What Should I Wear? How to Layer for Cold Weather Trail Runs

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” 

Trail running in cold conditions doesn’t have to be a bone-chilling experience that makes you dread heading out the door. With the right layering techniques and gear, you can run in most chilly conditions, stay warm and have an enjoyable experience.

Listed below are examples of gear I wear for the many different weather conditions I encounter here in my home of Colorado during winter months. These are general recommendations and you should always consider other factors such as humidity, sun, wind-chill, medical conditions and your personal tolerance for cold weather.

For example, trail runners with Raynaud’s disease may consider wearing mittens or warm gloves (even in warmer temperatures) and runners who experience damp colds — including those in the Southern parts of the United States — may find 30 to 40 degree Fahrenheit  temperatures on the more extreme low end of the weather spectrum and should layer more than I suggest below.

Additionally, wind can make it more challenging to layer appropriately because running with a tail wind may require less layers of clothing than running against a head wind. Consider going for short runs to test out different layering strategies and see what works best for you.

How to Layer for Winter Conditions

PROTIP: Throughout this article I refer to specific winter trail running apparel and gear terms including hard shelled/soft shelled jackets, base layers, waterproof, water-resistant, etc. If you are unfamiliar with any of these terms consult our Guide to Winter Trail Running Gear and Apparel Terminology.

Trail Runs

40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Shorts, half-tights or lightweight running capris.
  • Long-sleeve shirt layered over a T-shirt. Consider taking off the long-sleeve once you feel warmed up.
  • If your extremities have a tendency to get cold, consider adding gloves, hat, headband or neck gaiter.

30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Light pants, tights or running capris.
  • Long-sleeve shirt or long-sleeve shirt plus a light winter running jacket, vest or sleeveless hoodie.
  • Gloves, light, breathable cap, and/or optional headband.

20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Tights or lightweight thermal running pants.
  • Long-sleeve shirt plus a hard or soft shelled jacket. Water and windproof materials with sealed seams are a plus.
  • Thermal socks, warm gloves or mittens, and a winter running hat or beanie.

10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Moisture-wicking thermal pants or breathable and wind and water-resistant tights.
  • Thermal top layer with hard shelled running jacket.
  • Thermal socks, mittens, winter running hat/beanie, and neck gaiter. Consider adding a light-weight breathable cap underneath your winter running hat/beanie for added warmth.

Below 10 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Moisture-wicking thermal pants plus tights or other thermal layer underneath.
  • Thermal top layer plus a high-quality hard shelled running jacket that is breathable, water-resistant and may contain features such as durable water repellent (DWR), down filling, or taped seams.
  • Thermal socks, mittens, winter running hat/beanie, and neck gaiter (plus optional additional hat and gaiter). Consider wearing winterized running shoes that have warmer fabrics and offer protection against moist and windy conditions.
Winter Trail Runs

How I Dress For Snow and Rain
Two of the most common winter conditions here in Colorado are rain and snow. If it’s actively raining or snowing, I’ll make sure I have breathable base layers and hard shelled/protective outer layers. The breathable base layers will help wick sweat away from my skin and keep me dry (even in damp conditions), while the protective outer layer repels moisture from the snow or rain off the fabric. Wearing materials with high waterproof ratings is a must when it’s heavily snowing/raining on your trail runs. Wear water-resistant materials if it is only lightly raining or snowing. I also protect my eyes from falling snow by wearing sunglasses with fog-proof technology or apply an anti-fog lens cleaner such as Cat Crap.

How I Dress For Wind
Similarly to dressing for wind and snow, a protective outer layer is essential. I wear a hard shelled protective jacket with possible insulating base layers worn underneath or included in the jacket depending on how cold it is. The outer protective layer blocks the wind and keeps me from getting chilled. It’s also important to cover your head with a winterized running hat/beanie and to avoid overdressing. Overdressing in windy conditions can lead to too much sweating and the wind has a greater chilling effect on wet or sweaty clothing/skin.

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