Winter is in full swing now, even in Texas where I live. Although I’m well aware that our winter’s are nothing compared to the folks that live up North… But I’ve actually had experience running in sub SUB freezing temperatures during January, in Wisconsin.
I’m a lover of the cold though. I actually love getting layered up and heading out into the cold, and when it comes to winter gear for trail running, I have a few suggestions. These are my must-have pieces of gear!
This won’t be a comprehensive guide to layering. There are PLENTY of great articles on how to layer up, like this one from iRunFar.
But, here are MY favorite pieces of trail running gear that have served me well over the years. (Note: links in this post help support the site)
The Patagonia Houdini Jacket – The Outer Layer
This is actually hands down my favorite piece of running gear. It’s also a great everyday lightweight jacket. I’ve worn mine so much the shinny Patagonia lettering on the breast is wearing off.
This lightweight jacket is VERY versatile and comes in a men’s or women’s model.
The jacket weighs in at a mere 3.7 oz and has a zippered pocket that allows you to fold the jacket into itself for quick and easy storage in your pack.
The Houdini has a Slim fit with a slight drop tail for better fit during movement, making it a perfect jacket for hitting the trail. It also has an adjustable hood and durable half-elastic cuffs and a drawcord hem, which helps tighten things up to reduce draft.
It is best used as an outer layer and is highly effective at breaking wind. The only con to this jacket is: it’s not waterproof. It will keep you dry in a VERY light mist, but that is about it.
This is your go-to outer layer for just about anything, except for rain 😉
At $99 this tiny jacket has tremendous value. Get it from REI.com and earn Dividends!
A good long sleeve base layer is a must. My go-to base layer are actually the running shirts I get from trail races. I also have one lightweight long sleeve base layer from REI that gets in the rotation as well.
The most important factor for your base layer is you chose something that wicks moisture well. Wet clothing greatly increases heat loss through conduction and evaporation. So be sure to select a synthetic material or wool. Cotton is the absolute worst thing you can possibly wear while exercising, especially in winter when staying dry is important.
REI has an amazing selection of mid-weight and lightweight base layers. My favorite brands offered are Patagonia and Smart Wool. If you have never worn a wool tech shirt before, you really must. They are amazingly comfortable and highly effective at wicking moisture. I’m just bummed I lost mine a couple years ago.
Neck Gaiter – AKA a Buff
I had no idea just how versatile these things are until I owned one.
These are a must-have if you live in really cold climates like Wisconsin where you need to keep your neck and face covered while you run. They are great for milder climates like Texas as well. I have FOUR of these that get used A LOT. I use them as a head covering on chilly mornings, and as a neck covering on really cold days.
The nice thing about a buff is that you can use it for so many things, it can cover your neck, neck and face, it can be used as a balaclava, it can just be used for ear protection like a headband, or it can cover your entire head.
These are very inexpensive too. Sometimes I’ve even seen outdoor brands give them out as a promotional item. That is how I acquired my first neck gaiter. My favorite is now the CoolMax Neck Gator by Wildly Goods.
Warm dry feet are a must for winter running.
Wear the wrong pair of socks and you will either end up with cold numb feet, or hot sweaty feet due to wearing socks that don’t wick away moisture. Both circumstances can make for an uncomfortable winter run.
There are plenty of socks out there made of wicking material, but my favorite are Wool Socks.
Yup, good ole wool socks wick moisture away amazingly well and they are SUPER comfortable and most importantly WARM.
Finding the right wool socks can be tricky though. Many wool socks are thick, which make fitting into running shoes difficult. However, I recently discovered Wildly Goods that make lightweight Merino Wool socks. They are thin enough to wear your running shoes, but warm enough that your toes don’t go numb.
Lately I have found myself wearing them around a lot. I always slip them on in the morning before walking on the cold concrete floors of my house.
I recently tested them out in the field too. We had a couple 35 degree days here in Texas recently, and the socks held up really nice. Keeping my feet dry and warm throughout the entire run.
Keeping your hand warm during the winter is an absolute necessity. Anybody who has mistakenly left their home gloveless during the winter for a run can tell you just how uncomfortable it can be, even in temperatures as high as 45 degrees.
If the temperature is below freezing then you can even run the risk of frostbite. So a good pair of running gloves is essential. Outdoor stores like REI have an excellent selection to choose from.
You do want to pay attention to temperature ratings of the gloves before making your selection. The amount of insulation provided by the gloves makes a huge difference. When in doubt, go with a heavier glove. If your hands get too warm you can always remove them for a brief period of time, but it’s hard to keep your hands warm if there is not enough insulation.
The convertible trail gloves by La Sportiva are my personal favorite. They come with a windscreen that you can pull over your fingers that essentially turn the gloves into a pair of mittens, providing you with a bit of extra warmth. I have found these gloves do well in temperatures not dropping below 35 degrees fahrenheit.
In my opinion, there is a pretty well defined temperature cut off where long pants are required. If the temperature is below 45 degrees you will see me in pants. Everybody’s threshold is different though. I’ve seen some men out running in shorts when it was 35 degrees outside. So, to each his own.
But running pants are an absolute necessity during the winter months. No matter how much polar bear blood you have in your system!
As with gloves and socks you can find varying thicknesses. Your selection will likely depend on where you live. If you are in a milder climate that can occasionally see large drops in temperature, you might consider a lighter weight pant option and supplement with a thin pair of long underwear to use for those sharper drops in temperature.
Once again, REI.com is a great place to shop for your winter running needs.
Happy Winter Trail Running
Whether you are new to winter trail running or a seasoned veteran. I hope your winter training season goes amazingly well. I hope you found some of my gear suggestions helpful.
If you’re a winter running fan like I am, let me hear from you. Drop a comment below. If you hate winter trail running let me know what you think would make it better?
I Love Trails – Founder/Owner