Exercising is a key part of a balanced and healthy life style. There’s no way around it, if you want to keep your health, you need to exercise. I came to this realization about three years ago, and have since slowly morphed from a complete couch potato into a reluctant runner.
I don’t run because I’m good at it. In fact, I’m decidedly not good at it. I’m slow, I’ve known this forever, and my race times reflect that sad truth. I’m also prone to injury. I have to follow a very specific, and tailored training program that includes stretching, yoga, and cross training, if I want to attempt any distance over 5k. If I don’t, like clockwork, I’ll develop a nagging pain in my left leg that, if ignored, will render me incapable of walking, let alone running.
No, I run because it’s one of the only forms of exercise that doesn’t involve comparing myself to others. When I’m on the road, trotting along with my dog Molly beside me, it doesn’t matter how slow I am. Even yoga doesn’t afford that comfort.
Over the years I’ve gone from occasional runner to half marathon trainee. I’ve learned a few things in that time, and one of those things is that running outside through the winter sucks, but running on a treadmill sucks more. I don’t know how some people do it, but for me, running on a treadmill is just about the most boring activity on the planet. So, with resignation, I run outside in the winter.
Winter Running Requires Gear
Though my fiancé (who runs in holey running shoes and sweat pants) would beg to differ, running in the winter requires some specialized gear. As I mentioned, I don’t particularly like running. I find it to be uncomfortable about 70% of the time. So, if there’s a way to decrease this discomfort through the use of specialized gear, I’ll take it.
Unfortunately, for every genuinely useful and irreplaceable piece of winter running gear out there, there’s another completely useless or mildly-useful-but-completely-overpriced piece of gear to sift through. So, when someone asked me what my recommendations were for winter running gear, I decided that this topic deserved a blog post.
My Winter Running Gear Guide
Winter running gear can be divided into three parts, upper body, lower body, and extremities. The gear that you select should, as a combination, perform the following three functions:
- Wick sweat away from your skin. Nothing will give you a chill faster than pooled sweat.
- Insulate against the cold.
- Resist wind, rain, snow, and sleet.
Your upper body should have the follow three layers covered:
- A wicking base layer. This could be a technical tank top or long sleeve that you’d wear to the gym or for running in summer.
- An insulating mid layer. This layer should change depending on the weather. I love tech fleece for this layer, it’s wicking (though not as good as a technical base layer), and cozy. On super cold days I’ll upgrade to a hoodie for this layer.
- A Durable Water Repellant (DWR) Shell. This layer is meant to block out freezing wind, rain, and keep out drafts that’ll send a blast of cold air down your spine.
You get bonus points if you can find a Shell layer with the following features: A cinch-able hem that covers your butt. A hood that has a cinch-able draw cord to keep it in place but ALSO is stow-able/able to be zipped off for sunny days. Snug cuffs and a high neck to keep out drafts. Plenty of reflective piping.
For the legs, fewer layers are needed, but they should perform the same function.
- A thermal base layer. Since my lower body doesn’t sweat nearly as much as my upper body, I can get away with simple cozy yet wicking tech fleece.
- A DWR shell. Remember splash pants in elementary school? That light layer you used to have to pull on over regular pants to go play outside in the slush? Well, when the snow hits and the wind picks up, splash pants keep my thighs from getting frost bite.
Feet, hands and head should all be given priority. These are the areas where we lose a lot of heat, so properly outfitting these areas will result in a much more comfortable run.
- Yaktrax. These little rubber devices slip over your running shoe, and the metal picks on the bottom provide extra traction on ice and in snow. There are lots of cheaper imitation versions out there as well.
- Gloves. These should be made of a wicking material, because as strange as it sounds, hands sweat a lot.
- Hats, Head Bands, Ear Warmers. Forget the wool, or the knitted variety, and stick to wicking material. On really bad days, put your hood up, cinch it in place, and enjoy the extra coverage.
Keep It Reflective
Running in the winter time typically means running in darkness or near darkness. For that reason, everything that is purchased should have some form of reflectivity on it. My DWR shell has reflective thread sewn into the pattern, so I light up like a Christmas tree when a car drives by. Even if you stick to the sidewalk, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
That Sounds Like a Lot of Gear…
That may sound like a lot of gear, so to give you perspective, you can see some winter running gear that is totally not worth it for us casual runners here, here and here. Most of the layers that I mentioned, I already have and use year round, so I’m not buying much specifically for the winter months. Running is a great free way to stay active, and investing in a bit of gear so I can do it year round, is worth it.
How do you stay fit in the winter? I want to know!