Running In Winter: A List of Essential Gear For Cold Weather

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We all cringe knowing the colder winter months are approaching. Heading out for a run in winter is not inspiring or motivating for most.

However, just because the chill is setting in doesn’t mean you have to abandon any impulse to head outdoors for your running and training.  

In fact, it’s the best time to build a strong fitness base for the return of the running season in spring!

Running in winter will need some special consideration, especially for a beginner. It is crucial to make sure you are wearing the correct gear, adjust your running route, and [sometimes] decrease the length of your runs.

By applying some essential tips, running in winter can become feasible and even enjoyable.

Let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take – and the gear you can invest in – to make winter running a pleasurable and rewarding experience.

What Gear Do You Need To Run In Winter?

Running in winter

A crucial part of running in winter is having the correct gear to protect you while running in cooler climates. Without wearing the proper attire for the winter season, running outside can become dangerous as the likelihood of contracting frostbite or hypothermia increases. 

We cannot stress the point enough- you must make sure you are wearing sufficient clothing to run in winter. 

A great rule of thumb is to wear clothing to increase the outside temperature from between 10-20 degrees. It helps substantially if you get the correct balance between being warm enough but not being too toasty, as this will cause you to sweat quickly, get wet and pick up a chill in no time. 

This balance can be tricky to get right initially, but you will be able to gauge what is needed in time. When you head out, you may still feel on the cool side, but 10 minutes into your workout, you will have warmed up and be at a comfortable body temperature.

Essential Clothing Needed for Running In Winter

The critical element to running in winter is layers, layers, layers! This is how you stay warm without overheating- by wearing several layers of clothing. You can also move more efficiently by wearing layers instead of wearing one oversized, thick, bulky jacket, which restricts movement.

Here is an essential guide from head to toe for running attire specific to running in winter:

Running Tights

Running tights are the cornerstone of every runner’s winter wardrobe. They are meant to fit tightly, but should have enough wiggle room for you to bend down without ripping. There are many types of running tights, but we prefer two:

  • Thermax Tights (warm and lightweight)
  • Thin Fit Running Tights (for when it is not too cold out)

Both options provide wind resistance and warmth. Tights will keep your muscles warm in icy temperatures- preventing them from stiffening up or becoming fatigued due to extreme cold along with protecting your muscles from jarring when running on surfaces that aren’t completely flat (i.e., sidewalks or gravel paths).

When it gets very cold, you can wear these pants under a pair of running or sweatpants for maximum warmth. The Thermax Tights will trap your body heat in and protect from the wind while still being lightweight. They have reflective strips on them to be more visible when running in the dark or during early morning hours. These tights are also specifically designed to keep you warm without overheating- something that regular heavy workout clothes do not do well enough.

Thin Fit Running Tights are meant to fit tightly against your skin, giving you full range of motion without bagging or falling down when running.

Optional Shorts / Skirts

Some opt to wear a pair of shorts or a running skirt over their running tights as an added layer of warmth. You can decide what may be most comfortable and warm based on the specific temperatures you will be heading out to run in.

Base Layer

This is the most critical layer to consider. 

You want your base layer to be compression gear; this is to ensure that your torso is kept warm and dry, as this is the layer in contact with your skin. Your base layer is there to retract sweat away from your skin. In this way, you keep the moisture off, keeping you dry and your body warm.

Begin with a base layer made out of quick-dry fabric and breathable. Cotton is not a good option as it soaks up moisture but does not wick it away. Merino wool is a great option that works well. Polyester, nylon, and lycra are also advised.

Insulating / Middle Layer

An insulating layer is a layer that keeps in the heat your body has generated while exercising. An example of a middle layer would be a fleece or zip-up.

The better at trapping heat this layer is, the better it will retain warmth and the warmer you will be. Middle layer materials can be either natural or synthetic, and there are a few options that depend on your personal preference of what is most comfortable for you.

Jacket / Outer Shell Layer

Over the middle layer, you should consider investing in a hard-shell jacket. Some time should be spent thinking about precisely what you need this jacket to do and the conditions you will need it. Do some research beforehand to decide what will meet your need best.

The primary purpose of a hard-shell jacket is to protect you from the elements such as wind, rain, and snow. 

They are waterproof but offer more than a raincoat and are used in extreme weather conditions. This type of jacket is essential as an outer layer if you are venturing out into weather that has the possibility of high winds, wet or snowy conditions.

See more: recommended gear for running in the rain.

Optional Additional Layer / Removable Layer

Depending on how you respond to the winter weather forecast, you may want to consider an additional removable layer. After some time into your exercise, this is a layer that you can remove and be free of but may feel better about having when you start. 

This layer could be a body warmer jacket, a thin athletic jersey, or something similar that you can easily part with once you are warm.

Winter Running Shoes

Winter running shoes have different specifications than for warmer running months. You will need a shoe robust and water-resistant, preferably with a good amount of grip- especially if you are heading out in slippery, icy weather. Do not choose a shoe made from mesh for winter running. 

Depending on where you will be running, another added level of gear you can invest in is a Traction Cleat. These clever devices attach to your shoe and provide additional traction.

Winter Running Socks

The main feature to look for in socks for winter running is they should, as much as possible, keep your feet dry and warm. You will be able to source sweat-wicking socks, which will help keep your feet from excessive sweating, pulling the moisture away from your skin and keeping them dry. 

There is a large variety of options when it comes to running socks; whether you go for a no-show, bootie, ankle-length, or knee-length compression option will be up to you. Remember, you do not want to expose any skin to extreme weather, so factor in maximum coverage, style, and comfort. 

Hat

A hat is an essential must-have for winter running. If your head stays warm, so will your body. Some elements your hat should possess are; 

  • Hold its shape after many years
  • Not too tight
  • Breathable
  • Easy to wash
  • Cover your ears
  • Warm yet lightweight
  • Easy to pack away

Gloves

Your hands may be forgotten as you head out, but it is critical to wear a covering for your hands while winter running. It would help if you had a great pair of gloves. These should be winter-knit gloves specifically for athletic use. 

Recently, the option of touchscreen gloves has become available, which is great for when you need to get your phone out to check your route. This is an incredibly ‘handy’ option!

Buff / Face Mask

It can be irritating and uncomfortable to breathe in icy air while out running. For some, this may cause an irritated mucous membrane or respiratory tract. The solution- wearing a buff or face mask. 

It is far more preferable to breathe in warm, moist air. Your buff or neck warmer pulled up to cover your mouth and face is a good option. Your face mask or buff needs to be breathable. 

Essential Gear For Running In Winter

Now that we have the clothing and athletic attire covered for winter running, a few accessories can assist with making this seasonal training time more productive and a whole lot safer. 

Here are three recommended gear items that we suggest you invest in before you contemplate winter running:

Headlamp

Running headlamp for winter

A headlamp is a good investment and can be helpful for more than your winter runs. This little device sits on your forehead and will shine light as you turn your head and shine in the direction you are going. 

As winter running may mean having less light available as the mornings and evenings are darker for longer, this little device will make running far safer. 

You will not only be able to see where you are going but be able to negotiate obstacles more efficiently, as well as have your hands free, should you need them suddenly if you lose your balance or slip on some ice.

Key features to consider when purchasing a headlamp:

  • Fit tightly, but not be too tight
  • Consider whether it has rechargeable or replaceable batteries, and factor further battery use into the cost price.
  • A lightweight design is ideal for athletic purposes
  • A waterproof option is recommended for winter running conditions

See also: How to choose between a headlamp or waist light

Reflectors

Just about all running gear comes in options with built-in reflectors. You can purchase reflective gloves, jackets, tights, socks, and hats. 

There is also a large variety of assorted vests and belts which can be used. All reflective gear needs to be your outermost layer of clothing and is crucial in staying visible to motorists, cyclists, and other runners while out on your run.

A useful little gadget known as a SlapLit is an LED Slap Wrap for either your arm or leg. They are easy to ‘slap’ on before a run and provide excellent additional reflectivity.

Sunglasses

When purchasing a pair of athletic sunglasses, you need to prioritize a pair with proper protection.

They should resist glare, have polarized frames, help with squinting and reflecting rays from the glare of snow or ice. 

Extreme weather conditions may mean winter running in snowy or icy conditions, and there is a massive strain on the eye which this type of glare. Invest in a suitable pair of sunglasses, which not only look great but are comfortable to move in and provide the highest level of protection.

Sunglasses for running in cold weather

Tips For Running In Winter

Once you have sorted out your clothing and gear, you may wonder how to maximize running in winter without taking unnecessary risks. How can you be sensible while still getting the exercise in? 

Here is our list of 10 expert tips on things to consider, plan for and take into consideration when running in winter:

  1. Adjust your running route to be a loop instead. If you are running a circle, you can always turn back at any stage if you encounter a challenge or find the weather is too cool.
  2. Decrease the intensity of your run, as you have the additional element of cold weather.
  3. Decrease the length of your run; this way, there is less chance of getting too cold, being too wet or something else going wrong. A run-in winter should not be more than 60 minutes.
  4. Factor in the wind chill in your preparations and planning for clothing attire.
  5. Increase the amount of time you spend warming up before leaving the house and decrease the cooling down period once your run is complete. This helps avoid getting too cold after your run and ensures you are sufficiently warmed up before heading out.
  6. Be sure to get out of wet gear as soon as possible after your run.
  7. Make sure to stay hydrated; often, in cooler weather, we feel less like drinking but can dehydrate fast if the correct amount of liquids is not drunk while exercising and after exercising.
  8. Make sure all the exposed areas of skin are covered. Often people forget about the small areas such as; necks, ankles, and faces. You want as little as possible exposure of skin to the outside elements.
  9. Wear sunscreen; you can burn badly during winter.
  10. When possible, arrange your winter runs with a running buddy; this way, you always have a backup should you need assistance while out exercising. If you cannot run with a buddy, try to run with a cell phone so that you can contact someone if needed.

The Bottom Line on Winter Running

Don’t waste the winter months hiding inside or blaming the cold as an excuse not to get out for your run.

You can have an enjoyable run as long as you invest in the correct gear, layer up, and be sensible by watching your physical responses to the cold and always making sure to change as soon as possible out of wet clothing after a run.

By following some of the suggestions, like shortening your route and running time, keeping a means of communicating with you, and taking care to increase the amount of time you spend warming up, you are set to make the most of that chilly morning or evening.

You can brave the cold months of the year- while staying fit and healthy.

Then hit the running season strong as spring arrives!

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