There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. As it pertains to running in the winter, no words have ever been truer. While I write this paragraph, freezing rain is belting my window and I still haven’t gotten my run in today. But in my closet is a waterproof jacket, a fuzzy fleece, and thermal running tights—everything I need to brave the elements and get my mileage in. Rain, shine, or snow.
The not-so-secret secret to being a badass who runs in freezing temperatures is layers. Like skiing and snowshoeing, winter running requires you to pile on layers that keep your chest warm and your extremities covered. Since your body temperature will rise once your legs get moving, you’ll want to make sure that the layers are breathable and can easily be taken off or unzipped while running. Below, we’ll cover all the basics for running in the winter, no matter how low the temperatures drop in your neck of the woods. Keep reading for the best cold weather running gear to buy right now.
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Start with a hat, gloves, and neck warmer
When the temperatures start to drop, the first cold weather running gear I pull out is a beanie or ear warmers, a pair of gloves, and a buff for my neck. Your fingers are the first body part to get cold, especially if you’re holding your phone while you run. In winter generally, I’ve always preferred mittens over gloves as I find they keep my hands warmer, but I opt for a pair of convertible gloves, like the Lululemon ones below, when running so I have a bit more mobility. The New Balance gloves have touch-tip fingers so you can use your phone (very important if you like to skip podcast commercials).
Gloves: New Balance Anti-Slip Gloves
Glittens: Lululemon Hooded Gloves
More glove options:
- Saucony Fortify Convertible Gloves, $45
- Salomon Cross Multi Gloves, $50
- Nike Thermal Running Gloves, $30
I find wearing beanies while running to be tricky—if it’s in the high 30s or low 40s, I’ll start my run with a hat then get overheated about a mile in. For that reason, I like to wear a thin one, like the Smartwool option below, that I can easily stuff in my pocket for the rest of the run. When the temperatures hit the 20s, I prefer a thick fleece headband that keeps my ears fully covered.
Hat: Smartwool Merino Wool Sport Reversible Beanie
Ear warmers: Turtle Fur Chelonia Headband
More headwear options:
- Tracksmith Wool Runner’s Cap, $38
- Patagonia R1 Daily Beanie, $35
- Turtle Fur Heavyweight Headband, $14
Especially in these Covid times, a neck warmer not only keeps you warm but doubles as a mask should you need to go inside a store. I like this polyester fleece one from Buff because it’s lightweight and machine-washable.
Neck Warmer: Buff Adult Polar Neck Warmer
More neck warmer options:
- Nike Unisex Fleece Neck Warmer, $22
- Helly Hansen Neck Warmer, $15
- New Balance Warm Up Neck Gaiter, $30
Determine how many layers you need
Depending on the temperature, you’ll need anywhere from one to three layers to help your body regulate heat. Start with a base layer that, similar to t-shirts you’d wear in hot weather, is sweat-wicking and pulls moisture away from your body. It’s also key that this base layer is tight fitting to ensure that the heat your body emits doesn’t escape. In terms of fabric, merino wool is my favorite as it dries quickly and doesn’t hold odor; the Tracksmith one below is expensive but high-quality. A polyester top will also get the job done; you can’t go wrong with a classic Nike Dri-Fit long-sleeve shirt.
Wool Base Layer: Tracksmith Brighton Base Layer
Polyester Base Layer: Nike Dri-Fit Long-Sleeve T-Shirt
More base layer options:
- Merino.tech Merino Wool Base Layer, $54
- Helly Hansen Active Stripe Base Layer, $60
- Lululemon Metal Vent Tech Long Sleeve Shirt, $88
If it’s in mid-40s, you should be fine running with just a base layer, plus a hat and gloves. Once the temperature gets into the 30s, you’ll want to add a second layer. The goal here is to preserve warmth. Comfort is crucial here so focus on the fit and feel that works best for you, and it’s always good for the material to be moisture-wicking. Some people prefer a form-fitting half-zip but I prefer a boxy thermal pullover like the Nike one below.
Boxy Mid-Layer: Nike Therma-Fit ADV Tech Pack
Half-Zip: Helly-Hanson Odin Power Stretch Mid-Layer
More mid-layer options:
If your goal is to just keep warm, you should be fine with a base layer and a mid-layer. But if it’s raining, snowing, or particularly windy, you’ll want an outer layer to repel the elements and give you maximum coverage. I have a thin Nike running jacket I love that is waterproof and great for travel since it’s very packable; if you want something a bit more technical and windproof, Patagonia’s Torrentshell rain jacket is a good option (it has an under-arm zipper that makes it extra breathable).
Simple Rain Jacket: Nike Essential Women’s Running Jacket
Technical Windbreaker: Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket
More outer layer options:
- New Balance Impact Run Winter Jacket, $150
- Houdini Houdi Fleece Jacket, $190
- Brooks Shield Hybrid Vest, $110
Make sure your running pants can handle the elements
Not all running pants are created equal. When the temperatures drop, you start to notice just how thin the material of your go-to exercise pants are. Nike makes a good pair of cold weather running tights for men and women (look for Nike Therma-FIT in the product name), and Outdoor Voices’ Warmup Legging is also thick enough for winter running in moderate four-season climates.
Thermal Running Tights: Nike Therma-FIT One Mid-Rise Leggings
Thick Multi-Purpose Leggings: Outdoor Voices Warmup 7/8 Leggings
More running pant options:
- Outdoor Voices FrostKnit 7/8 Leggings, $118
- Brooks Carbonite Tight, $130
- Salomon Gore-Tex Infinium Windstopper Pants, $110
Equip your feet for cold weather
Having a high-quality pair of wool running socks goes a long way in the winter as they keep you warm and dry quickly if you’re running through snow. Length and thickness are a matter of personal preference, but I prefer thin ankle-length or mid-length ones that snug in easily under tights and don’t make my shoes feel too tight.
Wool Socks: Smartwool PhD Mid Crew
More wool running sock options:
- Darn Tough Stride Micro Crew, $19
- Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Micro Socks, $19
- Swiftwick Pursuit Four Trail Running Socks, $20
If you’re a runner who doesn’t shy away from snowy or icy conditions, the best cold weather running gear you should buy is a pair of Yaktrax cleats. Made from a combination of carbide-steel spikes and stainless-steel coils, they’re essentially snow chains for your sneakers and minimize the risk of falling on slippery paths.
Pullover Snow Cleats: Yaktrax Run Traction Cleats
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