What Should I Wear When I Run, Especially in Cold, Rain and Wind?

Depending on where you live, training at this time of year can be a real challenge because of the weather.  However, as someone who has run several early spring marathons and has trained for several years outside during the winter, it is doable with the proper attire.

Obviously, the types of conditions you may encounter this time of year will depend on where you live.  So, I wanted to share some recommendations for you as far as proper attire if you are running outside and are encountering cold, rain, wind, as well as you some general guidelines are far as running attire.  In the future, I will send out another article on running in heat and humidity.

General guidelines:

For running attire, I highly recommend that you avoidcotton.  Cotton will stick to you once you start sweating and it does not wick sweat away from your body, which can give you the chills even when you are running on a warm day.  Instead, I recommend that you use synthetic or technical fabrics for your shirts, shorts, sports bras, tights, socks, and even underwear.  These fabrics are effective in wicking sweat away which can significantly improve your body’s ability to regulate its temperature.  This can be particularly beneficial if you run/walk, so that sweat is moved during the run segment, so that you are not chilled during the walk segment.  Some examples of technical fabrics are Dri-FIT and COOLMAX.

In general, for running tops short-sleeve or long-sleeve T-shirts will work well.  You might also prefer to run in tank tops depending on the temperature.  Depending on the conditions you are running in you may need additional top layers, which I will discuss a little later.

Women should select a few good quality sports bras, which are supportive, fit properly, and are not too stretched out.  Select a sports bra designed to fit your size and that will provide support during high intensity workouts.  Also, the sports bra should be made of moisture-wicking seamless fabric to prevent irritation.  The sports bra should have flat seams, which minimize chafing.    Be aware that most sports bras need to be replaced after about 70 washes, when the elasticity is lost, or if your weight changes significantly.

As far as the lower body, running shorts allow the most freedom of movement and breathability, but running capris or pants are suitable alternatives.  As far as socks, choose synthetic blends like those made from polyester, acrylic, or COOLMAX, instead of cotton.  These synthetic blends can help keep your feet dry to help minimize blistering.

Your running attire may need to be modified based on weather conditions and the environment.  If running outdoors in winter weather, you will need to add some base layers, running tights, gloves and hat.  If running indoors such as in a gym, you have the freedom to wear minimal layers.  A hat or visor can be helpful when running while it is sunny, and a lightweight jacket that repels water will make running in the rain more tolerable.  Keep in mind when running outdoors to be careful not to overdress. Once you warm up, your extra body heat can make it feel about 15 to 20 degrees warmer.

Next, I will go into more specifics for running attire in certain conditions, including cold, rain, wind, and darkness.

Cold weather running

1.Head and neck

On cold days, you can lose up to approximately 10% of your body heat from your head, so it’s important to keep your head covered.  Also, you should protect your skin from the cold and wind to prevent frostbite and chapping. Here’s what I recommend for your head and neck:

Thermal hat: A fleece or wool hat can help keep your head warm during winter runs. You can easily tuck it into your running pants, if you feel you are starting to overheat.

Neck gaiter or bandana: Neck gaiters, which are often worn by skiers, can be extremely valuable for protecting your neck and face on a frigid, windy day.  They are also helpful in that you can pull them up over your mouth to warm the air you are breathing in.  Similarly, you can use a bandana over your mouth to warm the air you breathe.

Balaclava: A balaclava is a type of headgear that covers your whole head, exposing only your face or part of it, and sometimes only your eyes. They’re usually made of fleece or wool, and are only necessary if the temperature or wind chill is below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lip balm/Vaseline: Protect your lips from chapping with some lip balm. You can also use Vaseline on your nose and cheeks (or anywhere else on your face) to prevent windburn and chapping

2. Upper body

The key to dressing when winter running, especially with your upper body, is layering.  Wearing layers is helpful in that it not only keeps in heat, so that you stay warm, but it will also allow sweat to move through the layers to be evaporated, which dissipates heat, so that you don’t overheat.  Here are the important layers that you need for your upper body:

Wicking base layer: The layer closest to your body should be made from a synthetic wicking material.  Some examples include Dri-FIT, Thinsulate, Thermax, COOLMAX, or polypropylene. This material will wick the sweat away from your body, which will help keep you dry and warm.  Do not wear cotton for your base layer!  Cotton is poor at wicking moisture and so once it gets wet, you’ll get and stay wet.  Typically, for temperatures between 40-55 degrees Fahrenheit you can usually just wear a long-sleeve base layer.

Insulating layer: Your second or middle layer, which is needed for very cold weather (below 10 degrees Fahrenheit), should be made of an insulating material, such as fleece. This layer is important for continuing to wick moisture away from the skin and for removing heat, so that you don’t overheat.  This layer should also trap some air to keep you warm.  There are a variety of different fabrics that could make effective middle layers including: polyester fleece, Microfleece, Thermafleece, Dryline, and Polartec.

Wind- and water-proof outer layer: The outer layer should protect you against wind and moisture (rain, sleet, snow), but also allow both heat and moisture to escape to prevent both overheating and chilling. Wearing a jacket with a zipper can be helpful as far as regulating your body temperature because you can zip or unzip it, as necessary.  Some recommended materials for the outer layer include: Gore-Tex, Supplex, Micro Supplex, nylon, Windstopper, and Climafit.  Usually, for temperatures between 10 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you will only need a wicking base layer and an outer layer.

Gloves/mittens: Covering your hands are important because you can lose as much as 30% of your body heat through your extremities. On cold days, wear gloves made of material that will wick away moisture. When it’s extremely cold, mittens are a better choice because your fingers will be together and will share their body heat.

3. Lower body

Tights/running pants: When you run your body is generating body heat, so typically you don’t need as many layers on your lower body.  Usually, you will just need one layer such as a pair of tights or running pants made of a synthetic material such as Thinsulate, Thermax, COOLMAX, or polypropylene.  When temperatures are below 10 degrees Fahrenheit you may want to wear two layers.  The first layer would be tights, which will serve as a wicking layer.  The outer layer should be wind-proof pants, such as track pants.

Shoes: Your feet should stay warm while you run, as long as they stay dry.  So, try to avoid puddles, slush, and wet snow, as much as possible.  Ideally, your running shoes should have a minimal amount of mesh.   Also, for your runs in the snow you might consider using waterproof trail running shoes, which can help keep your feet dry and provide better traction.  Yak Trax Ice Grippers, which can slip right over your running shoes, can also help with traction in the snow.

Socks: Wear a good pair of wicking socks made of either acrylic, COOLMAX, or wool.  These will help keep your feet dry and minimize the risk of developing blisters.  Also, select socks that will at least cover your ankles to avoid the socks slipping into your running shoes.

Running in the rain:

1. Wear a hat with a brim

A hat with a brim will keep the rain off your face, so you can see, even in a downpour.

2. If it’s cold, dress in layers

If it’s cold and rainy, you may need to wear multiple layers.  Make sure that the base layer, or layer closest to your body, is made of a synthetic or technical fabric, such as polypropylene or CoolMax.  This will help to wick water and sweat away from your skin.  For the outer layer use a wind- and water-resistant jacket.  Don’t use a waterproof rain slicker, which will trap in moisture and heat.

3. Don’t wear too many layers

Dress for the temperature as if it were a dry day.  Don’t wear too many layers because these layers will get wet and will become heavy.

4. Be visible

Select outer layers that are very bright, or light-colored, and have reflective strips, since running in the rain often means poor visibility.

5. Wear old running or tennis shoes until the start on the day of your event

If it is raining on the day of your event, keep your running shoes and socks in a plastic bag, while waiting at the start. You may be able to check your old shoes in your gear check bag, or leave them with a family member or friend, and put on your running shoes and socks right before you head to the starting line.  If it has stopped raining by then, you’ll be able to run the race in dry shoes and socks.

6. Prevent chafing

For long runs apply Body Glide or Vaseline on parts of your body where you would normally chafe or get blisters — such as your feet, inner thighs, underarms, sports bra lines (women), and nipples (men).

7. Protect your electronics

Store electronics, such as your cell phone and iPod, in a zip lock bag, or other water-proof carrier.

8. Dry out your shoes

When you get home from a wet run, remove your running shoes and stuff them with crumpled balls of newspaper. This will help the shoes keep their shape, and the paper will dry the shoes by drawing moisture from the shoes. Don’t put your running shoes in the dryer, or in front of a heater, because they may shrink or become warped, so that they won’t fit properly.

Running in the wind:

In warm weather, the wind can help evaporate your sweat, so you may feel comfortable.  However, if you’re running in cold, windy weather, make sure you’re prepared for changing conditions by dressing in thin layers. For example, you can always take off a light jacket if you warm up, and put it back on if the wind picks up again.  It is important to protect exposed skin, especially your face, from chapping during windy conditions.  Vaseline and lip balm can be helpful in doing so.  If it’s sunny, you should use sunscreen. Sometimes the cooling effect of the wind makes people forget that they can still get a sunburn.

Running in the dark:

Running outdoors, particularly at dusk and nighttime, presents safety concerns. To ensure that you are visible to others, especially motorists, wear bright-colored clothing. Wearing accessories such as reflective clothing, reflective tape, or a clip-on light, or reflector will also make you easily visible to others.


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One thought on “What Should I Wear When I Run, Especially in Cold, Rain and Wind?

  1. Awesome post! I really learned a lot from this and I’m also going to keep note of this information especially now that I’m planning on running this weekend and I heard that there’s a LPA coming here. Thanks for posting this!

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