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Tips for Running in the Cold – What to Wear

Tips for Running in the Cold – What to Wear

What to Wear When Running in the Cold: Dress in Layers

The benefits of running include stronger muscles and bones and a lower risk of cancer. But if running on a treadmill isn’t your cup of tea then you need to be prepared to brave the cold. With thermometers along Lake Washington Boulevard reading 20’s and low 30’s you’ll need to think about how to dress.

Exercising in the cold can increase the risk of hypothermia, an abnormally low body temperature. Additionally, the body has a hard time regulating temperature when soaked. Wearing appropriate layers and a waterproof outer layer are necessary in extreme conditions. If the wind-chill approaches zero, then it’s time to consider an indoor workout at Denali or a day off.

Running in the cold begins with planning. If you plan on a short or low intensity run along the Madison Park waterfront you will want to dress warmer. Long and intense runs will typically require fewer layers of clothing as the body will produce more heat. Dressing too warmly is a common mistake in the winter. The evaporation of sweat will pull heat away from your body and make you feel colder.

Dress in layers starting with a thin base layer shirt made of synthetic material such as polypropylene. This layer will pull sweat away from your body. Adding a layer of fleece or wool as the second layer will help insulate. A breathable waterproof outer layer will repel wind and light rain. If you start to sweat the outer layer can be removed and tied around your waist. It’s OK to start a run with a chill because your body temperature will increase. Conversely, if you are toasty warm during the first five minutes of your run you are likely overdressed.

Running tights, gloves and a hat are essential when the temperature is around freezing. Running socks with a thermal or wool blend will help keep the toes warm. A headband to cover the ears will decrease the risk of frostbite and make the run more comfortable.

Tips for Running in the Cold: Dry Clothes

Having warm and dry clothes ready to change into as soon as possible after the run is necessary. The longer you are hanging out in wet running clothes the lower your body temperature becomes. Lastly, walk yourself over to Madison Kitchen for some hot tea and a recovery meal. You’ve earned it.

Written by Aaron Shaw, OTR/L, CHT, CSCS
Occupational Therapist
Certified Hand Therapist
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist


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  • Anthony Smith
    July 24, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    Should I even consider running outside if it’s cold?

    • Andy Pham
      July 24, 2017 at 11:31 pm

      Yes! As long as it’s not below freezing, running in the cold should be fine as long as you have the right gear, and you make sure to do a good warm up before running in the cold.

  • Kathleen Ryan
    July 27, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I love running but find it hard during the winter months!

  • Danie Matthews
    July 28, 2017 at 1:19 am

    These are great tips!

  • Amanda Lacey
    July 28, 2017 at 1:31 am

    Could you do an article about running during the other 3 seasons and the benefits for each?

    • Aaron Shaw
      December 25, 2017 at 12:15 am

      More articles on running will be coming out in 2018!

  • Amanda Johnston
    July 28, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Is there health benefits to running in the cold?

    • Aaron Shaw
      December 25, 2017 at 12:15 am

      No more than running in “good” weather. In fact, unless you acclimate yourself to the cold it could be dangerous. Don’t mess with hypothermia!

  • Georgia Grant
    July 29, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you for this! I’ve wondered what to wear in the winter when I go running

  • Natalie Schobert
    August 2, 2017 at 12:48 am

    That would explain why I feel colder when I am working out. Thanks for the tips!

  • Bianca Simpson
    August 2, 2017 at 12:49 am

    This is great information for a beginner runner! Thanks!

  • Mabel Smith
    September 19, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you for the tips! I’ll be sure to change my wardrobe when running in the winter

  • Charly Neel
    September 22, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    I always assume it’s fine to dress normal even in cold weather because I will heat up as I run. Reading this helped me realize the dangers of doing this!

  • Daniella Gordon
    September 22, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Is a waterproof outer layer only necessary if it is raining or snowing, or should I wear a waterproof layer in extreme cold always?

    • Aaron Shaw
      December 25, 2017 at 12:14 am

      Waterproof layers are best saved for wet days. But, if it’s REALLY cold sometimes the waterproof layer will add some insulation.

  • Riley Ellis
    September 24, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    Great article! I hadn’t thought about preparing dry clothes to change into after my runs, as I usually just jump right into the shower.

    • Aaron Shaw
      September 27, 2017 at 10:06 pm

      Planning ahead with dry clothes, and a snack, makes recovering from a chilly run much easier.

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