I grew up running in Chicago. Then I ran for 2 of the 6 years I lived in New Hampshire. What happens when you spend many years running in cold climes? You end up with a closet full of winter running gear. I love winter running. You know what I don’t get in San Diego? Winter running. YARGH!
Because I feel like my winter running clothes are feeling severely unloved right now, I thought I’d tell you all about what I used to wear when the temperature started to drop. I broke it up into three temperature levels, but the decision making can be quite fluid, especially depending on the wind conditions.
Not Cold: 40F and above
Shorts and a t-shirt. In the low 40s, you’ll be cold at the start, but 10 minutes later, you’ll be pumped that you aren’t wearing sleeves. If it’s super windy, maybe a very light pair of gloves.
Chilly: 25ish – 40F
The trick to being comfortable here is not to dress to how you’re feeling walking out the door, but dress to how you’ll feel 15 minutes into a run. For me, this means long-sleeved shirt and shorts.
For long-sleeve tops, I just wear race shirts I’ve accumulated over the years (the Boston Marathon ones are fantastic). Typically, I actually won’t wear gloves and just put my hands in my sleeves. Keeps them warm enough. I tend to wear a beanie at the lower end of this temperature range, but 9 times out of 10, I end up taking it off as soon as I start sweating and carrying it for most of my run. I have two running beanies: an Icebreaker Chase and a (very old) SmartWool Training. Both are $15-$20 and made from merino wool. More on this later.
This temperature range is also apt for some really crazy weather. 37F and pouring rain. 31F and somehow slushing from the sky. Blizzards. Things like that. That kind of weather is pretty dangerous since cold and wet is far more likely to result in hypothermia than just cold.** If the weather is especially crappy or I’m worried about visibility issues (like running on streets during a blizzard), I’ll toss on my Saucony ViziPro jacket. It’s super light and impossible to miss. And lasts forever (mine is 5 years old now).
Cold: Below 25ish
This is where you really start needing a whole new wardrobe for running. Let’s go from the bottom up. I actually wear regular light-running socks no matter the temperature. Your feet might be numb for the first mile, but they’ll warm up. In fact, just wear these when it’s this cold. For tights, I am in love with Mizuno’s running tights. They fit me great and have a pocket on the butt (which is far superior to the front hip pockets on a lot of tights). And they’ll keep you warm enough for any temperature. No need for wind pants or anything.
Moving up, I still rock just a long-sleeved shirt. If it’s particularly cold or windy, I will throw on a merino wool base layer. Why wool over synthetics? It never smells, wicks better, is more comfortable, and is more environmentally friendly. It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth it. Anything that isn’t my tights or shirt is made from this glorious natural fiber.
And what brand of merino wool should you buy? Well purely from a comfort and performance standpoint, I’d point you to Icebreaker. I’ve bought hundreds of dollars of Icebreaker product over the past decade. But their stuff just does not last. And their warranty is only 1 year long. Not cool for the amount of money you’re spending. Instead, go with Ibex. Their clothes are a close second in performance, but they back everything they make with a lifetime warranty. Your investment in winter running is safe.
Then to cap off the outfit, I’ll throw on a light pair of merino gloves (“glove liner” weight) and one of the light beanies I have. This combo of tights, base layer, shirt, light gloves, light hat has gotten me through runs as cold as a windy -10F. Never needed to put on more clothes.
What’s your favorite piece of winter run gear? Who has tips for the days when it dips below -10F?
**Sidenote—here’s a little trick to avoid hypothermia: keep running. Your internal engine will keep you plenty warm.