How to Dress for (Cold) Winter Running

January 12th, 2013 | Posted by Alison Spath in Fitness

First, I must tell you that I did not go to school for graphic design.

How to Dress for Winter Running

Or fashion design.

Next I will tell you that this post comes just in time for it to be 60 degrees here this weekend and there’s a good chance I’ll be running in shorts and a t-shirt that says “Climate Change Scares the Pants off of Me.”

So even though I do not have degrees in graphics or fashion or environmentalism, I have been enrolled at The School of Hard Knocks for quite a while.  Maybe I can help you skip some of your own trial and error with a quick primer on how to dress and stay comfortable for a little winter running – assuming you’ve got cold weather where you live AND you want to try running in said cold weather.

Let’s take it from the top.


If it’s 45 degrees (8 Celsius) or less, you’ll probably need a hat on your head – or at the very least, something to keep your ears warm.  Like – er, an ear warmer.  I like wool for its absorbent qualities while still being able to keep some heat in, a fleece hat is a good option too.

BONUS TIP!  Bring your brain along and you might notice the way good ideas start flowing after 30 minutes.  Like the idea for a picture to go along with this post!  (Don’t let that confession discourage you from trying it out for yourself.)

RANDOM THOUGHT!  When I first started running outside in the cold, my eyes use to water like crazy.  That eventually stopped, but sunglasses helped with the cold air and wind on my eyes.  Oh yeah, sunglasses!  Remember  your shades if it’s sunny and there’s snow on the ground, it can be even brighter that usual out there.


Once it gets close to freezing, I need to wear a neck warmer.  It only took me three sub-30 degree runs this year to finally remember to put this item of clothing on before I was a half mile away from the bin of winter duds.

A neck warmer not only keeps your neck warm, but it gives you the option to duck inside like a turtle to warm your chin, your cheeks and if necessary, your breath (to make it a bit easier on your lungs if you’re new to cold weather running).

BONUS  TIP!  For my fellow long(ish) hair friends, I skip the pony tail and tuck my hair into the neck warmer an extra layer of warmth.  It also keeps me from looking (slightly) less dorky with a big hair knot making my hat stick out all weird in the back.


Layers are your friend, I usually wear two.  (Three if you count the sports bra.)  (You just scrolled back up and looked at my boobs, didn’t you?)

The layer closest to your skin should be something that is moisture wicking – usually a thin, long sleeved shirt made from a synthetic fabric.  You want something this is going to pull sweat away from your skin to help keep you dry, and therefore warm.

For your outer layer – you’re looking to keep heat in while keeping cold air, wind and water out.  And since you’re going to be running and generating a lot of heat, it doesn’t have to be super thick or heavy.  I like fleece if it’s not raining or snowing, but I have light weight waterproof coat with a hood for wet days.  Wearing something you can unzip slightly is helpful in the case that you start to feel really warm.

RANDOM BONUS!  I love that winter gear is usually loaded with pockets for any junk you want to bring along with you – your iPod, phone, keys, chapstick, kleenex or diplomas.  When it’s really cold, I find some place to tuck my iPod inside my coat to keep help it warmer.


Again, it’s all about layers.  The layer closest to your skin should be tight fitting and moisture wicking.  Underneath the blue water proof pants pictured in the masterpiece above is a pair of black nylon running tights.  They are tapered at the ankles to help keep snow off my skin if you happen to run through the nearby park , completely forgetting that the trails aren’t going to be plowed but are feeling too stubborn to turn around go back the way you came.  (Let’s just say I got a great “high knees” work out that day.)  The tapered legs also make it easier to get another pair of pants on over top of them.

Outer layer – waterproof, almost always.  Thin and light weight is all you’ll probably need with two layers on.  Even if there is no precipitation, protection from outside moisture is handy when there’s snow and/or puddles on the ground or a field of snow you impulsively decided to run through.

If it’s 40 – 59, running tights is all you’ll need.

BONUS TIP!  I found those blue (no name) pants at a second hand store, the same place I found that (Columbia!) fleece and my pink, long sleeved base layer shirt that you can’t see, but is also Columbia.  (This is how we afford expensive food: I spend very little on clothes.  Obviously.)  The good news about winter running is that there are fewer people out there when it’s cold, so you have my permission to focus on function instead of fashion.

And for all those people who see you out there looking like a mis-matched fool?  Let’s just pretend they’re thinking “Man, I should get out there and run too!” instead of “What on earth is that chick/dude wearing?”


I typically wear the same sneakers and socks I wear in the spring, summer and fall.  A thicker pair of socks can help keep your toes warm, but they also makes your sneakers fit differently so remember to adjust your laces accordingly.  A pair trail running sneakers are a good option if you find that you need more traction.  Trail runners are often heavier, usually grey(ish) in color, typically have less flexible soles and have more built in protection from the elements.

Another option is to find some ice cleats that you can fit over your existing shoe as needed and save you from having to buy an addition pair of sneakers just for winter running.  Cleats may also save you from a couple sore butt cheeks.  Any running shoe store should have them at this time of year.


I have a light weight pair of gloves for temps in the 40’s and low 50’s (7 – 15 C) (and when it’s in the 50’s they usually end up coming off before I’m home again) but once we start getting into the 30’s (0’s) and below freezing, mittens is how I roll.  Your fingers will love keeping each other company in there, but best of all, they do a good job at keeping each other warm.

I follow many of these same “rules” when walking outside in the winter too, but go heavier with the outer top layer (i.e., a real winter coat) because there’s little worry of overheating.

I think that’s it!  What are your cold weather running and outdoor exercise must haves?  Have you braved the elements yet this year?

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