The 2017 Winter Running Gear Guide
We’ve written a lot about winter running gear here at Minneapolis Running. It’s one of the most searched areas of the site, and we consider ourselves experts when it comes to dressing for winter running. In full disclosure, I don’t run as much in the frigid Minnesota winter as I once did, but like riding a bike, some things you just don’t forget.
Winter running gear, like most things, can get overly complicated. We’ve tried to keep it simple with a basic overview of the winter running gear category. If you’re new to winter running, or new to running in general, the following list is a great starting point.
We have two primary guiding principles when it comes to running gear:
- Most brands are more or less the same. We could argue all day about the merits of different companies, but when it comes down to it, most use similar fabrics and technology. As with most things, there is a lot of personal preference when it comes to choosing your specific gear.
- You get what you pay for. A $500 Nike jacket isn’t twice as good as a $250 Asics jacket, unless you really value specific features. However, a $50 jacket is probably half as good as a $100 one. At some point, you start paying for the extra bells and whistles that have nothing to do with how well it’s keeping you warm.
Additionally, remember that you don’t have to buy everything at once. Plan to buy one really nice piece of winter running gear each season. Splurge on a jacket, then base layers, then upgrade your accessories such as hats, gloves, socks, etc. with high end items. Try a few out and if they suck, take them back. Most local running stores have generous return policies designed to make you happy.
Disclaimer: most of the product links below go to Amazon.com. It’s easier to show you each product, plus if you purchase through our links, a small percentage of the sale goes to help keep Minneapolis Running going, at no additional cost to you. If you can find the product at your local running store, buy it there first!
We know what works for us, and are sticking to it! Below is a compilation of the past two years of our winter running gear recommendations, with a few updates and additions. The specific items we recommend are ones that we, our writers (and in some cases, elite runners with Team USA MN), love, use, and highly recommend.
A friend of mine is a chef who once told me that the most effective way to prepare a dish is to get everything ready ahead of time. Get all of your ingredients ready, set out the appropriate mixing bowls, knives, spatulas, etc. and then, and only then, should you begin to cook.
Getting ready to run outside in the winter is a little bit like this, too. It’s extremely helpful to set everything out the night before so that you know what you need (and don’t have to go back inside after you’ve already put on your YakTrax. Bonus: setting out your gear the night before gives you one less reason to skip that 5 miler when it’s only 5 degrees outside.
Pro tip: Make sure you’re done in the bathroom before you begin to layer up (for obvious reasons.)
The Base Layer
The first thing I pull on is a pair of wind boxers. These little gems are a simple compression boxer with a panel of windstopper fabric where it counts. I own a pair from Brooks, Nike, and Under Armour, and all three work equally as well. Last winter I made the mistake of running in 20 degree weather without them, and quickly learned that they may be the most important piece of winter running gear a man can own. Here are two “premium” brands:
Next I put on some sock liners that are also used for hiking. These are super thin, and by putting them on under your tights, you create a sealed system of warmth. I have multiple pairs from multiple brands; look for something synthetic and claims to wick moisture. Here are two I recommend:
For the ladies, a cozy, wicking bra and underwear are important for keeping warm. Several of our writers recommend wool pieces as a great primary layer. Bekah, from Mill City Running, told me “Smartwool has the best bra and underwear for winter running because they are warm and keep your skin dry.”
After you’ve got on your undies, pull on those winter running tights. I’ve run for multiple winters in my Under Armour ColdGear Compression Tights. These are amazing because they are incredibly warm, despite how thin they are. Other items we recommend:
Next, the base layer top. I’m a big fan of form fitting, synthetic fabrics. For me, they provide exceptional warmth and wick sweat away quickly. Wool is another extraordinary choice, but costs more.
- Under Armour ColdGear Compression Mock turtleneck
- Minus33 Merino Wool Ticonderoga Lightweight Crew
- Oiselle Wazzie Wool Base Layer
Related: Mastering the art of layering
Once I get the base layer on, I usually check myself out in the mirror. It’s one of the only acceptable times as an adult you can be dressed in head to toe spandex in public.
The next part is of the utmost of importance. This is usually when I’ll check the weather and see exactly how cold it is outside. For me, anything in the high teens or below will necessitate an extra layer. Your extra layer will vary. Sometimes it can be a simple long sleeve t-shirt, 1/4 zip thermal layer, or possibly a light fleece. In extreme weather, consider wearing all of the above. Only you will be able to determine your threshold for cold. A good thing to remember is that it’s always better to start out a little cold on your run, than to be toasty warm. Your body will sweat even in cold temperatures!
Once I’m wearing my base and mid-layers, this is usually when I’ll do my lunge matrix warmups. I try to do this in the garage or entry way, where it’s a little colder than the rest of the house. It’s always important to warm up before you run, but I think even more so in the winter when muscles are so much colder.
Once that’s complete, I put on a thick pair of socks (or two thinner pairs), followed by Yaktrax or winter running shoes (or a modified pair of older shoes with duct tape and screws).
- Smartwool Mountaineering Extra Heavy Crew Socks
- DryMax Cold Weather Crew Socks
- Ski Socks work great too
Related: Winter Running Footwear
Next, I make sure I have all necessary gadgets like my GPS watch, credit card, keys, gel’s if going long, etc.).
Finally, I put on my winter running jacket, followed by a hat and/or other face warming apparel. Your winter running jacket will likely be your most expensive piece of running gear you own. It’s worth ever penny! Here are a few favorites:
The very last key to this puzzle is your gloves, mittens, or both. Mittens will always be warmer, but gloves provide more dexterity.
- OR Hot Pursuit Convertible Gloves
- Snowmobile Mittens for super cold days
- Saucony Ulti-Mitts (convertable)
- hand warmer products are always nice!
Once you’ve got your accessories on, you’re ready to zip up and head out the door!
Your Winter Running Gear Recommendation
There are LOTS of additional winter running tips you should know about. Read this and this for a few of them. What are your specific gear recommendations? Send them to us and we’ll include them in the post!