Don’t let low temps stand between you and your training. Gear up, get out, and go run in the cold—while still staying safe and toasty.
Oh the weather outside is frightful—yeah, Dean Martin had it right when he sang the Christmas classic “Let It Snow.”
Pavement pounders face a definite challenge as temperatures plummet. Sure, you can fire up the treadmill, but nothing quite matches that sensation of going outside, feeling the fresh air, and letting your feet take you somewhere new
The seasons don’t stand still when you’re training for a spring marathon (we’ll see you in April, Boston), nor are freezing temps an excuse for faltering fitness levels. You have what it takes to fight through the cold and shake those winter blues—all you need is the right cold weather running gear and a couple of safety tips.
If you want to make running in the cold suck a lot less, click on the links below to wake up your hibernating workout routine.
Running in Cold Weather
Running in cold weather is unpleasant, to say the least. It goes a little something like this: either A) you add as many layers as possible to fend off the chill, shortly thereafter turning into a sweaty, toaster box by the time you hit mile 3; or B) you lack enough protection from the elements, and literally any skin exposed to the frigid, frosty air stings with the intensity of 1,000 needles.
Oh, and don’t forget to mention stiff, achy joints, a runny nose, and numb toes. Yay.
Sound about right? Yep, we’ve been there too.
Athletes in warmer regions probably don’t need to ask themselves what to wear when running in the cold, but if you’ve ever experienced what winter running in single-digit temperatures feels like, you probably roll your eyes at how nice the other half has it.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. In fact, winter running can turn into a love of its own—especially when it follows a swelteringly hot summer—if you just learn what to wear when running in the cold.
As the season starts to turn, make sure you tweak your athletic apparel and invest in this essential cold weather running gear. You’ll have no excuse for feeling trapped in the oh-so-cozy comforts of your home. You heard us – NO EXCUSES. (no pressure).
What to Wear When Running in the Cold
Successful cold weather running is all about one word: layers. Yes, you are going to feel freezing when you first set off, but once you’re about 10 minutes down the road and your blood gets pumping, you’ll feel way too heated and bundled up. Then your run ends, and your body temperature immediately drops back down, and you can’t get those wet clothes off quick enough.
These intense fluctuations from cold weather running can all be avoided with the right layering strategy. Get ready for a game plan in just a second here, but in general, keep lightweight, moisture-wicking fabric at the top of your shopping list.
Cold Weather Running Shoes
Starting from the ground up, you should consider upgrading your running shoes if you’re in for some serious winter running. Cold weather running shoes come packed with winter-ready features, including: advanced outsole traction to protect against slippery surfaces; water-resistant uppers to keep stray snowflakes out of your socks; waterproof constructions for those slosh puddle landings; and more!
Cold Weather Running Socks
Wearing the right socks when running in cold weather can help prevent your toes from feeling like they’ve turned into ice cubes. Plus, they might allow you to run in the same shoes you wore all summer. Cotton socks are a no-no; opt for wool to keep your feet warm even if they get wet from rain or make friends with a snow flurry.
Keep thickness in mind when you shop for cold weather running socks. If they’re too bulky they might mess up the fit and feel of your running shoes. Double layering your socks is a possibility, too, for all you cold-blooded athletes out there.
Cold Weather Running Pants & Tights
Ladies are at an advantage here, as they probably already own a couple pairs of leggings. Gentlemen, if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to invest in some quality running tights. Sure, it’s possible to wear loose-fitting running pants, but those will let cold air into your clothes—pretty much ruining an attempt at staying cozy or compressed. If you’re looking for a bit of modesty, feel free to layer with some shorts on top.
Cold weather running tights come in a variety of thicknesses, so find a pair tailored to your climate. Whether the mercury drops below 20 or inches closer to 0, fleece-lined running tights will be your best bet. Cotton is fine if it’s dry, but in snowy weather, synthetic material is a must.
Cold Weather Running Clothes
The cold weather running top you should wear will depend on both temperature and humidity. If it’s in the ’50s, you’re probably fine with just a t-shirt, but anything lower than that likely calls for a long sleeve tech shirt (technical performance garments are made with next-level wicking fabric engineered to keep you comfortable and dry).
Wear it over your regular tee or tank and tie it around your waist if you get overheated. If you’re worried about not looking stylish, don’t worry—you’ll be running too fast for the fashion police to catch ya!
Cold Weather Running Jacket
Once you hit the 30’s and below, it’s time to bust out a cold weather running jacket. Unless you want to start boiling before reaching the end of the block, don’t run in the cold wearing a bulky, cumbersome outer layer.
Be more strategic. Start with an insulating base layer that will retain your body heat without making you sweat. Tack on a long sleeve tech shirt, and instead of a sweatshirt or hoodie that’s ill-suited for bad weather, opt for a lightweight jacket that’s both wind and water-proof.
It’s easy to find cold weather running jackets that will help keep you visible (and warm!) when you’re running at night. Those with pockets are a major come up for runners who have gotten tired of finding creative ways to stash their keys (sports bras and waistbands, anyone?).
Cold Weather Running Hats
Not only does heat escape from your head, but the cartilage on your ears is incredibly thin—and super vulnerable to going numb. Cold weather running hats keep your noggin nice and toasty without making you feel too bogged down.
The headwear you choose for your cold weather running gear comes down to personal preference. Take your pick between ear warmers, headbands, beanies, and hats.
Pro tip: Baseball caps or hats with a bill will help keep anything that’s falling from the sky (i.e., snow, rain) from getting in your eyes.
Cold Weather Running Gloves
Unless frost-bitten fingertips are your thing, cold weather running gloves are a must. Look for plush but breathable fabric that can quickly pull sweat from your hands so you don’t get cold. Trust us, your fingers are tiny and far from your heart, so they’re going to be one of the first things to experience the numbing cold if left unprotected.
Tips for Running in the Cold
Just like Batman needs his Batsuit, the right running gear will make you feel unstoppable during your winter running routine. And who knows, you might even learn to fall in love with running quietly in softly falling snow!
However, it’s important to note that running in cold weather is rife with safety concerns. Sure, running dehydration is more common under the hot sun, but on the other end of the spectrum lies slick surfaces and painful frostbite—just to name a few. Keep these tips on cold weather and your health in mind before taking off on your next chilly ride.
Cold Weather Running Safety Tips
- Make yourself visible. If you’re running in conditions that are difficult to see in, make yourself visible with reflective running shoes, vests, or tape. Reflective running gear is a safety investment you can use all year long, from daytime winter runs to summer running in the dark of night.
Now’s also the time to bust out all your awesomely bright neon running clothes, and to think about sporting a headlamp or flashing light for added visibility.
- Remember to hydrate. If you’re training in the intense summer heat, chances are your water bottle or sports drink isn’t far away—but athletes tend to forget about the importance of running hydration in colder conditions.
Dehydration from running in cold weather is a serious threat for a few reasons. One, the air is dryer (especially at high altitudes) which leads to fluid lost as vapor when breathing; two, cold temperatures suppress thirst, so you might not feel dehydrated even though you need to quench your thirst; and three, you lose a lot more water through urination due to cold-induced diuresis.
The bottom line: You always need to manage your fluid intake when exercising—whether you feel hot and sweaty or so cold that your fingers might freeze—to prevent any bonking or fatigue-related injury.
- Avoid slick surfaces. No matter what the temperature may be, it’s always best to steer clear of slick surfaces when running—unless sprained ankles or broken wrists sound like your kind of fun. Black ice is super transparent and hard to spot, so be extra careful on cold days after wet nights.
If wet, icy, or slick terrain is an unavoidable reality in your winter running routine and you lack high-traction running shoes, you might want to buy a traction device for your outsole that will help keep you locked to the ground.
- Try to stay dry. If you’re running in the rain or snow, first of all, go you! Second of all, do everything possible to keep your skin dry with water-resistant or moisture-wicking fabric. The evaporative cooling effect resulting from wetness can send your body temperature spiraling downward.
When you’re heading on a trail run with a chance of rain, you should keep spare dry clothes or a blanket in your car. Severe storms can come out of nowhere, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry—failing to prioritize safety is among the top bad running habits.
- Find shelter if necessary. If the weather takes a major turn for the worse, it’s time to stop your run and find shelter instead. You could have the best cold running gear in the world but it still won’t protect you from lightning or other wild winter hazards. If a bad forecast is in the air, make sure you run a route with plenty of shelter available—or learn how to build an igloo.
- Don’t be a hero. No matter how tough you are, you’re still susceptible to hypothermia. Thinking you can power through it is just plain foolish, so don’t ignore that constant shivering down your spine—it’s usually the first red flag signaling your body’s loss of heat (tingling in the extremities is also a serious cause for concern). Always be safe and bring a cell phone and credit card for worst-case scenarios.
Take advantage of living in a winter wonderland! If you follow these safety tips for running in cold weather and deck yourself out in all the right gear, winter will be no match for your athletic drive.