Winter running: What to wear at every temperature

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By Locke Hughes

Fair warning: After reading this article, you can no longer use cold temperatures as an excuse to skip your workout. While exercising on a blustery, 30-degree day may not be as pleasant as a sunny and 75-degree day, it is possible — and even enjoyable, if you do it right.

The key is to dress correctly. As the Norwegians say: “There’s no bad weather; only bad clothing.” Whether you’re heading out for a run or hitting the slopes, the following tips — and gear — will help you stay warm and dry.

1. Layer up

The main rule of thumb for winter workouts: Layer, layer, layer. You’ll want to wear two to three layers, depending on how cold it is, the wind chill and your level of acclimation to the cold, says Rebekah Mayer, national run program manager and certified run coach at Life Time.

A moisture-wicking base layer, like merino wool, works great in cold weather, says Paul Ronto, a marathon runner and director of digital content and research at Run Repeat. “Merino wool keeps you warm, doesn’t get smelly throughout a hard workout and wicks moisture better than synthetic materials, which is crucial on winter outings,” he explains. Avoid cotton, which gets damp and doesn’t dry easily.

For the second layer, pick a lightweight jacket or vest in a synthetic material, like polyester or fleece. Finally, a windproof jacket, with or without insulation depending on the temperature, makes for a perfect outer layer.

But you might want to start with one less layer than you think you need. “You should actually feel a little chilly when you first walk outside, as your core temperature will rise as you exercise,” explains Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and author of “The Marathon Method”. “If you are warm when you first start, you might be overdressed.”

What to wear to every in temperature

  • 40 to 50 degrees: Lightweight capris or shorts with a long-sleeve shirt layered over a t-shirt or tank. Once you warm up, you may want to remove the long-sleeve top. Wear light gloves and an ear band if your extremities run cold.
  • 30 to 40 degrees: Lightweight running pants or capris with a long sleeve shirt or light jacket, layered over a t-shirt. Light gloves and a headband or hat protect sensitive extremities.
  • 20 to 30 degrees: Lightweight or windproof/thermal running pants, depending on the wind-chill. On top, wear a light long sleeve base layer paired with a windbreaker. Gloves or mittens and a hat are essential, and thermal socks may be needed to keep toes warm.
  • 10 to 20 degrees: Thermal / windproof pants will keep your legs warm, paired with a thermal base layer and winter running jacket on top. Add a buff or facemask. Consider investing in a waterproof trail shoe or winter running shoe for more warmth. Switch from gloves to mittens, especially if you have Raynaud’s or other reason for cold extremities.
  • 0 to 10 degrees: Wear thermal/windproof pants, with an additional base layer tight added below if needed. Depending on the weight of your running jacket, you may need to add another later underneath, or a winter running vest over your jacket. Switch out a lightweight buff for a thermal buff, or a warmer face mask. If your hands run cold, add hand warmers to your mittens.
  • Below 0 degrees: Add a thermal layer below your thermal pants, and a warm vest over your jacket. Add a second buff (either on your neck or wrapped around your arm) to switch out when the first one gets frosty. Use hand warmers, and minimize any exposed skin.

2. Accessorize smartly

Hat and gloves are a must-have for winter workouts. Your hands will get especially cold, since your circulation in your hands worsens as your body works harder, Ronto explains. “I’d say find really warm gloves to ensure you’re not wasting precious energy trying to warm your hands throughout your workout.”

A winter hat will work in extremely cold temps, but if it’s not too chilly, a baseball hat might be a better bet. “You can easily overheat in a winter hat and just end up holding it in your hand,” Ronto notes. “A ball cap, on the other hand, keeps snow and rain out of your eyes without causing you to overheat.” A running headband also works to keep ears warm, without too much extra insulation. If you’re skiing, you’ll want to wear a helmet (and a buff or face mask if it’s particularly chilly), as well as heavy-duty ski gloves.


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