Winter Running — What Do I Wear?

So you got through the post about the importance of working out over the winter to make the gains you want in the 2011 season and have set a goal to log 50 miles a week outdoors! Congratulations!

But the first cold morning that you put your nose to the window to test the temperatures is where we are going to lose you. Training indoors on a treadmill is always an option and one that I take advantage of as well. My rule of thumb is when there is ice on the road, I run indoors. If there is snow, it is a different ball game.

That means I run outside when the temps are below freezing. Personally, I love to run when the temps are between 40 and 50°. At that range I am in a technical t-shirt and plain jane running shorts, If I am feeling saucy, sometimes I throw on a thin beanie to keep my head a little warmer.

But when the temps are 30° and lower, I usually bundle up. I do not love to be cold, which is almost comical because I love to ski and duck hunt. Both of those sports require some level of chill because of their nature. Running in the cold is a piece of cake, right? Only if you are dressed correctly. Let’s start at the top and go down.

Head, Face, and Neck

Some people run without something covering their heads in the cold and I call them crazy. If the temps are below freezing I will always run with a beanie. There are literally hundreds of good choices in a beanie, but I like one that is thinner and has some insulating properties. I like mine to still insulate when they get wet, because I am a sweater. I stay away from wool on my head because it makes me itch and I hate to be distracted when I run.

If the wind is going to pick up during my run, I have been known to put a neck gator on. It has to be really cold for me to look that silly. I usually remember to put chapstick and sunglasses on before I roll out the door.

Upper Body

To keep warm, instead of wearing one large layer, the best way to stay warm is through wearing several different layers. There are lots of advantages to this strategy, one of which is once you get warmed-up you can start to shed layers if you begin to overheat. So the following information will reflect three different layers: the base, mid, and outer layers.

I think about everyone I know will tell you that wearing cotton in the winter as your base layer next to your skin is just silly. I am a little bit of a contrarian, so I may or may not have tried to wear a cotton t-shirt during a winter run once with horrible results. I won’t confirm or deny that here.

I do have about a thousand technical t-shirts from races that I will wear as my base layer. If it is going to be a really cold day, I will throw on one of DriFit or Thinsulate layers that I will typically use for skiing or duck hunting. This layer should pull moisture away from your skin and not necessarily keep you too warm. The true purpose of the base is to keep you as dry as possible.

The mid layer is where I will use fleece. I love the UnderArmour Fleece Pullover that I have. I swear I wash that thing three times a week during the winter. You can find it here if you want to see what it looks like. It isn’t windproof or anything, but man it will keep you warm. I recommend you get something with elastic in the wrists and possibly the waist to help keep the warm air in place while you run. Usually this is where I stop when dressing for running outside.

The purpose of the outer layer is to keep the weather out and away from your mid layer. If it is going to snow or it will be very windy, for goodness sakes put something water resistant on your body. There are so many great options out there now there is very little excuse for you to suffer through your runs. Of course you will pay more for materials like GoreTex, but I have found it is worth the money. Instead of skimping on the quality of the fabrics on your body, shop around and be willing to look for the great deals. They are out there.

Finally, I am a little bit of a hand wimp — I like my hands warm and comfortable. You can spend a lot of money on gloves, but this is an area that you can be cheap in. Most people I know just use the $2.00 gardening gloves you find a Lowe’s or Home Depot for running gloves. If you lose them, you really won’t care. Me, I will use either leather work gloves or a hybrid leather and synthetic work glove. Personally I prefer Carhartt’s. Call it the inner redneck coming out in me.

Lower Body

I like running in the winter because it makes me look hard. I wear leggings when it is cold enough to keep my legs warm. Notice I didn’t call them tights — that would take all the badness out of running in the winter. Leggings is just fine thank you.

I really like the Under Armour leggings. They call it their ColdGear Action Legging and you can read my review about them here.  I will usually throw on a pair of tri shorts to keep the vitals a little warmer and then my leggings. The leggings help keep my knees and thighs warmer than if I didn’t wear anything. I also wear long socks on the winter instead of the ankle socks that I wear to run in during the summer. I like my ankles to stay warm too.

There are other little tricks — like using YakTrax to maintain traction in the snow — but I think I have covered the basics. If you have other tricks that you would like to share, please comment and let us know how you roll…

Anyone ever have their eyebrows freeze on a run? What about your nose hairs? I can say yes to both…

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...