I had an ideal run on Wednesday morning: a cool, crisp, and speedy 6.97 miles. As I crunched along with yellow leaves underfoot down the residential roads and pathways, I realized that it’s going to get a lot harder to get out and enjoy similar runs when the weather starts to change. Being a California girl, I often get warnings from Calgarians around this time of year: “Ohhhh, you haven’t seen a real winter yet!” or, “Are you going to be okay – can you survive it?” As much as I often want to describe how much I love winter sports and how I’ve lived in the snow before, I normally chuckle with them, shrug it off, and secretly try to prove to them that I can hack it (a little competitive, perhaps?). 😉 But the truth is that winter still takes me by surprise, and this year I want to be ready for it. In conjunction with my goal to “embrace winter running,” I thought it would be good to take a look at how to dress for outdoor winter activities before the winter actually arrives.
Outfitting for a winter run means finding balance (like in all things in life, right?); if you underdress, you’ll be cold during your entire run, but if you overdress you’ll be soaked in sweat! So striking that balance means wearing layers that offer the right blend of warmth (insulation) and breathability (a fabric that wicks sweat away). Here are a couple guidelines that will help you be prepared for whatever winter throws your way:
- No Cotton: When cotton gets wet, it holds its moisture in, leaving you sweaty and in turns makes you cold. Instead, choose a base layer made of synthetic fabrics, like polyester and polypropylene, which are created to wick sweat away from your skin without absorbing it. Wool, on the other hand, absorbs the moisture vapor created between your skin and the fabric as you sweat but keeps you warmer than cotton when wet.
- Thermal Layer: Like an extra blanket on your bed, a good thermal layer traps body heat without adding bulk. A thermal layer can look different and comes in many forms: a heavyweight half-zip shirt or a comfy fleece pullover. Make sure that this layer is made of synthetic or wool fabrics (again, cotton=death!) to continue the moisture-wicking process started with your base layer.
- Outer Layer: Your final layer should resemble something like a lightweight jacket that won’t heat you up partway through a run. Since you’ll likely be dealing with rain and/or snow, it’s best if this shell is water-resistant so that it keeps the falling moisture at bay and regulates your body temperature by allowing excess warmth to escape through vents. If you’re brave enough to still head out in a full-blown story, make sure you change to a fully waterproof jacket so you’re prepared.
- Pants vs. Tights: There are many pros and cons to wearing pants while running, just as there are for wearing tights. For a great article on the differences between them and on different models, click here. I just bought my first pair of running tights and am loving them, although it took a couple runs for me to feel more comfortable simply wearing them and not worrying about how tightly they hug my body!
- Extras: Knowing your body helps with choosing how to outfit yourself for a run. For example, do your toes and fingers get cold easily? A lightweight pair of gloves can be just enough to take the chill off without making your hands burn up! A warm (but not too warm!) toque or headband will keep your ears from freezing up, while a good pair of socks for the winter is key too. Follow the same principles (say “no” to cotton and “yes” to polypropylene!). For a thoughtful article breaking down different types of socks, click here.
Most of all, remember that you don’t have to spend gobs of money on the right gear – don’t be intimidated by the prices if you look into any of the technical running clothes. If you invest in one or two key items of clothing you will be set for the cool fall and chilly winter days. You can always shop for some of these items at Winner’s or Value Village to save some cash. Plus, who needs to look as coordinated as a runner on a magazine cover? Whatever gets you out there and keeps you out there is great, even if you don’t match. 😉
Do you have any winter running clothes recommendations? What kind of gear keeps you out there having a blast rather than indoors wishing you could get out and move? I’m heading out the door now for my Saturday run…still working on my “embrace winter running” goal but not having much trouble with this gorgeous fall weather! I think I’ll leave the toque inside today. 😉 Enjoy this good weather, all!
Live well and be well,
* Main article source: Runner’s World: “Cold Comfort” (all clothing photos from this article)
** Suggested reading: Runner’s World: “Review: Fall and Winter Running Clothes”