Change the pace – winter running wear

You’d think the hardest part of winter running is the running itself, but I think it’s figuring out the right combination of clothing.

The best advice I’ve heard is to dress like it’s 10 degrees warmer. The advice I’d offer is to dress according to your body and preferences.

Where to start

As soon as the temperatures dip, you want to layer. A good baselayer is the most important, as it’s designed to trap a thin layer of warm air against the body while wicking sweat away. Running stores have some options, but large outdoor stores will have the greatest variety. Hit up a MEC (in Canada), REI, or other outdoor shop.

From there, figure out how much you want to wear on top. If it’s really cold, I’d recommend a mid-layer to help insulate. For me, this is usually a Nike half-zip. I have a few different ones, but I’ll wear a thermal or wool one when it’s quite chilly.

Lastly, wear a wind-proof shell or jacket. Without something wind-proof, a winter wind will cut through your clothes instantly. I have a couple winter running jackets. One is a lot better at blocking wind, and is a little bigger. I wear this one when it’s really cold so I can put multiple layers underneath.

Bottom half

Start with undies, especially men! Then decide whether you need a couple pairs of pants, or if one will suffice. If you need more than one pair, use a baselayer for the bottom.

I have three pairs of running pants- one thin, one thick with a fuzzy lining, and one thick with wind-resistant material on the thighs. Sometimes I wear one pair, and sometimes I wear a baselayer and two pairs!


I’m not picky about winter running socks, so long as they are thick, wicking, and tall. If you can’t find Gore-Tex running shoes or if your preferred shoe brand doesn’t make them, try a trail shoe. They generally have better grips and are made of a bit thicker material. If you can’t find either, simply wrap the top of your shoe in electrical tape. I did that one winter when my feet were always going numb.

Lastly, there are a few different companies that make traction aids, like YakTrax. They fit over the shoe and have little spikes to prevent you from slipping or falling on the snow and ice.

I use Due North. They work really well for me; however, Kelly’s foot is in between sizes and they constantly shift around on him. Last winter he ended up pulling out some older shoes and putting screws directly in the sole.

Head & hands

You lose the majority of heat through your head, so make sure you have a couple toques, one thin and one thick. You definitely want these to be wicking. Most running-specific toques also have the handy ponytail holes!

In winter, I almost always wear a neck-warmer to prevent a chill. The colder it gets, the warmer the neck-warmer I wear.  Again, running or xc-ski specific neck-warmers/ balaclavas are the best because you are able to breathe through them. Some even have nose vents and holes for the mouth.

I also have a few pairs of gloves and mitts. Mittens are always warmer since your hands are together, and they have space for hand warmers inside.

Lastly, protect your eyes and any other vulnerable skin. I almost always wear sunglasses but have also worn ski goggles in the bitter cold. If it’s really cold and you have any skin showing, put a little Vaseline on the skin to protect from the wind.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! These are some suggestions of what works for me. I’ve run outside for over a dozen winters and have dealt with frostbite and a lot of falls!

Runner’s World has a ‘What Should I Wear’ tool. Check it out for guidance for your next winter run!

Also, read last week’s post for more tips on winter running, including wearing reflective gear.

What’s the coldest weather you’ve run in?

40 responses to “Change the pace – winter running wear

  1. I’m going to show my husband this post for a Christmas shopping guide! I had never thought of trail shoes for winter, but it makes sense, plus it would be nice to have trail shoes anyway.

  2. This post is so key to winter running!! Sometimes its freeeeezing out so the right gear is essential! My biggest pet peeve is forgetting neck warmer!! Ughhh just its just the worst!! Happy Winter Running!

  3. Are you robbing a bank or going on a run?

    Socks are clutch, you have to get those just right. Frostbite?! Oh that’s awful.

    If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! –> ah, your tips were awesome:)

  4. For the first time since following your blog I’m glad I live in the UK where I won’t ever have to worry about running when it’s that crazily cold. Something to be said about the English weather after all. 😉

  5. You’re so hardcore! When I lived in MN I found that covering my face was the key to keeping me on my run, otherwise I’d quickly head back home with a cold face!

  6. I love the Runner’s World Tool! But seriously figuring out what to wear really is the hardest part of winter running! My rule of thumb is, if- when I go outside I’m comfortable, then I’m dressed too much and need to take something off.

  7. It’s always so interesting to me how so many runners can dress so differently for the same temps! I run with a big group of women and we are all over the place on our clothing on any given day. I tend to be the warmest of the group and wear the least–something I wish wasn’t the case b/c I think it comes back to bite me in hot weather!

    • It is interesting to see how people dress so differently, especially when you’re all women. (I can see there being a big difference between males and females.)
      At least you don’t freeze all the time then! But, being too hot in summer is uncomfortable, too.

  8. Excellent info and I agree with dress according to your body preference. I hate being cold and always have a hard time warming up and love the layered approach. I also found the other day that water proof doesn’t mean windproof – which you are spot on as being a huge part of cold weather running and biking.

  9. I was JUST thinking about this yesterday as I was out in the cold. I WANT to run outside, I really do, but I just don’t know how much i’ll struggle with the cold.

    So, THANK YOU for this. Great, great information!

  10. You guys look AWESOME in that running gear. SO ninja like!! HAH!! I think the coldest I have run in was maybe around 30-32 F. Freezing, but never below!

  11. I’ve been curious about traction aids for my shoes (I live in Chicago, so plenty of snow and ice!) but I’m afraid they’ll feel weird to run on?

    • Actually, I usually don’t even feel them! (Surprising, right?)
      When my husband put screws in his shoes, he felt those a bit. SO I’d definitely say traction aids are better than that.
      Let me know if you end up getting some!

  12. Great post! I was born cold, so am big on layers – much of what you wrote. In fact, as I sit here in front of my laptop with pellet stove roaring, I have a winter hat on. Seriously.

  13. I get cold just looking at you guys all bundled up! I have some serious cold problems, but each year I get better nad better about running in the winter. Last year, I even ran in the snow a few times!

  14. Thanks – this is great – it hasn’t snowed yet where I live but with the sun setting earlier it gets quite cold out by the time I can get out the door for a run. I definitely need to find myself a wind-proof jacket.

    It is so confusing for me because I start off the run cold (not to mention really windy) but half way through the sun comes out and heat rises.

  16. super important post! it can get dangerous if you go out there running under geared and underdressed…hello injuries!! i’m such a weenie, the coldest it gets is probably 20-30 but i complain like it’s -20! 😛

  17. Oh my gosh, I’m shivering just thinking about that. I can’t even imagine! I bet you get used to it, but I think if I lived there I’d only be able to handle the treadmill indoors! Big kudos to you guys for being able to do it!

  18. okay, i am a weeny! i wear all that when it’s 45F here. LOL!

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