Winter running can mean snow, cold temperatures and darkness. This is enough to convince many runners to succumb to the monotonous hum of the treadmill but it does not need to be this way! With the right gear and a little determination you can run outside all winter.
Layering and visibility are the keys to safe and comfortable winter running. Dress too light and you will be shivering at best or frost bitten at worst. Dress too warm and you will overheat and be miserable. The key is to find the perfect balance that wicks sweat, protects you from the elements and provides just enough insulation to keep you moving. If your runs take you into the darkness then staying visible is also key. Thankfully this is easier to do than it sounds. Below are a few key gear suggestions that will likely go with you on every run below 40 degrees.
Base Layer Shirt
This layer’s job is to simply wick sweat away from your body. It should provide some insulation but not much, as you will likely wear this layer during your entire run. It should also be a breathable and technical fabric that will keep doing its job even when wet. Wool and polyester work but avoid cotton if possible. Cotton likes to absorb moisture and keep you cool, which is exactly what you don’t want on your winter runs. If the temperature is especially frigid you may want to add a thicker fleece shirt over your base layer.
Suggested gear: Patagonia Capilene Long-Sleeved Shirt
A waterproof jacket is great at keeping the snow out but it is also great at keeping your sweat inside your layers. Soft-shell creates the perfect compromise as it provides water/ wind resistance and a level of breathability that you can’t get from a fully waterproof jacket. I reach for my soft-shell on 95% of my winter runs and I bet you will to! As a bonus, most jackets make it easy to carry your phone and keys.
Suggested Gear: Eddie Bauer Sandstone Jacket I love this jacket so much that I have three of them. It is technically discontinued now which means you can snag it for $69 or less if you can find your size.
Tights provide form-fitting warmth, wind protection, moisture wicking goodness and they can even help circulation. It may feel awkward to go out in public in tights but the benefits are worth it; you can always throw a pair of running shorts over them for a little extra warmth. There are two kinds of winter runners: those who have embraced tights and those who resist but will give into the tights.
Suggested Gear: Patagonia Peak Mission Tights They are a little pricey but the quality is worth it in my view.
Most of your heat escapes from your head, which means a hat is a key piece of gear. Any wool or acrylic hat, which you might already have, will do the trick. Another solution is to go with ear warmers over a baseball hat. This gives you warmth and a brim to shield your face from snow and to protect your night vision from car headlights.
A Buff is another piece of headgear that will join you on almost every run. You can use it as a headband, balaclava, hat or neck gaiter. I wear mine all summer and all winter. For $20 this might be the most versatile piece of gear you can buy.
Suggested Gear: Go with a hat that you already have or pickup a cheap hat. A Buff is also nice to have!
Gloves / Mittens
Finding the right balance is especially important when choosing your winter running gloves or mittens. Heavy gloves might cause sweaty hands and they will make it impossible for you to adjust your layers or check your phone without taking them off. The key is to find something that protects your hands without sacrificing dexterity. I love light mittens as they keep your fingers together which helps them feel warmer with less insulation. Also, mittens are easier to quickly put on and take off which you will need to do as weather conditions change.
Suggested Gear: Black Diamond Mid-weight Soft-shell Mittens These are touch screen friendly mittens with just enough warmth and protection to keep your hands happy on those cold runs.
Shoes and Socks
You don’t need winter specific running shoes as long as you get a pair of socks that will protect your feet even when they are wet. Thin to medium width wool socks provide the perfect combination of warmth and protection in all conditions. It may be tempting to put on thick wool socks but these will crowd your shoes, possibly cut off circulation and make your feet even colder!
Suggested Gear: Darn Tough ¼ Sock Light Cushion I have run through freezing water, snow, hot summer days and everything in between with these socks on my feet. They seem to have magical powers to keep my feet feeling great and I can’t recommend them enough.
If you have some extra money in the budget then the Salmon Spikecross 5 is a worthy addition to your shoe arsenal. This combines the unbeatable traction of the Salomon Speedcross 5 with spikes to give you nonstop traction on icy and snowy trails.
If you run in the dark you need a headlamp that will let you see the road and be seen by drivers. Flashlights are ok but it is hard to keep them steady on the run. Invest in a headlamp with as many lumens as possible.
Suggested Gear: Petzl Actik Headlamp 300 lumens and under $50; whats not to love?
Staying safe is just as important as staying warm. When you are running at night you need to be as visible as possible so vehicles can see you. Choose bright colored clothing; wear blinking red lights or even a reflective vest.
The right gear will help you keep going even when things get icy. Hillsound’s Trail Crampon Ultra go right over your existing shoes and they give you 18 points of contact that will deliver amazing traction in icy conditions. This gear lets you run trails, or really icy roads, all winter.
Suggested Gear: Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
The above gear list is designed to be versatile and adaptable enough to give you the balance you need for almost any winter run. Of course everyone is different so be sure to try out what works for you. Hopefully this helps you get out there this winter!
I have no affiliation with any of the brands that I recommended in this post. I only suggest gear that works for me which I think will work for you.