When it comes to winter running, gear is not about keeping up with fashion or convenience, it is about staying safe and healthy. When you wear the wrong gear, or you just don’t have the right stuff, your regular run can become dangerous if not just downright unpleasant.
In the winter, wetness and wind present the biggest obstacles. Both water and wind quickly transfer heat away from your body quickly, so the stronger the wind, and the sweatier you are, the colder you’re going to feel, and the higher your risk of conditions like frostbite or hypothermia.
Here are some gear essentials that you’ll need to stay safe, comfortable, and happy when the mercury drops.
Lights. With the truncated stretches of daylight, it’s more likely that you’ll be running in the dark during the winter. And even when the sun is out, glare and frost on the windshields can make it difficult for drivers to see you. So it’s imperative that you take extra measures to see and be seen on your runs. Wear a headlamp, a bright blinking red LED light, or carry a handheld flashlight. With any of these devices, drivers will see the light and your movement so that they can avoid you. Don’t be shy about improvising with how you wear your lights. Many people wear headlamps around their waists, or even attach them on the back of their hats, so that drivers can see them from behind. Be sure to keep a stash of replacement batteries with your running gear. Wearing clothing and shoes with reflective strips is also a smart move.
Wick-away layers. Dampness increases heat loss, especially in cold conditions, so you want to minimize the chances that you’ll be soaked in sweat. When it’s cold outside, it’s tempting to put on the heaviest gear you own. But that can hamper your mobility, and will quickly make you uncomfortable. sweat. Stick with technical materials that wick moisture away from your skin. Stay away from cotton, which absorbs and holds moisture against your skin. Wear an outer layer to block the wind and wet.
Mittens. While gloves allow you more dexterity if you want to switch songs on your Smart Phone, retie your shoes, or adjust your layers, mittens tend to be warmer than gloves, because there is less area for heat to be lost. On very cold days, you might wear a thin liner glove under your mittens. As your hands warm up from exercising, you can take off the mittens.
A head covering. Though scientists have long debunked the myth that you lose 40 percent of your body heat through the head, it’s still a good idea to cover up your head when you go out, just like it’s important to cover up other parts of the body. When it’s extremely cold it’s wise to wear a balaclava, which also covers the ears, which can be especially prone to frostbite. A balaclava can also cover your mouth and protect it from cold air, which can dry out your airways and cause a burning sensation in your throat.
Traction. There are plenty of great products on the market that can help you get traction when the ground is slippery, and reduce your risk of falling. Remember that you’ll get the best traction on snow that has been packed down. Snow is most slippery when it’s freezing, right around 32 degrees. You might also consider learning how to do other forms of exercise in the snow—like snowshoes and cross-country skis. They will allow you to get exercise outside when it feels unsafe to run. And both activities can offer great cross training to complement your running workouts.
Post-run clothes. The wetter you are, the colder you’ll be, so be sure to keep a stash of warm, dry clothes in your car or right inside your door, so you can change as soon as possible after your run. Make sure your stash includes a warm hat and shirt that you can wear over your core, plus warm dry socks and change of shoes.