It can be hard to get motivated to go for a run, and this is especially true when the weather is cold outside. That cold crisp air string every part of your body is something very few runners enjoy. So one of the most important parts of staying motivated when the cold weather strikes is having the right gear to keep you warm. So what do runners wear in the winter? Below we’ll go over the must-have pieces of gear that every runner needs to have in their cold weather arsenal. And how to combine them for any cold weather situation.
- Layering is Key: The most crucial aspect of winter running gear is layering, allowing you to adjust as you warm up during your run.
- Head and Neck: Keep your head and ears covered with a lightweight, breathable beanie. Having two beanies for temperature control is a smart strategy.
- Face and Neck: Utilize a versatile running Buff, which can be used in various ways to protect your face and neck from the cold.
- Upper Body: Invest in a packable windbreaker or rain jacket to provide extra warmth and protection when needed. Look for “packable” options for convenience.
- Hands: Convertible running gloves with a wind shell are a game-changer for winter running comfort and warmth.
- Legs: High socks and compression underwear can keep your legs warm, but consider windbreaker or rain pants for extreme cold or prolonged stops.
- Feet: Focus on your shoes and thicker socks, and consider gaiters to keep your ankles warm and debris-free. For icy conditions, invest in running-specific microspikes.
Running in the Cold – What do Runners Wear During the Winter?
I always tell people, “it’s easier to run in cold weather but a heck of a lot harder to get outside and going”. But over the years I found that having the right gear, and more importantly the right layering techniques, has made it a lot more bearable. Providing a way to start warm and easily “break” (remove) layers as I warm up without having to stop running. So below I’ll go from head to toe with the layers I recommend having. Overall all the layers are pretty lights. It’s the combination that makes them so effective.
Top of Your Head – Hat, Beanie, And or Ear Covers
Your head and neck (see below) are where you are going to lose the majority of your heat while running. Since it’s an ear that tends to stay somewhat exposed. So keeping these areas covered is very important.
For this I’m a fan of a good running beanie. Something light and breathable but still good at keeping in the heat. You don’t want anything lined, since it will typically get and stay wet. And then cold. One thing I like to do is bring two lightweight beanies. This way I take one off when I warm up. And keep one dry so when it is cold I have two layers to put on. This allows me a lot of temperature control.
Bonus Layer – For your head you will also have the hood from your windbreaker (see below). This combined with 2 light beanies is incredibly effective for even very cold weather.
Face & Neck – Running Buff
I had never heard of a Buff until I started running. But once I learned of these magical pieces of fabric my life would never be the same again. They can be used in a ton of ways, but for this piece I’ll focus on their most simplistic use. Keep the buff wrapped around your neck and pull it up over your mouth and nose as needed. You can even pull it up over your head and create a full face shield. Whatever works for you! Here is a link to some of my favorites.
Tip – You can get buffs in different thicknesses and materials. Having a couple different options is always a great idea.
Upper Body – Shirt & Shell (Windbreaker or Rain Jacket)
It’s not uncommon to see runners wearing nothing but a t-shirt even when it’s cold outside. But when it’s really cold or the wind is picking up, having an extra layer is incredibly important. So having a packable windbreaker or rain jacket (for when it’s really cold or wet out). The keyword when shopping for a running windbreaker is “packable”. You want an outside layer that is light and that can be packed as small as possible when you take it off.
Bonus Layer – Some runners like to run in long sleeve thermal compression. I might recommend this when the temperature is well below freezing. Just make sure you get “warm weather” gear. The lined cold weather compression stays wet once you start sweating. And will end up making you colder.
Arms – Arm Sleeves
One of my favorite winter and summer running layers. A good set of running sleeves can go a long way to providing the warmth of thermal compression, while still allowing you to adjust them for the perfect temp. Or taking them all the way down once you start warming up. They come in different thicknesses, materials, and compressions. Allowing you to dial in the right level of comfort for any weather. And when combined with a shirt and buff under a windbreaker, will keep you surprisingly warm.
Bonus – Arm sleeves come in a ton of colors and designs, making a great way to add some style to your running kit.
Hands – Convertible Running Gloves
Probably the greatest things invented for running since socks and shoes. Convertible running gloves have a thinner layer running glove with an attached wind shell that can be pulled over your fingers as needed. This little adjustment makes a huge difference in comfort while running in winter weather. And every person I have introduced to this style of running gloves has thanked me. Definitely worth the investment.
Shoutout to my favorite running gloves, the TrailHeads Convertible Running Gloves.
Mid Body – Long Underwear / Compression and Running Shorts
Depending on how cold the weather is, I will typically add in a longer set of underwear or switch to summer long compression if it’s really cold. You don’t want to run in winter gear, once the fleece lining gets wet, it stays wet. And cold. Then on top of this I’ll wear some quality running shorts. Sometime, if it’s really cold I’ll go with a pair of running shorts with a built in underwear over my longer compression. This helps keep the important parts warm and secure when running.
Important Tip: The more layers you have on, the more important it is to use a lot of anti chafe cream or lube. I typically use Squirrel Nut Butter, you can read my review here.
Legs – High Socks / Windbreaker or Rain Pants (When it’s Really Cold)
Your legs are going to heat up really fast once you start running. So having them feel a little cold at the starting line isn’t a bad thing. I find the high sock and compression underwear combo will keep you warm unless you’re talking about extreme cold temperatures. Then you might want to have windbreaker pants or rain pants. But these are going to keep you incredibly warm and I only find them necessary if I plan on stopping for an extended time. Having a pair of wind breakers or warmups for post race, once you stop running is a great idea too.
Feet – Socks, Shoes, Gators, and Microspikes
The two most important pieces of your running gear will be your shoes and socks. Typically you can stick to your favorite running shoes and thicker socks and that will be enough. Your feet will tend to stay very warm. But unless you’re running ultra distance you should be fine. Another added layer that will help keep your ankles a bit warmer while keeping rocks out of your shoes is a pair of gaiters. A must for almost any trail runner.
Get a Grip: Make sure you don’t slip and slide on ice or snow when winter running. Get yourself a good pair of running microspikes. Just make sure they are made for running, here are some of my favorite trail running microspikes.
Conclusion – What do Runners wear during the winter?
The real key to winter running is layering. And the ability to add or remove your layers quickly while on the move. Using things like buffs, convertible gloves, and arm sleeves are great ways to add layers quickly and easily. Without having to break the bank on new running gear. It may take some trial and error. But once you get the right combo it’s going to make getting motivated to run in the cold winter weather a lot easier. So there will be no more excuses not to get in your miles!