Running in Cold Weather: How to Dress for Success

Buying Guide

Frosty air won't put a damper on your runs if you have the right cold weather running gear to protect yourself from the elements. Here's what you'll need.

Last updated: 25 October 2021
9 min read
What to Wear for Cold Weather Running

If you're a runner, you know your enthusiasm for running doesn't instantly evaporate when the temperature drops. But running in the cold shouldn't mean you have to suffer—you just need the right gear.

We've got you covered. We'll help you shrug off the chilly air, wind, rain and even snow, so that you can avoid a running hibernation. In fact, you may even find yourself enjoying the cold.

Because every runner, every run and every forecast is unique, it all comes down to using the right layers. Your body will warm up as your run progresses; and overdressing can cause you to overheat. The longer and more intense your run is, the more important layers are—so you can adjust as you warm up.

We'll run you through the basics of our layering options, so you'll know exactly what you need—a base, mid or outer layer, or all of the above.

BASE LAYER: It's Chilly

A good base layer is essential for comfort and performance and sets you up for successful running in cold weather. Remember, the base layer is just that—you can always add more layers. Your base layer is generally what feels comfortable when running in chilly weather, around 4–10ºC.

  • Tops and shorts: Depending on your sensitivity to cold, typically either short-sleeve tops or long-sleeve tops, paired with running shorts or half-tights, will get it done for you. When picking your base layer, breathability and moisture-wicking are a must. Nike Dri-FIT base layers are specifically constructed to disperse moisture over the surface of the top so it evaporates more quickly. A cotton top, on the other hand, absorbs moisture and stays wet for the duration of your run. The ideal base layer allows you to add extra layers without overheating, but also works on its own so you can remove extra layers if things change mid-run.

  • Gloves and beanies: While your core and upper body stay warmer during a run, your head and hands can make you shiver when you otherwise feel great. Running gloves are sometimes overlooked when it's above freezing, but they can eliminate the need for unnecessary layers. Our gloves feature Dri-FIT Technology to provide warmth and protection without extra weight. They also feature silicone fingertips for touch screens (so you don't have to take your gloves off every time you check your pace in NRC). Nike running beanies provide the same Dri-FIT Technology to keep your head and ears warm.

TIP: Always Warm Up

No matter how many layers you wear, performing a very light and dynamic warm-up before your run will make you feel warmer when you start, and doing it in your gear will let you know if you're overdressed. The Nike Training Club App has great warm-ups that'll get you primed for a run without wearing you out.

What to Wear for Cold Weather Running

Cold-weather running is all about having the right gear to prepare you for the elements and keep your body temperature just right.

MID LAYER: It's Cold

When you're dealing with cold (think temperatures near 0–4ºC), you might need another layer for a little more protection. When choosing your mid layer, don't forget to consider rain, wind or snow, which can make it feel colder than the forecast. A proper mid layer can be added to your base layer or worn by itself.

  • Long-sleeve tops: When choosing a midlayer top, besides long sleeves, you need a technical fabric that's warm, light and breathable. We have long-sleeve running tops featuring light French terry and polyester fabrics infused with Dri-FIT Technology. You'll get unhindered movement, strategic ventilation and warmth. Most also feature extended cuffs for your hands and pockets for discreet storage.

  • Windbreakers: When the wind really picks up and there's moisture in the air, it can feel colder than the temperature indicates. Look for jackets that'll shield you without adding weight. Our windbreakers feature sweat-wicking tech that keeps rain and wind at bay, and most have reflective-design features. And they can easily be layered down and folded up if needed, so your run doesn't have to stop.

  • Gilets: A running gilet is a versatile tool to have at your disposal. It can easily be combined with your base layer or with another piece of midlayer gear. Our running gilets feature down insulation in a slim silhouette to stay out of your way but provide warmth. Most of them are water-resistant, and include strategic vents and hidden pockets for storage, so you can focus on the miles.

  • Tights and leggings: Running tights need to provide not only protection from the elements, but also compression to encourage proper circulation. Our running tights and leggings do that in spades with our supportive, stretchy fabrics and woven waistlines for a custom fit without restrictions (and don't forget the reflective-design features). Did we mention pockets that will protect your stuff from the wet conditions? If you prefer a roomier run, check out our running trousers. Nike Therma trousers provide the best of both worlds, offering both sweat-wicking and insulating capabilities, keeping you dry and warm.

TIP: Safety First

Be sure your gear has reflective-design elements. Since daylight becomes scarcer during the colder months, reflective-design materials help ensure you're safer and more visible to traffic.

What to Wear for Cold Weather Running

One of the best defences runners have against cold, wintry weather conditions is layering up.

OUTER LAYER: It's Freezing

Your outer layer becomes a necessity when the temperature starts dropping below freezing, 0ºC. It's time to let the weather know you're not messing around. You need good insulation paired with a lightweight fabric to help keep you comfortable.

  • Running jackets: We've listened to what runners of every experience level need for optimal performance in the toughest conditions. Our running jackets provide the right amount of insulation without hindering your performance (or enjoyment). Knit panels and reinforced key areas help make sure the snow and rain won't lay a finger on you. The right jacket for you will depend on the severity of the weather you're facing.

  • Hood, Hat or Headband: You may already know you need to cover any exposed skin when running in sub-freezing temps, but did you forget about covering your face and neck? A running hood, snood, hat or headband will not only protect your ears from the biting cold, but also help keep rain and snow out of your eyes.

TIP: Your Route Matters

Start and end your run near your house or gym. Even with the right gear, your body temperature will dip quickly as your sweat dries, so when your run wraps up, get inside fast and change into dry clothes.

How to Choose Winter Running Shoes

If you're running in a mild climate with temperatures above freezing and/or some rain, you may be able to rely on your summer running shoes, provided they're water-repellent. You could also add a waterproof gaiter if you don't want to invest in a separate pair.

But if you're running on snowy roads, you'll need a durable winter running shoe with plenty of traction. And if you take your run off-road, opt for a high-top pair with a GORE-TEX lining.

If you typically encounter icy spots on your winter runs, wear a pair of shoes with a spiked outsole for extra traction and slip-prevention. If you'll be running through lots of snow, choose a pair with deep lugs and sufficient insulation. Otherwise, pair them with extra-warm running socks (see below for more).

Keep in mind that EVA foam gets stiffer in the cold, so the cushioning in your running shoes won't feel as soft when the temperature drops. That's something to be mindful of when choosing a running shoe with the right amount of cushioning (i.e., err on the side of more cushion).

You'll also want to ensure a perfect fit, since running in the cold can increase your risk of injury. Look for adequate support and a comfortable fit and test your new shoes on a treadmill or pavement before you purchase. Make sure you try them on with the running socks you'll be wearing and, when in doubt, go for the half-size larger.

What to Wear for Cold Weather Running

Waterproof or moisture-resistant socks and durable running shoes with good traction are crucial elements of your winter running wardrobe.

Don't Forget Running Socks

It's a good idea to get a pair of waterproof or moisture-resistant running socks for the winter, since rain and snow can quickly lead to uncomfortably squishy strides. And look for a pair made from merino wool or synthetic fabrics, designed to be insulating so your feet stay warm.

5 Tips for Running in the Cold

  1. 1.Remove a Layer After Warming Up

    Once you're geared up and ready to go, you'll feel 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the temperature outside. But to stay cosy during your warm-up, dress for the actual weather, then remove a layer once you start to generate body heat.
  2. 2.Pay Attention to the Forecast

    In the winter months, wind and rain are likely to affect how you should dress. For example, if it's 4 degrees outside but it "feels like" it's -1 due to wind chill, you should dress for -1-degree weather, then remove a layer after your warm-up. Your remaining apparel should be designed for a 4- to 10-degree day.

  3. 3.Anticipate Colder Temps When It Rains

    If it's raining, dress as if it's about -15 to -12 degrees cooler than the actual temperature, then strip off a layer once you get going. When there's rain or snow, make sure you also wear something with a reflective design to improve your visibility.

  4. 4.Cover Your Extremities

    Even if you feel warm, make sure areas like your ears, fingers and toes are covered, since these parts of your body are furthest away from your heart and lose heat the fastest.

  5. 5.Strip Off Wet Clothes Immediately

    Change out of wet clothes immediately after your run to reduce your risk of hypothermia.

Cold-Weather Running Apparel FAQ

Is Running in the Cold Dangerous?
Running in the cold does come with some added risks, such as the potential for falls. You're also more likely to injure yourself in the cold, due to diminished strength, agility and proprioception during cold weather. And running in cold and wet conditions can increase your risk of hypothermia, especially if you stay in wet clothing after you've stopped moving.
How Do I Make Winter Running Safer?

To avoid the dangers of cold weather running, wear proper footwear to decrease your risk of falling, wear fabrics that provide the optimal thermal regulation, and change out of wet clothes as soon as you return from your run.

Will Running in the Cold Make Me Ill?
While the act itself of running in the cold won't make you ill, it can lower your body temperature and increase your risk of contracting a virus after exposure. So if you come into contact with an infected person or surface, the cold weather will make it more likely that the virus will infect you and make you ill.
What Should I Wear for Cold Weather Running?
First and foremost, you'll need footwear that provides insulation, moisture protection, visibility and traction. If you're running in snow or ice, you'll likely need a separate pair of winter running shoes. A high-top trail-running shoe with a GORE-TEX lining will provide the most protection. You may also need a spiked sole for icy conditions. You'll also want to wear a pair of cosy running trousers, tights or leggings; a sweat-wicking, long-sleeve top; a pair of running socks and gloves; a hat and a windproof jacket. If the cold weather is especially bitter, you may want to add a hoodie or tech fleece as an extra middle layer, or wear a jacket with synthetic insulation.

Originally published: 13 October 2021

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