Above or Below Freezing: What to Wear on Winter Runs

If you're forgoing the comfortable temperatures of your gym this Winter, that can mean dealing with a lot of snow, ice, hail, rain, and sleet. Winter running has just as many challenges as running in extreme heat, but with the right gear, you'll stay warm, dry, and comfortable.

Your comfort level depends on many factors, including how fast you're running, how comfortable you are in the cold, and how long your run is, so your perfect Winter outfit may differ. However, below are good rules of thumb for dressing for Winter running, whether it's in snowy, freezing conditions or slighter warmer temps.

When It's 32 Degrees or Below

  • Start off with a wicking bra and a wicking tank. We love Ibex sports tops since they are made of comfy, breathable, and natural merino wool.
  • Pull on a long-sleeved midweight base-layer shirt made from either nonitchy merino wool or polyester.
  • Slip on wicking socks that go up to your knees to keep your calves warm. Lightweight ski socks do just the trick; many, like these Smartwool PhD Snowboard Light socks ($16, originally $24), are made of a natural and synthetic blend that keeps your toes warm without too much bulk.
  • Wear warm running tights on your legs. Try these Under Armour cold-weather compression leggings ($70).
  • Over the long-sleeved shirt, wear a fitted, wind-stopping softshell like this one from The North Face ($149).
  • Running gloves or liners will protect your hands.
  • Wear a lightweight hat so your head doesn't get too sweaty.
  • On cold days, wear a fleece neck warmer. It will keep your neck and chin warm while also helping to prevent burning lungs.
  • Facial sunscreen and lip balm with SPF are both musts, as are sunglasses to protect your eyes. Snow reflects the sun's harmful UV rays, and the light bouncing off the snow can be blinding.
  • Water-resistant but breathable running shoes help make snowy or rainy conditions bearable for your feet. These Salomon XR Mission trail-running shoes ($77, originally $110) are made just for bad Winter weather. Wearing gaiters over your calves will keep your ankles and legs dry when the snow is deep.
  • When it's icy, slip on a set of Yaktrax Run straps ($40) on your running shoes to give you more traction and prevent slipping on hard snow or ice.

When It's Above 32 Degrees

If temperatures are chilly where you live but haven't hit that freezing mark, you still need to dress for the weather. But while all of the above are Winter essentials in snow country, layering that much on your body in 40-degree weather can lead to a sweaty, uncomfortable run. Dressing like it's 20 degrees warmer than it is will help ensure you don't overlayer. With that said, here are some guidelines for those (slightly) warmer Winter runs.

  • Dress in layers, but leave out the insulating middle layer. Depending on the temperature, you may want to stick with a thin moisture-wicking shirt (go for short-sleeved if you are running for a long time and temperatures are 40 degrees or higher) and lightweight zippered jacket that you can easily take off when your body temperature rises. Look for a thin, waterproof windbreaker with vents to keep you dry and comfortable if it's raining, and choose a jacket with zippered pockets as well to stash any headgear or gloves when you warm up.
  • If it's windy, you probably will need running tights to help insulate your legs from the chill. If there's not a lot of wind, regular fast-drying pants should work.
  • If you find that hats trap too much heat while you run in warmer Winter weather, look for ear-covering headbands that keep your ears warm while preventing overheating.
  • Rainy Winters call for shoes that protect your feet, so look for shoes that have as little mesh as possible for your wet Winter runs. Trail runners work perfectly; just be sure to wear noncotton moisture-wicking socks and avoid puddles as much as possible.
  • Gloves are still important in above-freezing temperatures, since cold weather can chill your extremities and cause discomfort while you run. Go for thin, wind-resistant gloves without the bulk, and stash them in your pockets after you warm up.
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, and lip balm with SPF are still a good idea, even if you're running under cloudy skies. The sun's UV rays can pass through clouds.

— Additional reporting by Jenny Sugar