I am a year-round runner. Polar vortices and full-on downpours don’t deter me. And I’m not even especially crazy: Through trial and error and a stint working in a specialty running store, I’ve simply built out a running wardrobe that’s ready for any weather condition. The right outfit can make bad weather almost irrelevant.
I’ve done this by organizing my arsenal of gear around temperature, moisture management, and layering. First up: In deciding what to wear, temperature is the most obvious factor to consider. Personally, I warm up very quickly on a run, so I follow a rule of dressing as if it’s 20 degrees warmer than it actually is outside. This means I accept feeling cold for the first five minutes of my run as a trade-off to overheating on the first mile of a several-mile run.
Next, you’ll want to manage moisture. This includes both the sweat coming off your body and any external moisture like snow or rain. You want to keep your skin as dry as possible to help regulate your temperature. I sweat a lot, so moisture-wicking fabrics — such as synthetic blends of polyester, nylon, and spandex — are allies in my war against chafing. If you want to keep it all-natural, choose wool, which actually wicks moisture well, but avoid cotton, which will leave you feeling soaked.
And finally, layering. All running outfits are built out of some combination of three types of layers: base layers, to keep sweat away from your skin; middle layers, to insulate you from the cold; and outer layers, to protect against elements like rain, snow, and wind. I might wear all three layers on an ice-cold day with biting winds, but only a base layer on a mild day. But I have tried-and-true combinations for every kind of weather in between, and they are as follows.
Hot and sunny weather (65 degrees and up)
I’ve worn Swiftly tank tops on everything from casual jogs to full marathons. They are soft to the touch, lightweight, and sweat-wicking. Since Lululemon releases new colors in this style each season, I like to stalk its sale section for deals on older seasons’ colors, like this hot-pink one. I also really like the short-sleeve and long-sleeve versions for when it gets chillier.
A true workhorse, these shorts are cheap, come in a bunch of colors, and last forever. I have pairs that are eight years old and they look good as new. The three-inch inseam is the sweet spot for keeping me cool on the hottest days without being so short that they’re constantly riding up. With flat seams that glide over skin, they also work to prevent the dreaded inner-thigh chafe.
I resisted wearing running sunglasses for a long time, thinking they’d bounce around and annoy me. That all changed when I tried a pair of Tifosi shades. They weigh next to nothing and fit snugly around the temples and nose bridge, so they don’t move around at all. On several occasions, I’ve actually forgotten that I was wearing them. They’re also good for winter days when the sun is bouncing off snowy streets.
I always choose flat-seamed and seamless garments to avoid chafing, but if I run far enough — especially in hot weather — I’ll need a little something extra to protect my skin. Swiping Body Glide on areas I normally chafe (inner thighs and underarms) works wonders. Vaseline will work in a pinch, but Body Glide is much less greasy.
When I worked at the running store, most people didn’t believe that running socks were worth more than $10 for a single pair, when you can get a six-pack of cotton socks for the same price or cheaper. And I get it; when I started running, I felt that way, too. But over time, like most of my customers, I realized that speciality socks are worth every penny, for one reason: They prevent blisters. A wet, sweaty sock creates friction and rubs against your foot, leaving you with painful, open blisters. Suck it up and buy socks made of moisture-wicking material, and that won’t happen. Plus, some colors are cheaper on Amazon.
This is actually my shoe for any kind of weather, besides snowy and icy conditions (more on that later), and I’ve found that I like to have more soft foam underfoot to absorb impact before it gets to my joints. Saucony has been making the Triumph for over a decade. It’s always been a favorite among runners who want maximum cushioning, but four years ago Saucony actually revamped it with new technology that cut down on its weight without losing any softness.
Mild days (50 degrees to 65 degrees)
When the temperature dips below 60 degrees, or the wind starts to blow, I’ll reach for a short-sleeved shirt for more shoulder coverage. I love how soft and breathable this Nike top feels.
This may be completely psychological, but I think that when it’s verging on too cold for shorts, fitted styles like these keep me warmer, since they allow for less airflow than loose ones. I’m also a little obsessed with Oiselle because the brand has female founders who design clothes for women’s bodies. In this case, that means perfectly fitting shorts that will never distract you by pinching, sagging, or riding up mid-run.
Chilly but not cold (40 degrees to 50 degrees)
This is a recent favorite of mine and a good choice if you prefer natural over synthetic fabrics. Made from merino wool, this shirt is so soft and cozy, it makes me excited to go for a run even on days when getting out of bed is a struggle. Tracksmith has a New England prep school kind of aesthetic, so these shirts are also stylish enough to keep on for a post-run errand or a meal.
Another long-sleeve option that’s just as soft as a Lululemon Swiftly top.
These were very popular at my running store, since the wide waistband and gentle compression make for a smooth and flattering fit for women of all body types. I also like the generously sized back and side pockets for storing my phone, keys, or food packets, for a long run.
When it gets colder, I like socks that are a little thicker and warmer than my Swiftwicks. Balega socks feel truly luxurious, since they have very plush cushioning underfoot. I also love collecting all the fun colors.
Legitimately cold (30 degrees to 40 degrees)
Once it hits 40 degrees, it’s finally cold enough for me to add a mid-layer. I think Lululemon does a really good job on its mid-layer tops, because they have features that let you adjust for changing conditions. The built-in mittens fold back if you don’t need them, and a half-zip provides adjustable airflow when you’re heating up or cooling down. This helps me rationalize spending too much money at Lululemon, since I’ll wear this jacket in a wider range of temperatures than one without all the bells and whistles.
It’s time to swap out the Capris for full-length tights. I’m short, so I appreciate when running tights come in different lengths and then don’t need to be hemmed. These tights have a snug fit that feel supportive on my running muscles and come in petite, regular, and tall lengths.
For a cheaper option that also comes in a wide range of lengths and sizes, these Old Navy tights offer a good bang for your buck. Compared to other tights in this price range, these are surprisingly thick and don’t stretch out after washing or wearing.
Below freezing (20 degrees to 30 degrees)
Every fall, the arrival of the first shipment of Craft base layers generated a palpable level of excitement among my running-store co-workers. This cult favorite lasts forever and will be your staple base layer all winter. The mock turtleneck insulates your neck better than a regular crewneck shirt, and the thermal material is ideal for locking in warmth.
If I could only recommend one product for surviving winter, it would be a pair of these tights. With fleece lining on the inside and a weather-resistant exterior, the Midzero tights make winter running possible.
Please be aware that this article is a bit of a Sugoi Midzero lovefest, as I adore the brand’s entire range of thermal products. Including this mid-layer that provides next-level warmth.
Although I usually wear no-show socks, I like going crew-length in colder weather to close any gap between my tights and my feet. I’ve made the mistake of not wearing long-enough socks and ended up with a ring of red, wind-bitten skin on each ankle. Since these are wool, they keep my feet and ankles toasty without soaking up sweat.
The oft-quoted statistic that 50 percent of your body heat escapes from your head has been debunked, but regardless, covering your head is going to keep you warmer on a run. I love how this cap has an additional layer around the brim to keep the wind from wreaking havoc on my ears.
Frigid and forbidding (0 degrees to 20 degrees)
Can we discuss butt freeze? If you’ve ever run in very cold weather, only to come home to a hot shower and have the water burn your ice-cold behind, you know what I’m talking about. Icebreaker’s wool underwear is lightweight and breathable, but offers added warmth for my backside, especially when paired with my Midzero tights. If you want to think in layering terms: You’re adding underwear as a base layer and your tights are now your mid-layer.
Only lunatics are out running now (Below 0 degrees)
Even though I only whip out my outer layer on very, very cold days, it’s still not very thick. That’s because I get most of my warmth from my base and mid-layers and rely on the outer layer for protection against strong wind or extremely cold air. The Brooks Canopy jacket is perfect for this because it’s lightweight, and can pack inside itself if I heat up later in the run.
In extreme temperatures, an outer layer over your tights might be necessary. Brooks Threshold pants are a long-time favorite among running-store staffers since they’re warm and soft, yet still flexible and stretchy enough for comfortable running.
People are going to call you crazy for running in this weather anyway, so you might as well embrace the bank-robber-ski-mask look. With nearly full face coverage, this wool balaclava guards against cold air, and warms up the air I’m breathing in before it hits my lungs.
If it’s raining but warm out, the only adjustment I’ll make to my running outfit is to add a hat to keep rain out of my eyes. This minimal, affordable cap gets the job done.
I also like to keep my rain jacket simple — it’s essentially just an outer shell to keep the rain from getting through. I love this packable jacket, since it’s easy to throw in my bag if I’m traveling for an out-of-town race and am not sure what the weather will be. Fun fact: The LSD in this jacket’s name refers not to the psychedelic drug but stands for “long slow distance,” runner-speak for those high-mileage runs meant to build endurance and mental toughness.
These tend to go on sale regularly as new colors are introduced.
Snow and ice
The Storm Shelter jacket may get the least use out of all the pieces in my running closet, but on the rare days when I have to break it out — think bomb cyclones and blizzard conditions — it’s completely indispensable. Thick and water-resistant, it can handle whatever the skies are serving up. It also has reflective details, so it’ll be easier for cars to spot you on predawn runs, or when a storm limits visibility.
The one weather condition I used to refuse to run in was ice. I’m clumsy to begin with, so slippery ground is a recipe for a twisted ankle, skinned knee, or worse. Yaktrax are the only things that give me the confidence to run on ice. Like the snow chains that attach to tires, Yaktrax cleats fit over the bottom of your running shoes for reliable traction on icy grounds.
If you regularly run on trails or in very icy, slushy, or muddy conditions, it’s worth checking to see if your favorite shoe comes in Gore-Tex, the lightweight, waterproof material found in all kinds of outdoor gear. These shoes are more rugged and durable than their standard versions.
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