What Are Runners Wearing in Cold Climates?
By Sarah Vander Neut
How should you dress for winter running?
If you knew that you would be warm enough on your run, it wouldn’t be so hard to go out and bag a few miles. How should you dress for running in cold weather? Our phones keep us acutely in touch with the exact brisk weather conditions at every moment, so it is a mental battle to just suit up for a run in winter. There are three things that you can do to keep rolling when the wind, snow, ice, and sleet is blowing.
How you layer is important. You may already know to avoid cotton garments, because cotton fibers absorb and withhold moisture, and become heavy with precipitation. Many technical fabrics are wicking of moisture, and the fibers bring sweat and precipitation away from the body and closer to the air, where it can evaporate. Polyester blends are human made fibers that wick moisture away from the body. Polar fleece does this, as well as many other knits on the market. Look for a garment that is wicking, and lightweight.
The supreme natural fiber for a base layer is wool. Wool stays dry even in precipitation—and this is a fact that I will not forget: When I was in Iceland on vacation, I witnessed many local men wear hand-made knitted wool swimming trunks, because even in water, wool is warmer, so it is the tradition to wear wool trunks. They certainly left a impression! But my take away is this: Invest in a wool base layer if you can. We do not make wool layers at VANDER JACKET with regularity, but occasionally our original jackets will have a wool fiber woven into the fabric.*
Don’t Just Layer Your Northern Hemisphere
Our low core area is a key place to keep warm: Try wearing pair of cycling shorts as underwear for ultimate wind protection, or wear a running skirt over your leggings. If you don’t have those items, just wear a long running jacket that covers your bum. You’ll be surprised how much warmer your body is with a layer over your hips.
Some people get very hot feet, while others feet go numb from the cold. Wearing two pairs of socks on the feet is helpful if you plan to run for a long time on icy or snowy roads. Your feet are so far from your heart that circulation to your feet is difficult. Do a double layer of socks on your feet and you might feel like going the extra mile, even when the temperature is a mere ten degrees or less. It’s difficult to do a double layer of socks without a bigger shoe size. Consider running in shoes that are a half size bigger this winter so that you can layer your socks.
Lastly, when it comes to layering, wear a wind-blocking garment on the outside. You will know that your jacket is wind-blocking if the weave or knit of the jacket is tight. These garments have less stretch to them, and wind doesn’t cut through the fabric as easily. Our Style 18 Denver Micro Line jacket was designed specifically for running in the cold and blocking the wind. The fabric on the chest is almost like a neoprene, scuba fabric: it is lighter weight, however, and it easy to run and move in.
When Melanzana, a Leadville, Colorado based company, offered us their excess polar fleece I knew that I could help winter runners by designing a line of balaclavas—you know, balaclavas: They are like free-lance hood, that sometimes cover the nose and mouth. Wear a polar fleece balaclava underneath your hood, or over your hat, and the extra layer over your face and neck makes the deepest cold weather running bearable.
Peeling is the surprising second step to dressing for winter running. As the miles pass, or the sun comes up, you heat up, and suddenly all those layers are too much! Peel back the layers as you go. The unexpected weather changes can also make you want to shed layers when you run. I often start running in the dark morning, during the coldest hour of the day, but once the sun comes up and starts shining the temperatures rise. Shed a layer or fold it down, as in one of our jacket hoods, until the weather changes again, or you lose elevation and dip into a colder valley of landscape. Shifting your garments as you go will allow you the refreshment and adjustment to stay comfortable.
So, fold back your hood. Slip off your mittens. Take your base layer off and tie it around your waist. That leads me to the next point: Stash.
Finally, stash your winter running layers until you get cold again. If you are training for a marathon in winter, then you will be doing long training runs that take you from cold to hot and back again as you change, as you burn calories, as the wind comes up, and as the sun goes down. Pockets allow you to stay comfortable. We make all of our VANDER JACKETS and VANDER VESTS with a deep back pocket to do winter layer stashing with ease. Each jacket has deep front pockets, but the back pocket is a major bonus for stashing your running mittens and hat. When you need your hat, grab it from a pocket. Your hands are cold now? Grab your gloves from your back pocket and put them on.
Don’t let old man winter slow you down, stay warm by layering, peeling, and stashing every time!
* Go to Smartwool, another Colorado based company for this type of wool base layer. Melazanza of Leadville, a company that seeks to reduce its polar fleece waste by giving us rolls of fabric that they cannot use, produces fantastic sustainable and USA made polar fleece thermals and hoodies.