Hi, Helen from Trail & Kale here! In this post I’m sharing some great cold-weather running tips that will help you stay warm, safe and motivated to go out running through the colder seasons.
Whether you’re excited to go running in the colder months but want to know what winter running gear you need, or you’re not keen on going jogging in cold weather but really want to keep up your fitness and run training over winter, by the end of this post you’ll feel more motivated and prepared!
This guide to running in cold temperatures includes tips for running in cold and wet conditions and lists what running gear you may need for running in the cold, wet, or dark.
Tips for running in cold weather
Many people struggle with finding the motivation to run when it’s cold outside.
Fortunately, if this sounds like you, there’s a lot you can do to change that mindset and get yourself more motivated and excited to head outside for a run in winter, and these tips will help you get there.
Run with a friend or group
The best way to commit to running at a certain day and time is to make a commitment to another person (or group of people) – you may be able to meet new running friends on our Strava run club!
It’s very hard to back out if you’re going to be letting someone down – plus, having some good company should be another reason that your run will be an enjoyable experience.
Check the weather forecast and plan your route with care
Check the weather before your run (for example, the night before), so you know what to expect and what to plan to wear.
When it comes to route planning, it’s much easier to convince yourself to do a little run close to home, or one that loops near home a few times than a big out-and-back or large looped route, so plan for a short route that’s easy to get to and that you’re familiar with.
Once you’re out there doing it, the chances are that you’ll then want to continue your run longer than you originally planned, even in inclement weather (assuming you have the right gear on).
Shorter routes may be easier to plan for winter runs because you can find areas with better street lighting and more sunlight.
Routes with less shade are not only going to be warmer for you but they can also help melt any accumulated snow or ice on the pavement more quickly.
That being said – be aware of running in exposed areas that may have a lot of wind, especially if you’re planning to run by a lake or ocean – the wind chill coming off wintery waterscapes can be brutal.
Prepare your running gear before it’s time to go
The night before you run, put together all your running gear in one place, including socks, shoes, warm layers such as long-sleeve shirts, a jacket, any reflective gear you may need, and your GPS watch.
Having it all piled up and ready to put on will save you hunting around for items or realizing they’re sitting unwashed in the laundry basket when it’s time to go run, especially if you’re getting up early in the morning to do it.
Being prepared like this helps eliminate wardrobe-related excuses and gives you less opportunity to back out of the decision to run!
Plan a reward
A reward for your cold weather run could be anything from treating yourself to a fancy coffee from your favorite coffee house, some new running socks – or simply, a warm bath!
Set a goal race or challenge for Spring
Having a race or special running event lined up for after winter, such as a sprint-time marathon, is one way to give yourself a target and goals to work towards over winter.
You’re less likely to skip a winter run if you know it will hurt your training goals for race-day.
Stretch and warm up before your run
Taking the time to do a proper warm-up before going outside for your run will make the run itself more enjoyable and comfortable, and should reduce your chances of injury such as a pulled muscle.
It’s helpful to do a dynamic warm-up and stretch for at least ten minutes, while still inside, before heading out to run in the cold.
Dynamic stretches and movements that help get your circulation and blood flowing, such as jumping jacks and skipping, will make a big difference.
As well as increasing your heart rate, they’ll get your breathing rate up, which can make it less challenging and less of a shock to your body when you go outside.
Visit our guide to the best stretches for runners for a list of the best pre and post run stretches and tips on how to do them.
Even though it’s cold outside, you still sweat when running in cold weather.
This means it’s important to stay hydrated, especially if you’re going to be doing longer runs of more than 45 minutes, so be prepared by taking water with you in a running hydration vest or hand-held water bottle for those long winter runs.
Clean and dry out your running gear
When you get back from your run, it’s tempting to leave your muddy, wet gear in a pile to deal with later.
It pays to stick everything in the washing machine as soon as you get home – except for your shoes, of course.
If your running shoes are wet inside, then a neat way to help dry them out quicker, and reduce the potential for stink, is to use a boot dryer like this one, which is also useful for drying out gloves and other boots such as ski boots.
Pro tip: You can also use a boot dryer like this one to warm your shoes up before you run! This is especially helpful if you struggle to get your feet warm at the start of a run.
If your shoes get really muddy or dirty on your run, then you may find our simple cleaning trail running shoes our how to dry wet shoes guides to be useful resources.
Cold weather running gear guide
If you’re already a runner then you’ll know the importance of wearing breathable running clothes that allow moisture (sweat) to escape and help keep your body temperature regulated.
Wearing breathable running clothes is equally (if not, MORE) important for running in winter than at other times of year.
Also, be sure to avoid cotton, which retains moisture and is one of the worst things you can wear for running, especially in cold temps.
If your body gets and stays wet, then you’re going to get cold – and this is potentially dangerous as it can put you at risk of hypothermia in very cold temperatures, as well as simply making your run cold and unenjoyable.
Our top piece of advice for selecting winter running gear is to WEAR LAYERS!
Choosing appropriate winter running jackets and shirts
Depending on how cold, wet and / or windy it is outside, wear a couple of thin, sweat-wicking shirts with a winter shell waterproof running jacket over the top.
Popular materials for running shirts include Merino wool and man-made polyester fabric blends, as these fabrics have sweat-wicking, quick-dry properties that make them well-suited for managing moisture.
A good base layer top will also help retain regulate your temperature and retain heat because of its insulating properties, with shirts made from Merino wool being particularly good at this.
A personal preference for winter runs in very cold weather is to wear, in order:
- A long-sleeve running tee or base layer
- A short-sleeve running tee
- A waterproof running jacket with a hood.
While many people looking for winter running gear go in search of a thick, warm winter running jacket, this is not the best or most versatile option for most people – layers are a much better choice.
The reason layers are so beneficial is that they allow you to take them off or layer back up, depending on how warm or cold you get during your run.
If you just wear one thick jacket over your regular running tee, you may get very hot with the jacket on, but if you remove it you’ll probably be too cold and have the problem of carrying a chunky jacket for the rest of your run.
Layers (including insulating tees combined with a waterproof running jacket) are thinner and can be tied around your waist or stashed in a running hydration vest if you take them off.
When choosing what to wear for your run, aim to dress for weather that is 15-20 degrees (F) warmer than the actual temperature outside.
This will help ensure you don’t over-dress and end up carrying too many layers or getting really sweaty once you’ve warmed up.
Doing your pre-run warmup indoors also helps make sure you’re not tempted to over-dress.
What are the best running shoes for winter runs?
Running in winter means, for many people, that not only is the weather cold, but it can also be wet and there may be snow on the ground.
This is where waterproof footwear comes in.
Wearing waterproof running shoes such as shoes made with Gore-Tex, helps prevent your feet from getting wet, and therefore also cold, when running in winter.
While waterproof shoes are not as breathable as regular, more ventilated shoes, they’re worth wearing in these winter conditions as they will help your feet stay dry, warm, and comfortable while you put in the miles.
This is equally important, whether you’re trail running or running on the pavements in winter.
Winter running pants or leggings
Whether or not you need winter-specific running tights (or pants) really depends on you and exactly how cold, wet or windy it will be where you live and run.
Not all running tights are made equally, with some being designed to wear in warm weather and less well-suited to winter.
Trust me, wearing running tights that let the cold wind ‘cut right through you’ is not as pleasant as a tightly-woven pair of insulated running leggings!
If you need a suitable pair, head over to our winter running tights buyer’s guide for advice and recommendations on how to choose.
What to wear for running on dark winter nights
If you’re in need of some advice, encouragement or gear for running in the dark, read these posts next:
- Our Running Headlamps Buyer’s Guide
- Reflective Running Gear Guide
- Our Ultimate Guide to Running At Night
Gear for running in snow and ice
In freezing temperatures, if there’s snow falling or ice on the ground and you still want to be able to get out and run, then you really need to wear waterproof running shoes.
For some extra grip in the snow, consider getting traction devices that you wear over your shoes, like these traction spikes from Kahtoola.
Running in snow conditions can be particularly challenging if you’ll be running on icy and slippery sections, and wearing spikes is not a guarantee against slipping, so expect your run to take longer than normal, and take extra care not to slip or trip.
Winter running accessories, including hats, headbands and gloves
A winter running hat or headband is almost essential for running in the cold. It will help with ice-cream headaches and freezing ears when it’s cold and wet outside.
Whether you go for a hat or headband is a personal preference – some people find a headband like this one from Lululemon is enough without having to cover up their entire head.
For warm hat and headband recommendations, visit our best winter running hats buyer’s guide.
Winter running gloves
Gloves are another popular winter running accessory that’s worth investing in.
If you don’t already have a pair, head to our running gloves buyer’s guide for some recommendations and tips on choosing the best pair for you.
A neck gaiter like a Buff can provide added warmth on your throat, mouth and nose, to protect against biting cold air.
If your nose runs when you run in the cold, a Buff should help with that, too – or at least give you something to wipe your nose on.
Even if it’s not a sunny winter day if there’s daylight and overcast skies, the light reflection of the sun on the ground, water or snow can be tiring on your eyes.
Combine that with a cold wind and perhaps some precipitation being blown in your face, and you’ll find that wearing a pair of light-tinted sunglasses for running will help make those winter runs much more enjoyable.
Unless the temperatures are well below 0c I tend to run in shorts for the improved freedom of movement. I have tried countless pairs of running tights and never found a pair that is comfortable at the waist, crotch, thighs and calves.
(Hairy legs are handy for this!!)
Before Christmas that meant snow on the ground – 0c temperatures and a 22km run over the local hills (here in Switzerland