Every year since I started blogging 7 years ago, I’ve shared my winter running essentials. As someone who lives in a climate that sees winter weather for at least 5-6 months out of the year, I’ve got some experience in what works and what does not.
That’s not to say that I have all the winter running knowledge. When it’s early in the season, I’m always trying to remember what to wear for below zero, single digits, teens, 20s and 30s. The last thing you want to do with winter running is over dress. It’s like that golden rule of wearing jewelry – before you leave the house, take off one layer. In winter running, you really don’t want to sweat it!
I get a lot of questions about what to wear for winter running.
How do I stay warm but not hot? How can I keep my hands warm? Do I need different shoes? What are the essentials?
Way back in the day, I would wear layers of cotton sweats, sweatshirts and whatever socks/shoes I had available. I usually overheated at first and then froze because my clothes were soaked as soon as I started to sweat.
Back then, I was only running a few miles at a time, so it worked. It wasn’t ideal but it got me out the door and running.
Every person is different when it comes to the cold. Your comfort level depends on many factors, including how fast you’re running, how you tolerate cold, and how long your run is, so your perfect winter outfit may be different than mine.
Here are my winter running essentials.
Shoes: Unless I’m running in a snowstorm or soon afterwards, the roads in my area tend to be clear of snow. There may be spots of slush, puddles or ice, but generally it’s no different than running any other time of the year. If I am running in snow, I’ll wear a pair of trail shoes for a bit more traction. I shared all of my favorite options for what to wear for shoes last year – from Yak-Trak, Microspikes, Screw Shoes and Snowshoes. There’s something for every type of wintry precipitation.
Socks: I always reach for thicker socks when the temps dip below 30 degrees. My go-to brand is Darn Tough (affiliate link). I have specific running socks but on really cold days I’ll wear my snowboard socks that go up to my knee. They are made from merino wool with no itchiness. Smart Wool is another favorite but I find they don’t last as long as Darn Tough.
Tights: I usually prefer to have less on my legs no matter what the temperature. However, when the windchill is sub zero and the temp is single digits, I need another layer. I have never worn fleece lined tights out of fear of overheating. Instead, I prefer a thicker material that at least provides wind protection. Some of my favorite brands are Saucony, Athleta and Janji. If the temp is closer to single digits or there’s a windchill, I will wear another layer under my tights – compression boy shorts or capris. Another option is to wear a running skirt over tights. That way you have three layers – tights, boy shorts, and skirt. My butt usually gets very, very cold in the single digits. That’s when I add more layers.
First layer: A long sleeve, 1/2 zip, tech top, preferably with thumbholes is what I always reach for. I like to have something up around my neck for more warmth at the beginning. As I warm up, I can unzip to allow more air flow if needed.
Outer layer/Jacket/Vest: A good, waterproof and windproof jacket is essential if you are running in any kind of precipitation or low temps. Your first layer will stay dry, therefore, you will be able to stay warm. I have different levels of jackets that I rotate through depending on the temperature.
A thinner jacket can protect from wind and rain/snow.
A heavier jacket adds an extra layer when the temps dip in the teens and single digits. My go to jacket for when it’s bone chilling single digit temps is no longer available from Saucony. The other two are the Sonic Reflex for it’s awesome reflectivity and wind/water resistance and the Razor.
A good alternative is a vest if you don’t mind your arms being exposed. I recently bought a vest from the Columbia outlet that probably wasn’t made with running in mind but it works on really cold days. It isn’t bulky but it provides enough warmth and is breathable.
Mittens: My hands being too cold is my number one complaint with winter running. Mittens definitely work better than gloves to keep the whole hand together rather than fingers separate. I’ve never been officially diagnosed but I have the tell tale signs of Raynaud’s. I’ve mentioned it numerous times, but Saucony Run Mitts have been a life saver. So far, the lowest temp I’ve run with them is 6 degrees with no cold fingers. They’ve been a game changer. Adding hand warmers to your mittens is another option that is sure to keep you toasty.
Hat/Headband: I usually prefer a hat over a headband but I received a Skida (affiliate link) headband as a Christmas gift and have been converted. Hats and headbands should be made of lightweight technical fabrics to trap just the right amount of heat, but still keep your head dry.
Other accessories: A neck gaiter (affiliate link) or Buff is great for keeping your neck warm but can be pulled over your mouth on really frigid days to help with your breathing. When your mouth is covered, the air is warmed rather than taking in cold air. Another option is a Balaclava (affiliate link). I love the all in one ease so you can pull it up high over your nose with no gaps to let cold air in on your neck. Bonus points that it makes you feel like a Ninja.
Attitude: I think the biggest accessory for winter running is your attitude. If you go in thinking it’s going to be ABSOLUTELY MISERABLE, it most likely will. But if you go with an open mind realizing that the hardest part is getting out the door, you’ll forget how cold it is once your body starts moving.
And if you hop on the treadmill every once and awhile because you just can’t put on ALL the layers and feel like a Popsicle AGAIN, no worries. I’ll probably do the very same thing. There’s no shame in the treadmill in the game.
What are your winter running essentials?
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