Winter Running (For Beginners)

A topic that always seems to come up on various running forums during the winter is what to wear for winter running.  While everyone is different, here are some of my tips.  Keep in mind that I live in Wisconsin and I am a skinny woman that is normally cold unless it is 70+ degrees.  🙂

If the temperature is gradually changing then it will give your body time to adjust.  As long as you keep running as the temps start dropping, it will not be a shock to your system.  However, if you stop running outdoors when it’s below 40 and then try to run a 5K race when it’s in single digits, you will feel very cold!  Your lungs may feel like they are burning and your feet feel frozen.  It seems obvious, but it’s something to keep in mind.  The coldest weather that I have run and raced in is single digits with negative wind chill in the -10 degree range.

I have found that insulated/windproof clothing is the key.  If it is sunny with no wind then it’s actually very comfortable.  Brand names that I like are Athleta (for women), Under Armour, and Nike.  If you are shopping online then look specifically for insulated clothing or Polartec.  There are many different ideas about what winter means.  🙂   If you get a good insulated top or jacket then that is most likely all that you will need.  You just need to layer appropriately for the weather (long sleeve, short sleeve).  Some people like wool underlayers but I am too warm if I wear wool under an insulated top.  This is an individual thing, but make sure the base layers are wicking.  An insulated vest is also a good purchase.  It will keep your core warm but allow your arms to breathe.


Sierra Trading Post is an excellent online shopping site for running gear.  Make sure you get on their mailing list for additional discount coupons.  I purchased Craft winter running tights there and they are my absolute favorite for winter running.  They are warm and comfortable and they do not slide down my waist as I run.  I recently purchased a second pair.  I have worn them in single digits with negative wind chill and have not needed to wear a second layer. I also purchased a pair of Lole running pants and a Lole winter jacket for a great price.  Normally winter running clothes tend to be pricey.  The good news is that they last awhile.

Another necessity is a neck/face covering.  I like the Buff neck wraps with the fleece/fabric combination.  Fleece is normally too thick to have over your face constantly as you run.  It just gets wet and gross.  If it’s not windy then I pull up the neck warmer as I need it and do not run with it over my nose/mouth.  I also love the Turtle Fur double layer neck warmers.

My ears get very cold and the thin winter running hats are sometimes not warm enough.  I have some thicker hats that I use if it is windy or especially cold.  Smartwool makes a warm hat that is still thin.  Some people just like to wear ear warmers.  Smartwool ear warmers are warm and comfortable.

Thicker, wind blocking gloves are also a necessity.  I scored a warm pair of Nike gloves from TJ Maxx.  If it is over 20 and not windy then I will just wear some knit gloves.  They can be taken off and stuck into your waistband.  I usually pick up some inexpensive ones from Target so it doesn’t matter if they don’t last (frequent washing) or get lost.

I find that Merino wool quarter height socks work well with tights and they keep my feet warm.  Smartwool, Feetures, and Balega make similar socks.

Another question is whether everyday running shoes will work in snow or ice.  Some trail running shoes are more waterproof (for slushy conditions) and offer more traction.  Some of the major manufacturers offer a Goretex model of their popular shoes.  For additional traction you can put screws into an older pair of shoes or purchase Yaktrax type products to wear over your shoes.  If it is too icy then I will run indoors rather than risk falling.

Off season is the best time to buy sale winter items, so February is a good time to stock up on your winter running needs.  It will take some experimentation to figure out what works for you.  Keep in mind that you will feel cold for about a half mile.  Then you will quickly discover if you overdressed.  🙂  I find that I am more likely to overdress than underdress.

Some examples of clothing mentioned in this post:

  • Insulated tops: Athleta Plust Tech Hoodie, Nike Pro Warm Half Zip
  • Insulated vest: Athleta Polartec Alpha Slice Vest
  • Insulated tights: Craft Active Run Winter Tights
  • Base Layer (warmer):  Craft  Pro Zero Extreme Base Layer Top
  • Socks: Feetures! Elite Merino+ Light Cushion Quarter Socks
  • Neck Covering: Polar Buff
  • Gloves: Nike Element Thermal Run Gloves

Don’t be afraid to give winter running a try!  You won’t regret!




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