Reflections on How to Dress for Cold Weather Running

I’ve always been a fair weather runner. I usually started in the spring, got lazy in the summer, ran again in the fall, and then packed it up for the winter. This year, I decided to really commit to running – which meant learning how to dress for cold weather running.

Although there were one or two runs that were uncomfortable, I’ve been a bit surprised at how normal it can be once you figure out the right way to dress. I plan on thinking about this some more and writing up a full guide on how to dress for winter running, but for today I wanted to just reflect a bit on what I’ve learned in the past month or two.

Gloves Are Important

The first thing I noticed was that I need gloves. Before any other part of me would get cold, my hands would.

In the late fall, I found that when the temperature got to around 40 degrees I could notice the difference. On a sunny day, I might be ok without gloves. But especially on a windy day, running without gloves meant very cold hands.

I quickly made this a rule for myself. Any time I expect the temperature to be under 40 degrees, I’ll bring gloves. I sometimes wear them if it’s just over 40 as well, just to be on the safe side. I’ve got a pair of lightweight gloves (like these).

I find that gloves don’t really bother me, anyway, so I’d rather be safe than sorry. You don’t want to overdress for cold weather running – but wearing gloves when you don’t need them isn’t a huge deal. Definitely get yourself a good pair of lightweight running gloves.

I do wonder, though, whether I’m going to need some heavier gloves. These are good down to the 20’s, though, and in my climate (New Jersey) I’m not sure that I’ll be out running in anything colder than that.

Long Sleeves and Tights Are Often Just Enough

My usual running gear – if it’s over 40 degrees – is shorts and a tee shirt. Sometimes it’s a bit chilly in the beginning, but once I get warmed up I’m fine.

When it gets into the 30’s, though, I need something else. I picked up a couple pairs of 32 Degrees baselayer tights and some 32 Degrees baselayer long sleeve tops at Costco. These aren’t very warm, and they’re very thin. But they are just enough to help cut the edge of the cold and keep me warm.

I’ll wear the tights with a pair of running shorts over them the baselayer shirt by itself. If it’s in the mid 30’s or lower, it’ll feel cold when I walk outside. Sometimes a bit uncomfortably so. But after a fifteen minute warm up, I’m warm and this thin layer is enough to keep me feeling good.

I think it’s just enough to cut the wind and help insulate slightly. At the same time, it’s not heavy enough to make me overheat once my body gets warmed up.

Under 30 Degrees and I Pack a Hoodie

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel running with a hoodie on. It’s big and bulky. I thought it might slow me down if I was doing speedwork, and that it might be too hot once I warmed up.

I’ve got a Champion Powerblend Fleece Pullover that I bought last winter when I was spending more time walking outside. Once day when it was right around 30 degrees, I tried it out for a run. I was pleasantly surprised.

I wouldn’t wear it on a warmer day, but it was perfect for a really cold day. With a tee shirt underneath and the hoodie on top, I stay warm but not too warm. I’ve worn this when the temperature was in the low 20’s and it kept me feeling good. Last week, I wore it on my long run when it was around 30 degrees and there was light snow, and it was perfect.

For me, I find that 30 degrees is a good cutoff point. If it’s above 30 or 32 degrees, I leave the hoodie at home. If it’s below that, I’ll put it on. If it’s an early morning run and the sun’s not out, I’m a little more cautious. Conversely, if it’s a late morning run and sun is going to warm me up, I’m a little less cautious.

How Do You Dress for the Cold?

All in all, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how this has worked out. I was afraid that running in the cold would be uncomfortable, and that my hands and feet would be numb.

Once I worked out my routine – gloves, tights, baselayer, and hoodie – I’m pretty good.

I’m curious – how do you deal with the cold? What do you consider cold? And what do you consider too cold for a run?

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