How to dress for winter running

How to dress for winter running: It's all about the layers!

Running in the winter is fun and enjoyable.
But, having the right layers will make or break your run.

Running in the winter can be tricky.
You want to consider the following before heading out: Temperature, Wind, Ice, Snow, and Rain.

Takeaways for running in the winter:

  • Check the weather forecast before heading out;
  • You want to be a little cold when you start your run;
  • It’s all about layering up and down;
  • Have dry clothes for after your run;
  • Bring water and snacks for long runs.

Weather considerations for running in the winter

It’s important to check the weather before you head outside for a winter run. Knowing if it is windy if there’s ice or snow and what the temperature is will be critical to your successful run.

If it’s windy, bring a windbreaker. Also useful when you are not sure if you are going to be cold. But don’t keep it when you start feeling warm.
If there’s ice on the path, microspikes or similar is a great idea.
Snow is not always an issue. Fresh snow on flat terrain won’t be that much slippery. Regular trail running shoes are good enough most of the time. Soft snow but not slushy is generally not slippery. Frozen snow or ice is when you need to be extra cautious and have microspikes handy.

Layer system for a winter run:

Most people start their run with too many layers resulting in getting too hot and sweating early on. Then you’ll need to stop and remove layers.

We recommend being a little cold when you start your run. Don’t worry, you’ll be warm soon enough and usually within 10 minutes or less of running.

Extremities are the most sensitive to the cold. Think of wearing gloves and a beanie to stay warm when you start. But don’t forget to remove them as you get warmer. You don’t want to be soaked in sweat either. Heavier socks can be a good idea if you know you get cold feet easily.

If you sweat a lot, like me, no matter the temperature you absolutely want to wear merino wool. Thickness is based on your preference and you want to experiment to find what is best for you. Merino wool has the advantage of keeping you warm even when wet. You’ll only get cold if you are slowing down or stopping. That’s when a dry layer comes in handy. Especially on those long runs that involve hiking.

If you don’t sweat that much then it’s ok to layer more.

Really, the key is to stay dry from sweat as much as you can. And, when you sweat you want layers with a fabric that will keep you warm even wet. Merino wool will do just that.

Leggings or shorts?
It is really a matter of preferences. I wear shorts until it is below freezing. You want to stay dry as much and as long as possible. Keep in mind that your torso is what you want to keep warm more than your legs.

winter running motivation running coach stephane

My layering system based on temperature for a winter run:

Here is what I wear based on temperature when running in the winter:

50F/10C to mid 50sF/13C: short and short sleeves. Light gloves, the liner kind, in the low 50sF/10C at the beginning of the run.
40F/4C: short, long sleeves and liner gloves to start.
30F/-1C to 40F/4C: short, long sleeves (merino), and gloves. Sometimes a beanie or a cap. I’d wear long merino leggings under my shorts sometimes.
Below 30F/-1C: long merino legging under shorts, long sleeve merino + windbreaker as needed, gloves, beanie if not sunny.
No matter the temp I always carry one or two balaclavas. One around my wrist that I use to remove sweat from my face and another that I can use around my neck or head based on temp.
Huge factors to consider are humidity and wind. Both amplify the cold.
Also, for long runs and in a mountain setting I would carry extra layers and a windproof jacket. Especially since you alternate running, hiking, and taking pictures (😂). When you are sweating and it’s cold and you know you will slow down or walk at some point, it’s great to have extra layers to stay dry.

Nutrition and hydration:

When temps drop, your body works harder to stay warm and to produce energy. Same as a furnace or a wood fireplace. Eating increases the body’s production of heat. The process of breaking down food is going to increase body temperature. As a result, you want to eat more when it’s cold than in the summer for a similar effort.

When you run in the winter, you’ll eventually sweat though less than during a summer run. You want to replace the water and electrolytes you are losing by drinking regularly. You’ll drink less in the winter than in the summer but keep that in mind if you plan to be out for more than 60 minutes of significant effort.

Personally, I reduce my water intake by 20%-30% during a winter run compared to a summer run.

Bottom line for a successful winter run:

  • Wear a flexible layering system. Merino wool will keep you warm even when wet.
  • Avoid cotton at all costs.
  • If it’s dry and in doubt, bring a light windbreaker. On top of a merino long sleeve shirt, it will feel warm. But take it off as soon as you start warming up.
  • If there’s ice, microspikes will come in handy.
  • Don’t forget to eat as you go. Food intake will help to keep your body warm.
  • If it is your first time going out for a winter run, do so on a dry day.
  • Soft snow is actually super nice to run on.