Surviving Winter: Gear Up For Cold Weather Running

I got the urge to begin running in mid-October, which was a pretty poor choice on my part. Within weeks of starting Project Become A Runner, winter arrived in Colorado. Here’s my guide to not freezing your ass off (completely) as a winter runner.

Under Armour ColdGear compression layer and Big Logo Storm hoodie. Hat from my first race, the Ugly Sweater Run. Run the race and get one too!
Under Armour Cold Gear compression layer (here) and Big Logo Storm hoodie (similar here). Hat from my first race, the Ugly Sweater Run. Run the race and get one too!

If you buy one thing, buy a good base layer. A base layer is the one closest to your skin – like an undershirt. I’ve had a solid selection of base layers for a number of years now since I ride horses year-round and it’s not particularly balmy inside the massive metal indoor arenas that you are stuck in during the dead of winter. They are critical for staying warm.

Under Armour compression gear is great for when it’s REALLY cold. REI’s base layers get stinky quickly but are also legit.

Layers are your best friend. This can be a hoodie, a fleece, puffy vest, pretty much whatever you’re comfortable in. REI makes great fleece jackets. I can’t tell you how much to wear at certain temperatures – it depends on personal preference and how long and how hard you plan on running.

A general rule of thumb is dress like it’s 10 degrees warmer than it actually is. You’ll still likely have some trial and error before you figure out exactly what works for you. If you’re dressed right, you should be uncomfortably cold for the first few minutes of your run before warming up and feeling good. If you’re wet with sweat, you’re overdressed.

If you’re torn between wearing shorts and long sleeves or pants and short sleeves, wear pants. Keeping your knees, hips, and ankles warm while running is critical, not just for comfort but to keep your joints happy and injury-free. If it’s below 45, I have pants on. Maybe if you’re under 25 this doesn’t matter, but my knees get extremely angry if they are exposed to the cold.

Use what you have. Base layers are the most important, but I am in no way insisting that you have to go buy ALL THE THINGS. Technical fabrics are pricey, and I know everyone can’t afford to go buy a whole new wardrobe of things to sweat in.

I rocked cotton leggings for a long time, probably because I maxed out at half a mile and wasn’t actually outdoors for very long. Once I got too cold and didn’t want my favorite leggings to get gross, I gutted up and spent $50 on running tights. This sucks, but it is worth it to have something that wicks moisture and effectively deals with the amount of heat you put off during your run. And, they’ve lasted for years of near-daily use (I don’t run that often, I just wear leggings as pants a lot).

I opted for Nike’s basic running tights. As usual, they do not offer pockets. UnderArmour does put pockets in most of their tights (hallelujah!) and makes the warmest tights I own (even the thin ones). Here‘s their current selection.

Gloves are important, even if they’re just the $2 bargain gloves from Target. Your hands will be numb and you will probably be hating life pretty soon if you go out with your hands uncovered. I wear gloves if it’s under 40 degrees.

For my head, I prefer an ear warmer since 99% of women’s hats don’t have a hole or similar place for your ponytail. It is truly mind-boggling how there have been so many advances in activewear, but it is still assumed women carry nothing with them and wear their hair down while exercising.

REI Venturi fleece jacket (two years old, they've changed the design a bit), Gap Outlet puffy vest (using what I have!) and Outdoor Research Ear Band.
REI Venturi fleece jacket (similar here), Gap Outlet puffy vest (using what I have!) and Outdoor Research Ear Band (here).

This Outdoor Research ear warmer is awesome, but it’s so good at blocking out the cold and wind that it also blocks out a fair amount of background noise – make sure to be extra careful when crossing streets. Also, don’t be surprised if you startle anyone when you think you’re talking to them in a normal voice volume. You aren’t. You’re yelling. And it’s awkward. Worth it for warm ears, though!

Bottom Line

Focus on wearing plenty of layers. Make sure your base layer is moisture-wicking and not cotton. It’s also important to wear something reflective besides your shoes. Cold weather means shorter days, which means cars have a harder time seeing you. Here are my affordable best bets.

If you live in a well-lit neighborhood, disregard this message, but the combination of questionable lighting and extremely questionable sidewalk quality in my neighborhood has made me a devotee of running with a headlamp. I wrote a blog about headlamps and other ways to stay safe in the dark. I also went over sock options in this blog.

Stay warm out there!


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Liz says:

    Haha I’m with you re: not understanding how or why all these women’s hats don’t have a hole got a ponytail! That’s a requirement for all my hats for working out 😊


    1. Laura Cardon says:

      Right?! I’m with you. Maybe one day we’ll have ponytail hole for all!


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