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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….

running in cold weather

Is running in cold weather dangerous?

First, let’s dispel one myth about running in the cold: it’s not dangerous – IF you take the right precautions.

That means dressing correctly (more on that below), wearing layers, and taking care when there is ice or snow.

Two things to remember is that once you start running: first, you’ll warm up quickly. You actually want to be a bit cold when you start. The second thing to remember is that when you stop, you’ll get cold quickly, especially if your clothes have gotten damp and sweaty.

So make sure you head indoors or someplace warm after you finished your run. And once you’re someplace warm, change out of your running clothes. Even if you head indoors, you may still feel cold with wet running gear on.

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 or 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:

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

This is most important for 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 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.

Click here to see the best cold weather running jackets.

Young runner in winter jogging in park.

Layers for Your Long, Cold Run

Your level of comfort in cold weather depends on many variables, which include 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 that 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 waterproof windbreaker or jacket 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 or shoes made for winter running.

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 low-cut “no show tab” socks 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.’

When to stay indoors

If the weather is really cold – or cold and windy – staying inside may be the better option. The colder it gets, the trickier it is to stay warm while you run. These are the days when jumping on the treadmill or heading to your local gym are good ideas.

When it’s snowing or there’s ice on the ground, that may be another reason to stay inside. Snow is actually fun to run in. But if it’s snowing heavily enough so that it’s hard for you to see (and cars to see you), then it’s safer to stay inside. 

Icy roads and trails can be overcome with traction devices like Yak Trax. But if you don’t own these, it’s not worth risking a fall – and a long-term injury – just to run outside.

Ben Drew

Ben Drew

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.

The Wired Runner