The cooler temperatures are a welcome relief to many runners after an extremely hot (and sometimes humid) summer. Plus, due to the coronavirus pandemic, that mask you pull out of your pocket if you come within six feet of anyone will come in handy for not only preventing the spread of COVID-19, but also keeping your face warm.
But if you’re new to running in lower temps, that means dressing differently for your run, which can get tricky. Follow this guide to everything you need to know about running in cold weather. From what to expect to how to layer up, here’s how to avoid the treadmill and crush your outdoor runs all winter long.
Is Running in Cold Weather Dangerous?
No, as long as you dress for the weather. When dressing to run in the cold, remember that once you get moving, your body heats up fast, which could result in overheating if you’re bundled up. Layering properly will help regulate your body temperature and keep risk of cold-related illnesses like hypothermia at bay.
The opposite is also true: Once you stop running, you will cool down very quickly, so be prepared to get out of those wet clothes immediately upon finishing your run. It’s always wise to bring a change of dry clothes to put on as soon as you finish your run or to jump into a warm shower if readily available.
Cold Weather Running Essentials
Dressing in layers is the key to running comfortably all winter. You can start the run feeling warm, then easily shed the layers as your body warms up and you need less clothing. Simply tie unneeded layers such as jackets or long sleeve shirts around your waist and keep running once you’re warm, or plan a loop run so you can drop them off in a safe spot—like your car—when you don’t need them. Remember to put your base layer on the bottom so as you strip layers off, the correct layer is underneath.
When stocking up for the winter season, here are a few essentials you should fill your drawers with:
- Running tights or pants
- (depending upon winter temperatures in your area, you may need to invest in both a medium-weight and a heavy-weight base layer shirt)
- Running gloves or mittens
- Headband or hat
- A windproof running jacket
- Running socks (tech fabric or wool blend)
Tips for Running When It’s Cold
When dressing to run in cold weather, the rule of thumb is to add 10 to 20 degrees to the outside temperature to calculate your running temperature. Keep in mind that this number is dependent upon how quickly you heat up and cool down, run pace, and the length of your run.
So if you are going out for a short run, an easy-paced run, or you get cold easily, add 10 to 15 degrees to the outside temperature to estimate your running temperature. If you are going for a long run, doing a hard workout, or get warm easily, add 20 degrees to the outside temp. For example, if the thermometer says it’s 40 degrees outside, it’ll feel more like 50 to 60 degrees when running.
But you should also take the windchill factor into consideration. When winds are present, look at the “feels like” temperature to determine what to wear. For example, if the outside temp is 40 degrees, but the real feel is reported to be 30 degrees because of the wind chill, you’ll want to add 10 to 20 degrees to the lower temp.
When planning your run on windy, cold days, try to run into the wind on your way out and have the wind at your back on your return. It’s best to avoid running into the wind when you are wet and sweaty because you will chill very quickly.
And finally, you want to focus on the smaller extremities such as your ears, hands, and feet. These areas are farther away from your heart, which means it takes more effort to get the blood flowing there, especially when all the blood is being directed to your larger muscles to power your run. Warm gloves, socks, and hats or ear covers are essential, even when you can go with a short sleeve shirt or shorts on some chill days.
What to Wear When Running in Cold Weather
Still wondering what you should wear? You can use our clever What to Wear tool, or use this quick guide.
- 60+ degrees: tank top and shorts
- 50–59 degrees: short sleeve tech shirt and shorts
- 40–49 degrees: long sleeve tech shirt, shorts or tights, gloves (optional), headband to cover ears (optional)
- 30–39 degrees: long sleeve tech shirt, shorts or tights, gloves, and headband to cover ears
- 20–29 degrees: two shirts layered—a long sleeve tech shirt and a short sleeve tech shirt or long sleeve shirt and jacket—tights, gloves, and headband or hat to cover ears
- 10–19 degrees: two shirts layered, tights, gloves or mittens, headband or hat, and windbreaker jacket/pants
- 0–9 degrees: two shirts layered, tights, windbreaker jacket/pants, mittens, headband or hat, ski mask to cover face
How Cold Is Too Cold for Running Outside?
When temperatures dip below freezing, be sure and pay attention to local weather information and warnings. Cold temperatures and dry air can aggravate some health conditions, so use your best judgment as to whether you should run outside or hit the treadmill instead.