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What to wear when running in the cold: clothes by temperature

Make running in comfort a year-round pursuit. Match your clothes to the temperature and train through winter with our guide to layering up for cold-weather running.

 

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.     

 

We have tailored our recommendations to the temperature zones just above freezing – for 32–40°F (0–5°C) and 40–50°F (5–10°C). Hit the links if you’d like to skip straight to the selected gear. 

   

 

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. 

 

2. Layers

 

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). 

 

The Performance Long-T
With long-sleeves, this running top works well as a first layer in cold conditions for several reasons. The Japanese knit fabric is not only incredibly lightweight but it’s great at wicking sweat. An antibacterial treatment integrated into the yarn keeps you feeling fresh even once you’re back indoors. Perfect for stretching out before that hard-earned hot shower.
Discover the versatile Performance Long-T running top

 

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.

 

 

Rain or snow forecast? – then check out the Waterproof Anorak as an additional outer layer. You’ll find more information and some other layering options further down the page. 

 

Bottoms 

When it’s below 40°F (5°C), long pants or tights would be our pick. Keeping your muscles warm is key not only for comfort, but for performance and to help prevent injuries. We recommend the Tights Long for cold-weather running

 

These insulating but breathable running tights are soft, high stretch and packed with features. The extended ankle zippers make them easy to get on and off. Covered pockets keep valuables like your phone and keys secure (you don’t want to get locked out in these temperatures) and reflective details help you stay seen in the dark. 

 

 

The tendons above the knee are particularly sensitive, so an embossed insulating panel positioned here helps to keep them warm. In short, these technical running tights have the details covered so you can focus on making the most out of your run. And if you want to layer a pair of shorts over the top, that works well too. In fact, the men’s Tights Long have an attachment for securing the outer of our 2-in-1 Hybrid Shorts over the top as an extra layer. 

 

 

Not a fan of running tights? Then the lightweight Running Pants are a great alternative. They balance protection with breathability for long-distance comfort and have a water-repellent coating in case you can’t outrun the rain. The zippered pockets are also great for keeping valuables safely stowed. 

 

Socks

The High Sock
If the mercury is this close to freezing you want a sock that combines coverage with comfort. The High Sock does just that. Extending halfway up the calf, these performance socks prevent any cold air from getting in above your shoe. Also featuring technology to enhance proprioception, your body’s sense of positioning, these aren’t just any running socks. They’re seriously Swiss-engineered.
Discover our performance running socks

 

Shoes

It’s in the depths of winter that waterproof running shoes like the Cloudflyer Waterproof really come into their own. With a breathable membrane upper, the Cloudflyer Waterproof keeps out wind, rain and snow without your feet overheating. The latest edition of this ultralight support shoe softens every landing with 12 of our largest Cloud elements ever for a smooth, stable ride. Featuring Helion™ superfoam, the Cloudflyer’s cushioning isn’t only lightweight and big on energy return, it’s also temperature resistant. This means that, unlike with other foams, the cold won’t affect the running sensation. 

 

 

The Cloudflyer Waterproof is our recommended running shoe for the road, but if you’re looking for an off-road option for cold conditions then the Cloudventure Waterproof trail running shoe is our go-to. Also featuring a fully waterproof yet breathable membrane, it adds the varied grip pattern of Missiongrip™ for a firm hold on unpredictable terrain. 

 

Accessories

When it’s below 40°F (5°C),a few extra items can make a big difference to comfort levels. The old adage that you lose most heat from your head has now been debunked, but a hat is a still a great weapon against the cold. The temperature-regulating Merino Beanie benefits from the naturally hygroscopic properties of merino wool, meaning it absorbs, retains and releases moisture with no impact on its thermal properties. 

 

While you might not be losing most heat from your head, you’re for sure more likely to feel the cold at extremities like your fingers. At any temperature close to freezing, a good pair of running gloves can be the difference between staying out or doubling back. Hoping for some On running gloves? Sign up for product updates at the bottom of this article to be kept in the loop about all new product releases. 

 

And with that, we have you covered head-to-toe for running in temperatures of 32–40°F (0–5°C). Next up are our picks for when it gets just that little bit warmer. 

What to wear for running in 40–50°F (5–10°C)

 

First layer(Base Layer)

The same rules for a great first layer against your skin apply in any weather. And The Performance-T is a good option as that initial layer no matter how warm it gets. In fact, it will come into its own, worn on its own, in the warmer months. Engineered for racing but suitable for any run, it’s an established On-fan favorite. Minimalist in design, it delivers ultralight breathability and dries in a flash. So great beneath another, warmer layer in cold to cool conditions. 

 

 

If it’s closer to 40°F than 50°F (5°C than 10°C), then the longer-sleeved Performance Long-T, referenced above, is still a great choice, providing similar properties to the Performance-T but with more coverage for the arms. 

 

Second(Outer) Layer

We’re skipping any mid layer here as once you get moving in temperatures of above 40°F (5°C) then overheating is more likely than you might think (though again, it all comes down to personal preference). 

 

Helping us strike the balance is the ultralight, breathable Weather Jacket. Made using high-tech Japanese fabrics, the weight is kept crazy low. At just over 275g, it packs big weather protection for the weight, with a treatment that sends rain rolling away and an adjustable hood. It also packs neatly into its own breast pocket if things warm up.

 

 

Bottoms

With the easy mistake being to overdress, we say anything above 40°F (5°C)calls for shorts. These options do have double layers though, so offer extra protection and support that’s especially welcome at the start of a cool-weather run. 

 

The Running Shorts
These women’s running shorts combine a comfort inner tight and an ultralight outer layer. Nothing ruins a good run like repeatedly adjusting shorts that ride up. As a result, these breathable, fast-drying shorts are Swiss-engineered specifically to stay put.
Add layers of comfort to your run with the Running Shorts
The Hybrid Shorts
Two-in-one, the men’s Hybrid shorts comprise an airy outer short and a high-stretch, close-fitting inner tight. Wearable together or separately, we’re guessing in winter you’re going to double up. That combination combines snug support with an additional layer, and all of it is moisture-wicking and breathable in case the sun comes out.
Discover the details of these technical running shorts

 

If you’re thinking that there’s no way 40°F (5°C) is shorts weather, no problem. The temperature-balancing Running Pants have ventilation features that make them comfortable even in slightly warmer conditions. 

 

Socks

In combination with the shorts, we’re again recommending the extra coverage of the High Sock. Not only to they add a little extra warmth over the calf, they are an added layer of protection against rogue low branches or plants. Sounds trivial? From bitter experience, we say anything that might hit a cold shin should be taken seriously. 

 

Shoes 

Unless it’s raining (when you’ll want a waterproof running shoe), then pretty much any Swiss-engineered shoe fits the bill between 40–50°F (5–10°C). But given you’ll likely want to get a cold-weather workout done quickly as well as comfortably, you can’t go wrong with the Cloudflow. 

 

The Cloudflow
Combining explosive speed with full cushioning, this ultralight shoe is loved by runners of all levels, right up to elite competition. There’s a reason we call it the “Shortcut to Runner’s High.” Made for speed and suitable for training and racing, the Cloudflow can help you achieve your goals year-round.
Discover the ultralight cushioning of the Cloudflow

 

Accessories 

At 40°F you may still want to have gloves with you, especially if there’s wind chill that’s making things feel colder. At 50°F (10°C), then you’re likely fine without gloves. For ultralight protection from wind and showers, try our signature running hat, the Lightweight Cap. As well as keeping any rain from your face, the peak will also keep any low winter sun out of your eyes. Made to handle summer temperatures, the Lighweight Cap is ventilating and breathable – so you won’t get hot-headed, even during fast workouts. 

 

And that’s it, our recommendations for any run ranging from either 32–40°F (0–5°C) or 40–50°F (5–10°C). But as conditions can vary, and personal preference is real, below we also have a few other options to consider adding to your winter-running arsenal. All items are available for both men and women. 

 

Other Layering Options to Consider

 

The Waterproof Anorak
If there’s rain or strong winds forecast then the Waterproof Anorak is your ultimate element shield. Completely waterproof but still breathable, this running jacket features a PFAS-free water-repellent coating to send the rain rolling away and an adjustable hood for added protection. Perfect for wet-weather running, trail running and hiking.
Discover the Waterproof Anorak and outrun the rain
The Insulator Jacket
If it’s even colder out, you’re more prone to feeling the cold or you’re going for a walk or hike rather than a run, the Insulator Jacket is the option to consider. Our warmest outer layer, it uses a technical wool blend that includes wool from Swiss sheep to stay warm but is breathable and fast-drying.
Discover the Insulator Jacket and move comfortably in cold conditions
The Trail Breaker
Tested by ultra runners, the Trail Breaker is the ultralight, packable running top combining weatherproof protection with temperature-balancing ventilation. The weatherproof panel across the front is made for running headfirst into wet and windy conditions. As you feel the chill mostly over the chest and stomach, the back features a more ventilating fabric. Easy to pack, it’s a great option to have with you on longer running missions when the weather might turn.
Discover the zonal protection of the Trail Breaker Running Top

 

Whichever options you choose, we hope you’ll find the winter combination to keep you running through winter. There’s no better way to feel alive than to log a bracing winter run. And come springtime and into summer running, you’ll still be reaping the rewards.

 

See you out there. 

 

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