Figuring out what to wear running in the cold can be harder than the run itself. I shared a list of what I wear for every temperature from 40 degrees and colder, along with my favorite reflecting and light accessories. As always, the most important thing is to stay safe, so if the conditions are really bad, always choose safety over getting in the miles.
I’m one of those people who loves running in the cold. It’s hard to get out the door but once I’m out there, I love it. And I much prefer a cold run over a hot run! I don’t have to deal with snow very often in North Carolina, but it does it very cold at times. When I lived in Utah, I had to be more careful about running in the snow but I at least didn’t have to contend with the humid cold like we get in the South. But cold is cold is cold! And it’s important to dress appropriately for it so you enjoy your runs more (and stay safe!)
But, sadly, I’m not doing any running right now, even though January has had some perfect cold running days (and even a few unusually warm days in the 60s!). I was in a walking boot last fall for 6 weeks when the doctors thought I had a stress reaction in my medial malleolus. Then, an MRI showed that I actually have a posterior tibial tendon tear. So there is no running in my future for a while and running the Boston Marathon this year is off the table.
I get a little bummed when I see runners out in the morning or in the early evening, but I’m grateful I can still do other things like ride the Peloton and lift weights. And whenever I’m feeling down, it helps me to help others, so I figured I would share this post about running in the cold and what to wear! I hope you find it helpful on your winter runs (and soon to be coming spring runs!)
What to wear running in the cold
Below are the general guidelines I use when getting dressed for cold weather runs. Some factors will change what I decide to wear on cold days, including rain, wind chill, “feels like” temperatures, the type of run I’m doing and just how I’m feeling (somedays I like to be warmer than others!).
How I define these layers:
Base layers are typically thinner and fit close to the body to help keep in warmth.
A mid-weight layer is usually a thicker material, usually looser so it can layer more easily and oftentimes has weather proofing materials (e.g. water resistant).
A running jacket doesn’t necessarily have to be heavy to be warm (this one is amazing and so lightweight!), and a zipper (or even half zip) is nice since it’s easier to get on over two layers and unzip if you get a little too warm.
When I’m on the fence, I always take gloves and an ear band since they’re easy to take off and carry if I get too hot. But it’s awful when they’re are too cold and I don’t have anything to cover them up.
When you’re buying running clothes, it’s especially important to make sure the materials are moisture wicking. Do not wear cotton! Athletic apparel is worth the additional cost over old t-shirts because it is moisture-wicking and will pull sweat away from your body, which will help you stay warm. The worse thing you can do is be running in the cold in very damp clothes! Think about it – would you ant to go outside when it’s 20 degrees in a wet shirt? No way!
Okay, here’s what I wear for each temperature. Keep in mind that humidity and the wind will change what a temperature actually feels like and a lot of this is personal preference. So, it may take some trial and error. If you’re always hot on a run, a good rule of thumb is to remove a layer before you go out. If you’re usually cold, add a layer and definitely take gloves and an ear band!
What to wear running in 40 degrees
What to wear running in 30 degrees
What to wear running in 20 degrees
- Tights (sometimes I’ll layer leggings over capris, or I’ll wear a pair of fleece-lined tights)
- Long-sleeved base layer
- Heavier midweight layer
- Running Jacket: lightweight option or warmer option
- Neck gaiter, if my midweight layer isn’t a turtleneck
What to wear running in 10 degrees
- Tights (two pairs or fleece lined… and sometimes still two pairs!)
- Long-sleeved base layer
- Heavier midweight layer
- Gloves AND mittens, or very heavy gloves (I wear Goretex ski gloves or mittens!)
- Neck gaiter
A few tips for running in cold weather
Keep your core warm
Some people prefer to be colder on their legs vs. their upper body. I’d much rather have cold legs than a cold torso or arms. Figure out what works best for you and adjust accordingly. However, a good rule of thumb is to make sure your core is dressed a bit warmer than your legs since that will help keep the rest of you warm.
Wear a vest
A vest is super helpful at keeping your core warm without making you feel restricted in a jacket or causing you to overheat. If you don’t have a vest, try layering a tank top under your base layer. It helps to have that extra layer on your core!
Protect your head, ears, fingers and toes!!
A lot of heat is lost through your head, so when in doubt, wear a beanie. You can always remove it. If it’s not too cold, you could wear an ear band instead.
I rarely get cold toes. I do wear slightly thicker socks in the winter, but I don’t buy anything special. But I know some people do get VERY cold toes so they buy extra thick socks for the winter or layer two pairs.
However, my fingers do get VERY cold, so cold that it makes me nervous at times! So I always take extra caution make sure they’re warm enough. Sometimes I even wear thick Gore Tex ski gloves over my thin running gloves.
Deal with ice – safely
Some people will use traction cleats, spikes or ice grips on the bottom of their shoes. YakTrax is a popular brand. I’ve personally never tried them, but I know many people love them. They just attach to the bottom of your running shoe so if you have a lot of icy days (or snow that gets compacted and becomes icy), you may want to consider this. We don’t deal with too many icy days in North Carolina, thankfully!
If you’re driving to a treadmill because it’s too icy to run outside, again, please prioritize safety over getting in the miles!
A quick note about specific conditions (wind, rain, darkness):
- If it’s raining, I wear a brimmed hat and this rain jacket. And if it’s an extra cold rain, sometimes I wear a fleece earband over the hat, which is extra sexy.
- If it’s windy, sometimes I’ll layer that same rain jacket on top of whatever else I’m wearing; it adds a little warmth and it really helps cut the wind.
- If it’s dark or dusk, I always wear my light-up reflective vest. I’ve tried many over the 20+ years I’ve been running and this Tracer 360 vest provides the most visibility and is the most comfortable.
Below are some great options for the different layers you’ll need for cold weather running. I linked my favorite running gear underneath the scrolling images, where available. So the great thing about nice gear is that it lasts forever. The bad thing is that I can’t always find the exact one online for you (like that turtleneck I’m wearing in the above picture, which is from Lululemon last year!)
Leggings + Capris
My personal favorite winter running leggings are the Lululemon Fast & Free leggings but if it’s colder than 15 degrees, I usually need something warmer! Which leads me to fleece-lined running leggings …
Fleece Lined Running Tights / Thermal Options
I’ve also been known to layer looser running pants over leggings!
Long Sleeve Shirts (Base Layers)
Vests & Jackets
Accessories (gloves, mittens, earbands, beanie, reflective gear)
What’s your approach to dressing for cold weather runs?
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