Mother Nature sure is putting us all to the test this week, and we are getting lots of questions about running in the cold. How cold is too cold? How long can I stay outside? What do I wear? These decisions are personal, and I don’t think there is one right or wrong answer. It has taken me years to perfect my “running in all conditions” outdoor gear, and I find with the right combinations and a little mental toughness you can get yourself outside in just about any type of weather (at least for a short period).
The key to cold weather running success is temperature regulation. You create an incredible amount of heat when you run so no matter how cold it is you can’t just put on your downhill ski gear and head out the door. If you overheat when running, you will end up sweating then that sweat will freeze and you will end up colder and in danger of hypothermia. I suggest dressing in layers when the temps dip below 40 degrees.
- Start with your top base layer – This can be short sleeve or long sleeve. If temps are above 15 degrees, I go for a short sleeve. If below then I go long sleeve.
- Next layer is a long sleeve (so double long sleeve if temps are below ow 15 degrees). I prefer something that has a 3/4 zip front so I can unzip as I warm up.
- Next top layer is your jacket or vest. I choose a vest if above 25 degrees and jacket if below. This jacket can have light insulation or be just a shell. Pit zips are a bonus as you can unzip to ventilate your body heat.
- For the bottom layer, I choose a pair of tights suited to the temperature with no layering. Lightweight capris for temps above 30 degrees and heavier weight options as the temperatures drop. For the types of temperatures we have been having this week I have been wearing my coziest tights which have a microfleece lining. Men may opt to add a wind brief for additional protection.
Now that a large portion of your body is covered there are some other key pieces that are crucial to your success.
- Hat. This can be lined or unlined. I choose lined if temps are below 10 degrees. Skida is my favorite as they are fun, functional and have lots of options!
- Neck gaiter or Buff. These are incredibly versatile and can be pulled up to cover face and ears for extra protection.
- Gloves or mittens. Most of the time I run in a combination glove with an option for a wind block mitten. Once the temps drop below 5 degrees, I go full on with an insulated mitten. Cold hands on a run are the worst! Also nice to have a soft portion of mitten to wipe the frozen snot off your face.
- Socks. I am a big Darn Tough sock fan. They have lots of heights and thicknesses to suit your needs.
- Dermatone, hand and toe warmers and sunglasses. All of these things make your life a bit more comfortable and keep your exposed skin safe from the extreme temps.
- All layers should be synthetic
- Variations will be dependent on how hot or cold you run.
- You need to factor in wind and wind direction to your clothing choices.
- You should feel cold when you first step outside before you begin running.
- When you think you have found some good combinations that work, write them down along with what the temp and wind were like that day.
- Stay close to home, so if you have misjudged, you can quickly get yourself back inside.
- All of these things can likely be found at your local running store (like SKIRACK in Burlington).
Best of luck to you in your outdoor winter endeavors.
Communications Director – RunVermont
USATF Level 2 Certifed Running Coach