There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. While that adage is not entirely true (there are some conditions that are too cold to run in), cold weather running gear can make a significant difference in how winter runs feel. These are the best pieces of cold weather running gear – from someone who has run and lived in the Midwest and Colorado.
(For more on how to run in cold weather, be sure to reference this guide on cold weather training!)
1. Tall Socks
Tall socks provide extra warmth and protection from the cold around all the tendons in your foot and ankle. If snow is on the ground, they are also further protect the skin against any kicked up snow.
Darn Tough Vermont is my personal favorite brand for years. The patterns are fun, the socks are warm yet breathable, and the materials are durable. While they come in a variety of heights, these crew socks (men’s and women’s) are ideal for winter conditions.
2. Thick or Wool Running Tights
Full length running tights are an essential piece of cold weather running gears. However, not all tights are created equal. Some styles are lightweight and breathable, which functions well in mild temperatures. Once the temperatures drop below freezing, you need a more insulation.
Winter running tights will often feature a wool blend or brushed synthetics for a thicker, warmer material. As with any tight, you want to find a style and sizing that does not ride down while you run.
My favorite for Colorado winters are the Tracksmith Turnover Tights (available in both women’s and men’s sizes.). These tights are warm and comfortable, featuring a soft lining and an outer fabric that repels precipitation. Since these are made from a merino blend, you can extend the number of wears between washes. (Asics Winter Running tights are a great budget-friendly option.)
3. Base Layers
Whether you are layering with a jacket, vest, or quarter-zip, a base layer provides warmth and wicking. (You can also wear them as a single layer in mild temperatures in spring and fall.) An effective base layer should be made of a wicking fabric, such as merino or synthetic, so that you do not have cold sweat trapped against your skin. Typically, a base layer is also thin enough to layer under other pieces.
There are dozens of different base layers available at every price point. My personal favorite is the Tracksmith Brighton Base (available in both women’s and men’s sizes). This cozy layer wicks well, layers comfortably, and can be worn on its own at other times of year. While it costs more, the merino fabric extends the use between washes. (Underarmour’s Coldgear is a great budget alternative for women and men.)
4. A Quarter-Zip
You need more than just one top layer for running in cold weather, which is why the quarter-zip becomes a highly-functional piece of cold weather running. A quarter-zip allows some adjustment as you warm-up during the run (with the zippered vent near the neck), as well as extra warmth on top. Quarter-zips come in a variety of weights, from lightweight to thicker merino (such as this Smartwool quarter-zip for men and women).
5. A Running Vest
A vest makes all the difference in winter running gear. As experienced runners know and beginner runners quickly find out, the metabolic heat from running warms you up as you go, even on cold winter days. A running vest keeps your core warm without overheating you. On cold days, layer it over a base layer; on very cold days, add a quarter-zip in between. Rabbit makes amazing running vests.
6. Polarized Sunglasses
Depending on where you live, winter isn’t completely gloomy. The sun reflecting off the white snow can create blinding conditions for a run, which is why sunglasses are an essential piece of cold weather running gear. No matter which brand you choose, ensure the lenses are polarized (glare-reducing technology).
Amber tints are best for winter days, as they let you see the road or trail in both bright sun and more overcast conditions. My personal favorites are Roka Halsey sunglasses, which do not budge while running and are anti-fog. They are durable also; I’ve had them for over three years and dropped them multiple times. (Roka is also available in prescription lens on their website). Another popular option is Goodr sunglasses (which do fit a bit snugger than Roka)
7. Cold Weather Running Accessories
Any exposed skin is at risk for frostbite during winter runs. Protect yourself (and stay comfortable) by ensuring that you cover your ears, neck, and hands. Gloves or mittens (or both layered) will keep your hands warm. A neckwear piece/gaiter not only keeps your neck warm; it can also be pulled up over your mouth to humidity the cold, dry air. A hat or ear warmer keeps your head warm.
My tried and true pieces (which have lasted several winters with no sign of wear):
Smartwool Merino Sport Fleece Gloves
Smartwool Merino Thermal Headband
8. Traction Devices
In many places, cold weather running gear must also double as gear for running in the snow. Many of the above pieces of cold weather running gear function well in the snow. However, you will need to ensure that your shoes have adequate traction if there is snow or ice on the ground. Simple traction devices slip onto any running shoe you have and provide grip on ice and snow. (An alternative: if you have a pair of trail running shoes already, those can also work well in winter.)
I had Yaktraks break on me in the past; my personal favorites are Kahtoola spikes. Our Kahtoola spikes have lasted years and are more comfortable! The Nanospikes are designed for road running; if you spend more time on trails, the Exospikes are a better fit.
Once you have all these pieces of cold weather running gear, you can use this guide to help you dress for the conditions!
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