If you’re among the brave souls who run all year long (or planning to join the club!), you’ll need the right gear to get you through the winter months. It’s tough enough to find the motivation to run in the cold and dark, and there is nothing worse than getting far from home and realizing you’re not dressed for the weather.
That’s why we’re here to help you build the perfect seasonal running wardrobe to take you from the first snowfall right through to the return of spring. There are many options to choose from, so this article will help you find the best running apparel and accessories for your needs. Let’s layer up and get to it!
You’ve probably seen those runners who can wear shorts until the temperatures dip below freezing, but most people make the switch from shorts to tights once we hit the single digits. Winter running tights are made with different levels of warmth to help you stay comfortable in all sorts of weather conditions. Here’s a quick breakdown of tights to consider:
Warm and Wicking. For base-level comfort to about -10 degrees Celsius, something like the New Balance Impact Run Heat Tight, Saucony Blizzard Tight, or Sugoi MidZero Tight will do the trick. These tights are all brushed with warm fleece on the inside and have a wind/water-resistant outer layer. Since they fit nice and snug, they also lend well to layering. You can wear shorts or thin joggers over top as an extra layer of protection, or add Bun Toasters or Wind Boxers underneath to protect the parts that tend to get the coldest (that would be your butt and your junk!).
Deep-Freeze Training. You’ll be happy to know that it’s possible to stay cozy even on the coldest days of winter. Go for something like the Tracksmith Thaw Tight or Sugoi SubZero Tight, which are made with high-density fleece and DWR water-resistant fabrics that can keep you warm all the way to -30 degrees Celsius.
Long Sleeves, Vests, and Jackets
The key to dressing your upper half is to layer 3 essential pieces with these purposes in mind:
- Base layer: this should be thin, sweat-wicking, and technical. Absolutely no cotton shirts under any circumstances!
- Thermal layer: something to help regulate heat and keep you warm.
- Outer layer: this is where jackets, vests, and shells (a thin coat that’s great for repelling wind and rain) come in.
Even in the coldest weather, you’ll be surprised at how well these three layers can work together to keep you warm and dry. Over time, you’ll likely build out a few options within these three categories, such as a lighter-weight and heavier-weight jacket. We’ve pulled a few options to get you started!
Base Layers. The Tracksmith Brighton Base Layer (named the Best Base Layer of the Year by Runner’s World), Tracksmith Cortlandt Long Sleeve, Saucony Stopwatch Long Sleeve, New Balance Accelerate Long Sleeve, or Nike Dry Fit Element Crew Top are all great options for base layers. You’ll be able to wear these on their own through the fall and spring, and then transition them to the layer closest to your body in the winter.
Thermal Layers. A ¼ zip or hoodie from the New Balance Heat Grid Collection or Saucony Solstice Collection is a great addition to your wardrobe. You’ll be able to distinguish thermal layers from their “puffy” interior lining, which is designed to regulate heat rather than just trap it.
Outer Layers. Outer layers are more about weight and function. Heavier jackets have all of the protection you need for maximum warmth, while thinner pieces are more designed for wind/rain protection. A tip from our experienced runners: zero degrees is not cold enough for a heavy jacket! Save your heaviest layer for those -10 to -15 degree days or colder to avoid overheating.
Mitts and Gloves. Again, mitts and gloves are made with different levels of technical fabric. A lot of people like soft, thin gloves for most cool weather, and then swap to a pair of mitts in -5 degrees or colder (or a pair of gloves with an attached hood that can be pulled on and off). Mitts are usually made with extra thermal protection, plus your hands generate their own head better inside a pair of mitts.
Tip: stay away from cotton or wool gloves! They hold onto moisture and will get sweaty, wet, heavy, and then even colder. This is one accessory where performance fabrics really matter!
Toque, Buff, and Ear Warmers. A lot of people struggle to keep their heads at an ideal temperature! It’s a key area where we release heat (aka: sweat) for temperature regulation, but our ears and foreheads tend to get quite cold. That’s why a lot of people like to wear a buff or ear warmers, although plenty of people need a full toque in very cold weather. You’ll need to test out a few options to see what works best for you.
Socks. We have a secret weapon when it comes to socks: merino wool. We have people on our staff who call them “magic socks,” because they simultaneously keep your feet dry and warm no matter the weather! Adding a few pairs of merino wool socks to your winter-running wardrobe is non-negotiable!
Lights and Hydration. First and foremost, don’t forget your lights! This should be a given. We spend a lot of time running in the dark during the winter, and adequate visibility is key to your safety. It’s also surprisingly easy to become dehydrated during winter runs, especially during long runs. A handheld bottle is a great idea to bring along, and you can unscrew the cap if the nozzle freezes.
Winter Running Final Tips
Don’t forget that once you start moving, your body will generate a lot of heat, and the discomfort you feel from the cold will usually subside within a kilometre or two. In fact, many runners are prone to overheating in the winter (which can lead to rapid and dangerous dehydration) because they wear clothing designed for sub-zero temperatures on relatively mild days. Be realistic about the temperatures your apparel is designed for and use that as a guideline rather than dressing for how cold it feels when you stick your arm out the door.
The reason we recommend dressing in layers is so you can strip a layer off if you need to. Getting stuck on a run in a heavy jacket with just a t-shirt underneath can make for a lot of uncomfortable kilometres! Stick with the base layer + thermal layer + outer layer rule, adding layers as the temperature drops.
We know - we haven’t even talked about winter running shoes yet. But don’t worry, that will be its own blog post! And as always, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to come to see us at either of our Toronto retail stores or book an online shopping appointment with one of our experts!