Yes, winter is coming.
And for avid runners, long gone are the days of training in shorts and tees. So how does one dress for the cold, wet conditions without sacrificing months of progress, performance and safety? Simply put, it starts with wearing the right gear.
Thankfully, there are dozens of performance brands that manufacture “winterized” apparel to help make the colder months bearable and quite enjoyable.
From waterproof shoes and wool socks that keep feet nice and toasty; to gloves, hats, face masks and gaiters to cover exposed skin. There’s even moisture-wicking base layers and underwear to make sure your lower half keeps it moving. With all of the options to choose from, there’s no excuse to keep your winter running confined to the treadmill, or worse: completely halted until spring.
With so many options to choose from, this guide will help you better navigate the world of winter attire so you, too, can enjoy running in what is the most wonderful time of the year.
The most critical piece of running gear is, of course, a good pair of shoes. And whether you live in a climate that experiences a skiff of snow, or one that piles on feet at a time, you’ll want to have a pair that keeps moisture at ease.
As opposed to traditional running shoes, many waterproof sneakers are constructed with Gore-Tex and NeoShell materials. The Altra Lone Peak 3 NeoShell, for example, shrugs off rain, snow and mud thanks to its high-tech construction. Made to navigate the off-road terrain with its carefully designed grip and traction, this style also comes in a mid-height version for use when the snowpack is higher. However, if you’re looking for a shoe that’s lighter and road-ready, then the Under Armour Charged Reactor Run is another breathable, low-moisture solution.
While good shoes are a must, so too are what you wear with them. When it comes to long treks through the wintery elements, a pair of good socks will prevent skin friction, swelling and even frostbite.
Wool socks provide a comfortable fit that wicks away moisture, keeping your toes nice and toasty. Some even have microbial properties that not only keep your feet dry but also stink-free. For example, Smartwool’s PhD® Outdoor Light sock contains ReliaWool technology that allows extended protection to keep feet comfortable, as well as ventilated mesh areas for increased breathability. And if you’re not yet familiar with Feetures and its lifetime guarantee, you should be. This brand offers several wool sock styles, including its lite Merino+ Light Cushion Crew, which infuses Merino+ fibers to wick away moisture while insulating in wet, wintry conditions.
For men and women alike, cotton underwear isn’t the best option for athletic activities. And running is no exception. Simply put, things can get pretty warm down there, especially when sweat begins to accumulate.
In the warmer months, dry air can help to evaporate some of that moisture, but in the winter, sweat can stay trapped and cause uncomfortable chafing. Hence why underwear made from spandex, nylon and polyester help push perspiration away from the body for rapid evaporation. Another benefit of these materials is that its comfortable, non-restrictive properties allow for long runs and quick sprints. Seek out brands like Under Armour and New Balance that offer a variety of styles to keep your buns cozy and comfy.
As appealing as jogging pants (aka sweats) are to run in, they’re not especially practical. Remember: Cotton is the enemy of running. Instead, seek out performance leggings, tights and base layers that’ll keep your skin toasty, as well as prevent your sweat turning into salty icicles.
Brands, such as Nike, Adidas and Asics offer thermal tights and compression base layers to keep you warm, mobile and feeling fast as you dash through winter. However, my favorite brand and style is the CW-X Insulator PerformX Tight. Made with WarmStretch temperature-regulation fabric, this pant maintains a comfortable surface temperature as it rids of internal moisture. Moreover, its women's specific design and pattern allows the tight to fit the female body better. Talk about a classic win-win.
Frigid temps aside, if there’s one drawback to winter running, it has to be the lack of daylight. For those who prefer road running, this can be particularly dangerous for morning or evening exercise.
To keep you roadside safe, brands like New Balance have created the Reflective Lite Packable Jacket. With a non-restrictive, lightweight design, its reflective brand mark logos and trim are lifesavers in low-light conditions. And while brands like Louis Garneau and Pearl Izumi primarily cater to the biking community, their reflective jackets, such as this five-star Cabriolet Cycling Jacket, serve runners just as well. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the ample pockets to store your keys and MP3 player securely.
If you’ve ever run in the winter, then you know first-hand (pun intended) that your palms and fingers get cold quickly. And when it comes to dollar gloves or over-the-wrist shirts and jackets, you can forget about any sort of relief.
When selecting this often-overlooked garment, be sure to consider the three W’s of warmth, wind protection and waterproofness. The best gloves are made with multiple layers of material, with brands like Black Diamond and The North Face doing precisely that. Furthermore, many styles incorporate conductive tips, which allow you to use your smartphone without exposing your skin to the elements. Now you can capture all of those awesome winter moments and experiences!
When temperature dip below the 30-degree mark, it’s time to add yet another later. Performance beanies, face masks and neck gaiters play a vital role in your winter running apparel. And choosing the right one can (and will) make all the difference.
Because your head and neck are primary sources for heat loss, products made from polyester, nylon and spandex are your signature options. Because I tend to overheat, I rely heavily on the versatility of neck gaiters, such as the Columbia Thermarator. When the winds of winter blow, the adjustable closure keeps my face and neck warm and protected, more than any scarf could accomplish. Leading brands like Smartwool, Arc’teryx and Outdoor Research each carry products that excel in wintry conditions.
With the right winter gear, your training won’t have to miss a beat. And who knows, it might even overtake spring and summer as your favorite season for running!