From the first chilly days of fall until the return of warmth in the spring, long-sleeved running shirts (whether worn on their own or as a base layer when it’s very cold) are the workhorses of my winter-running wardrobe. I have a few favorite styles, from brands like Lululemon, Janji, and Tracksmith, and I especially like the ones with thumbholes. Thumbholes are lovely for keeping your sleeves pulled down over your hand for some extra warmth and comfort. What they are not good for is trying to see your GPS watch while running.
Like many runners, I rely on my watch for seeing my time and distance in real time. If I’m running intervals, the lap-pace feature keeps me honest about hitting my 5k or tempo pace, and if I’m running an out-and-back route and want to run a certain number of miles, I’ll depend on my watch to know when it’s time to turn around. When I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt, I have to push the sleeve up on my left wrist to see my watch. It’s not a big deal, but it’s annoying, and it leaves that hand exposed in the cold.
My old GPS watch didn’t have a heart-rate monitor, so I solved the problem by strapping the watch over my sleeve. But once I switched over to my beloved Garmin Vivoactive 4S, which does have a heart monitor (and which I’ve written about before, here), that no longer worked. I’ve gotten into the habit of looking at my heart rate at different points in the run to gauge my effort. Since I also upload my runs to the fitness-tracking app Strava, I like to include heart-rate data so I can see how much time I spent in each heart rate zone (like moderate, tempo, and threshold) and watch my average heart rate go down over time as I gain fitness. The watch needs to be on my skin — and I need to be able to see it, preferably without freezing my hand in the process.
That’s where Oiselle comes in. Based in Seattle, Oiselle was founded in 2007 with the goal of creating functional, well-fitting, and flattering running clothes for women, by women. Since then, the brand has become a favorite of both recreational and elite runners because of its innovative designs — including my favorite, the watch window. This small slit tucks around your watch so you can see it without rolling up your sleeve. It’s ingenious. And it’s shocking that it hasn’t been done before.
Back when I worked at a running store, we sold Oiselle (before they introduced the watch window), so I was familiar with the brand when I first read about the feature. This winter, I decided to try two styles: the wool-blend Flyout crewneck and the heavier Lux midlayer. My first cold run in them felt like a revelation. I could finally see my watch during the entirety of my run, while still keeping warm. I never have to bunch up my sleeve or let go of the thumbhole. I can even pair the shirts with gloves or mittens on very cold days with no gap in between my sleeve and the gloves for cold air to get in. Since there’s a watch window on both sleeves, you’re covered no matter which wrist you wear your watch on, and while you might think it’d be weird to have a hole on your non-watch wrist, I honestly haven’t noticed it at all.
Now that I’m sold on the wonders of the watch window, I plan on replacing all of my long-sleeved running tops with Oiselles. They’re on the more expensive end, but the added functionality (and the fact that they’re also high-quality, comfortable running shirts) makes them worth the investment.
This was my first watch window top, which I loved instantly. A merino and synthetic blend, it’s lightweight yet warm.
On cold days, I’ll layer this over the Flyout long-sleeve. The two windows line up nicely, and the brand’s Lux fabric is soft and warm.
A long-sleeve that’s not quite as thick as the wool Flyout, this version is made from a moisture-wicking blend of performance fabrics.
Other athletic brands are starting to take notice and making their own shirts with watch windows. I just bought this Nike half-zip with a watch window and, while I haven’t run in it yet, when I tried it on, the window aligned easily with my watch face.
Nike also added a watch window to their popular long-sleeve Element crew-neck top this season.
It’s not as easy to find shirts with watch windows for men, but this zip-up from On Running is a solid option for cold days.