How to Dress in Layers for Cold Weather

Two women run together during the winter on a snow-covered track

Cold weather doesn't have to put an end to your outdoor running. But running safely in winter takes a little planning to make sure you're dressed right and have the right gear to run safely in the dark.

A good rule for cold-weather running is to dress for temperatures that are 10-20 degrees warmer than what the thermometer says. Generally, you'll warm up as you move. Finding yourself overdressed, hot and sweaty midway through a run is almost as bad as underdressing and feeling miserably cold.

Of course, this advice varies from person to person depending on how hot or cold you run, so test out the system that works for you.

But when the mercury drops, wearing the proper layers for cold weather running will help keep you warm without restricting your movement. Here's how you should layer your clothes to run in the cold:

  • Wear a base layer. The layer next to your skin should be light, soft and moisture-wicking. Pick a long-sleeve running shirt if the weather is especially biting.
  • Pick a mid-layer. Your mid-layer should do most of the work of keeping you warm. Opt for a layer with a little bit of down or synthetic insulation if it's really cold, or try a fleece in milder temps.
  • Find an outer layer. Windproof, waterproof, breathable. Your outer layer or shell keeps precipitation off your insulating layer so they can keep doing their jobs.
  • Slip into tights or pants. Fleece-lined tights are cozy and warm in the cold, and running pants shield you from frigid air. Find a pair that works without restricting your movement.
  • Get running gloves. Your hands and fingers are susceptible to the cold, so pull on a pair of running gloves. If it's extra cold, reach for a pair of mittens to help your digits share the warmth.
  • Wear wool socks. Wool is a good insulator, and it keeps you warm even when it gets wet. So if it's cold and wet outside, wool running socks will help keep your toes from going numb.
  • Cover your ears. Like your hands, your ears get cold easily. Pick up a hat or ear muffs to keep the heat in.
Four people running together on a snowy road

Wear Base Layers (And Tuck Them In)

If it’s below freezing, you are going to want to wear two base layers. Make sure they are made from a moisture-wicking fabric, but not cotton, which is slow to dry. If you opt for a base layer (T-shirt or tank top), a long-sleeved top and a jacket, tuck the bottom layer into your tights/running pants for added warmth and wind protection. Also, be careful not to overdress because you'll warm up as you run.

Pick a Mid-Layer

A good mid-layer will do most of the work of keeping you warm. Mid-layers with down or synthetic insulation create loft, which traps warm air generated by your body. A fleece works the same way, but is suitable for warmer temperatures when puffier insulation would be overkill.

Wear a Warm Jacket

Insulation and breathability are important when you're wearing layers. While a windproof or waterproof outer shell is sometimes necessary in unusually frigid temps or wet conditions, the right combination of breathability and insulation is vital on milder days. When it’s too warm for a jacket but not cold enough for a single layer, consider wearing a vest to keep your core warm.

A runner pushes a stroller through snow in winter

Find the Right Tights or Pants

Single-digit temps call for full-length, fleece-lined tights or thicker running pants. You may even consider a second loose-fitting pair of running tights over top. If you’re heading out in temps between 20 and 40 degrees, a regular full-length tight will do. For anything in the 40- to 50-degree range, pull out mid-length or quarter tights (or maybe even shorts).

Cover Your Hands

If you’ve ever been out on a run when your hands get cold and stop functioning properly, then you know the importance of protecting them from the elements. Usually gloves are adequate for temps between 20 and 40 degrees. However, once they dip into the teens, mittens are a better option. Unlike gloves, which leave each finger close to the elements and separate from all the other fingers, a mitten allows for finger-to-finger contact, which keeps your hands warmer.

Wear Wool Socks

Wool will keep your feet warm even if they get wet. Why? Wool absorbs less water than other materials and acts as a natural insulator.

Cover Your Head and Ears

Like your hands, your ears need some extra help to stay warm. If it's under 50 degrees, consider wearing a hat, a buff or ear warmers to keep your noggin warm.

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