We've put together some simple layering strategies and general guidelines to help you prepare for the impending cold!
As winter's chill sets in, it's essential to outfit yourself in the right gear to keep running comfortably. The secret to staying warm and dry lies in a well-thought-out layering strategy and the choice of the right materials. Let's dive into the key elements of winter apparel and the rules of thumb to follow for a successful winter run.
- Base Layer: This is your first line of defense against the cold. Opt for a snug-fitting base layer made from technical materials; a snugger fit will maximize skin-contact areas to grab your sweat more quickly. Performance fabrics like polyester or Merino wool efficiently wick sweat from your body to the outside of the garment, promoting quick evaporation and keeping you dry.
- Outermost Shell: Your outer layer should be wind- and water-resistant or even waterproof. You can tell it's a winner if it produces that reassuring "swooshing" sound when you brush your hand across it. This layer acts as a barrier against the elements, keeping you warm and dry. Outer shells can vary greatly in terms of warmth-capturing ability. Thin shells will offer versatility in that you can wear them in not-so-cold weather to keep the rain and wind out, but you’ll need to layer underneath them as the temperatures drop. Thicker shells are great at keeping you warm as well as keeping the weather out, but you’ll likely end up using it less frequently as the temps don’t always drop super low. *Knock on wood*
- Insulating Layers: The number of insulating layers you choose depends on your personal preference and the degree of warmth you desire. These layers trap pockets of air, which act as insulation to keep you cozy. Just like your base layer, opt for technical materials to keep sweat away from your body.
- Gloves vs. Mittens: When it comes to hand protection, you have a choice between gloves and mittens. Gloves offer individual finger isolation, while mittens allow warm air to circulate between your fingers. Make your choice depending on your warmth and dexterity preferences. There are also several hybrid options available that can act as gloves but come with a removeable mitten shield to cover your digits when it gets colder.
Rules of Thumb
- Dress Warmer than the Actual Temperature: As you begin your run, remember that your body generates significant heat. Dress as if it's about 10 degrees warmer than the current temperature. It's okay to feel a bit uncomfortable for the first 5 to 10 minutes until your body warms up. Don’t forget to account for windchill! Your weather app may say it’s only -5 degrees outside, but with the wind it can feel way colder than that.
- Avoid Cotton: Cotton is your arch-nemesis during winter runs. It can absorb up to 25 times its weight in water, leaving you feeling damp and uncomfortable. Opt for materials like polyester, merino wool, lycra, rayon, or spandex to keep moisture at bay.
- Garment Panels: More panels in a garment mean a better range of motion. Think of your jeans, which typically have just two panels (front and back), restricting your movement. Performance pants or tights, on the other hand, incorporate numerous panels for a limitless range of motion.
- Avoid Stripping Off Layers: In colder months, try to avoid removing layers during your run. Your performance apparel actively wicks sweat away from your body, and suddenly exposing it to the cold air can cause rapid chilling and even freezing of the garment if it's cold enough.
While these strategies and guidelines can be very helpful, keep in mind that everybody has different sensitivities to the cold. The unfortunate fact of the matter is finding the absolute right layering technique for you will come from fine-tuning and calibrating through trial-and-error. I’ve always erred on the side of being over dressed and just slowed down the effort of my run.