How to Survive Running in Cold Weather

By Kim McDevitt, MPH, RD, categorized in Active Lifestyle

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You got into running over the summer, and kept to your training plan, or even just managed to do that one run each week, but suddenly, it’s cold outside!

Now, the thought of stepping outside without wearing 500 layers and wrapped up from head to toe does not sound appealing one bit.

I used to hate winter running even more than I dreaded the cold in general. But as soon as I learned how to dress properly for the conditions, as well as sometimes shift my expectations (running that 10 miles suddenly becomes much harder when there’s frost and ice on the ground,) I learned to love a cold winter’s run.

Falling somewhere between feeling really hardcore as people pass you pounding the pavement on a below zero day and having the ability to blow your nose into the air or all over your gloves with no one judging you, there’s something fantastic about a December run outside versus on the treadmill.

Dress the Part: Cold Weather Running Gear

There are a lot of things that are crucial to a successful mid-winter’s run, and the first is clothing. I used to skip the gloves and hat or the extra jacket when I thought it “wasn’t cold enough.” Now my rule is: the more layers, the better. I want to be HOT out there. My body’s already working hard enough, I don’t want it to have to work any harder to keep me warm.

Start with your base. Choose layers that will soak away the sweat, since they will be hugging close to your body. That means skip the cotton, which holds moisture and leaves you wet and freezing. Look for words like “dry fit”, “nylon”, “spandex” and “wicking”. Long sleeve is best, though short sleeve will work too.

Your top layer(s) should be a breathable jacket or shirt that’s also thick enough to protect against wind and cold. If it’s cold enough (you decide) a thin, synthetic down jacket is the best. Find one that hits your waist, fitted enough to prevent swooshing around but big enough to give you some movement (especially in your arms). It’s an initial investment but well worth it. Prepare to wear this coat every. single. day.

Same goes for the bottom. Choose moisture-wicking leggings that hit low at your ankle. For those really cold days consider adding an additional layer over your leggings.

Winter Running Accessories

Consider gloves, hats, socks and even sunglasses to be your best friend on cold runs.

  • I recommend mittens over gloves, which will allow your hands to have more even blood flow throughout and typically stay warmer.
  • Choose a hat over a headband whenever possible. While our ears are often what we notice most to be uncomfortable in cold weather, the body loses a LOT of heat through the head. You can keep your entire body working more efficiently if your head is warm.
  • Socks are also crucial. If I’ve got on a thinner pair of leggings I’ll sometimes choose compression knee socks. Compression socks keep the blood circulating and having a knee high length allows for more warmth.
  • Neck warmers can also be life savers on a windy chilly morning.

Watch the Weather

Sometimes knowing the exact temperature can play evil mind games with us. If the air is dry I usually don’t check the forecast, and assume that it’s going to be cold (like every other day out there!).

That said, if you hear the wind, or are anticipating (or see) a storm it’s a good idea to check the forecast. It’s important to stay smart and safe, so if the wind-chill is in the single digits or there’s ice on the ground, make a date with your treadmill.

How do you prepare for winter weather running?!  What’s your favourite piece of winter running gear?


Kim McDevitt, MPH, RD

Kim McDevitt, MPH, RD