Let me brag about my friend Carl for a moment. Carl is the quintessential athlete and I’m pretty convinced he’d be successful at any sport he tried, but he claims to not be a “real runner.” Ignore the fact that he once ran a 1:35 half marathon off almost no training or that he regularly runs with me at any time of day. Anyway, since Carl really is up to run any time, he enthusiastically agreed to join me on some pre-surgery 3 am runs…if I helped him build a winter running wardrobe. Hailing from southern California and going to school in New Haven, his wardrobe leaves him wanting for the months of November through April. So for Carl and for everyone looking to run outside as much as possible as we start 2016, here’s the rundown of what you need to run outside comfortably. None of this is sponsored and all comes from years of running, skiing and living in Vermont.
Baselayer: What you put next to your skin matters. The better the baselayer, the fewer overall layers you’ll need to wear and the less you’ll resemble the kid in A Christmas Story.
Warm? Yes. Conducive to running? Notsomuch.
Windbriefs: Do not underestimate the importance of these. Every single winter, one of my male athletes will forget theirs or insist they don’t need them and spend many miserable minutes doubled over in the snow after a race. If you buy one piece of winter gear, MAKE IT THESE. My pick? Craft makes amazing stuff and it’s worth the investment for these.
Midcalf Socks: Another rule of winter running is creating multiple ways to tuck in your clothing and thus keep wind, snow and slush out. In my opinion, you can’t beat Darn Tough for running socks. Yes, they are pricey upfront but they have a lifetime guarantee. Literally. I send back many pairs a year as they wear out and they send back brand new pairs within a week. Well worth the $18. For winter, the material of choice is wool or wool blend.
Top and Bottoms: You can spend an enormous amount of money on baselayer and if you’re going to be a professional downhill skier or spend days in the back country, that’s probably a good call. If you’re going to run for 45 minutes a few days a week, it’s overkill. I spend a ton of time outside coaching and love Hot Chillys Pepperskins for their high cost-to-effectiveness ratio. Note: if you are planning on wearing a looser pant, you should invest in a pair of bottoms. If you are planning on wearing running tights on the bottom, you are probably good with just a top baselayer.
Tops: This is where temperature, wind and precipitation starts to matter. If it’s sunny and 30, one of your summer running teeshirts plus a long sleeve shirt or your jacket will be plenty. If it’s an active snowstorm, windy and 15, you’ll need a baselayer plus long sleeve plus jacket. In general, if you’re warm when you walk outside, you’re overdressed. Aim to be comfortable by 10 minutes into your run and you’ll generally be happy.
Long Sleeve Top: You’re looking for a medium thickness top that is fitted but big enough to fit over a baselayer. My pick in this category is the Skechers Godri Seamless Half Zip. It has thumb holes so you can create a nice barrier between your gloves and your skin, has mesh on the back to vent you and has a half zip to dump heat if you overdress. The price is also extremely reasonable and conducive to stocking up on an item that you’ll likely wear the most in your closet. The half zip long sleeve is my most commonly worn winter item; when you find one you like, buy two so you can wash them once in a while.
Jacket: There are tons of jackets on the market but again, Craft takes the cake here. Will has this exact jacket and I’ve stolen it on a few occasions. It’s windproof without being stiff and water resistant. Be warned: this jacket is WARM. You won’t want it when it’s above about 25 so if you live somewhere a bit warmer, consider a vest instead of a jacket.
Bottoms: A bit of a personal choice for most men. I spend a lot of time with distance runners, so I’m used to men in tights but I know lots of men balk at the idea. Thankfully, they make great option in both loose and tight pants, so buy what you think you’ll be happy to wear. Again, it takes a little experimentation to find out what layers make you comfortable in given conditions.
Loose Pants: Unfortunately, the best men’s pants ever seem to have been discontinued. Thus, if you can find a pair of Brooks Spartan Pants in your size on a discount size, do it. They are so comfortable to run in and perfect warmth for 30 degrees with shorts or around zero with a baselayer. Sporthill SwiftPro and Saucony Boston are close in style to the Spartan.
Tights: The market for men’s tights is a little disappointing, as this is one area where they seem to just adjust women’s tights for men’s proportions. That being said, Saucony Drylete is a great all-around option for men with a zipper ankle (allows a nice tight fit around your socks, see above) and mesh behind the knees to shed heat as you go. I have the women’s equivalent of this tight and find them to be the best in terms of allowing natural movement.
Extras: Don’t be the dummy out running in your baseball cap with bare hands. Not only will you feel miserable, but your body will be wasting precious energy trying to keep your extremities warm rather than pumping oxygen to your muscles.
Hat/Headband: I actually prefer a headband because of the ear coverage but regardless of style, I’m totally and uttery sold on Skida. They fit well, they are extremely warm and they hold their shape with as much washing as you want to do. Of note, the Alpine line is lined with fleece (my favorite) while the Nordic line is unlined.
Buff: I am more likely to wear a Skida neckwarmer on days when I’m doing a coaching/skiing hybrid but if I’m doing a workout on skis or on foot, I’m in a buff so I can manage my snot better. Sorry, but it’s true. Buffs are fantastic (but you should never borrow someone’s because of the snot issue) for giving you neck coverage, rolling up into a headband or stuffing in a pocket to cover changes in temperature.
Gloves: This is one place where I’m the wrong person to ask because I wear gloves when it’s 50 out, but these gloves are well loved by my team and my other running friends for “normal” hands.
So there you have it: the basics you’ll need to run outside all winter long. If you’re a winter runner, what brands and items do you love? Would you rather be a little cold or a little warm on a run?