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What to Wear on Winter Runs

It has been a little chilly out there you guys, as you may have noticed on Tuesday when your face froze off, so Anne and I thought this would be a good time to cover the basics of what to wear when you run in cold weather.

In this post, I’ll cover the 3 pieces that comprise a winter running outfit, but it’s important to note that your exact gear needs will vary based on how hot (or not) you tend to become while running. I also think it’s a good idea, especially if you are broke, to assess the clothing you already have — say, a lightweight pair of running tights — and determine how you can make those pieces go farther (ie, purchase a pair of thermal boy shorts to wear under your tights to keep you rear and thighs warm on colder days).

If you want to talk about the specifics of you specifically and what you need, hit us up in the comments.

Piece 1: the base layer. This is what it sounds like: the base of your outfit. In winter running, your base layer is a long-sleeved technical top. You might also consider a pair of technical underpants as part of your base layer. I know it’s sometimes tempting to go baggy with clothes, particularly if you’re coming back after a pregnancy or have recently gained weight, but you really want the base layer to be snug against your body in order to trap body heat and prevent pockets of cold air. A high-quality base layer will wick moisture away from your body so that you stay warm without getting soaked by your own sweat (ew, sorry). The highest quality base layer for a very cold day will be made of merino wool, which is lightweight, not-scratchy (nothing like wearing regular wool, we promise), and anti-microbial, which proponents say helps prevent odor from building up in the fabric. Yay, says your domestic partner!

Piece 2: the mid layer. Your mid layer can be a vest, jacket, or hoodie. Vests are great because they are versatile — easy to layer and good for 3 of the 4 seasons. (I also wear my Saucony ViziPro vest with a tank top on cooler summer nights because it is so damn visible; it’s fully reflective and has LED lights built into it AND it’s hot pink. Anyway, enough about my vest. Now I have “See My Vest” stuck in my head.) You may already have a running jacket or hoodie that you use in spring and fall that will work for your mid layer. Personally, I get hot pretty easily while exercising, so I can get away with just a base layer and a jacket for a lot of my winter running — typically until those very cold January and February days — as long as I have the right accessories, which we will get to in a minute.

Piece 3: the outer layer. The outer layer is for very cold days. What “very cold” means depends on your perception of temperature, but I’d say when we go below 30. For your top, this may mean wearing a heavy-duty running coat over your base and mid layers, although you might forgo the mid layer entirely if your outer layer is very warm. Your outer layer is ideally wind- and water-resistant, at least in the front. Many cold-weather running pants have a special coating or fabric on the front of the legs only, one that blocks wind and water, while the backs are designed to be more breathable. If you know now that you are going to run outside all winter, even if it’s like 5 degrees out and snow-magedding, it’s worth investing in a pair of pants or tights designed for extra-cold days. They should be wind- and water-resistant, as mentioned, and also have a brushed fleece lining to keep you cozy. If there is no way in hell you are going outside when temps dip into the 20s, you can probably get away with lighter-weight leggings without the fleece lining. I generally recommend tights because they will keep you warmer, but there are some great running pants out there for cold days, if you prefer a more relaxed fit. There are too many brands to cover in this paragraph, but Oiselle Lux Pants and Sugoi Jackie Thermal Pants are a great place to start your search.

Accessories: Every runner should have the following accessories in winter. The good news with these, and with any high-quality winter running gear, is that you purchase them once and they last for years.

  • A hat, or a thick headband that covers the ears
  • Gloves or mittens designed for running
  • Sunglasses — sunlight reflecting off of snow can be very bright and damaging to the eyes
  • Running socks; merino wool socks are particularly good at regulating the temperature within your shoe
  • Yaktrax, which are grips that you put on over the soles of your running shoes to prevent slips and falls; it is amazingly liberating to strap them on and run right over patches of snow and ice, like some sort of Nordic superhero
  • A high-visibility vest or any accessory that lights up or reflects light, as a lot of your winter runs will happen when it’s dark out, because the sun sets at like 2 pm these days
  • A neck gaiter or balaclava; a balaclava is obviously warmer and has the additional benefit of making you look like a serial killer, but a neck gaiter is nice because you can pull it up over your mouth and nose when you start out, allowing your breath to stay warm until your lungs acclimate, and then you can pull it down once you are thoroughly warmed up

Speaking of warming up, do not freak out if you are cold when you begin your run. You actually should be cold for the first 10 minutes or so. If you aren’t, you will very likely overheat later. I know it’s scary. It’s kind of like a trust fall — you’ve just gotta let go and have faith that your body will warm up once you get past that first mile. It totally will.

Lively Athletics


15 Nov, 2013

Accessories,  Apparel,  Tips,  Winter


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