Essential Layers for Winter Running
Running through the winter can be exhilarating or defeating and it all depends on how you’re dressed. Summertime running is easy to dress for; you’re going to sweat through everything so you wear a tank and shorts and head out. Winter is a different beast. You need to dress warm, but not too warm, and with snow, wind, and ice as a factor, layering is essential!
Here are the basics of what you’ll need to run happy through the winter:
Whether you layer pants or shorts over them, or are comfortable wearing them alone, a good pair of tights will keep you comfortable even in single digit temps. I still remember the first time I ventured out in frigid weather (I live in Chicago, so I KNOW frigid!) thinking there was no way my new tights would block the cold and wind. A half mile in I was pleasantly surprised when my legs were warm!
Tights keep your body heat in, so you’ll find your legs warm up after you get going. But don’t worry about overheating as they pull moisture away so you don’t have sweat sitting on your body which is a recipe for a cold.
I live in my tights in the winter!
Base Layer Top
A base layer top is just as it sounds; the closest layer to your body. The purpose of a base layer top is to keep your core warm, without allowing you to overheat. The key to a great base layer top is the wicking material that – again – pulls moisture away from your body. You want a close fitting top to wear solo or layer over on the coldest days.
My favorite base layer top is by Craft. Their Warm Half Neck base layer is tight fitted, making it easy to wear under a jacket or vest, but also looks and feels great alone. It keeps you toasty while pulling moisture away as you heat up.
For windy and single digit days, you’re going to need more than a single layer. Vests are perfect for those in-between temps when you don’t need a full jacket but a single top isn’t quite going to cut it. They keep your core warm but with your arms uncovered you’ll still feel the cold air. Great for when you’re pushing your pace and are sure to warm up quickly!
Winter jackets start thin, great for a wind blocker, and get serious with down lining to keep you going through snow and worse.
Despite popular opinion, all of your body heat does not escape through your head (don’t believe me? Check this out!), but your ears are an extremity like toes and fingers that have a tendency to get cold fast! Having something on your head is a must in the winter, and like jackets, there is a wide range of options to cover you in all temps.
45 to Above Freezing – I’d go with an ear-warmer band. This allows you to feel the cool air on your head so you don’t overheat or sweat too much, but keeps the ear tips warm (especially important when it’s windy).
Freezing to Upper Teens – You want your full head covered in these temps. With a wicking hat you won’t get a sweaty mess under your hat, but with freezing temperatures you aren’t as likely for this to happen anyhow.
Teens and Below – A full hat is only part of the equation for these conditions, you want your face covered, too. Two warm and wonderful options are a neck warmer that can easily go over your nose or be kept around your neck once you warm up, or a full balaclava which goes over your head and face.
Cold hands will bring you down no matter how warm your core is. Personally, I like to run with mittens because the heat of all your fingers together keeps them warmer than gloves where air is passing between them. However, many people get sweaty hands easily and gloves are better for them. Because of this, there are many brands that make a hybrid like Saucony’s Ulti-Mitt which has gloved fingers AND a pull-over hood that creates a mitten effect.
There’s nothing worse than frozen toes on a run. It’s uncomfortable, but what’s worse is the increase in tripping when you can’t feel how your feet are hitting the ground. We all know cotton socks should be avoided (they trap moisture, a recipe for blisters!), and layering multiple socks is bulky and creates more opportunity for chafing. No thank you!
I recommend investing in a few pairs of wool socks, Merino wool to be exact. This lightweight wool keeps you super warm, and super dry. My favorite brand is Smartwool, check out their line of running socks here!
There is a lot of fun to be had running through the winter. The streets and paths are less busy and it’s impossible not to feel like a bad@$$ running through the snow! I used to think quality winter gear was too expensive, but I’ve come to learn it is WELL worth the money. I always say, you can sweat through anything in the summer, but when an item keeps you warm and comfortable through a bitter winter, that is money well spent. You only need a few quality pieces as you can wear them multiple times without washing since you aren’t a sweaty mess every time you wear them, meaning they will last longer and you aren’t spending all your time doing laundry.
Stay warm and happy running!