couple running in snow

How to Dress for Winter Running - 9 Key Recommendations

There’s nothing quite as great as a winter run. But that doesn’t mean that cold weather running is as carefree as any other run. Just like running in extremely hot weather, you need to prepare for a cold run. But rather than stripping down, it’s important that you layer up with the right winter running gear. 

But what’s the essential gear for the winter runner? From winterized running shoes to running bracelets, here’s how to dress for your first winter run.

Wear a waterproof jacket

Firstly, you want to make sure that you’re protected against the wind and precipitation. Waterproof jackets make that easiest, as they’ll provide you with complete protection against the elements. Rather than simply being water-resistant, you can remain totally protected against snow and cold sleet. 

Cold weather running demands an outer layer that doesn't just fend off water but also allows your body to breathe. The ideal jacket should be equipped with ventilation features, ensuring that you don't get too sweaty and damp from the inside. Investing in a quality waterproof jacket specifically tailored for running in the cold will also offer features like reflective details for better visibility in dim light. 

Moreover, don't forget to check the pockets, a necessity to safely store essentials like keys or running shoes covers when the terrain changes.

Remember to layer up

Layers are your friend when it comes to prepping for cold-weather runs. You’ll want to be sure you have enough to keep yourself warm from start to finish. A common practice for many runners is to wear a long-sleeve shirt covered by a t-shirt and a pair of thermal underwear covered by a pair of wind pants. 

Cold weather running requires careful attention to layering to allow for temperature regulation. As you run, your body temperature will naturally rise, and having multiple layers makes it easy to shed or adjust to avoid overheating. This layered approach is integral to selecting the best winter running gear for optimal performance and comfort. 

When considering your bottom layers, be sure your running shoes pair well with thermal socks or sleeves, ensuring your feet remain warm and dry.

woman on snowy trail

Source: Studio Romantic/Shutterstock

Wind pants are your friend

Why wind pants? We’ve all felt a stiff wind on a cold day and know just how unpleasant it feels. Rather than letting the breeze cut through you, protect your legs to stay warm and comfortable. Wind pants make that easy, as they’ll stop the wind from getting to your legs. When engaged in winter running, these pants become an essential part of the arsenal, especially for those frigid, gusty days. 

Many of the best winter running gear options have moisture wicking capabilities, and that includes high-quality wind pants, ensuring that sweat is drawn away from the skin to keep your body temperature stable. Pairing them with the right base layer can also prevent chafing and provide added insulation. 

And while focusing on leg protection, always remember to cover exposed skin areas like ankles or wrists with appropriate gear when running in the cold.

Wear the right shoes 

You need to wear the right shoes when running in the winter. The most important thing you need to do is to wear shoes that have protection against water. Shoes will have varying degrees of protection, from mild-waterproofing material to having complete GORE-TEX waterproof protection. Likewise, some shoes will feature higher ankle cuffs to protect you against snow, puddles and more. 

When engaging in winter running, selecting the appropriate footwear becomes imperative, not just for comfort but for safety too. Traction is another essential feature to consider; shoes designed for running in the cold often have specialized soles to grip icy or slippery surfaces. 

With the risk of exposed skin, higher ankle cuffs not only shield from the elements but also prevent cold spots between your pants and shoes during winter runs. While the outer layer of the shoe focuses on protection, a good mid layer in the shoe can offer added insulation, preserving body heat and ensuring your feet stay warm. 

Remember, while waterproofing is important, breathability is equally so. Your feet generate heat and moisture, and a shoe that balances protection with breathability ensures a comfortable running in cold weather experience.

Get comfortable, warm socks

While you want shoes that will protect you against water, you also want to ensure your feet remain warm. Merino wool socks are perfect for that, as they’ll keep your feet as warm as they can be. 

Moreover, merino wool is also naturally moisture-wicking. That’s a total plus, as it will also keep your feet dry, guaranteeing you don’t get a nasty buildup of sweat in your shoes. 

When it comes to winter running, choosing the right socks becomes as important as the shoes themselves. While the socks serve as a base layer for your feet, they play a crucial role in managing temperature and moisture during your winter runs. Just as you would invest in a quality mid layer for your upper body, don't skimp on sock quality. The material of the sock can make the difference between a comfortable run and one plagued by cold feet or blisters. 

As you prepare for running in cold weather, consider socks with added cushioning or compression features for added support. And while focusing on foot warmth, it's equally essential to think of hand protection; always accompany your outfit with a good pair of winter running gloves to shield against the chill and protect the outer layer of your hands.

Wool goes a long way

As mentioned above, merino wool is perfect for your feet, as it protects the skin by providing warmth while also transporting sweat off the skin. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to wear merino wool all over. That includes merino wool underwear, socks, and shirts. 

As can be seen, anything that’s being worn against your bare skin should be made of wool. It’s a simple way to provide comfort and warmth when you need it most. When running in the cold, this natural fiber acts as an effective base layer, expertly managing body temperature and wicking away moisture. In addition to the base, a wool mid layer can also provide an added buffer against the chilling cold air. Wool's natural properties make it odor-resistant and breathable, ensuring a fresh feeling even after long runs. 

Moreover, while ensuring that your body is appropriately clad in wool, don't overlook the importance of pairing with the right winter running shoes that complement these outer layers and the overall insulation strategy.

Cover your extremities 

A good run isn’t worth risking hypothermia over. Instead, you should always leave the house with a beanie and gloves on. Chances are you’ve been on a run that’s been uncomfortable, mainly because you either got a headache, cold ears, or numb fingers. Instead, protect yourself before that pain and discomfort gets a chance to settle in. 

As part of your base layer, beanies and gloves become critical components, especially when they're made of moisture-wicking and insulating materials. When you wear running gear tailored to colder weather, such as a snug running jacket or fleece lined tights, don't neglect the extremities. These often-overlooked areas are most exposed and lose heat rapidly, and keeping your ears warm is as crucial as shielding your torso. 

Gloves can be versatile too, with options ranging from lightweight gloves for milder days to insulated mittens for the harshest conditions. And while your upper extremities are bundled up, ensuring that your lower extremities have a suitable running shoe that provides ankle support and warmth becomes essential. 

After all, a well-prepared runner is not just about performance but about full-body protection against the elements.

running in park during winter

Source: Skumer/Shutterstock


Want more traction? Sometimes referred to as running cleats, they’re worn over your shoes, placing a series of hard spikes underneath your outsole. That added traction goes a long way on icy roads and slicked-over trails. 

Not only do they provide stability on treacherous terrains, but they also enhance your confidence when you wear running shoes in unpredictable conditions. And while focusing on the base of your ensemble, don't forget the importance of layers on top. Your base layer should be moisture-wicking, and it's essential to avoid the old adage to wear cotton as it retains moisture. Over that, a mid layer top can further insulate and regulate your body temperature.

Medical alert bracelets are the simplest way to stay safe while running in the winter. They’ll allow you to carry your personal and medical information with you wherever you go. If you were to ever get injured, you can rest easy knowing you can remain safe by having vital information nearby. 

These bracelets have become increasingly stylish, blending seamlessly with other running accessories. Furthermore, they serve as a silent guardian, especially when running in remote or less frequented paths during colder months. 

With temperatures dropping and conditions becoming potentially risky, it's always a good idea to prioritize safety alongside performance. Reflective gear, too, can be a great accessory, ensuring you're visible during those short winter daylight hours. Lastly, always remember to listen to your body and adjust your accessories based on the weather and your comfort level.

Don’t overdress

Lastly, you need to ensure you don’t overdress for your run. Runners tend to make the mistake of dressing for the temperature outside. While that makes sense for a short walk to the nearby cafe, it’s not suitable for a five-mile run. 

After a mile, your body will have warmed up. Suddenly, what was comfortable when you stepped out the door is way too much. This common pitfall can lead to overheating, which can be uncomfortable and even potentially dangerous. 

Excessive sweating, especially in cold conditions, can dampen your clothes, making you feel colder later on during your run. It’s all about striking a balance between starting your run slightly chilly and achieving optimal warmth a few minutes into the activity.

For that reason, it’s important that you dress as if it’s 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer outside. That’s enough to provide you room to properly warm up without getting too hot under your clothes. This technique is a tried and tested method many seasoned runners swear by. By following this guideline, you'll likely find yourself in the perfect zone of comfort as your run progresses. 

Dressing with this approach ensures that you're not burdened by excessive layers that you might end up shedding and carrying. Moreover, it fosters better body temperature regulation, leading to a more efficient and pleasant running experience. 

Always remember, it's easier to accelerate and warm up than to deal with the discomfort and challenges of being overdressed.

Before you get out for your winter run, make sure you take the time to prepare. Preparation is necessary, as it can help you remain safe. Familiarizing yourself with the route, checking weather forecasts, and organizing your gear in advance can make all the difference. 

At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing you can do, as your safety always comes first. Beyond just physical preparation, being mentally attuned to the challenges of winter running can also enhance your experience and help you make informed decisions on the go.