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There’s nothing better than a brisk run in the autumn or winter seasons, but to make it comfortable and productive to your training and health, certain cold-weather running gear is necessary. As the temperature drops it becomes that much more important to dress strategically, so you can still get the workout you want regardless of the weather.
According to a decade-long study of Boston Marathon runners conducted in the late 90’s the best temperature range for running is on the colder side: 46-59 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures the heat your body generates is just enough to keep you warm without getting too hot, but it’s also not so cold you’re fighting to maintain a healthy body temperature. Do temperatures colder than this range mean you should opt for a treadmill instead? Definitely not.
In this piece we’re going to explore best practices when it comes to cold weather running gear and talk through some of our favorite products and brands from head to toe. Whether you’ve got a concrete running goal you’re trying to hit in the spring or simply hate indoor running (we get it), we’re here to help you find the best cold weather running gear to stay warm, safe and comfortable during your winter outdoor runs.
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Cold Weather Running Gear Best Practices
Mind The Temperature Carefully
Here, we’ll talk about the best gear you can buy for running during the colder months and why you ought to opt for it despite the sometimes hefty price tags. For some wisdom on clothing decisions, New York City-based triathlon and running coach Jonathan Cane says, “Dress as if it were 15-20 degrees warmer and you weren’t running. The faster you run, the more heat you’ll generate.”
Layering Is Key
Layering is the key piece of advice for all winter runners. Wearing a sweat-wicking outer layer that you can strip away or open to let your skin breathe is a key component most runners miss, thinking it best to layer up in thick cotton. Remember that your skin wants to breathe and you’ll heat up exponentially once you start running, so wearing running shorts and a t-shirt isn’t a bad way to go. Once the temperature drops, add a running jacket that you can easily take off.
Get a Grip on Your Extremities
Some shoe companies make a winter-specific running shoe that will keep you warm and safe on the road, or you can opt for shoe covers with or without spikes to help you clamp down on the snow to avoid slipping. Wool socks are also a great investment, but be sure to buy several pairs so you can rotate through your selection. Running hats, caps, and beanies are also prudent for your ears and scalp to keep your body temperature insulated. Some favorite items of triathlon and running coach Jonathan Cane are the Under Armour Base Layers and the YakTrax traction cleats.
Winter running doesn’t have to be scary, it can be fun in fact. Often, you’re the only person out there doing your thing, and the landscape is beautiful and barren. Next we’re going to walk you through each layer and component of cold weather running gear you should consider, and highlight a few of our favorite products in each.
Base Layer: Stay Dry as Possible
The goal of your base layer is to help you stay as dry as possible on the inside. This means wearing technical fibers that keep you warm while also wicking away sweat. You’d be surprised how easy it is to overdress in cold temperatures and how much heat your body generates, especially during long, challenging runs. Sweat immediately freezes and can make you colder if it’s not drawn away from your body quickly by an athletic fabric.
Here are a few pieces we recommend as the base layer of your cold weather running gear.
Under Armour Base Layer 4.0 Crew
The 4.0 Crew layer is made from sweat-wicking material and dries very quickly, providing comfort as well as practicality on a cold day.
Thermajohn Men's Thermal Shirt
This thermal shirt for men is also made for heat retention, sweat-wicking and has four-way stretch making it great for movement. It’s perfect for laying underneath other warm pieces during the winter or rocking on its own as a warm pajama top.
Second and Third Layers: Adding Warmth
Your second and perhaps third layers are all about adding warmth. While your base layers keep you dry, you might add an additional thin fleece or pullover that can help add heat in especially cold temperatures. These layers should also be made of technical fibers and should hub the body snugly without being too tight or too baggy.
We recommend avoiding cotton here and going with a fleece or polypropylene half zip.
Columbia Men's Hart Mountain II Half Zip
This suede fleece layer from Columbia is perfect for stacking on top of a long underwear shirt as an extra piece of cold weather running gear. It’s got a classic fit, a zippered collar you can tighten up or loosen and the fleece is soft and cozy.
Under Armour Men's Qualifier Half-Zip
Another additional layer is this HeatGear half-zip pullover from Under Armour that’s super lightweight and made of Microthread technology designed to dry faster. It has mesh panels underneath the armpits for ventilation and four-way stretch.
Tracksmith Franklin Quarter Snap Pullover
Tracksmith is one of our editors’ favorite high-quality running brands, and this pullover is an excellent investment if you plan to do a lot of outdoor running. It’s made from high-quality materials and has side stretch panels for giving you full range of motion even whilst layered up. It’s made of Polartek material and double-knit velour fleece so you’ll stay warm and happy.
Merino.tech Thermal Base Layer
These thermal pants are sure to be a great fit for any runner intent on heading outdoors in the winter. With a close fit, this piece of cold-weather running gear will keep you warm and dry on a wet day. The Merino.tech brand has even thrown in a pair of merino wool hiking socks to sweeten the deal. Get ready for the winter with the best base layers possible.
Tracksmith Allston Running Tights
Tracksmith has an amazing array of winter running gear and the Allston tights might be our favorite. Made from a compressive nylon and elastane blend with bonded seams and a breathable, quick-drying ability, these will be your go-to tights for low-temperature runs. There’s a soft elastic waistband to keep you comfortable all day and a hidden zipper pocket for small items.
These water-repellant joggers by Tracksmith will keep you dry and warm during a rainy-day jaunt in the woods. The key components of these pants that sets them apart are the stirrups that hook around your feet for extra security, as well as the quick zips on the back of the calf for easy warm-ups. Keep warm when you need it and cool off when you don’t. These Tracksmith Bislett pants will become your new piece of cold-weather running gear when it comes to rainy days.
Outer Layer: Repelling The Elements
Depending on the day, you may not need an outer shell to keep out wind, rain or light snow, but we always recommend being prepared. A sudden gust of wind on a cold day can leave your bones chilled, or knock a block of snow off a branch and leave you damp.
A waterproof shell adds almost no weight or bulk, but can be a lifesaver in the event of rogue precipitation. Here are a few we recommend pairing with your base layer and fleece layer for the ultimate cold weather running gear getup.
Marmot Men's PreCip Waterproof Jacket
This sturdy, durable waterproof jacket is made to keep you as dry and comfortable on rainy days, and its roomy design makes it perfect for layering and exercising. It’s made of recycled nylon fabric and comes with a DriClime-lined chin guard to seal off your neck and torso on super wet or snowy days.
Columbia Men's Watertight li Jacket
This Omni-Tech waterproof jacket from Columbia is another excellent outer layer for running in cold weather. It’s breathable and designed to keep you comfortable and dry with technical materials. It’s also compact, features an adjustable hood and an abrasion-resistant chin guard for sealing in warmth.
lululemon Insulated Hiking Vest
This hiking vest from lululemon is made of water-repellent ripstop fabric and has a classic, roomy fit for layering underneath. It’s made of breathable, insulating layers for keeping you warm and not hot, and has convenient pockets for storage.
Base: Grippy Footwear
It’s extra important in the winter to have grippy footwear that gives you a solid hold on the ground when things may be extra icy and slippery. Make sure you have running shoes with good traction or add on traction cleats to avoid slipping and injury when running in snowy conditions.
YakTrax Traction Cleats
These cleats attach to your running shoes on icy or snowy days and make it so you can hit the road or trail for your run without the fear of slipping. Scared of black ice? We are too, so that’s why we’ve tried the YakTrax Traction Cleats and can report back that they’re grippy, secure, and will make your run very enjoyable.
Final Layer: Protecting Extremities
The last layer is all about your extremities — meaning your head, feet and hands. In cold weather your body draws blood to your center to protect your vital organs, so this can lead to cold feet and hands if you don’t have the proper protective gear on.
We’re all about the extra accessories here at SPY, so don’t forget to grab a few pairs of socks, a winter running hat and some gloves to tie together your cold weather running gear.
Meriwool Merino Wool Beanie
This unisex style merino wool beanie is great for a run on a cold day. It will protect your ears and keep the heat inside your body, which is especially important for maintaining a healthy body temperature in the cold. It’s made of merino wool, one of the best fabrics for sweat-wicking and comes in dozens of colors.
DeFeet Men's Woolie Boolie Socks
DeFeet is a superior athletic sock brand made specifically for runners, and their Woolie Boolie socks are a great companion for cold, blustery days. Test out their hardy socks in rain, snow, and sleet and you’ll find yourself still dry and comfortable. Made from 100% polyester, DeFeet’s winter socks will make your run so much more enjoyable.
Nike New Men's Cold Weather Winter Gloves
These thick winter gloves from Nike are perfect for keeping your fingers warm during runs, when they stick out in front of the body and can get cold very easily. They’re made warm with thin polyester nylon material so you’ve still got good dexterity in your fingers, and the neutral color will match most outfits.
Smartwool Thermal Merino Reversible Headband
This double thick merino wool headband is made with an interlock knit construction for maximum warmth and comfort. It’s got a clean finish with no seams for less irritation and it’s reversible.