Winter Running – What to Wear
To start the three most important tips.
- Layers are the key to warmth. One heavy layer is nowhere near as effective as two to three quality thinner layers.
- Check the weather conditions, both current and forecasted. Most weather sites do hour-by-hour forecasts these days.
- Dress like it is approximately 20 degrees warmer. While you may be a little cold to start running is a hot and sweaty activity and it will not take long to warm up significantly.
The base layer should be made of wicking material. Wicking material is material that pushes moisture to the outside away from the skin. In winter running your long-sleeved shirt, pants (tights or leggings) and socks should all be made from wicking material. Also known as athletic wear this material is widely available in sport and department stores by all the major manufacturers. Top-of the line makers include Patagonia, Mountain Equipment Coop, Under Armour and Nike.
The next layer is often fleece, fleece-lined or wool. Especially the lightweight merino wool. For many this is just a sweater or a vest, socks, gloves and a hat. The advantage of wool is that it produces heat even when wet and is therefore very good to have during the seasonal changes or in regions where precipitation can change quickly between snow, sleet and rain.
A third layer, when necessary, is a windproof or waterproof layer. As you are producing a lot of heat when exercising you want to avoid the 100% non-breathable material (usually cheaper polyester items) as you will quickly overheat and become very uncomfortable. There are many types of jackets, pullovers and pants available that fulfill this function. In fact it is the winter wind that is the most uncomfortable for cold weather joggers. On a windless day most say that they are fine in just the first two layers even to as low as -20 but that all changes the moment a cold, bitter wind springs up. Windy runs also motivate people to include ski masks or balaclavas in their arsenal.
Winter running shoes can be the same pair you use the rest of the year though the more mesh on your shoes the colder your feet will be. The more gore-tex in the shoe upper (everything above the sole) the warmer and more waterproof it is. Ice cleats, spikes and removable traction devices are also available and work with varying degrees of success.
Another consideration in winter running is light. For much of the winter there is considerably less daylight and the chances that you will be running in the dark are greater. Reflective clothing and headlamps help. A lot of the quality athletic wear is made with reflective stripes or piping these days and if not you can buy bands to wear around your wrists and ankles that are reflective. A forgotten aspect for many in winter running is that running in the daytime when it is sunny is a very bright experience. Sun reflects strongly upwards off snow and ice and a good pair of sunglasses is recommended in those conditions.