The Best Winter Running Gear, According to Those Who Regularly Brave Below Freezing Temperatures
Just because the thermometer is hovering around freezing doesn’t mean you have to quit your new favorite workout. Running in the cold weather can be just as enjoyable as heading out for a jog on a sunny spring afternoon…so long as you’re adequately prepared with the right winter running gear.
There are lots of things to keep in mind if you plan to run outdoors this winter—potentially icy roads, fewer hours of sunlight, a proclivity to forget about rehydrating—but perhaps the most important of all is making sure you’re dressed appropriately for the weather. Too few layers and you’ll have a hard time warming up enough to feel comfortable; too many layers and you’ll be left sweating buckets in your fleece leggings (a situation that puts you at greater risk for developing frostbite). Here, seven avid runners weigh in on their most-loved winter running gear, from wind-breaking gloves and ear-saving headbands to cozy fleece-lined tights, all of which will keep you feeling comfortable and warm, whether it’s a chilly 40 degrees or a frigid 14.
1. Under Armour ColdGear Armour Leggings
Best Affordable Leggings
Haley Pulli, a triathlete and runner from Saratoga, NY, is a big fan of Under Armour’s entire ColdGear collection. The line is designed to feel lightweight yet warm and breathable without letting the cold seep through. She typically saves these cozy tights for truly chilly days (30 degrees or lower) or times when there may be rain or snow to contend with. She particularly loves how the slight compression and super-soft fabric keeps her legs feeling fresh no matter how many miles she’s tackling. Per one reviewer at Amazon, “This is my second pair, as eventually, like most tights, they do start to wear thin eventually, but my last pair lasted through two to three years of consistent heavy use. They also have extra length so someone taller [than me, at 5’7”], shouldn't have a problem.”
Available in sizes XS to XXL
2. Patagonia Pack Out Tights
Best Leggings with Pockets
Laura Martens recently completed a 30-mile race in below freezing weather and says these lightweight tights are the ones that got her through training and all the way to the finish line. “These leggings are super comfy for lounging around before your run and when you finally get out the door, they’ll continue to keep you warm in all kinds of winter conditions. Plus, they have multiple pockets!” Indeed, there are two open side pockets (one on each leg) as well as a zippered area for smaller items, so you don’t have to worry about holding your phone, extra gloves or even your keys. Reviewers also rave about the wide waistband for both comfort and creating a flattering silhouette, although some wished it came with a drawstring to adjust for a smaller waist.
Available in sizes XS to XL
3. Tracksmith Turnover Tights
Most Splurge-Worthy Leggings
Both Katherine Gillen, an avid weekend runner, and Thomas Slattery, a marathoner and Tracksmith athlete, recommend these tights made from an innovative Inverno Blend fabric that is designed to work almost like a double layer of clothing without any added bulk. The durable outer face is treated to wick away precipitation, like light rain or snow, while the brushed inner helps provide a barrier between your skin and the fabric, which means your legs won’t ever feel like they’re being hit with cold rain. “They may be a bit pricy,” admits Gillen, “but these Tracksmith leggings are just so good. They’re brushed on the inside, almost like fleece, but they still dry fast and don’t feel heavy or too thick. I’ve owned them for a little over a year now and they haven’t gotten that musty sweat smell, despite the fact that I’ve worn them a couple times in a row to work out.” There’s also a zippered pocket at the back of the waistband large enough to hold most cellphones and it’s perfectly placed to reduce bouncing.
Available in sizes XS to L
4. Lululemon Swiftly Tech Long Sleeve
Best Base Layer
While your legs will likely be fine with just one layer, you’ll want to cover your core with a series of layers, starting with the all-important base. These are the long-sleeve tees you pull out as soon as you feel a wintery chill in the air, and the ones that should go on first before you add a mid-layer or jacket. This particular Lululemon style is made from incredibly soft tech material that’s been treated with silver to prevent odors from settling in. It features thumb holes to make it easier to pull the sleeves down over your hands if you’re a little cold at the start of your run, and a seamless construction to prevent chafing. The Swifty is designed to be form-fitting and hug your curves, but there is also a men’s version, the Metal Vent Tech Long Sleeve ($88), which some runners (regardless of gender) may prefer for a looser fit.
Available in sizes 0 to 20
5. Under Armour ColdGear Armour ½ Zip
Best Mid-Layer Tech Material Top
As Pulli puts it, “this half-zip provides an added layer of warm fuzzies, but it’s sweat-wicking so you don’t feel stifled while wearing it.” Similar to the Under Armour leggings mentioned earlier, this mid-layer is great for trapping warmth without holding moisture. Some runners also mentioned their preference for half-zip collars, which can be easily adjusted to provide some extra ventilation when needed. Many reviews also rave about the hem, which is slightly curved and a little longer in the back, providing a touch of extra coverage on your behind.
Available in sizes XS to 2XL
6. Karitraa Rose Wool Half-Zip
Best Natural Fiber Mid-Layer Top
For those who prefer natural fibers over synthetics, like Martens, you’d be hard pressed to find a better cold weather material than Merino wool. Unlike cotton, it’ll keep you warm even if it gets wet from sweat, rain or snow and is naturally odor resistant so you can wear this pretty layer multiple times before throwing it in the wash. To further its breathability and sweat-wicking powers, this half-zip was designed with slightly thinner panels under the arms. Plus, there are nine fun colors and patterned to choose from—in addition to some matching leggings ($100).
Available in sizes S to XL
7. Brooks Canopy Jacket
Best Outer Layer for Wind and Rain
“The rain out here is no joke, so I’m always hunting for outer layers that will keep me warm and (relatively) dry,” explains K Cape who’s based in Eugene, OR. “After seeing Des Linden win the 2018 Boston Marathon in this jacket—it was pouring rain with sustained winds between 15 and 25 mph and temperatures hovering around 38 degrees—I knew I had to try it out. And it did not disappoint.” The lightweight, wind- and water-resistant jacket doesn’t come with any kind of fleece or insulation but is a trusty outer layer to slip on over your favorite winter base. It was built to allow excess heat and sweat to be wicked away from your body, without letting the elements penetrate through thanks to Brooks’s DriLayer Seal. Plus, it features hidden inner pockets that can protect your phone or anything else you’d rather not get wet.
Available in sizes S to XL
8. Under Armour ColdGear Dobson Softershell
Best Outer Layer for Beating the Cold
Because weather-resistant shells are often made from sturdier fabrics, they run the risk of feeling stiff or bulky and restricting your natural movements. Not this UA superstar. It’s just as soft as a pair of leggings or base layer top, but has been treated to repel water, whether it’s in the form of rain or snow. Pulli recommends this for anyone who regularly finds themselves running in temperatures under 20 degrees. Although some reviewers wished the hood was removable, many found it to be just the right size for keeping their heads warm and dry without drooping down too far over their foreheads and impeding their vision. It also easily accommodates a hat underneath, for additional warmth or rain protection.
Available in sizes XS to XL
9. Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew Socks
Best Winter Running Socks
Three of our winter running experts—Pulli, Martens and Gillen—all named these socks as one of their must-have items, and as an avid runner and two-time marathoner myself, I’m also adding my name to that list. Cold toes are more than just a buzzkill, they could be a sign that you’re headed for frostbite. As Gillen says, “The second my toes start to go numb, I’m turning around and going home. These Smartwool socks last forever and the toe seam is virtually invisible, so they don’t feel lumpy in my sneakers.” She’s not the only one who appreciates the nearly imperceptible seams—there are a ton of reviews extolling the lack of “nubs” along the seam between the toe box and the rest of the sock. The higher cut also gives your ankle some extra coverage, which is especially use for those with long legs who may struggle to find leggings that have sufficient length. Plus, the cozy material (55 percent Merino wool, 42 percent nylon and 3 percent elastane) is thick enough for provide some nice cushion and protection from the cold without feeling bulky, and will keep your toes warm even if they do wind up getting wet.
Available in sizes S to L
10. Athleta Flurry Reflective Headband
Best Winter Running Headband
Catrina Yohay, a seven-time half-marathon finisher who spent years battling winter winds in Chicago, IL, finds keeping her ears warm an absolute necessity from fall all the way through spring. “I absolutely cannot run outside in the winter without an ear warmer,” says Yohay. “I get horrible running headaches when the weather drops below 50 degrees (just me?) so this is a must for the fall and winter months.” While the addition of a reflective pattern does mean this headband is not as stretchy as other designs, most reviewers found it still fit well and pulled on easily enough. There is extra fabric on the sides to ensure your ears are fully covered and the whole thing has been treated to wick sweat, repel water and resist wind, a true triple threat. It can also be tossed in the washing machine for easy cleaning post-run.
11. Nike Featherlight Hat
Best Winter Running Cap
A simple sweat-wicking performance cap, like this super-lightweight Nike design recommended by Slattery, is ideal for keeping your head dry, which is key to keeping it warm, as well. “I like to wear regular Dri-FIT [or sweat-wicking] hats when it’s not yet below freezing. The main purpose of a running hat is always to keep the right amount of body heat in and avoid being drenched in sweat, like I might with a fleece cap. This combined with a gaiter is a winning combination.” Plus, the front bill can help block precipitation or glare from the sun’s glare lower on the horizon. If you do want something more heavy duty, Slattery recommends choosing a synthetic specifically designed to repel moisture, like Tracksmith’s Franklin hat ($38).
12. Smartwool Merino Sport 250 Reversible Beanie
Best Winter Running Hat
For much cooler days, you’d be hard pressed to find a more popular hat than this double-layer Smartwool beanie. Made from everyone’s favorite natural fiber, Merino wool, it features two layers of tight knit to ensure your head and ears stay toasty warm. It also folds up fairly small to be easily tucked away in a pocket, should you find yourself overheating mid-run.
13. Tracksmith Brighton Neck Warmer
Best Winter Running Neck Warmer
Rather than adding on more and more top layers as the temperatures drop, it’s much more important to try covering as much exposed skin as possible to prevent unnecessary heat loss. A neck warmer is a great way to cover your neck, chin or even the entire lower half of your face. This Tracksmith design has the added bonus of eliminating bothersome seams and is even contoured around the bridge of the nose for a better fit when pulled all the way up (meaning it can also double as your workout face mask). Plus, the fact that it’s made from performance Merino wool means it will retain its warming capabilities even when wet and naturally repels odor. So even if this thing gets coated in sweat, snot or heavy breathing, it won’t develop any funky smells.
14. Tracksmith Inverno Gloves
Best Gloves for Wiping Away Sweat (or Snot)
“I seriously love these because of all the thought that’s gone into the design,” says Slattery. “For instance, on each thumb the fabric is reversed for face wiping to mitigate skin irritation. And there are phone tips on the pointer fingers and thumbs for post-workout texts.” Made from the same advanced fabric as the Turnover Tights above, the Inverno gloves protect your hands from the elements without risk of overheating (because no one wants to deal with sweaty, sticky palms). Pro tip: Fingers tend to swell when you run, so if you’re between sizes we suggest opting for the larger pair to avoid the fabric feeling too clingy or tight.
Available in sizes S/M and L/XL
15. Smartwool Liner Gloves and Marmot Connect Evolution Gloves
Best Glove Combination for Changing Weather
Lots of coaches, professional and life-long runners will reference the phrase “gloves before sleeves before pants” when dressing for chilly runs. Basically, your hands tend to get cold before your arms or legs, which are working hard to keep you on the move and are drawing blood away from your extremities. That said, you may find your super-warm, fleece-lined gloves to be too much. That’s why Michael Hepworth, a life-long runner and three-time marathon finisher from Tacoma, WA, prefers a multi-glove system that can be adjusted to fit whatever weather you find yourself in. He suggests stocking up on a wind and water-resistant shell glove you can wear right when the temperatures start to turn, in addition to a cozier glove liner that can be worn underneath as needed. You can also sport the liners on days when you need something in between the shell and the full combo.
Available in sizes XS to L
Available in sizes XS to L
16. Yaktrax Run Spikes
Best Crampons for Snowy Routes
While we highly suggest sticking to the treadmill or an indoor track on days when your usual route is covered in (or even has large patches of) snow or ice, it is still possible to run outdoors, provided you take extra precautions. And to be extra safe, Pulli suggests going a bit slower than normal. “I like to be smart and keep my grip rather than potentially slip picking up the pace.” She also suggests fitting crampons or spikes to the bottom of your go-to sneakers. “These puppies will keep you upright, for sure!” Pulli says of these easy Yaktrax crampons. The come with steel coils at the heel to prevent slipping from any direction and feature a series of six steel spikes at the forefoot to help with planting and pushing off with each step.
Available in sizes S to XL (women's shoe sizes 6.5 to 15.5)
17. La Sportiva Bushido II Trail Running Shoes
Winter Running Shoes with the Best Traction
It doesn’t matter if you’re running over rocks and logs or snow, you absolutely need shoes with good grip. Many trail running shoes, which feature increased traction for going over uneven terrain, can also be used for better grip while running on snow. I personally add custom orthotics to the Bushido II, because I don’t think they have enough cushion, but I find these to be excellent when it comes to traction. Cushion aside, these trail running shoes are no joke, with an exaggerated luge sole that creeps up the sides to provide ample grip. They also feature a rubber toe cap that was initially designed to protect you from rocks or other hard objects while running down trails, it works equally well to provide extra protection from mounting snow drifts that might otherwise seep through the mesh front of a regular pair of sneakers.
18. Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
Best Running Headlamp
Running in winter often means clocking miles in the dark. Even if you stick to well-lit paths (as you should) there’s always the possibility that a streetlamp or two may be out of service, so it’s best to be prepared. You could use the flashlight feature on your phone or even a regular handheld flashlight, but Cape and I both prefer a handsfree headlamp instead. This design from Petzl has two power options, a rechargeable battery pack or three AAA batteries, meaning you won’t have to leave your headlamp at home should you forget to recharge it. “I usually slip a headband or hat underneath the strap for a snug, bounce-free fit that won’t dig into my forehead,” says Cape.
19. Osprey Duro 1.5 Hydration Pack
Best Hydration Pack with Lots of Storage Space
Runners often forget to hydrate properly in winter because the cold air makes it harder to feel yourself sweating. But trust us, you’re definitely working up a sweat under all those layers. Carrying your water on your back will remind you to continue hydrating, adds yet another (albeit, small) layer for warmth and leaves you hands free. This Osprey pack in particular also has ample storage space for packing some extra layers or stowing them away as you warm up.
Available in sizes S/M and M/L