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Winter Running Fundamentals

Updated: Jan 17

A standard rule for running is to dress for at least 10-20 degrees warmer weather (varies for each person, hence the range). Your body warms up as you run so even if you are slightly cold in the first mile as you keep running you will want to start shedding layers if you dress up too warmly. So dress for mile 2 from the start.

Here’s a nice infographic for how to dress for running in cold weather:

It is safe to run outside in the winter if you dress appropriately, as a matter of fact it is much more comfortable than running in the heat. Just take the usual precautions to ensure the path you choose to run is clear of snow or ice and run when there is enough sunlight. Here are some recommendations for what to wear when going out for a run in winter.

1. Base Layer for warmth: You may need both top and bottom base layer depending on the temperature. This should be a moisture-wicking fabric. It can be wool or synthetic material, but not cotton. Merino wool clothing is popular for activewear as it is a natural material, the wool is soft but durable, it is also antimicrobial, odor resistant, thermoregulating and water repellent. Smartwool and Icebreaker are popular brand names that make good quality merino wool clothing- from inner to outerwear. Synthetic alternatives are fine too, some popular brand names are Nike, Under Armour. There are cheaper but effective brands like TSLA, 32 degrees, that you can find on Amazon.

2. Insulating layer: This is to trap the heat and keep you comfortable when you run. This can be merino wool or synthetic material too. Quarter-zip or half-zip jackets are good as you can vent some heat if you get too warm. Base layer plus the insulating layer will be enough for runs when the temperature is in the 40s.

3. Socks: For winter, merino wool socks work best as they are cold and moisture resistant. For more warmth go for socks that come up a little below the knees or at least up to mid-calf. Top brands are Smartwool and Icebreaker but cheaper alternatives on Amazon will work too. Balega is another well-known brand for running socks. They make some cushioned ones too that help with long distance pounding.

Compression socks are another good option especially for long runs. They not only help with running performance and also can be worn for post-run recovery.

4. Hat, Balaclava, Buff and Gloves: When running in the cold it is important to cover your extremities to keep the heat from escaping especially through the head. Wearing a comfortable winter hat, balaclava, ear muffs or even a buff is a must. If the balaclava is too constricting, a hat and a buff combo works well. You can wear a buff in many different ways to cover the face, ears, neck, nose and lips.

5. Outerlayer: For additional protection against wind and moisture, look for a light jacket with a zipper to allow heat and moisture to escape while still protecting against the elements.

6. Other items:

  • Sunglasses: Wear sunglasses if you are running during the day, the sun reflecting off the snow is harsher.

  • Sunscreen: Take extra care to apply sunscreen on the face, ears and back of neck, even in winter as the sun can still burn.

  • Lip balm: While you can use a buff to cover the lower part of your face, your lips will still go dry so be sure to apply lip balm before your run and during too if you need to.

  • Waist belt: To carry water, nutrition, phone, keys etc.

  • Hand warmers: They work well for 5-6 hours. Yaktrax is a reliable brand.

  • Reflective Vest and Headlamp: Safety first always! It’s best to run when the Sun is still up but if you must run in the dark, do wear a reflective vest and a headlamp for everyone’s benefit.

Dressed appropriately, running in winter when the temperature dips to the 40s should be fine and enjoyable even. Any lower it may be a bit too cold especially when there is wind. Remember, wind chill is another factor to consider when running in winter. So plan your run and dress for your run accordingly.

Useful References:

Podcast from RHWB runners on winter running:

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