What to Wear for Cold Weather Running

Getting out of bed to run or after work for a run is a challenge for most people. But it gets even harder when the temperature drops.

Wearing the right clothing is key to being comfortable running in the cold. It can make the difference between being warm and comfortable compared to cold and soggy.

Let’s jump in and see what runners should wear in the cold….

What should you wear running in the cold?

When selecting clothes for chilly temperatures, keep in mind that you’ll warm up quickly once you start moving. Wear too much and you’ll end up hot and sweaty. Your clothing will be less effective at keeping you warm when it’s wet.

But you also can’t wear too little and you’ll be cold the entire run.

So you need to find that perfect balance. This varies with each person depending on internal body temperature, how fast/slow you run, and how much you sweat. If you are new to running, you’ll need to experiment to find what works best for you.

At a minimum, your basic running gear for the cold weather should consist of:

  • Hat, beanie, or headband
  • Medium-weight or heavyweight base layer shirt
  • A running jacket
  • Running mittens or gloves
  • Running pants or tights (see our favorite men’s tights and our favorite women’s tights)
  • Merino wool or tech fabric running socks

All of these items should be made from moisture-wicking materials like merino wool, polyester, or other synthetic fabrics to dry quickly and remove sweat from your skin.

This is most important on your base layers. Cotton is one of the worst types of fabrics to wear running or working out. It’s not very warm to begin with and once it gets wet, it stays wet. You don’t want the material that’s closest to your skin to be cold or clammy.

The Importance of Layering

The secret to a comfortable run in a cold weather is layering.

Layers do two things. They provide a pocket of air between each layer. This is warmed by body heat and keeps you that much warmer.

Layers also allow you to easily control your internal temperature. Unzip or take off your running jacket, remove your hat, or take off a mid-layer to adjust as you run.

Our favorite type of cold weather apparel is a half zip shirt or jacket. The zip lets you best control temperature and allows you to adjust on the fly. Zip it up on downhills or during your cool down. Unzip it on uphills or tempo runs.

Layers for Your Long, Cold Run

Your level of comfort in a cold weather depends on many variables, which includes how comfortable you are in the cold, how fast you’re going, and how long your run will be.

So it’s possible that your outfits may have to differ. Here are our suggestions for cold weather running in different temperatures.

For 32 Degrees and Above Run

  • Bring a pair of gloves resistant to wind and medium thickness. If you think it’s too warm, keep them in your pocket and save them for later.
  • Wear a lightweight hat or a headband covers your ears. This will keep you warm enough, but not too hot that your whole head sweats.
  • Put on running tights or pants to keep your legs warm.
  • You will still have to do some layering for your torso, but you can leave the middle layer out. Opt for a long-sleeved moisture-wicking shirt. Pick a jacket that’s lightweight, something that you can easily strip off when it’s starting to get warm. If it’s raining, a windbreaker that’s waterproof will keep you dry.

For Below 32 Degrees

  • Wear an insulated running liner or gloves to protect your hands.
  • Thermal (i.e. thick) running tights or pants should be worn in this type of weather.
  • To protect your body from the cold, wear a long-sleeved base layer shirt, midweight or heavyweight, that’s made of polyester or merino wool. Over the shirt, you can wear a second layer, if needed, for added protection.
  • A good, wind-proof jacket. Ideally, with a hood if the weather turns.
  • Moisture-wicking socks should go above the ankles to cover that gap between your shoe and tights.
  • A traction device for your shoes should also be worn to avoid slipping.

Why Your Running Socks are Just as Important as your Shoes

There is nothing worse than running with cold, wet feet. Wearing warm, moisture-wicking socks will ensure your feet stay warm and dry.

Go for ankle height or higher socks. Although the low-cut “no show tab” are most popular, this leaves a small gap between your shoe and the bottom of your tights. Ankle height or higher will keep that gap protected from the wind.

Thicker socks will help your feet stay warm. Merino wool is the warmest.

Wear Reflective Clothing While Running

With short days and long nights, it’s likely your daily run will occur in the dark or near dark. Make sure drivers can see you by wearing reflective clothing. It’s important to be seen at a significant distance so drivers know you are out there.

Opt for reflective gear with LED lights for the most visibility. Reflective prints work well, too.