As winter approaches, runners start thinking about how they can continue to train throughout the entire year.
Of course, you could purchase a treadmill (which we discuss in an article here) but logging nothing but mind-numbing miles on a treadmill is a sure-fire way to lose your passion and enjoyment for running.
It may seem daunting, but running can be done throughout the entire winter; no matter how low your thermometer drops. Personally, I live in Winnipeg (Winterpeg), Canada where temperatures get down to -40 Celsius ( -40 Fahrenheit), and in spite of the very coldest weather of the year; I run outside year round.
Running in the winter just takes a little bit of preparation and the right cold weather running clothes to be perfectly enjoyable.
In this article we’ll give you the best cold weather running gear for every temperature, and the winter running shoes we recommend to keep you on your feet and feeling warm and toasty during those colder months.
WINTER RUNNING BASE LAYERThe first place to start with your winter running gear is the base layer. Get the base layer right and you’ll be toasty warm, get the base layer wrong and you’ll be damp and cold!
The base layer is where you’ll get the majority of your warmth from, while the outer shell (jacket and pants) is what will block the wind.
I recommend runners stick with a merino wool base layer for a number of reasons:
- Merino wool stays warm even when it gets sweaty!
- Merino wool allows your body to breathe so you don’t get as sweaty as with constrictive base layers.
- Merino wool doesn’t get stinky so you can dry it out and reuse it many days in a row.
Merino wool running base layers come in several different thicknesses; the thicker the base layer; the warmer it will be. Most merino wool run clothing brands will have guidelines you can read that will help you select which thickness base layer is right for you.
One thing to remember when selecting a running base layer is that warmer isn’t always better. If you’re too warm you’ll sweat too much and eventually get cold, so you want to dress in such a way that you’re actually fairly chilly at the start of the run allowing you to warm up and be comfortable during your workout.
Depending on how cold your winter gets, a merino wool base layer might be all you need. Personally, when it’s around freezing I’ll use a thick merino wool base layer on my legs and torso and a pair of shorts and t-shirt over top.
COLD WEATHER RUNNING JACKETS AND PANTS
The base layer provides your warmth while the outset shell breaks the wind.
Unless you’re in extreme cold weather, a merino wool base layer and a pair of shorts is likely enough to keep your legs warm enough. But your torso will need a jacket to keep you warm. There are two levels of outer shells I recommend:
Level one outer shell: Windbreaker
Around freezing a basic windbreaker with no insulation on the inside is enough to keep warm as long as you’ve got a good base layer on underneath.
For temperatures right around freezing and down to -10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) I’ll wear a thin merino wool base later on my legs and torso, a regular pair of running shorts over top of the base layer, and a thin windbreaker on my torso.
Level two outer shell: Thermal jacket
Once temperatures get below freezing you’ll want to get a thermal jacket; cycling jackets are perfect for this.
A Thermal cycling jacket is windproof on the outside and has a small amount of insulation on the inside to additional warmth.
For temperatures between -10 and -20 Celsius I’ll wear a thin merino wool base layer, a pair of normal running shorts over the base layer, and a thermal cycling jacket on my torso.
Level Three outer shell when windy: Windbreaker shorts
At temperatures under freezing that are accompanied by wind, I recommend swapping your regular running shorts for a pair of windproof running briefs.
Windproof running briefs are like the thermal run jacket with windproof material on the outside and a bit of thermal insulation on the inside to keep your “tender areas” out of the wind and warm.
EXTREME COLD WEATHER RUN GEAR
When you start running in weather around -20 Celsius or colder you’ll need a completely new approach; this is the running danger zone where many of the runners in my run group (myself included!) will stop running outside. While it’s totally possible to run in weather this cold, it gets a little harder.
Base layer: your merino wool base layer on your legs and torso should be as thick as possible at these temperatures.
Legs: getting a pair of winter running pants that are similar to your thermal run jacket is ideal for extreme cold temperatures. Windproof on the outside and insulated on the inside.
Jacket: Some runners are able to continue to run in this extreme cold weather with their thermal run jacket and a more substantial base layer. Personally, I like both a thicker base layer and an extreme cold running jacket made of Primaloft. Primaloft windproof jackets will get the wind off your body and still maintain warmth as you sweat.
The first thing new winter runners think about getting for their shoes is a pair of coils or studs to put over their shoes for grip. I personally am not at all a fan of this for several reasons:
- Coils and studs on running shoes tend to alter an athlete's natural running stride potentially leading to injury.
- Coils and studs can actually be MORE slippery on ice or smooth surfaces like snowy concrete.
- Coils and studs have very few scenarios where they actually provide needed traction.
Personally, not a single athlete in my running group uses coils or studs on their winter running shoes. In most cases we actually all run in our normal running shoes year-round.
The only thing we will change with our running shoes in the winter is that we’ll refrain from using our speed-focused running shoes that have smoother soles. We’ll make sure to select runners that have some form of traction on the sole.
At maximum, during some very snowy days, I recommend athletes use a pair of trail runners with additional traction on the sole.
Pro tip: during extremely windy days where your toes might get cold, put a piece of duct tape over the ventilated toe area of your runners to keep your feet out of the wind.
GLOVES, HATS and SOCKS
The best advice I was given early on in my winter exercising life was to, “keep your legs and torso cool(ish) and your extremities warm.
While you want to start your runs with your legs and body feeling a little cool and get warmer as you start running, you want your hands, feet, head, and neck to stay warm from start to finish.
Socks: Again, I like merino wool for socks. Up until -15 Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) I’ll use just a basic merino wool sock about the thickness of a base layer. Any colder than this and I’ll add a second layer of progressively thicker merino wool socks.
Hat: From freezing until around -15 Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) I’ll use just a standard running beanie. Something thin that allows my head to breathe while keeping the wind off and providing a small amount of insulation around the ears is perfect, many women like a headband around their ears for this so that they can cool off through their head.
Balaclava: Below -15 Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) I recommend adding a full face and neck balaclava that’s windproof on the outside and has insulation on the inside like the thermal jacket. At extremely low temperatures you can even combine the balaclava and the beanie for extra warmth.
Gloves: I recommend three progressively warmer google combinations to keep your hands warm:
All this winter running gear may seem like a lot of clothing to buy, and it is. This guide isn’t meant as a shopping list of what you have to go out and purchase right away. Rather, this is a guide of what you can start to accumulate and gradually purchase over the course of the next several years.
Winter running may seem daunting, but with the right winter run clothes you’ll have no problem staying fit and healthy throughout the entire year!