How to layer up for winter running

A true runner doesn’t stop running because the weather is getting colder. Some may bring their exercise indoors, but running on a treadmill isn’t for everyone. Is that you?

Do you long for fresh outdoor air in your lungs? Do you love watching the scenery rush past you as you run? Running on a treadmill just isn’t the same. 

But running outdoors in the cold presents unique challenges. And it can be downright dangerous if you don’t have the right cold-weather running gear. 

Check out this winter running guide on how to layer up to keep running strong all winter long. 

How to dress for running in the cold

Figuring out how to dress for running in the cold is tricky, and runners make two big mistakes. They either overdress or underdress. 

It can be hard enough as it is to find the motivation to run on cold, dark mornings. It can be tempting for runners to pile on warm clothes so the switch from the snug house to the frigid outdoors will not be so uncomfortable. However, heavy coats and thick sweaters are not ideal clothing for running in the cold. 

As your body heats up, you’ll soon be uncomfortably hot. Yet it’s too cold to take your coat off entirely. On the flip side, some runners will choose clothing that is too light, assuming they will heat up enough as they run. Their numb fingers, nose, and toes will remind them of their mistake every step of the way

Finding a happy medium is the key.

Generally, you should dress for about 15-20 degrees warmer than it is. This difference is enough to account for your body heating up.

Pro tip: Check the weather and make your decision on the “feels like” temperature rather than the actual temperature. 

You should also be judicious about the fabrics you choose. Cotton will absorb moisture (i.e. sweat) and hold it against your body, making you colder. Merino wool or moisture-wicking synthetic fabrics are a better choice.

Finally, don’t forget about chafing. Running tights or fleece-lined leggings will be more comfortable than pants — even for shorter runs – and they won’t rub together and tend not to chafe the more “sensitive” areas. 

Your guide to winter running layering

Wearing layers is the best way to dress for running in the cold. 

How many layers you wear depends on how cold it is. Let’s go over a few general best practices. 

In general, you’ll want three layers. 

The base layer should be light and made of moisture-wicking fabrics. This will pull sweat away from your skin to avoid getting too cold. 

The next layer is your main heat layer. Choose fabrics such as down, synthetic down, or merino wool to trap your body heat and keep you nice and snug. 

Winter running often involves snow, fog, or even a slow drizzle that will get you wet. And being wet equals being cold, so it is essential to keep your clothing dry. Thus, the outer layer should be, at minimum water-resistant, but waterproof is even better when snow and rain are involved. 

But most important of all, waterproof or Goretex running shoes MUST be part of your cold-weather running gear. 

It’s hard enough to keep extremities like toes warm when you’re out in the cold. Once your feet get wet, you’ve utterly lost the battle. And, make no mistake, your feet will get wet on the slushy streets whether it is actively precipitating or not. 

RELATED: Waterproof running collection.

Remember to adjust your layering according to the weather. On warmer days or if you run when the sun is shining, you might be able to use only two layers, while on colder days may require up to four layers or more if necessary. 

What to wear in subzero temperatures

What about when the temperatures plunge? It is safe for most people to run down to about -15F or -9C. However, you’re going to have to dress the part. 

Dress in layers as described in the last section, and add an extra mid-layer or two if needed. 

It’s also important to cover up any exposed skin when it is this cold. Fleece-lined gloves are required, so your fingers don’t fall off. A pair with a waterproof outer shell is ideal. 

You’ll want to wear a hat, headband, earmuffs, or anything else that will cover your ears. It can also hurt to breathe at these temperatures, so wearing a buff or wrapping a scarf loosely around your face will help warm and humidify the air you breathe. 

This could look like

  1. Base layer (skin-tight, wicking or merino wool material)
  2. Middle layer (a half-zip, insulated sweater, or thin down/light jacket)
  3. Outer layer (a water resistant or even waterproof layer)
  4. Don’t forget your hat, gloves (and mitts over top, if it’s that cold), and waterproof running shoes

Don’t be afraid to opt for the treadmill when the thermometer dips this low. 

Preparation is key

The biggest thing to remember is that preparation is key. With the right cold-weather running gear, your winter runs can be as pleasant as any other time of the year. Without the right gear, however, you’ll be miserable and hating every step of the way. 

Need some new waterproof running shoes this winter? Let The Runners Shop experts help you find exactly what you need!