Cold Weather Running Gear Essentials

Cold Weather Running Gear Essentials

If you’re going to run through the winter you are going to need some quality gear. Winter running requires cold weather running gear essentials. For the purposes of this article, let’s assume we are talking about “real winter” weather like one would find in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

Cold Weather Running Gear of Our Choice!

Every Winter Runner Needs a Wind and Element Proof Jacket

Running through sub-zero temperatures, snow and sleet requires a quality jacket. An appropriate jacket will be water-resistant or waterproof to help shield you from wet weather.

Also, a winter running jacket will be insulated so as to protect the runner from cold, but still be lightweight. The last thing you want is a bulky jacket while running.

Brenda Seymour – Sub30 Club

For days when it is not quite as cold, a quilted vest can also work as winter running gear. Since the core section of the body needs warmth so the vital organs are protected, a vest can provide that. A vest can be paired with a fleece, long sleeve moisture-wicking shirt or sweatshirt.

Warm Leggings or Running Pants

Many companies make insulated leggings or running pants. Some runners prefer leggings or a running pant gathered at the bottom so that the bottoms don’t drag in snow and slush that can be on sloppy, winter roads. Other runners use traditional running pants for layering.

An athlete running on a budget can wear all-weather leggings or running tights with athletic pants layered over for an additional layer of protection. Running gear does not have to be expensive to protect your body!

Head Wear

Depending on the weather, there are many different levels of winter running headwear. For very cold days, a warm hat is a necessity. A good deal of your body heat can escape through your head, making a hat important. You will especially want a hat if it is cold and snowing!


Marion Syversen – Sub30 Club

Some runners prefer to wear a headband. A winter headband will protect the ears from the wind as well as keeping them warm. Winter headbands are either quilted or have a soft layer inside.

Lighter headbands are made for very mild winter days which require less protection.

Gloves/Mittens/Arm Sleeves

Mittens are typically preferred by runners on very cold days. Some runners even layer mittens over light gloves for an extra layer of warmth. One advantage of mittens is to enable the runner to put little heated pouches inside of them. These tiny miracles are snapped in half and then provide warmth for hours.

The advantage of gloves is you have better dexterity for small motor skills such as tying a shoe if it becomes loose. Many companies also make gloves that allow you to manipulate a touch screen phone or music device while wearing them.

Patsy Breaux Cantor – Sub30 Club

Most runners have various types of gloves, arm sleeves, mittens or the combined “glittens” with flip-up mitten flaps in their running arsenal.


The buff or neck gaiter is useful for cold running days. A versatile piece of gear, it can be worn up or down.

Terry Kelley – Sub30 Club

Neck gaiters can be very thin, flexible pieces of apparel or heavy ones for extremely cold days. Some runners even have buffs that double as a hat and can cover the entire back of the head and neck.


Warm socks are a must-have for winter running. Wool running socks, for example, are warm as well as moisture-wicking. A cushioned sock tends to also afford the runner additional warmth.

Some runners size up to knee-high socks in winter for an extra layer of protection. Pulling a knee-high sock up over (or under, but that isn’t as fun) the leggings can help keep things warm.

Quilted Skirt for Women!

So this is me at the Waukesha Jamboree Chillin’ With My Snowmies 5K. It’s difficult to make it out but I am wearing a quilted skirt, known by many running women as a “butt warmer.”

They are the same material as a soft quilted vest or light running jacket, have flexible elastic sides for movability and are super warm. Most women wear them over leggings. As you can see, they also provide a super convenient place to pin on a race bib!

Traction – Yak Tracks, Spikes or Cleats

There are store purchased items like Yak tracks, which help give a runner traction on snow and ice. You can also purchase spike-like accessories to put over shoes for a better grip.

Photo credit: Ron Meyers

For the thrifty runner, sheet metal screws can be put into an old pair of running shoes to help with traction.

Protecting Your Skin

A good moisturizing lotion is important for running in cold and windy days. Yes, even men can benefit from some light skin protection. In addition, a light lip balm or chapstick is also helpful.

Celeste Hitchcock – Sub30

For runners with sensitive skin, it may be helpful to be sure nothing (or very little) is actually exposed. As you can see by this runner, using sunglasses (reflecting sun off of snow can be bright!!) can help ensure nothing is exposed to the elements!

Cold Weather Running is Relative

It does bear mention that not all cold weather running is created equally. A runner from Tennessee would consider 50 degrees a cold day to run and would probably layer up. A runner from Anchorage, on the other hand, is likely to have experience running in temperatures well below zero.

A person’s temperature threshold truly does change depending upon what he or she is acclimated to based on geography and experience.  There’s no such thing as bad weather, the old running adage states, just bad gear.

If you have the proper gear to run in the weather on a particular day, you can survive just about anything.

One More Option…

When inquiring what items are crucial and the best cold weather running gear, some clown can be counted on to reply, “A treadmill.” For people who are not motivated to run outside in cold weather, that certainly is a viable option.