Few people think more about what to wear than cold weather runners. Fall and winter weather can require anything from a light synthetic top to heavy-duty winter clothing, so we’ve compiled these guidelines to help you start thinking about what to wear on your run. Runners who layer smartly, dress for the weather, and step out the door wearing the right gear can avoid the treadmill all year round. Different people get cold at different temperatures, so work your way “up” to colder temperatures by learning your cold resistance and tinkering with what you wear. If it’s 10 below zero, it might not be the day to pick up cold-weather running. Ultimately, your judgement is what’s going to prevent you from getting frostbite, not your jacket.
50°F to 40°F
In moderately cool weather the question of what to wear is largely a personal choice, although if it’s particularly windy, runners may want a jacket. While a t-shirt won’t usually cut it, a quality long-sleeve base layer will get runners through most of this temperature bracket. Shorts will still get the job done since legs tend to warm up quickly from the work they’re putting in, but consider gloves if your hands get chapped easily in the fall and winter.
40°F to 30°F
Below 40 degrees, runners should cover more of their body, particularly their hands. Light running gloves and a synthetic beanie will keep your extremities toasty. On your body, a base layer under a windproof running jacket will protect your torso, and running tights ensure that legs don’t get too cold. If it’s raining, you may wan to wear a dedicated rain jacket and rain pants: many running jackets are water resistant, not waterproof, and few things are more miserable than being soaking wet in 34-degree weather. On the other hand, waterproof jackets aren’t always super breathable, so if you’re running hard you’ll end up a little wet, either way.
30°F to 20°F
When it comes to water resistance, running jackets do better in snow than rain, so a dedicated rain jacket should be unnecessary at these temperatures. Your tights or running pants should be insulated or have some wind resistance. There should be some space between the base layer and the jacket to store warm air. Keep in mind that 25 degrees feels very different depending on whether it’s calm or windy, so take that into account when getting dressed. Cover your hands and head with a breathable hat and gloves and wear eye protection to protect your eyes from cold wind and debris.
20°F to 10°F
Below 20 degrees, moisture control becomes a bigger factor, but so does staying warm, so it’s imperative that the middle and outer layers keep you well ventilated as well as warm. Be proactive if you overheat. Runners may want a winter shell as an outer layer in stormy weather. Pick one that’s breathable but weather resistant. Ski touring and mountaineering shells do well because they are designed for exercise. You’ll also want heavier gloves — your hands are the one layer where one should constantly err on the side of warmth.
Icebreaker Zone Long Sleeve Crewe ($110)
Sugoi Subzero Tights ($110)
SmartWool PhD Divide ($120)
Drymax Cold Weather Crew Socks ($14.50)
Black Diamond Mont Blanc Gloves ($20)
Arc’teryx Rho Beanie ($34)
Oakley Radarlock Path ($240)
10°F to 0°F
If you’re running in these temperatures, you’ve passed the point at which most running gloves were designed to perform, so grab your ski gloves. They’re designed for exercise at low temperatures. Winter synthetic socks are essential — wool and cotton should be avoided at all costs or your feet will be miserable. If your legs are cold, wear a windproof layer over your tights. Many smartphones don’t work under a certain temperature, so if you want to listen to music, wear a jacket with an interior media pocket. In snow or mud, use running gaiters — you don’t want to step in a puddle and end up with frozen feet.
0°F and Below
We don’t recommend running in these temperatures, but if you’re the kind of person who thinks this is a good idea, we probably can’t stop you. Running jackets should be insulated and under a shell. Tights should be under a windproof layer. Remember that multiple light layers will be warmer and more comfortable than one heavy layer. Mittens will keep your hands warmer than gloves. Make sure there’s no gap between your jacket and mitten that heat can escape from and that misery can seep into. It’s imperative to protect your eyes, nose and ears: wear a mask and have neck and eye protection. You may even want ski goggles. You’ll be the only one out there running, so don’t worry about looking silly.
Montane Allez Micro Hoodie ($113)
Salomon S-Lab Hybrid WP Pant ($220)
Berghaus Baffin Island Jacket ($350)
Outdoor Research Warrant Glove ($150)
Mountain Hardwear Men’s Airshield MCZ Balaclava ($45)
Oakley Flight Deck XM Prizm Goggles ($200)