Running in the cold is no fun, y’all.
I know this first hand: yesterday morning it must have been in the mid-50s during our run!
Seriously though, in parts of the world where cold weather is actually a thing, this time of the year can be a tough one for some runners.
Sure, you’ve got the die hards/crazies that say to just get your ass out the door and go run no matter how cold it is. And if you’re still cold after running for 10 minutes, just run faster to generate enough heat.
If you’re one of those people, this post probably isn’t for you.
Look, cold is one of those relative things where what is too cold to run for one person is absolutely perfect weather for another.
(And please don’t confuse this with “freezing”. The freezing point is not relative, it’s scientific! And if I hear one more Floridian talk about it being “freezing” outside when the temperature is 52°F I might snap! Freezing is below 32° (or 0° if you’re worldly) and that’s it!)
Rant over, I think. (No promises though)
But for those of us that aren’t afraid to get out and run when the mercury dips a little lower than we would prefer, you do have several clothing options available that can help make your runs this winter more comfortable.
Great Gear for Winter Running
(For legal sake, please assume that all links in this post are affiliate links. Some are, some aren’t. As a reminder, making a purchase using an affiliate link provides me with a small commission for every item purchased and it doesn’t cost you a penny more. The links are provided for your convenience, affiliate or not.)
I fricking hate disclaimers. But, sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do in an attempt at making a few cents to help keep the lights on and website running.
So consider yourself disclaimed. Or do I consider myself disclaimed? Whatever…
Let’s start at the top and work our way down.
Gear for Winter Running: Above the Neck
- A Beanie–I’m not sure I’m comfortable calling a winter hat a beanie, but that’s a discussion for another day. Growing up in Northern Michigan, the importance of wearing a winter hat has been beaten into me by my dad. He didn’t care about too much in terms of how we dressed, but there was hell to pay if you tried to go outside in the winter without a hat on. And he had a point, we lose a lot of heat off of the top of our heads when we aren’t wearing a hat so a good hat is a must. And let’s be honest, cold/frostbitten ears are no fun. I really like this hat by Huggabe because of the fact that it’s got build in LED lights so you can stay hands free and still see where you’re going during a run. The fact is, it is dark a lot in the winter, and running with a light is safer. Being able to do so without carrying a light is a win for me.
- Headband–As much as my dad was right (and as painful as that is to admit) about the importance of a hat during the winter, sometimes a full hat can be too much. Especially during a run, where releasing some heat back into the world from the top of your head is helpful. Enter the thermal headband. It keeps the ears comfortable while still allowing your head to breath. Winner winner, chicken dinner.
- Buff–This is an overlooked item if ever there was one, and honestly a buff is one of the most multi-purpose items that I own. When it comes to winter running, a buff can serve as a beanie, as a headband, as a turtleneck, and as a humidifier. Wait, what? Yep, a humidifier. I talked recently about asthma like symptoms that some runners experience while running in the winter (whether they have diagnosed asthma or not), and by far the best solution to the issue of breathing in cold and dry air is to put something over your nose and mouth to warm and humidify the air before you inhale it and your lungs freak out. While a scarf or a simple bandana works, neither works as well or is as comfortable as a buff. The amount of colors and designs available is dizzying, but this link will at least get you started.
Gear for Winter Running: The Trunk
- Base Layer: As much as I love a good pair of long johns, we’ve come a long way in terms of what to wear as a base layer of clothing in the cold. Gone are the days of sweat soaked cotton long underwear, replaced instead with sweat-wicking thermal shirts that are pretty much perfect for runners. If money isn’t an option, you can go with the Nike and Under Armor options. But if you live in the world that I live in, as in one where money doesn’t grow on trees, there’s never been a better time to shop for great thermal gear. More and more competitors are entering the space, and the items are virtually identical except for the logos. Here’s a great option (women’s and men’s) that is currently on sale. And make sure you look around at the similar items on Amazon as well, as many of these products are on sale 70-80% off (at the time of this post going live).
- Outer Layer: When it comes to winter jackets for runners, I actually tend to prefer outerwear that is designed for cyclists. Here’s why: anything designed for a cyclist is going to be sleek/resistant to the wind. And anyone that has spent any time in the legit winter knows that the wind chill is the worst thing about being outside in the winter. So getting an outer layer that is as close to wind-proof as possible is a great choice. Another thing to look for is a jacket that has a couple of layers. Something with a fleece inner layer (for warmth) and an outer shell (for wind/rain resistance) is a very versatile piece of clothing that will last you many season and be with you for many miles. Here’s a great choice that meets all of my requirements for a quality winter running jacket.
Gear for Winter Running: The Lower Half
- Tights/Pants: Basically the same logic as above applies here. Something that is sweat wicking is a good bet, and the options are plentiful. Here’s a good option for the guys, and here’s one for the ladies. I personally tend to underdress on my bottom half since it’s harder to peel layers there. But if it’s really cold or you’re just cold blooded, adding a pair of looser fitting pants over your tights can be a good option as well.
Gear for Winter Running: The Extremities
- Gloves: When it comes to keeping your hands/fingers warm, you’ve got some options. Gloves? Mittens? Combo? Honestly, it depends on how much finger dexterity are you going to need during your run. Planning on monkeying with your phone or some form of nutrition while running and would rather not stop? Some good gloves are probably the best option. Not planning on needing your fingers much, running where the temperatures are super cold, or just know that your hands tend to get cold no matter what you do? Then mittens are your only choice.
- Socks: Nothing makes a winter run more miserable than cold feet (with the possible exception of cold hands). Since there aren’t many running shoes designed to be light, flexible, comfortable, and insulating your feet from the cold, some good socks are vital. When it comes to socks for winter running, I have two suggestions: don’t go cheap and do go long. Meaning, spending a few extra bucks (and sometimes more than a few) for a good pair of socks is worth it! Get the wool socks as they will do the best job of keeping your feet warm and dry. Don’t try to go cheap and don’t try to wear a couple of pairs of socks. One good pair will do the job. As for going long, even if you’re an ankle sock kind of guy or gal, for your winter socks get some socks that are calf high or higher. Why? Because when snow gets into your shoe, which always happens, it’s nice to have a sock that goes halfway up your leg so the snow doesn’t get down into your sock as well. Believe me.
Gear for Winter Running: Footwear
- Shoes: While there aren’t exactly “winter running shoes” per se, there are some options that might make sense to try. A trail shoe can be a good choice for any runner in the winter, as most trail shoes typically have better traction than many road shoes. But my favorite shoe company in the world (Altra) is taking it one step farther. They recently released the Lone Peak 2.0 PolarTec model (here is the women’s model), which they advertise as a shoe that is basically water proof. Now, there’s no way you can wade knee deep in the water and keep your feet dry even with these shoes, but if the idea of stepping into a stray slush puddle is scary enough that you opt for a treadmill instead of running outdoors, this shoe might be worth looking into. Now, it is a shoe from Altra so it does have the foot-shaped toe box and the zero drop platform, so they may take a bit of an adjustment period. I’m an unabashed fan of Altra and their shoes, so take this suggestion for whatever you think it might be worth. And there may be other brands out there utilizing a similar technology, but I’m not aware of any other options.
- Gaiters: You know how I said getting snow in your shoe sucks? A pair of gaiters can help prevent that. Many trail runners already wear gaiters to help keep dirt and small debris from getting into their shoes, but gaiters may be a completely foreign concept to us road runners. But if you’re going to run in the snow in the winter, a pair of gaiters is well worth the money. I promise.
- YakTrax: If you’re worried about slipping and falling on the ice this winter, a pair of YakTrax will help to alleviate those concerns. YakTrax fit on the sole of your running shoe, and help your shoes grip on slippery surfaces that you may run on. Full disclosure, I’ve never used any type of extra traction devices during my winter runs (I’m either brave, athletic, or an idiot, your choice), but if you’re a little leery of running on ice/snow a pair of YakTrax can help.
Ultimately, any list like this that involves the “essential gear for winter running” is not going to apply to everyone.
Some people like to dress a little warmer, some like to go light. Some struggle more with cold than others.
So use this as a guide to help you make the choices that are going to best for you and help you get out the door and racking up some miles this winter!
Add Your Suggestions of Other Items that You Deem as Essential Gear for Winter Running in the Comments Below