We all know it’s harder to get out for a run in the cold, dark days of winter than at other times of the year. But if you can escape the duvet and resist the comfort of the couch, it’s always worth it. There’s a bigger sense of satisfaction after a winter run than after a workout in kinder conditions. It just always feels worth it. And if you’re training for a spring marathon or dedicated to a regular routine, then investing in winter running will pay off big time when the days finally get longer.
Let’s not sugarcoat it though, running regularly in low temperatures is tough. It takes resolve and experience to enjoy it. In fact, we have a whole separate article dedicated to how to run in the winter. Here though, we’re focused on the clothes that will help you get out there and run comfortably in the cold.
Must-have cold-weather gear
There are two main things to consider when choosing cold-weather running clothes:
1. Breathable Insulation
Staying comfortable throughout a winter run, from the initial shock of the cold air to warming up and then staying out there, is all about choosing clothes that have the right amount of breathable insulation.
Gear made from insulating materials traps air, which is then warmed by your body heat. Air doesn’t conduct heat well, so that trapped air retains warmth and keeps you warm. Simple, but effective.
Insulating properties are commonly provided by natural materials like wool or down as well as synthetic equivalents. When packed together in a garment these materials create small spaces for air to collect. Insulation can also be creating by weaving a synthetic fabric into channels and pockets that traps air so it can be heated up.
But as a runner you don’t want just any insulation, it also needs to be breathable. At the same time as you’re trapping air close to the body, as you warm up you also want the moisture from sweat to escape so you don’t get damp. This means you need to look for materials that not are not only insulated but also breathable.
But insulation is only one part of the cold-weather clothing puzzle. You also want to keep out the chill from any wind, rain or snow. And especially on a long run, you want to be able to adapt your clothing to the conditions. On all counts, layering is key. In simple terms, there are three main layers to play with.
First layer / Base Layer – the layer closest to your skin, commonly referred to as a base layer. And this is all about comfort. Here, you want a material that wicks moisture away from your skin and dries fast. This layer should have a close fit. Moisture-wicking fabrics work best when they’re touching your skin.
Second Layer / Mid Layer – If the focus with the first layer is on comfort, the second layer is about insulation. Here, we want an insulating but breathable piece, to keep that warmth in but let the moisture being wicked by the base layer escape. In dry conditions, or when you’re pushing yourself, two layers may be enough for your run. But if there’s wet weather of any kind in the forecast, you’ll need one more layer…
Third Layer / Outer Layer – The third and final layer in the classic layering system protects you from wind, rain and snow. Usually a running jacket or anorak, it’s your shield against the elements. You want this layer to be either weatherproof (a breathable layer that’s not completely waterproof but that will repel light rain and keep the bite of the wind at bay) or waterproof (full protection against wind and rain usually with a membrane. It should still be breathable, but likely not as breathable vs. a weatherproof outer layer).
And that’s it. Of course, there’s no fixed rule and you can increase or reduce the number of layers depending on the nature of the run and the weather. The beauty of layering is that you can change your clothing configuration as you go. It’s also important to note that layering isn’t just about the upper body either – shorts over running tights, for example, can add protection for the legs as well, as we’ll see in the recommendations below. Let’s get into the specifics…
How to layer for winter running
What does the ultimate layering combination for winter running look like at different temperatures?
With our home in the Swiss Alps, we’re no strangers to changing conditions – or cold weather. And we have an ever-growing collection of cold weather apparel to help you meet your goals. We hope the below information will help you find pieces that work as part of your winter layering strategy.
The caveat is that the perfect combination is always personal. The cliche that every runner is unique is perhaps never more accurate than when talking about temperature. So you should adapt these temperature-specific recommendations according to your personal preferences and the conditions. Beneath the initial recommendations, you’ll also find additional suggestions for other layering options not included in the first lists.
The best layers for cold weather running: running gear by temperature
What to wear for running in 32–40°F (0–5°C)
First Layer (Base or mid Layer depending on conditions).
Second Layer (Mid or Outer layer depending on conditions).
The Weather Shirt
Now in its second generation, this running shirt is Swiss-engineered specifically for running in the cold. Despite weighing less than 250g, it delivers all the warmth you need in cold conditions. That’s thanks to the special channel construction of the fabric which traps air for insulation. The polyester and lyocell blend is also super soft and moisture wicking. And because data showed us that women lose a lot of body heat from the torso, the women’s Weather Shirt features a wool-blend panel on the front for extra insulation.
When members of the On team are training for spring marathons, this is the top we wear on repeat. The watch window might seem a small detail, but being able to check your distance without exposing your arm is a feature you’ll thank our innovation team for when it’s freezing cold.