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 sometimes hard to get out the door but once I’m out there, I love it. And I much prefer winter running over summer running. 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 at least I 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!)
One of the most googled questions for runners is what to wear for running in the cold, and it makes sense. Dressing the right way will make or break your run, and when you’re mixing freezing temps with sweat, you have to be careful. I’ve been running for over 20 years, and I’ve raced in some pretty tricky conditions (ahem, the 2018 Boston Marathon).
Today I’m sharing what exactly I wear for running in the cold. Let’s jump in.
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 (some days I like to be warmer than others!). The right gear makes ALL the difference!
Types of layers:
Base layers are typically thinner and fit close to the body to help keep in warmth. For cold runs, I wear a long sleeve. When it starts to warm up, I’ll wear a short sleeve with a layer on top, and then I’ll have the option to shed a layer.
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). You can think of a 1/4 zip (see on me here) as a good mid layer.
A running jacket or vest 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. This vest is AMAZING and if it’s really cold this jacket is great.
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 made with technical fabrics is worth the additional cost over an old t-shirt because it is made to wick away sweat from your body which helps you stay warm. And if your clothes aren’t breathable, your body heat will rise and the heat will have nowhere to go. The worse thing you can do is run in the cold in very damp clothes! Think about it – would you want to go outside when it’s 20 degrees in a wet shirt just to feel colder? No way! So make sure you buy gear that’s sweat wicking. Brands make this really clear since it’s such a selling point for runners. Here are my favorite sports bras for runners, since your sports bra wicks sweat that keeps you warm and dry.
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! Just keep your body temperature at the forefront of your mind when you get dressed.
What to wear running in 40 degrees
- Long-sleeved running shirt (You could get away with short sleeves here, but those first few miles will feel COLD).
- Vest (my review here)
- Ear band
- Sunglasses if it’s sunny (and sunscreen since sun protection is not limited to the summer!)
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 or vest
- Running Jacket: lightweight option or warmer option
- Neck gaiter, if my midweight layer isn’t a turtleneck
What to wear running in 10 degrees
- Fleece lined tights
- Long-sleeved base layer
- Heavier midweight layer
- Gloves AND mittens, or very heavy gloves
- 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! See this vest on me here. I love it so much I got a similar one in another color. Read my review here.
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 to keep just your ears warm.
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. I recommend merino wool socks if your toes are always cold. BTW, make sure you’re wearing true running socks since they help prevent blisters!
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 or put hand warmers in my mittens.
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. I actually love running in the rain!
- 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. Sometimes I’ll go for a windbreaker jacket or something wind resistant.
- 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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