As the nights get longer and the weather begins to get colder, you finally concede that yes, winter is here. But with the right kit, you can pretty much run in all kinds of conditions these days, so don’t be shy of a bit of ice or snow. Read and digest this article, then get your winter clothes together and embrace the beauty this frosty season has to offer!
Keep Your Head in the Game
While the old myth that you lose 40-45% of body heat through your head was debunked years ago, the fact remains that the head, face, and upper chest are up to 5 times more sensitive to changes in temperature when compared to other areas of the body. It makes sense to protect them.
When the temperature starts to drop, a headband is great way to keep sweat away while you run. The full thermal effect of a hat can cause overheating, but a headband keeps you dry and warm without keeping in too much heat.
The Nike Men’s Reversible Cold Weather Headband is designed specifically with cold weather in mind. This headband pulls sweat away from your skin and fends off the possibility of head chills. The reflective detailing on the band adds a sense of athleticism while making you more visible on dark, early winter mornings, and if that isn’t enough, it’s also completely reversible!
When winter really kicks into gear and the temperature drops significantly, a headband won’t cut the mustard when it comes to heat retention. It’s time for a hat. Ideally, you want a mixture of thermal retention, breathability, and waterproofing, so your head stays warm and dry at the same time. It’s best to go for something made from polyester because of its thermal performance and breathability.
A great buy that will suit any level of runner is the Under Armour Men’s UA ColdGear® Evo CME Run Beanie. Designed for runners, this beanie packs a few good features that are ideal for all your winter running. The dual layered fabric is composed of an ultra-insulating interior and a quick-drying exterior that features Under Armour’s signature Moisture Transport System, absorbing sweat and keeping your head dry and light.
Have you ever had an ice cold breeze on your neck that gets your whole body quivering like a worm? When the temperature really starts to plummet, it could be time to consider a neck gaiter. If you are unfamiliar with neck gaiters, they are essentially tube-like garments that slip over your head and around your neck to keep you warm or cool and to pull sweat away from your body. They can also be pulled up over the mouth to keep out wind and debris while warming the air you breathe. This is particularly handy when it comes to winter running, as ice cold air can chap lips and make breathing feel like your lungs are on fire.
The UA Fish Iso-Chill Neck Gaiter also comes from Under Armour. With the same Moisture Transport System as their other products, this gaiter will pull sweat away from your neck, eliminating the risk of chills caused by cold air and sweaty skin. At the same time, the ISO-Chill Technology will help dissipate body heat to keep things from getting stuffy. The gaiter also has built in UPF 30+ sun protection as well as anti-odor technology, both of which keep you protected and fresh. It’s amazing how much technology you can shove into something simple like a neck gaiter!
If you happen to live somewhere that’s always cold or where the winters are particularly bitter, an athletic hood can be a good investment as it replaces the separate items mentioned above. An athletic hood is essentially a balaclava for athletes, designed to absorb sweat and keep your head warm. It also provides an optional mouth and nose cover.
The Nike Pro Combat Hyperwarm Hydropull Hood is particularly impressive, offering four different wear options ranging from a full balaclava to just a neck gaiter. The Hyperwarm® Technology is designed to keep you warm while working out in cold conditions, and the Dri-FIT® material pulls sweat away from your entire head and face when you need it. The dynamic design of this hood is good, and the different wear options are a bonus. Its Flatlock construction makes it fit like glove, and the material is fully breathable.
Protect Your Torso
Making sure you wrap up correctly is ample to running in the winter, and using layers is the key to achieving body temperature regulation, waterproofing, and protection against the elements.
This is the most important layer and can be worn when the weather is arctic or just a bit nippy. A base layer acts as insulation against the cold and helps regulate body temperature, but it’s also there to pull sweat away from the body, avoid chafing, and improve performance. It should be made of synthetic materials such as Thinsulate or DryFit, not from more common materials like cotton. The leading brand in base layers for sports is undoubtedly Under Armour. With years of experience, they know what they are doing.
The Under Armour Men’s Base 4.0 Crew is a little pricey but offers base layer protection of the highest level. It is also Under Armour’s latest offering for this category. The unique brushed grid interior traps hot air, providing you with temperature regulation and warmth like no other. The material also has a 4-way stretch system, making it ultra-comfortable and anti-chafing. It also has UA’s unrivalled Moisture Transport system to keep you dry and free from body chills, as well as Anti-odor Technology to keep you fresh while preventing the growth of smelly microbes.
This base layer is ideal for anyone. It can be used on its own when the temperature is not too cold or used with additional layers to fight extremely cold weather. If that’s a little out of your price range, UA has more than one option in their line of base layers. The Under Armour Men’s UA Base 2.0 Baselayer Crew is on the lighter side and has all the key features of the Base 4.0.
When the temperature is below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, you will need to add a bit more protection and start layering up. This is where you need to invest in an insulating layer, such as one made from polyester fleece, that can regulate body temperature without causing you to overheat. Make sure you go for something lightweight, preferably with a half or quarter zip so you can cool off if it gets a little toasty.
The North Face are experts in keeping you warm, and their TKA 100 Glacier 1/4 Zip fleece is the perfect match for all the cold weather running you could ever want to do. The super-soft TKA 100 fleece is ultra-lightweight and comfortable, fabricated from 100% polyester that makes it perfect for slipping over the top of your base layer to add warmth. If the weather is just cold and crisp outside, you can usually get away with just a base layer and fleece.
If the weather is a bit more challenging, you need to think about protecting yourself from natural elements such as wind and rain. This outer layer, also called a shell jacket, needs to be fully waterproof to keep water weight from bogging you down while keeping you well ventilated. Preferably, it should have a zip so you can adjust your temperature manually. GoreTex and WindStopper are good examples of materials you should look for when buying an out-layer; they can be found in a large range of branded jackets.
GoreTex products come with a guarantee that “If you are not completely satisfied with the waterproofness, windproofness, or breathability then we will repair it, replace it, or refund your purchase price.” It is similar to WindStopper but completely water proof where WindStopper is only water resistant.
The Air Gore-Tex Active Shell Jacket is the perfect example of what you should want to find. The Gore-Tex membrane is the perfect partner for runners all year round, especially in the tough, blustery conditions that winter can throw at you. It has rear ventilation to help with body temperature and reflective prints to keep you visible in low-light conditions. The hem width can also be adjusted with the elastic drawstring located on the back of the jacket.
When your body senses extreme drops in temperatures, it constricts the blood vessels in the body’s extremities like the hands, preserving heat in your core for vital functions. This makes your extremities more susceptible to frostbite, so it makes sense to get yourself a pair of gloves that keep your hands nice and warm. If the temperature outside is not too challenging, a pair of simple gloves such as the Nike Thermal Running Gloves will do the trick, but if the temperature is a bit more unforgiving, you may want to start looking at layered gloves that are constructed with a fleece interior for warmth and a water/wind proof outer shell for protection against the elements.
Protecting Your “Wheels”
Your legs are your powerhouse when running, so it’s expected that they’ll create a lot of heat. This means there is less focus on heat retention for the legs and more focus on pulling away sweat and protecting against the elements.
Running tights, a wicking layer, are the most important aspect of your bottom half because your legs will generate a lot of sweat and heat as work your through your run. Ideally, running tights should be made from a polyester-spandex blend and have a wicking surface finish to pull moisture away from your skin. Some good materials to look for are CoolMax, Thinsulate and Thermax.
There are hundreds of running tights to choose from, and you can pick up a simple pair fairly cheaply, such as the ASICS Men’s PR Tights. These have reflective details to help make you visible in dark wintery conditions, and a tacky material on the insides of the leg opening makes them stay put.
Usually, one layer should be all you need since wicking layers are very good and provide protection against wind and rain. If rain is lashing down, however, and you still want to get out and train, you may want to consider a waterproof layer for protection. It is important that the pants offer some kind of ventilation while also offering protection against rain and wind. Nylon is usually your best bet as it offers protection from moisture.
Your feet can get pretty sweaty on long runs, and the last thing you want is all that sweat drowning your feet. Avoid your normal cotton socks completely; they don’t remove moisture, but they will hold it and make you prone to blisters and sores. Look for socks that will both pull moisture awayand regulate your foot temperature. The Darn Tough Vermont Men’s Merino Wool No-Show Ultra-Light Cushion Athletic Socks are an ideal pick here. They are made from a mixture of merino wool, nylon, and Lycra, which make them perfect for the job.
Avoid basic meshes that let water into your running shoes left right and center; you are going to need water-repellent mesh at the least. Gore-Tex is a great material to use since it provides the best protection against the elements. The material has nine billion pores per square inch, small enough to let vapors from evaporating sweat out, and also small enough to keep water from getting in.
Your feet are going to stay pretty warm while they’re constantly in use, so thermal protection is not something you need to go crazy over. Instead, look for running shoes that offer an excellent grip since you are likely to come up against puddles, snow, and ice. Trail running shoes can be a good option as they are typically more durable and toughened to the elements. Check out our “Best Trail Running Shoes” article for a more comprehensive look.
If you are braving snow or ice, you might want to think about getting a traction aid to help your stops and keep you from slipping all over the place. The Due North Everyday G3 Ice and Snow Traction Aid is a good example of what you want to find. Its unique design will adapt to most shoes, including running shoes, and hold up to sub-zero temperatures, while the ice diamond spikes will give you all the traction you could ever need.