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What I wear: Cold weather running

SnowRoad

Back a bit ago I got a question as to what my cold weather running gear looks like – after all, I do pretty much run outside no matter how cold it is.

“Searched your blog but couldn’t see much on this topic. Do you have any recommendations on running/riding (just training, not competing) in winter and staying warm but not sweating too much and getting cold. Clothes you wear or suggest? Gloves, beanies etc?

I just have so much trouble motivating myself in winter to get outside. I have a running machine and trainer, but oh so boring. And if I do rug up I heat up so quickly it is uncomfortable.  So I am sure there are items out there that do this properly.

So any options you would like to recommend or suggest to make the task of taking the first few steps out the door in winter a pleasure?”- Nathan S.

Here in DC the weather fluctuates quite a bit in winter, with the temperatures generally being between 30*F and 50*F for most days, but it occasionally will dip as low as 0*F – all without any funky wind-chill factors.

So over time I’ve kinda put together a simple mental chart of what I wear at given temperatures.  Of course, as with most things, it tends to be a bit of a personal preference with how your body reacts to colder temperatures and retains heat.  Or, at the opposite end, how well it performs in heat.  Myself for example, I hate overheating – so I’ll usually err on the side of being a bit chilly rather than being too warm. Though, in all the below scenarios I usually manage to nail the heating aspect and stay warm without getting too hot.

Let’s start off with some moderate stuff, and then work our way down.  I’m going to do it in Fahrenheit – merely because that’s how I have my mental chart laid out.  And of course, I reserve the right to change it on a completely adhoc basis, simply because I feel warmer or cooler on a given day.

55*F/13*C: Shorts and T-Shirt

Shorts and t-shirt, no doubt about it.  And really, in general if it’s over 50*F, I’m likely wearing just a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.  Sometimes though if it’s really blowing, I’ll dip into the long-sleeve below 55*F, but mostly the above range could read 50*F+.  And anything above 55*F is definitely no-go for long-sleeves.  I’d likely burn up, unless I was below long-run pace (i.e. running slower than normal).

45ish-55*F (7-13*C): Shorts and Long-Sleeve Shirt

This is where I start to add something up top.  Usually I’ll grab one of the handful of long-sleeve technical fabric (quick-dry) shirts that I have from some random race.  In the DC area, that random race tends to be the Army 10-Miler, since they give out virtually the same shirt each year – thus, I have a number of those shirts.  Sometimes, as in the case of last week in Seattle where I forgot a long-sleeve shirt, I’ll simply use the t-shirt and fleece method I note below:

P10202719

Speaking of travel, sometimes I plan something completely wrong – like this run in Zurich from last January.  But I still ran…even in the snow…with my getup designed for warmer temperatures.

zurichrun

I use shorts here mostly because I like the freedom of shorts, but there are times that at the lower range of this, or if the wind is pushing a bit – that I’ll go ahead and go with running tights.  But in general, this is shorts weather – especially if running in the sun.

I should note that from a socks standpoint they stay the same across the board.  I use Balega running socks…cause I love them.

35*-45*F (2-7*C): Running Tights and Long-Sleeve Shirt:

At this stage I’ve transitioned from shorts to running tights.  I know that some of you may be afraid of the running tight – but it’s really the way to go.  I’ve use the Sugoi Midzero tights, merely because it happened to be the first pair of tights I picked up at my local running store.  I like them, they last quite a while, and they work for me.  Unlike GPS devices though, I really know very little about sports clothing other than what works for me.  I do know they have different tights for different temperatures, but I find the Midzero works across the spectrum of weather I’m running in.  You crazy folk out in the midwest who run in –30*F weather…you’ll have to sort out the colder weather varieties and report back.

LongSleeveIMG_1889[9]

Usually at this point I’ll be adding both a hat and gloves, since I want to keep my noggin and hands warm.  And as silly as this may sound – I actually just use those cheap $1 gloves that you buy at the running expo’s before a race.  Even more so, I always feel bad about throwing them away…so I kinda still have even my very first pair from years ago.

IMG_1890IMG_1891

20*-35*F (-7-2*C): Running Tights, T/Long-Sleeve shirt and Thin Fleece

At this stage I’m simply layering a thin fleece jacket over my running gear.  I bought it years ago at REI, and it’s my go-to running fleece.  While lightweight, and though not exactly breathable – it works perfectly for me.  All I do is simply put a t-shirt or long-sleeve shirt under it (depending on which end of the spectrum we’re talking about), and I’m good to go.

runningtights

0*-20*F (-18 – -7*C): Running Tights, Long-Sleeve Shirt, Running Jacket

This is fairly similar to above, except I’m simply swapping out the fleece for a legit running jacket.  Mine isn’t anything special from a brand/vendor standpoint, just whatever they sold at the Boston Marathon.  If it’s on the colder edge of that I might also wear the fleece – but generally I’d be far too hot unless it were a long run at a slower than normal pace.

I also tend to wear warmer gloves here.  Usually mittens, but again, your body really does a good job at keeping warm while running, so be sure not to go overboard here.  You can usually find a nice pair of gloves/mittens relatively cheaply that will do the trick.

And realistically, I wouldn’t be doing too long of a run in 0*F weather.  I think the longest run I did at 0*F was about 10-15 miles.  I was trying to find the old post, it was in Rock Creek somewhere – but alas, my post searching skills of my own site appear to be non-functional.

Now, I should note that I do often run in these temps with just my fleece if I’m running intervals or other heat inducing run activity.  So keep that in mind.  It’s surprisingly easy to keep warm once running.

Snow and Ice:

Finally, a note about snow and ice.  For icy conditions, I use Yaktrax.  They cost about $20-$35 (for running ‘Pro’ model), and completely and totally rock.  And while they work well in snow, they don’t quite work as well in deeper snow.  Meaning that while it doesn’t hurt to have them on, I actually don’t find them necessary since fluffy snow has pretty good traction.  Their forte is really icy conditions that you can’t get a good grip on.

I’ve run countless runs on otherwise nasty icy roads with them and wouldn’t trade them for anything.

yaktrak

Here’s some blizzard and snow running posts that I’ve done.

Alternate Clothing Options:

Finally, I should mention there are a few scenarios which result in clothing that doesn’t match the above brackets.  First, for the Cupid Undies Run, which requires…well…less clothing:

Cupid

Then we have the Polar Bear Plunge, which, as you can see – starts off as a run…but ended up turning into a swim.

IMG_9076[7]

Nonetheless, I feel it’s important to correctly classify it within the running section.  You can read about both years here.  And, of course, the video of the below is there as well.

VeryCold

With that, hope you found this useful – and enjoy running in the cold. It certainly beats 100*F+ weather…well…at least in my book!

Thanks for reading!

32 Comments

  1. Jiri

    Great article, DC.

    As for shoes in snowy conditions, I'd also recommend:
    Salomon Speed Cross 2 - They cost around 100 bucks, but they have a great grip. Never slipped on snow with them.

    Reply
  2. Jiri
    Reply
  3. Erica

    For us midwesterners who run outside when the temps dip wayyyy below 0*, I use Nike fleece-lined running tights. I can use them to about -30* with the wind chill and be fine. My fleece running hat is another must for those cold, windy days.

    Typing this, I realized I need to move somewhere much warmer...

    Reply
  4. Hey, I love the blog.
    Just a quick ASCII note:

    Hold down ALT while typing 0176
    and it makes the degree symbol°

    Reply
  5. Jamie

    I have something similar to what Erica has, being Midwestern & colder temps, often with wind chill. Basically like the outer technical slick tights & shirt but they are usually a heavier weight Lycra with peached low pile fleecing on the inside. My heavier stuff happens to be from Moving Comfort(women's only brand). Anything warmer than 15 degrees it too hot for it though, it really keeps you toasty. I wear a wool/fleece beanie & Smartwool gloves & socks. I can stand cold or hot but I hate wet(wet clothes drive me nuts!), so you won't catch me running in rain or slush.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Hey Ray,

    Any thoughts on arm warmers/sleeves. I love them and think they are the best. I like as little clothes on during as possible when I run and cant stand long sleeves or jackets because I always end up rolling the sleeves anyway.

    I use a few different armwarmers, but the ones I'm most wearing now are the Asics Thermopolis. They have a convertible mitten on them and a pocket.

    They rock.

    any thoughts on if you wear them?

    Reply
  7. hartley

    Hey, a great tool to use for recommending what to wear is on the Runner's World web site. Go to Tools > What Should I Wear?

    Once there you can enter Temperature, Wind, Conditions, and When I run, I like to feel like variables.

    I to it constantly during the winter. I have had to make adjustments from the recommendations, but it usually is close. I just wish they had it in book form.

    Reply
  8. Denis

    Ray, anyone else running in the cold..

    Do you use anything to cover your face/nose? With temperatures dipping to about -10F here without the wind chill, it's pretty cold air to breathe for an hour or more. I tried the Buff but having a pretty big nose, it restricts breathing and I get ice building up on the eyelashes.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    Here in the northern plains, we'd consider anything above 10F a pretty mild day :) (well, most years).

    a couple notes:
    Face: The Craft balaclava is a nice, lightweight face cover that you can either breathe through or just pull the opening down so the nose and/or mouth is exposed (once you warm up, or the fabric gets too iced over).

    Hands: really thin liner gloves help a lot under mittens by wicking moisture and keeping my sweaty hands dry. Thin liners, mid-layer of fleece mitten, and outer windblocking mitten works great down to -10F at least.

    Feet: for sub-0F temps, especially when windy, most running shoes are too airy. Toes are particularly susceptible to frostbite, so I use shoes with uppers that block wind somewhat - the NB Minimus Outdoor is my current winter shoe.

    Ray - thanks for the post, as always a fun read.

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    The Yaktrax can be dangerous. The spiral metal coils eventually break and the individual metal rings can get caught up in things. One of my teammates had a bad fall because he somehow (don't ask me how) managed to have his left foot yaktrax caught up in the right foot yaktrax.

    So I'd recommend Gripon cleats instead. They work really well in ice and snow.

    Reply
  11. Just a guess, the question came from someone outside the States? Running machine and rugging up?

    Reply
  12. as another newly minted mid-westerner who can't stand treadmills, you really have to master the art of layering. A balaclava is great for the cheeks and the nose, but if it gets too cold, throw a running had under it. Eye lashes might ice up, but short of ski goggles, not much you can do. If it's cold enough, you'll have chunks of ice all over your mask when you get home. Also, for breathing issues, sometimes you have to do a little cutting work around the mouth if the weave of the material is too tight. One pair of fleece gloves under some ski mittens works great - throw in a hand-warmer if it's crazy cold. Fleece tights with wind-pants over them if the windchill is fierce, and two pairs of smart wool socks are occasionally needed. The torso is actually pretty easy to keep warm, just a couple of layers. I like north face stuff b/c it's so breathable, and if the wind is really going, throw on a shell.

    Reply
  13. Ray,

    Funny article as usual... I am surprised you are in tights so early in the 35-45 range. I am not in tights until less than 30...I find I just run a bit faster. although I think my faster is your slow. I had a quite boring run around Dulles today link to connect.garmin.com which I think it was 40 when I started...and had a long sleeve shirt &shorts. I am driving to the W&D trail tomorrow

    I think an interesting point to others is layering so you can peal off stuff easily but is small enough that you can wrap it around you. No good to have 3 layers if you cannot take them off. Also for me gloves and a hat a key. I am still trying to find the ultimate gloves as I go from too cold to sweaty hands and back many times on morning runs.

    Reply
  14. I live in northern Illinois and don't like to miss running on the trails because of something as small as snow or ice. ;)

    So I'm using Icespikes. They're a steel screw-in cleat that bite deeper than the old sheet metal screws and are more durable. I'm running in an old pair of NB MT101s - so you don't need much material to work with. They are also supposed to be reversible, enabling you to take them out and still use the shoe. I tend to believe this, since the pitch on the screw threads is fairly high - so you aren't tearing up your sole. I've been running on all kinds of ice - hard and slick to hard and uneven to outright crackly and mushy. They work in greasy snow, slush, mud and just make a bit of a 'golf shoe' noise when used on pavement.

    I also like Columbia's Omni Heat base layer shirt. It warms me up to the point that on a mild Dec/Jan. day I often take it off and run shirtless.

    Reply
  15. This is really helpful as I have seriously been doing some trial and error (and leaving clothes on the side of the road/trail as needed as I tend to overdress). I'd like to see how this is adjusted for biking which I find to be colder.

    Reply
  16. Thanks Jiri - great option!

    Hi Erik - Hmm, makin' things all modern, nice!

    Hi Anon-
    RE: Arm Warmers

    Don't use them at all. Have a few pairs, but still have the tags on them. Perhaps someday...

    Hi Denis-

    Nothing on my face directly. My general rule of thumb there is that if it's that cold, I'm really not terribly motivated to run in it. ;)

    Hi Anon-
    Great tips for the colder temps!

    Hi Anon-
    I haven't had my Yaktrax attempt to kill me yet, though I have seen the metal springs get caught on stuff inside my winter basket of random clothing. So I could see it occuring - but to manage to get them tangled on a run would (as you noted) take some solid talent. Good warning though!

    Hi Bruther-
    Yup, from an Aussie oddly enough. Actually, upon looking at the date, it was last May. Had a few more recently, but just decided to use that quote since I liked it best. :)

    Hi chris-
    Nice route given the options. It depends on the day and how I feel, sometimes no tights, sometimes tights. I have found that for longer runs my legs/knees start to get a bit tighter - which is ultimately hurting my performance. There's also some numbers out there around heat loss and performance loss with respect to your legs, though, I've gotta go digging there.

    Thanks all, glad you enjoyed!

    Reply
  17. I, too, would rather run in the cold than the really hot. You missed a couple temp ranges, though I guess you don't really need them.
    -20 F to 0 F (hard thinking in such weird units now)
    Essentially what you wear, adding a warmer hat, a wind layer, and maybe a scarf, depending on wind.

    Below -20 F adds another layer of tights, and tech shirt, for sure a wind layer over it, and a scarf for sure.

    Reply
  18. OK, I own up.

    The temps Ray and you other guys run in are crazy and it makes me a sooky la-la.

    Obviously the temps in Australia (Clifton Springs, Victoria in my case) never reach this level, well maybe mid single figures (Celsius), but I was curious and I hate the cold so much. Especially the first step out the door. BBBRRRR.

    I suppose it is all relative and it is interesting to see what goes on up in the Northern Hemisphere and how you all cope with it.

    No mocking please :-)

    Reply
  19. I am never ever leaving Southern CA!

    Reply
  20. Hi Ray,
    I guess i fall into the category of one of those crazy midwest runners :) Though this winter has been pretty mild where i am(northern michigan) i have a pretty comprehensive running clothing portfolio. Here are some the things i have come up with for dealing with the weather.

    Tights: I have Nike Element Sheild running tights for the really cold days. these tights are fleece lined from the waist band down to below the kneecap and then more breathable for the lower leg and back side of the thigh. They also have wind blocking material running from just above the knee up and all across the front of the pelvis, you know, to keep the bits protected ;). They are phenomenal at keeping me warm even on the 0° days with a negative wind chill and i have learned a great trick for adding a smidge more warmth.

    Socks:I have two types. One, NewBalance marathon trainer is my performance and year round sock. they are thin, breathable, and are designed separately for your left and right foot, which allows newbalance to add what feels like arch support to the sock. They are probably the best thing that has ever touched my feet. Two, no-name THIN performance downhill ski sock. These badboys are for the cold days. They go up to just below my knee and are thin and relatively breathable, the key is that i wear them under my tights when its really chilly and they add just a bit more insulation on my lower leg. Also, a generic trick for sock choosing, buy them small. It seems that the recommended sizing for running socks and socks in general is always a bit on the large size, and i like a snug fit. So with my size ten shoes, i usually get a sock recommended for up to size 8 or sometimes the small women's socks actually have the best fit.

    last one
    Base Layers: I found one i like and i bought 3 of the exact same one. my particular favorite is Craft Zero Zip Mock Neck. Its nice and fuzzy but is also superb at pulling moisture off my skin and into my next layer. I found this brand and product through Nordic Skiing in high school and loved my first one which lasted me about 5 years before it started falling apart from use. A good base layer is essential to running in cold weather comfortably. This is what keeps you warm and anti-soggy. the layers over the top block wind and add an additional insulation. these shirts are like magic to me, the layer i wear over them is always the one that is damp with sweat while the base layer remains mostly dry.

    just a few of my thoughts :)

    cheers

    Reply
  21. A few thoughts:

    - I'd consider adding a vest to your arsenal. I use it more than my running jacket honestly. Does a better job than a fleece at keeping things the right balance of warm/cool.

    - Runners World has a nice "what to wear when running" page that has been pretty spot on. It does encourage glove use when not needed.

    - More lazy? There are apps that get your location, weather, and tell you. link to market.android.com

    - "Joe's New Balance Outlet" is where I usually get my tights. Good quality, last year's style, good price .

    Reply
  22. Hi Ray,
    I would offer one build on the running in cold thing. I'm in NYC--so get the full mix. Love the sugoi tight (I have them too). The watch out is, its easy to under dress on the top, knowing you are going to heat up. I went out on a cold day with a long sleeve Nike dry-fit shirt and just a shell (Sugoi's on the bottom). When I got home, my abdomen was red and cold, despite having worked up a good sweat. You don't notice what the cold does to you when you get going and its important to get those layers on--even if it means overheating a bit.
    Best,
    Jason

    Reply
  23. Anonymous

    Hey Ray,
    I notice you were Garmin 610 in a lot of your pics. Question: What watch do you normally wear in the water whether for a comp, training or even that Polar Bear Plunge you did (nice humorous pic BTW)?

    Gary

    Reply
  24. Hi Gary-

    For the most part, I use the FR610 for running. While I have the FR910XT - I just like the slim nature of the FR610 - and the fact that I can wear it as a regular wrist watch.

    Enjoy!

    Reply
  25. Bump. Used this article again this morning for a 14 miler that started around 38 F and finished around 55 F.

    I contemplated tights but after a quick review of this article I ventured out with shorts, long sleeve tech, and a beanie. At 8 miles in I thought I was warming up so I took the beanie off. Within 5 minutes my legs began to ache and hips began to tighten up. I put the beanie back on my head to warm up my core temperature. Within 5 minutes of the beanie back on my head I was flying fast and loose again. Finished with a 7:33/mi pace.

    Reply
  26. Martin

    In your "2012 ‘Gear I Use’ equipment list " section you are wearing the Balega Hidden Comfort Low Cut Socks. And in the picture above your legs are exposed (naked skin) from the ankle to the bottom of your tights. Would it be warmer to wear quarter cut or crew socks when its cold? Your wife also wears the no show socks.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      No doubt, though, it doesn't bother me too much personally, so I just use what I have. For me, I'd rather deal with a little bit of cold ankles than blisters. I find that getting the right socks is the harder part. :)

      Reply
  27. barry

    You "coldies" need to move to a warmer place to live. Why would you be a runner if you live in sub 0 temperatures!!!

    Reply
  28. hugo Jara

    The downside of wearing a t-shirt for me is that it gets wet & get sick for sure. Any type of material you recommend? I've tried underarmor & similar brands but I still sweat. Thank you.

    Reply
  29. Gary B

    Hi Ray I'm going to be in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the North East of England for 5 weeks over Christmas so planning my clothing. I've read this article a few time but it's tough with everything in Fahrenheit. I know your busy and strange thing to ask when you just came back from the hottest place on earth but can you add the Celsius ranges in, I'm guess you are use to them now

    55*F = 13*C
    45*F - 55*F = 7*C - 13*C
    35*F - 45*F = 2*C - 7*C
    20*F - 35*F = -7*C - 2*C
    0*F - 20*F = -18*C - -7*C and yes that is between minus 17 and minus 7 degrees Celsius, ouch

    I never really appreciated that last section until now, minus seventeen is crazy.
    I'll be running in the 35*F - 45*F / 2*C - 7*C range so looks like I should invest in some tights. I'm use to running in Sydney, so lowest is 55*F / 13*C so this is sure going to be a fun Christmas.

    Thanks as always

    Reply

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