Updated: Feb 6, 2022
This winter has been horrible for runners who enjoy running outside. Between the snow and cold many runners have been forced to retreat to the treadmill.
Don’t let the cold weather stop you. If dressed properly running outside in the winter can be refreshing. You just need to wear the proper clothing. Just like a golfer has unique golf clubs for each type of shot, a runner should have unique articles of clothing for every condition.
Rule #1, NEVER WEAR ANYTHING COTTON! When you sweat, cotton acts like a paper towel cleaning up a spill, it absorbs the moisture. Now imagine you’re outside with a wet paper towel on your skin.
The best strategy is layering, wearing multiple articles of clothing each with its own purpose. Typically there are three layers: Base Layer, Mid Layer and Shell Layer (depending on how cold it is you may only need two layers).
The Upper Body:
The Base Layer: The base layer’s sole purpose is to draw sweat away from the skin, called wicking. It is often a very tight fitting thin short/long sleeve shirt made of polyester, wool or silk.
The Mid Layer: The mid layer’s purpose is warmth. The theory behind the mid layer is that air gets trapped between the base layer and the mid layer and acts like a thermal insulation (air stays warm b/c of your body heat). The mid layer should be looser fitting and often made of a thicker material. Good materials are wool, fleece and polyester. Look for a mid-layer that has thumbholes in the sleeves that go over your gloves, assuring your wrists aren’t exposed.
The Shell Layer: The shell layer protects you from the elements; wind, rain and snow and can also serve as an additional layer for warmth. The key here is to find a material that is breathable. NOT DOWN OR PLASTIC. These materials don’t allow the heat generated by your body to vent, which leads to excessive sweating and the wet paper towel analogy. The single best and most versatile material for a shell is a soft shell jacket. This piece protects against wind, rain and snow while allowing heat to escape.
Your best bet for upper body is:
1st layer: Thin, tight-fitting polyester, wool or silk shirt
2nd layer: Thicker, looser fitting polyester, wool or fleece
3rd layer: A soft-shell jacket
The Lower Body:
For most, the lower body doesn’t get as cold as the upper body. Reason being, our lower body is made up of larger muscles groups that radiate heat keeping them warmer. That being said just a pair of breathable tights should do. Tights come in varying thickness and liners, offering a wide range of warmth options.
Our bodies’ heat our extremities last so a good rule of thumb here is to side on overdressing. Typically these items are small and can be stuffed into a pocket or stashed in a bush for later pickup if you start to overheat.
Head: Nothing fancy here. A normal wool or synthetic material beanie style hat will do. If you tend to over heat quickly consider a headband as an alternative option.
Gloves: I actually suggest using the layering system for gloves as well with the base layer made of a moisture-wicking material such as wool and the shell layer a windproof material such as gore-tex wind stopper. This allows for more flexibility given you start to overheat by giving the ability to shed one layer verses running with no gloves.
Socks: Use the same wicking concept here. Never wear cotton socks. Instead look for wool, CoolMax or acrylic.
The Must Have Winter Gear:
A Buff: The most versatile piece of gear for you head. This piece can be worn as a hat, a facemask or a neck warmer. Click Here to purchase.
Brooks Infinity Hybrid Wind Shirt: The single best top I’ve ever owned. Its hybrid design includes soft shell material to protect from the wind where you need it while offering stretched woven material to help vent heat. It also has thumbholes assuring your wrists are never exposed. I’ve been able to get away with a short sleeve shirt under this piece in the low 20’s.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll be prepared to conquer whatever old man winter has to offer.