A Guide to Winter Trail Running Gear and Apparel Terminology

Finding the right winter trail running gear is essential to staying comfortable and warm during your runs this time of year. What do I mean by “comfort?” Firstly, it’s based on personal perception and everyone has a different perception of when they are and aren’t comfortable. Most people agree that being cold and wet is uncomfortable and can lead to an accelerated loss of body heat. So, how can you stay warm and dry?

Being comfortable – warm and dry – is a matter of balance. The amount of heat your body produces while running has to match the heat it loses. Your body transfers heat in 3 ways:

  • Evaporation – The body’s natural cooling system
  • Convection – Wind
  • Conduction – Temperature transfer

The key to comfort is waterproof, breathable systems and flexibility with layers. Manage moisture from within, while protecting from elements of weather. Clothing options that work as a system together, allowing ventilation or heat retention, and wicking away moisture.

Winter Trail Running

The VIP equation is the easiest way to think about layering for winter. Ventilation + Insulation + Protection = Comfort.

  • The base layer is the immediate layer against your skin, and it provides Ventilation – wicking moisture away from your body when you get warm.
  • The mid layer provides a level of insulation for warmth, helps cut down on the chill from wind, and allows moisture to be move further away.
  • The outer layer provides breathability to manage your moisture/sweat from within, but provides Protection from the elements – rain, snow, sleet, hail, wind, and more.

Major clothing brands in the outdoor industry also use special materials and technology in their apparel and accessories to resist water, insulate, block wind, and increase traction. It’s important to have a good understanding of what these materials and technologies are and how they will perform so you can match them with your personal needs and outdoor conditions.

Here are some additional winter running terms to understand before gearing up for your next winter trail running adventure.

Sealed Seems

Sealed seams use special technologies to ensure water does not penetrate through the seams of an outerwear garment. Most clothing uses stitched seams, which can let water penetrate the garment through tiny holes. Keep in mind that even waterproof clothing can allow water to seep in through the seams if they aren’t sealed. There are two main types of sealed seams: critically seam sealed and fully seam sealed. Critically seam sealed means only critical seams, such as those in the upper body have been sealed. Fully seamed means all seams in the garment are sealed.

Taped Seams

Taping seams is one of the main methods for sealing seams on waterproof outerwear garments. A waterproof tape protects the seam from allowing moisture into the garment.

Welded Seams

Welded seams are the most effective method for sealing seams of waterproof outerwear garment. These seams are welded together without stitching, which offers even more water resistance than taped seams.

Winter Running

Hard Shell Jacket

Lightweight, waterproof, and durable jacket meant to offer protection from wind, rain or snow. The fabric is stiff (not stretchy) and can be easily folded and packed. Compared to soft shell jackets, it offers more protection from the elements, is easier to pack and can be used as an outer layer.
PRICE RANGE: $150 – $750+
EXAMPLE: inov-8 Ultrashell Pro Jacket

Soft Shell Jacket

Water-resistant and breathable jacket that offers protection from light snow or rain. The fabric is stretchy and is designed to move with your body and maintain a comfortable body temperature while running. Compared to hard shell jackets, it may conform better to your body during activity, can be used as an insulating layer for warmth, and is more easily worn underneath other jackets or an outer layer.
PRICE RANGE: $50 – $200+
EXAMPLE: Salomon Outspeed 360 Jacket


Materials labeled as “waterproof” offer the greatest protection from water of any material. Water-resistant laminates, repellents or other waterproof technology is used to provide maximum water resistance for the most extreme conditions. Keep in mind that some waterproof materials are breathable, whereas others are not. For running or other highly physical activities, choose breathable waterproof materials like GORE-TEX.


Materials labeled as “water-resistant” offer adequate protection from water in most conditions, including light rain or snow. These materials may feature a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish or other waterproof technologies, but overall are designed for less extreme conditions than waterproof materials.


Water repellency describes the way a material repels water from entering the garment. Both waterproof and water-resistant materials use water repellent technologies. Water repellent technology seeks to force water to roll off the garment, as opposed to penetrate the fabric.


Did you know you can wash most of your waterproof, water-resistant and water-repellent jackets? Washing and drying your jacket can actually refresh the DWR coating on your garment. Seattle, Washington based Nikwax even makes high performance cleaners for wet weather clothing and equipment.

Waterproof Rating System

Measures the waterproofness of materials through a standardized test known as the “Static-Column test.” Backcountry.com has a good webpage explaining how this test works. Higher numbers indicate greater waterproofness. For example,10,000mm is more waterproof than 5,000mm.

Winter Trail Running

Down Filled Jackets/Vests

Also known as “puffies,” down filled jackets/vests use synthetic or real down-feather filling to provide lightweight insulation. They are one of the best ways to deliver warmth, can be easily packed and are effective for everyday use as well as extreme adventures.
PRICE RANGE: $30 – $1,000+
EXAMPLE: Saucony Snowdrift Jacket

Traction Devices

Traction devices are accessories either built into your shoes, or removable, that can help you maintain grip in icy or snowy conditions. Popular equipment brands include, Icespike, Kahtoola, YakTrax, and Hillsound. Most of these offer a variety of styles that are designed for specific kinds of snow and ice conditions. There are also trail running shoes with metal studs embedded into the tread blocks such as IceBug or the Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX and Snowpike CSWP.
PRICE RANGE: $20 – $200+

Winter Trail Running

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