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How to

How to layer up for winter running

Two runners wear multiple layers and apparel to prepare for a winter run.
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Winter running doesn't have to be dreadful. I promise. In this article, we'll cover how to stay warm (but not too warm), and also dry, comfortable, and safe on a cold and blustery day.

Don't bundle up too tightly

There's an old Scandinavian proverb that says there's no bad weather, only bad clothing choices. Surprisingly, more people overdress than underdress in the winter. But, thinking you'd rather be too warm than too cold might be your biggest regret if you're running outside. A general rule of thumb is to dress like it's 15 to 20 degrees warmer than what the thermometer reads. Your body will warm up as you begin moving.

Besides staying warm, it's equally important to stay dry. Dressing too warmly can often lead to excess sweating. If you're out for more than 20 minutes, this can create discomfort and lead to you being even colder. So, how do we find the happy medium?

Layering, top to bottom

Comfy winter running is all about layering appropriately. Choosing the proper materials and stacking them in the right order (only superheroes wear their underwear on the outside) helps us accomplish ideal conditions for warmth, comfort, and dryness for great winter running.

  • Base layer: The idea behind a base layer is to pull moisture away from your body. This layer should be light and moisture-wicking. While old-school wool is an option, many runners opt for quick-dry synthetics.
  • Middle layer: This layer will help trap body heat and create an air barrier to keep you warm. Mid-layers are often made from down, synthetic down, or merino wool.
  • Outer layer: The outer layer should be at least water-resistant, but preferably waterproof. The purpose of a waterproof shell is to keep the snow, sleet, or fog from soaking in. It also serves as a barrier to keep the biting, cold wind from penetrating through your inner layers.

Wondering what to wear on the bottom? Fleece-lined tights will help keep your legs warm. We recommend tights over pants, as they are less likely to cause any friction or chafing. Another simple, yet effective tip is to tuck your base layer into your tights for added warmth and to reduce any draft.

Two runners wear multiple layers and apparel to prepare for a winter run.

Choosing the right apparel for winter running doesn't have to be complicated. Read on to learn some simple tips to help keep you warm, dry, and safe.

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes (and ears and fingers)

It's important to keep your extremities toasty. Your body is designed to keep your important organs warm in the cold by sending blood to your core rather than your hands and feet. Fight off frostbite with some key accessories:

  • Gloves or mittens: When you run, your hands are usually more exposed to the elements. Fleece-lined gloves with a waterproof outer layer will help keep your fingers from tingling. If it's extremely cold or your hands are prone to freezing and chapping, consider mittens — the extra room allows your digits to help spread warmth to each other.
  • Warm socks: We recommend running in merino wool socks, as they will help trap heat especially well. The material also does not easily absorb moisture, helping your feet stay dry. And wool gets bonus points for its ability to fight stinky odors.
  • Ear protection: You'll want to consider a headband or hat to keep your ears warm. Hats also help trap more body heat overall.

Last but not least, it's important to consider safety beyond cold protection. Winter brings earlier sunsets and less daylight. Chances are you're going to be running in the dark. When choosing apparel for your winter running, consider options that have reflective hits. You may even want to wear a headlamp or attach a blinking light to your body so you can both see and be seen.

Layering up properly can seem daunting when you're still inside holding a mug of hot chocolate, but the brisk air of a crisp, snowy day can make running a joy. Put safety first, and you'll be cruising along until spring.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
Tim Kelly

Marathon Runner & Coach

Tim Running

Ohio native that loves travel, gardening, and helping people do more with their running than they thought possible. 8+ years as a running coach. 12 years as a runner and cyclist.