Shorts or capri pants and a tank top or t-shirt.
Temps in the 50’s
Shorts or capri pants and a long sleeve lightweight single layer shirt (possibly t-shirt for the upper 50’s and long runs).
Temps in the 40’s
Capri pants and a double layered shirt, either a t-shirt and long sleeve or two long sleeve lightweight shirts. Also a thin headband for your ears and some lightweight gloves.
Temps in the 30’s
Pants and up to 3 layers of your shirts. I’ll combine three lightweight long sleeve shirts, or a long sleeve shirt and a warm sweatshirt/fleece, or two long sleeve shirts and a windbreaker. It all depends on the conditions (rain, snow, or shine) and what clothes are clean. Also, be sure to bring an ear warmer and gloves, the yuckier the conditions, the warmer you want to go with those.
Temps in the 20’s
Fleece lined pants or possibly double layered pants and usually two long sleeve shirts and a warmer jacket or sweatshirt. Double up your gloves and wear an actual hat.
The warmest pants you own or double layered pants/tights. 2-3 long sleeve shirts and a warm jacket or fleece. Two pairs of gloves or a thick ski glove. Probably a balaclava to cover your neck, head, and face, especially if it is snowing or windy.
Don’t be scared
My number one tip for winter running is to just do it. I promise, most of the time it is not nearly as bad as you expect. Winter running is actually a really fun adventure. I’m so looking forward to going for a run during the first few snowfalls. It is amazingly peaceful and beautiful. The world seems to be so quiet and gentle and all you hear is the sound of your breath and the crunch of your feet. The snowflakes seem to float suspended in the air. It really is incredible.
Once things start to get really cold it can be fun to see how big of ice crystals you can grow on your eyebrows while out on a snowy run. It’s usually an adventure to try to find a clear path and there may be some slip sliding involved. Just go out with an open mind and a willing heart and I promise, you just might fall in love with winter running…at least some of the time.
Are you an outdoor winter runner or do you hit the treadmill as soon as the temperature starts to fall? What are your favorite winter running clothes and gear recommendations?
I’d love to hear about your best (and worse) winter running experiences in the comments.