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What To Wear Running: Here’s Our Guide For Every Weather Condition

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It may seem simple enough, but what should you wear running? 

Of course, at first blush, most people would quickly rattle off that you need running shoes, shorts, and a T-shirt, yet when you actually think about what to wear running, dressing to run is highly dependent on the weather and the temperature.

In other words, what should you wear running below 50°? What should you wear to run when it is raining?

In this guide to what to wear running, we will discuss how to dress for running based on the weather conditions and temperature so that you have the best possible workout no matter what the weather is.

We will cover: 

Let’s dive in! 

Three people running in the cold.

What Is The Best Thing To Wear When Running?

Before we get into the specifics of what to wear running, I want to present the disclaimer that even though I am a Certified Running Coach and have been running myself for over 25 years, everyone has different preferences when it comes to how warm or cold they tend to feel when they run and how they prefer to dress for running.

I have trained hundreds of runners over the years, and I have found that some runners seem to feel comfortable running in shorts when it is below 30°F while I would be freezing in that outfit and would certainly prefer to be wearing running tights or pants of some sort.

Similarly, while I am generally comfortable running in a T-shirt or sleeveless tank top when it is 60°F or above, I have trained runners who wear long sleeves or even a light running jacket if it is much below 65°F. I would be sweltering!

All of this is to say that the guidelines below are suggestions that tend to work for what to wear for most runners, but your personal preference and needs as a runner may vary.

Although different temperatures affect what to wear running, certain running clothes have to be worn whether you’re doing a warm weather workout or hitting the road on cold days.

Socks, sports bras, and running shoes fall into this category of year-round running gear. 

A person running in compression socks.

Socks

Running socks are one of the pieces of running clothing where you don’t want to cut costs.

I highly recommend Merino wool socks because the wool is temperature-regulating and can help prevent blisters.

Investing in high-quality merino wool running socks such as Smartwool socks, Swiftwick running Socks, or Darn Tough socks will help ensure that the socks are not itchy and don’t cause friction blisters because of poor construction with seams in the toes.

Sports Bras

There are many different styles and models of sports bras for running. Some have a front zipper, while others have a zip-up closure in the back. 

Others have a hook closure, while some running sports bras just get pulled over your head. You can also get sports bras with cups with or without underwire for added support. 

Most sports bras have a racerback design to help distribute high-impact forces and support the breasts.

There isn’t a single best running sports bra, as the best sports bra for running will depend on the size of your breasts and the intensity of your workouts. 

Most running coaches recommend that beginners who have a large chest go to a specialty running store to get properly fitted for a running sports bra.

A person running in a sports bra and shorts.

How Does Temperature Affect What You Should Wear Running?

As a general rule of thumb, running coaches suggest dressing to go run as if it is about 10 to 20° warmer outside than the air temperature actually is.

Faster runners will generally want to air on the side of wearing less clothing, and beginners who are going to be jogging or doing run/walk intervals can dress a little warmer because the relative intensity and speed of the run won’t cause your body to overheat as much.

The purpose of using this rule of thumb for how to dress to run based on the temperature is that any physical activity will inherently increase your core temperature.

Therefore, if you are comfortable when you leave your house based on what you are wearing and the temperature, you will be overheated once you have done your warm-up and are running your actual workout.

Particularly when you are running in the winter if you are overdressed, you may start to sweat, and then you will actually feel colder because you will have damp clothing against your skin.

Getting through the first couple minutes of being uncomfortably cold might feel unappealing at first, but trust me, you will have a better run and will be thankful that unnecessary layers of clothing don’t weigh you down once you are a couple of miles into your winter run.

A person running in the snow.

What Should You Wear To Run In The Winter?

For cold weather running, it is important to pay attention not only to the temperature but also to the wind chill. 

Any wind will make the “real feel“ temperature significantly lower.

Wind or winter precipitation such as sleet, snow, or even a cold rain will also necessitate picking wind-resistant, water-resistant, or even waterproof running clothes to help keep you warmer and drier.

The key to dressing for cold weather running is to wear layers.

When running coaches suggest wearing “layers to run in the cold,“ they mean that you should have a base layer and outer layer, and sometimes even a mid-layer, depending on the temperatures and weather conditions that you are running in as well as the specific materials and fabrics you are wearing.

Body heat actually gets trapped between the layers, so not only do you have the flexibility of modulating your body temperature by removing a layer as you warm up, but layering lightweight running apparel provides insulation simply from your body heat insulating with warm air in between your clothing layers.

The base layer is worn directly against your skin.

The best base layers for running are made from moisture-wicking materials because you do not want sweat to soak through the base layer and sit against your skin.

This will cause you to feel chilled and will reduce the insulation effects of wearing layers for running in cold weather.

People running in the winter.

A mid-layer long-sleeve top provides more insulation to help manage your core body temperature in cold weather. 

Merino wool is better for cold days than cotton or polyester.

An insulated running jacket or running vest is a good outer layer once temperatures are below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Winter running tights often have a brushed fleece inner layer for enhanced thermal insulation against the cold.

Some of the best winter running tights also have water-resistant or even waterproof paneling on the thighs and the backs of the calves to provide some waterproof protection in case you are slopping through snowy or slushy roads or just running into a headwind.

You can also wear regular running tights with a second layer of running pants on top.

I like wearing lightweight, waterproof running pants for cold-weather running over regular running tights or even insulated running tights when the temperatures are below 0°F, which happens here in New England, where I run.

For the coldest temperatures, men may prefer to wear boxer briefs or running underwear with a double layer front or windproof front panel to help protect your anatomy from the wind and cold.

A person running in the snow.

Winter Running Gear Accessories

Accessorizing with running gloves to keep your fingers warm, a running headband or full running beanie or hat, and even a neck warmer, gator, or balaclava for your face can be essential when running in cold temperatures below freezing.

Runners who are less sensitive to running in cold weather can often get away with a lightweight pair of running gloves or even liner gloves that might be used inside of a mitten for skiing or other winter sports.

There are also handy (pun intended!) convertible running mittens.

This design has a regular glove, and then there is a mitten flap that can be used to cover your four fingers aside from the thumb when the temperatures drop.

Some of the best running mittens with this convertible style have a windproof or waterproof mitten flap so that if it starts snowing, sleeting, or raining when you are out on a cold-weather run, you can also have some water-resistance protection.

For distance runners like me who suffer from Raynard’s Syndrome—a condition in which your extremities, like your fingers, receive poor circulation and end up getting white, cold, and losing dexterity—running mittens may be necessary to protect against frostbite for your fingers.1Mayo Clinic. (2017). Raynaud’s disease – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/raynauds-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20363571

A person running in the snow.

‌In fact, while running mittens are generally not recommended or necessary for winter running when temperatures are roughly 20° or above, I have to wear mittens anytime the temperatures are much below 35°F. 

In my work as a certified running coach, I train a surprising number of distance runners who also have circulation problems in the fingers and toes.

Therefore, choosing between running gloves vs mittens is often much more of an “experiment of one” rather than following general guidelines for what to wear running in different temperatures.

If you have a lot of exposed skin when running in freezing temperatures, I highly recommend putting Vaseline on your cheeks, nose, and lips to prevent frostbite and windburn.

Even though the sun is lower in the sky and sunlight is less direct in the winter, you should still wear sunscreen when running in the winter, particularly if snow is on the ground as snow reflects sunlight and can increase the risk of sunburn.

Running sunglasses can be helpful. I have even seen some runners wear ski goggles when running in blizzard conditions to help shield the eyes and provide even more protection for the face.

A person running in the heat.

What Type Of Clothing Is Best For Running In Hot And Humid Weather?

When you are deciding what to wear for summer running or running in warm weather, it is also important to pay attention to the humidity.

The heat index is a measure of the real feel of the air, combining the air temperature with the relative humidity.

There are different preferences in terms of the best running shorts. 

If you are prone to chafing on your inner thighs, wearing compression shorts as your standalone running shorts or underneath other athletic shorts can help protect your skin. 

However, most runners find that something like Body Glide or Vaseline can be enough to prevent inner thigh chafing with lined running shorts.

Lined running shorts have a built-in brief that functions like underwear, so you don’t have to wear running underwear.

For summer running, you can wear a sleeveless or short-sleeved shirt.

A sweat-wicking short-sleeved top is better for warm weather than a regular cotton T-shirt, so look for moisture-wicking performance fabrics such as merino wool or synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon.

People running in the heat.

Besides the running clothing considerations for summer running, it is equally important to wear sunscreen and a visor or running cap to protect your skin from UV rays.

For trail running, insect repellent or bug spray can also be a trick to help keep nagging mosquitoes and horseflies from bothering you on your run.

The best running clothing for temperatures in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit will depend on whether you tend to overheat or prefer more layers while running.

Most running coaches recommend wearing running tights or capris below 45°F, though some runners still prefer to wear running shorts and then more layers on the top.

A moisture-wicking base layer such as a sleeveless top with a breathable, sweat-wicking long-sleeved shirt can help keep your body comfortable without feeling weighed down by heavy layers.

Avoid cotton as it tends to absorb sweat and feel heavy. Performance fabrics such as polyester, Tencel, and bamboo generally breathe better and are more lightweight.

A person running in the rain.

What To Wear Running In The Rain?

If it is windy and rainy, it is imperative to have enough layers, particularly a good waterproof running jacket and other water-resistant running gear.

Wearing loose-fitting running clothes can also lead to chafing when it gets wet, so spandex or lycra compression clothing (capris, leggings, or running tights on the bottom and a compression top under a windbreaker or running rain jacket) can be best.

Finally, if temperatures are close to freezing, there can be a risk of slipping on wet roads, and some puddles can ice over, making it all the more important to have running shoes with adequate traction, such as trail running shoes.

Other pieces of running gear can be super helpful for half marathon or marathon runners or those who are doing longer training runs.

For example, carrying a hydration pack, handheld water bottle, or fuel belt can be super helpful so you don’t have to rely on water fountains.

People running in the dark.

A reflective vest, reflective running clothes, and a headlamp for running in the dark are essential.

Some runners also like to run with a running armband to hold your phone if you are going to listen to music or a podcast during your workout. 

Some running waist packs like the Spi Belt also have room for a smartphone, so you don’t have to hold it the whole time.

One final tip that I’d like to give runners is that I generally recommend dressing as if it is another 10° cooler out for race day clothing.

In other words, if you are running a race and it is 40°F, what you wear running should resemble what you would wear for a training run when it is 50°F.

This is because your effort level will be even higher when you are racing so you will be generating more body heat. 

Plus, most runners want to run as fast as possible during a race, so you want to be stripped down in your running gear and clothing to just the bare minimum of what you need to be comfortable without carrying extra weight.

Overall, while beginners can get away with wearing basic athletic clothes for training runs, gradually building a running wardrobe with running gear and running clothing for different temperatures and weather conditions will help you be prepared and comfortable for training year-round.

If you enjoyed this guide and are looking for more information on running in the snow, check out this next article:

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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