Winter Running Gear Essentials

A few weeks ago I got my RRCA Coaching Certification, and one of my brand new athletes (and best friend) asked for my advice on winter running gear. She’ll spend this winter training for her first half-marathon in March, and she lives in New York City. So, I’ve rounded up my best winter running clothing advice. As a caveat, I live in North Carolina, and the furthest north I’ve lived (recently) is Washington, DC, so I welcome any advice from people in colder climates! Runner’s World also has this nifty “what to wear” website where you can enter weather information and your preferences, and it’ll recommend what you should wear (duh).

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Layers are key. It snowed one day in college, so of course I had to go run!

1. Gloves. I’ve been able to get by with the 50-cent pairs from Wal-Mart or Target. If you wipe your nose on them or lose one, no big deal!  These are also great in a race because if you don’t want to wear them anymore, you can toss them at an aid station. If you live somewhere where it gets colder than North Carolina winters, it might be worthwhile to invest in a higher quality pair, but so far I’m not convinced.

2. Ear warmer headband. Like this one from Under Armour. I have a simple one (pictured above) I got at a race expo about 8 years ago. Headbands are great for when a hat would keep too much heat in. Just remember not to put it in the dryer after you wash it.

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3. Long sleeve technical shirt. When it’s chilly and you’re sweating, a cold, wet shirt is not what you want. Go for some sort of quick drying material. (Pro tip: run some fall/winter races and you’ll get long sleeve shirts. In the spring/summer you’ll usually get short sleeve shirts. And yes, my running shirts are almost exclusively race t-shirts. I have pretty much every color you could want!)

4. Pullover or half-zip jacket. Old Navy has some great ones for less money than you’re likely to find at a running store. Excellent for layering. Depending on how cold it is, you can layer this over a tank top, short sleeve, or long sleeve shirt. I find I can only really handle one layer on my arms before I overheat, so a long sleeve shirt under a pullover would be too much for me, but it all depends on the weather and your preferences.

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5. Water-resistant jacket. Because if it’s snowing, of course you should go run in the snow! But you’ll want some sort of water-resistant layer between you and those beautiful snow flakes. Also, be careful of ice. Remember that I am from the south, so while I know what to wear to stay warm during snow flurries, I don’t know much about actually running in ice/snow. I have the Florence Marathon jacket pictured above that I wear in rain/snow and my Boston Marathon jacket that I haven’t actually tested in the snow, but I’m hopeful. When it’s snowing, I will make an exception to my “one layer on the arms” rule and layer a jacket over a long sleeve shirt.

6. Running tights (cropped and/or full length). You’ll want to look for ones made specifically for running (not for yoga) because the fabric will be made to wick sweat away. Again, Old Navy seems to have some great inexpensive options here. I have 3 full length running tights that I think are all hand-me-downs from my mom plus 2 cropped pairs – one Saucony pair that I like a lot and these from Athleta that I just picked up this fall when I had  coupon. Perhaps you’re wondering what to wear under your running tights… I prefer to wear Under Armour technical (non-cotton) underwear, but for shorter runs I’ll just wear normal cotton underwear (I know I know, cotton is bad.)

Other “nice to have” items include a vest for layering, a hat of some sort, and a headlamp for dark winter runs, which is all week-day winter runs. I also have an Under Armour cold gear long sleeve shirt from my soccer days, but I don’t think I’ve needed it for running recently.

Of course, every runner should have non-cotton socks, proper running shoes, a watch of some sort, and (for women) a good sports bra. For more tailored advice, it turns out Runner’s World wrote pretty much this exact same topic 3 years ago but covered each region of the country and linked to more top of the line products. Sorry to everyone living outside of the southeast – it sounds like your winters are pretty harsh!

When shopping for running clothes, Old Navy has some good inexpensive options, but you should also check out Marshall’s and TJ Maxx, or stores like them. Sometimes Dick’s has some great sale items too. As much as I run, I like to think that I don’t spend that much money on running clothes (or at least I could be spending a whole lot more), and I don’t think buying expensive running clothes should be a prerequisite for running. Here’s to hoping for some snowy runs this winter!

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