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Nov17

What to wear running in the cold – outfits & gear for every temperature

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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!)

I actually really love the cold weather. The air is so refreshing and I think it helps de-puff my eyes when Thomas doesn’t sleep. ๐Ÿ˜‰ That and good eye cream. Even though I’m not running often right now (I’m in my third trimester of pregnancy with our second baby!), I wanted to re-share this blog post since I know it can be helpful to hear what other runners wear when temperatures start to drop. (Also, this time of year is when you might start shopping for your friends and family who also run, and I’ve got you covered in this Gift Guide for Runners!)

I used to over-dress almost every single run, but after a few years of trial and error, I got a pretty good routine down for cold weather runs.

It’s not just people in my life who ask me about winter runningโ€“one of the most googled questions for runners is what to wear for running in the cold! 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 like this Rest Less Pullover Top from Lululemon. When it starts to warm up, I’ll wear a short sleeve shirt or tank with a layer on top (usually the same top as above, the Rest Less Pullover), 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 as a good mid layer. My favorite 1/4 zip is the Momentum Zip up from Athleta.

A running jacket or vest doesn’t necessarily have to be heavy to be warm (this lightweight Patagonia option is amazing), 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. My very favorite cold weather layer is the Down For It All vest from Lululemon, and if it’s REALLY cold, I love the Cross Chill Jacket (also from Lululemon).

When I’m on the fence, I always take running gloves (pro tip: get a bright colored pair like the Fast and Free Fleece Running Gloves from Lululemon so you don’t loose them) and an ear band since they’re easy to take off and carry if I get too hot. I need a new one and I’m considering the Run For It All ear warmer from Lululemon. It’s AWFUL when your fingers or ears 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. You can find all of my favorite sports bras for runners here on the blog, 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. 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. I love the Swiftly Long Sleeve tee.

What to wear running in 30 degrees

What to wear running in the cold

Items to wear running in 20 degrees

  • Gloves
  • Neck gaiter, if my midweight layer isn’t a turtleneck – This perforated neck warmer helps reduce wetness from your breath. Gross!

Lululemon Cross Chill Jacket

Shop my Lululemon Cross Chill Jacket here

What to wear running in 10 degrees

  • Fleece lined tights – Lululemon’s Fast and Free style also comes in a fleece-lined version, which is my #1 choice for a fleece lined legging.
  • Beanie
  • Neck warmer

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

This Lululemon running 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! I love it so much I got a similar one in another color. 

What to wear running in the cold

Prioritize extremities

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 run on 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 a 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 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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    22 responses to “What to wear running in the cold – outfits & gear for every temperature”

    1. If you are comfortable when you get outside, you are overdressed. Plan for it to feel 15-20 degrees warmer when you start moving. Have dry, warm clothes for after.

        • Did you eye roll, laugh, or both when you saw my comment? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I liked this post and really think you got it right when you said that it matters what type of workout you are doing – feel free to bundle up on a recovery or easy long run but be prepared with layers to play strip running on tempo or speed work (assuming you have a place to leave said layers).

    2. I wear fleece lined mittens that have a wind resistance outer. I got them a few years ago, their Saucony. If it’s below 20, I’ll stick hand warmers in them. I’ve been running in neg temps (as cold at -15) and my fingers have been fine. I have Raynauds so I’m extra careful with my hands.

      • oooh, I need those mittens! I have Reynauds too and it’s so frustrating in the winter. Great idea with the hand warmers. Do you put them directly in your hands or do you have some sort of barrier between your skin, e.g. a pair of gloves, then warmer, then another pair?

        • I put them directly in my hands! I just checked Saucony’s website and it doesn’t look like they make them anymore but you should be able to find fleece lined mittens. Mittens keep your fingers warmer than gloves. I also have the Saucony Ulti Mitt and it doesn’t keep my hands as warm as the straight up mittens.

          • I have Reynauds as well, and hand warmers have been a life saver. My Reynauds affects my toes as well (although not nearly as badly), so in single-digit temps, I use foot warmers from Costco that adhere right to the bottom of your socks.

    3. Which gloves and mittens do you actually use? This Florida girl is still trying to find the perfect pair for running outside in Greensboro!

      • I have 5 pairs! My most recent is from Lidl, which is a glove/mitten combo. I also have older pairs of nike gloves, brooks gloves, goretex gloves, and cheap dollar store gloves. (Those were all bought years ago.)

    4. Runnin gin the cold is my FAVORITE! I swear, I’m much faster in the cold!

    5. Get the lululemon Down for it All jacket to reduce the amount of layers at 10 and 20 degrees. ? And instead of Yaktraxs I recommend studding your shoes. ?

    6. I have a fleece ear band. Iโ€™m wondering if that fabric will get too wet when I get sweaty. Do you have a certain fabric that you recommend for accessories?

      • I actually really like wearing fleece for an earband since it wicks quite well. It gets wet but doesn’t retain water like cotton. SmartWool is great too. There are lots of different wicking materials for accessories so I would just look for anything that is labeled wicking. Just avoid cotton!

    7. THANK YOU for giving true cold weather gear links! As a Chicagoan, I cringe when warm-climate people rate their “cold a”s 30-40 degrees ๐Ÿ™‚

      • ha! I think 30-40 is usually perfect running weather! Cold to me is under 20! I don’t know how people do subzero. It BAFFLES me how people run in the Chicago cold + wind. You’re amazing!

    8. My fingers are my biggest problem. I’ve tried uber expensive work gloves, ski gloves (becuase typical running gloves do not cut it) and even gloves with hand-warmers , BUT it never occured to me to layer mittens over my gloves. As soon as it’s safe outside (icy/snowy conditions keep me off the roads! right now), I’m going to try this tip. Thank you!

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