Sunday, January 10, 2010

What to Wear for Winter Running

It's cold.  

And how do you get yourself out the door to run through the winter months?  

Over the years, I've concocted a system to make a few carefully-selected pieces of running clothing work to keep me comfortable over a very wide range of temperatures.  I had an early version of this way back in the early 1990s.  Always a systems geek at heart, I've kept tweaking it over the years.  Several folks have asked for the full description, so here the full story, which I'll bookmark for reference.  I hope this is especially helpful for newer runners (or West Coast runners who have been banished to the Midwest).  

Simply put, this system uses a simple list of clothes and a simple rule for combining them.  Hang on.

The Clothes

Head and Neck:  This is way more important to comfort than most think.  Much heat escapes through the scalp and around the carotid arteries of the neck.  In the heat, you want it to escape.  In the winter, you don't.  Here's what I use, from hot to cold:
  • Visor. Optional...but my eyes are sensitive and like a sweat band.  Or go hatless.
  • Cap. Optional as well. 
  • Wind/Stocking Cap.  The classic knit cap works.  I like this tighter weave wind cap
  • Balaclava. No, this is not dessert at your favorite Greek restaurant. It is a full-head covering.  A wonderful item.
  • Neck Warmer.   Make your own for a buck.  Or you can buy one.  

Torso.  If you keep your torso warm, you will be warm.  And six items are all you need. (Remember "technical" is a code word for "100% polyester".  Polyester got a bad rap in the 1970s so now we use a new name.  Just don't wear cotton when you run. Or a leisure suit when on a date. )
  • Sleeveless Technical T Shirt.  Get one at a discount store.  Or clip the sleeves off one you get at a race.
  • Technical T Shirt.  Ditto.
  • Long-sleeve Technical T Shirt.  Ditto.  You can spend $40 on any of these three, if that is important to you...but you need not.  
  • Mid-weight Base Layer.  There are big-name versions of these.  But this one has been my favorite for over a decade...and I can get a tall size for just  $14.  
  • Sleeveless Windbreaker.  The most versitile piece of all.  Get a cool one here and be visible and give your spouse an idea for a birthday gift.  Or, for my first one, I bought a windbreaker for $4 at a local garage sale, cut off the sleeves and glued on some reflective strips.  
  • Windbreaker.  There are a gazillion options...find one that works for you.

Hands. Pretend you are a concert pianist...take care of the mitts.
  • Gloves.  Aboslute best, cheapest thing?  Simple, $1/pair brown jersey cotton garden gloves.  Find 'em at any discount store, gas station, street vendor.  If you lose 'em, no big deal.  If it is cold, pull on a second pair. 
Legs.  The simplest decision of all.  Shorts or tights?
  • Shorts.  Find what fits for you.  My favorites are from Race Ready; the fit and fabric is perfect and I love the 7 pockets.  Close runner up:  Standard issue US Army PT shorts. Seriously...they are super comfortable, even for a civilian.  
  • Tights.  Again, there are a lot out there.  I like these, but find something that works. 
Oh, and a humble request when wearing tights...wear some shorts over the top of them.  Men or women...just TMI for most folks to wear only the tights in public.  Yeah, really. 

Feet.  No decisions wear the same thing, year round.  

The Combinations

This is not a lot of stuff and now all you have to do is decide what to wear for the run in front of you. 

The chart below pulls this together.  You can also download the chart... scroll to the "download" tag and you'll get the spreadsheet for your own use.  Feel free to modify it to fit your needs.  

In 2 degree Fahrenheit increments, I've worked out by trial and error what is comfortable for me over the course of an entire run in any weather.  In winter, I may be a little cool at the start but by the end of mile one, I'm comfortable and that's what I want.  

On the torso portion of the chart, the letters in the chart name the components to use.  The letters indicate the layers, with "A" being closest to your skin.  

And that's it...I have the stuff, I see the temperature and there is no more worry or decision. Since I'm up at 5:15am to run, I know if I have to make too many decisions, I might decide to just go back to bed.  This system, therefore, is very motivational for me.  And I've learned to trust it.  

Common Questions
  • How do you know the temperature?  I have a simple digital thermometer in our master bathroom that reads the outdoor temp from a sensor.  I get out of bed.  I look at the temperature.  I look at the chart.  I put that stuff on.  I go out and run.  
  • Do you account for wind chill?  Interestingly, I've learned to NOT bother with wind chill.  Unless the temperature is at a "transition" point between layers when it is windy, I don't worry about wind. The wind just doesn't matter, though I know that's a bit hard to believe.  
  • Where to you keep your stuff?  I have a small group of shelves in a corner of the bathroom.  A one-stop spot to get dressed and out the door in a hurry in the morning.  
  • Why on earth did you make a chart like this?  I like to be comfortable when I run.  I'm basically a cheap guy.  I'm a process geek.  I enjoy kaizen.  
  • Do you have a life?  Yeah, I do.  And while stuff like this is fun to me, it doesn't define me.  
It is important to note that if you use this, feel very free to modify the temperature threshlods to your comfort level.  I love running in shorts in the cold, for example.  This may not be your thing.  So, play with the temperature levels.  I do think the layering orders, though, are a good place to start.  

So, I hope this is helpful.  

Persevere. All winter long. 

Joe's Temperature Chart for Running in Comfort
  Head/Neck Torso Hands Legs  
Temp (F) Cap Wind Cap Bac- lava Neck Gaitor #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6      
>63 X       A             Shorts  
60 X         A           Shorts  
58 X         A           Shorts  
56 X         A A         Shorts  
54 X         A A       Gloves Shorts  
52 X         A A       Gloves Shorts  
50 X         A B       Gloves Shorts  
48 X         A B       Gloves Shorts  
46 X         A B   C   Gloves Shorts  
44   X       A B   C   Gloves Shorts  
42   X       A B   C   Gloves Shorts  
40   X         B A C   Gloves Shorts  
38   X         B A C   Gloves Shorts  
36   X X       B A C   Gloves Tights  
34   X X       B A C   Gloves Tights  
32   X X       B A C   Gloves Tights  
30   X X       B A   C Gloves Tights  
28   X X       B A   C Gloves Tights  
26   X X       B A   C Gloves Tights  
24   X X X     B A   C Gloves-2x Tights  
22   X X X     B A   C Gloves-2x Tights  
20   X X X     B A   C Gloves-2x Tights  
18   X X X     B A   C Gloves-2x Tights  
16   X X X     B 2xA   C Gloves-2x Tights-2x  
14   X X X     B 2xA   C Gloves-2x Tights-2x  
12   X X X     B 2xA   C Gloves-2x Tights-2x  
10   X X X     B 2xA   C Gloves-2x Tights-2x  
<10 Stay Home!!!!                        
Torso Key                          
#1 Sleeveless Technical T shirt                        
#2 Technical SS T shirt                        
#3 Technial LS T shirt                        
#4 Polypropolene Undershirt                        
#5 Sleeveless Shell                        
#6 Nylon Shell                        






Darrell said...

Although it rarely gets cold enough, I do check out this list every once in awhile.

Anonymous said...

In the process of sending a link to your site to a fellow runner, I realized that I should tell you that I used your chart for 1000 miles last year. Thank you!

Gianna Blake said...

Thanks for this list of clothes to wear in winter. For my winter workout gym classes I purchased best workout clothes. Wearing them during my exercise makes me feel really comfortable. Will recommend my sister also as she wanted to buy new ones.