What to Wear for Winter Running, If You’re Into That for Some Reason

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winter running
(Photo: iStock)

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just soft people,” Bill Bowerman, legendary track and field coach and Nike co-founder, famously said. Of course, he didn’t live in Canada. But it’s true you can keep running outside, even when it’s appalling, if you’re properly dressed for it. After training through seven Toronto winters in a row (and heading into my eighth in prep for my first Boston Marathon), I’ve learned a thing or two the hard way.

Here, a few coping strategies:

If You Can’t Feel Your Fingers

Cold: gloves. Colder: mitts. OMG, icicle: mitts and hold one Heat Factory Hand Warmer in each palm. Once you rip open the wrapper and expose the packet to air, it heats up and stays toasty for up to 12 hours. Long-run game changer. I wish I’d known about these when I first started running in the winter.

If You Can’t Feel Your Toes

I used to balk at the idea of spending $20+ on a pair of socks (because what difference could they make?), but totally numb feet are somewhat distracting during workouts. The magic here is merino wool, and I particularly like these ones by Smartwool because they’re still super-thin (so I’m not squished inside my shoes), and my toes don’t feel frostbitten when wearing them. Worth it.

If You Can’t Feel Your Face

Running balaclava. It’s annoying and I’m rarely willing to tolerate it—maybe just once or twice a winter, when the cold is at its most extreme. But some days there’s no other way.

If You Can’t Feel Your Legs

Around -15 degrees Celsius, it’s time to go fleece-lined, like these tights from Sugoi.

If You Can’t Feel Your Upper Body

This is where I tend to focus my layering, but I’m careful not to overdo it. Winter clamminess = regrets. My rule of thumb: if I feel a touch too cold during my first couple kilometres, I’ll be just fine once warmed up. If I’m comfortable as soon as when I walk out the door, I’ll probably overheat. I check multiple weather apps obsessively and generally dress as follows. (Depending on your own cold tolerance, YMMV.)

At 0 degrees Celsius: I can usually make do with one layer (long-sleeve shirt, long tights). Gloves optional.

At -5 degrees Celsius: same as above, with a thin windbreaker if needed. Gloves. Beanie maybe.

At -10 degrees Celsius: two layers on top (long-sleeve shirt, plus wind-resistant running jacket) and one layer on the bottom (regular/medium-weight tights). Gloves or mittens, with hand warmers optional. Beanie.

At -15 to -20 Celsius: three layers on top (including a long-sleeve shirt and something fleecy, and/or a running jacket with down like this one from Lululemon), and one layer on the bottom (fleece-lined tights). Mittens, with hand warmers. Beanie.

At colder than -20 Celsius: same as above, with a running balaclava, so I don’t cry bitter, bitter tears.

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