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There is no denying it’s that frosty time of year again for a lot of us, and every year people tend to struggle with what to buy to help them train through the chilly conditions. It is always said there is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices. So let’s break down what the essentials seem to entail and why.

The Buff

Which actually is a registered product of the company Buff, but everyone has gotten into the habit of calling every tech tube a buff. So for the sake of clarity here, it’s a buff. A buff is usually a stretchy tech material tube that some people have no idea what to do with.

A few things you can use it for is a neck warmer, just pull it over your head and voila! When the temps begin to plummet, you can get in some warmer air to your lungs by simply pulling the neck piece over your mouth. A tip to get it to stay put is to tuck it into your headband or hat.

In addition, a buff can be used as an ear warmer/headband or a hat (google the instructions, it’s true!). In the summer time, you can wrap it around your wrist to hold ice or use it as a wipe. Speaking of wiping, it also serves as a tissue during winter months too!

AND speaking of hats…


Shop for this one!

Something a bunch of us know is we tend to lose a lot of heat through out heads, and if you didn’t know, well, there ya go! One solid piece of equipment to have in our arsenal of winter gear is a good hat. Depending on if it’s windy or not, you may opt for an insulated hat. Or you may opt for just a headband or wrap…or buff! You have to dress for YOUR comfort. Although we can give the best advice we possibly can, it won’t work for you unless you go out and try it for yourself.

Some people run hot, others cold. Some people need x gear below x temperature and you may not.

Mittens and Gloves

Although we have included gloves in out list, mittens overall win on those wicked cold days. Why? Because in mittens, your fingers stay closer to one another and create a pocket of heat. In general, trapped pockets of air will create your warmth. If you think about gloves where your fingers get separated, they are just tinier pockets of heat, but not as efficient, so will be less warm overall.

Covering your hands is a good way to avoid frosty fingers, especially at the start of an outdoor activity. If your hands are getting warm, simply remove the gloves/mittens before sweat penetrates the material, and you can just put them back on should you get cold. A few brands make 2-in-1 mitten gloves!

Wind blockers

Whether these are tights or jackets, having a good wind blocking outer layer will be the saving grace on the worst days. Make sure your outer layers are loose enough to go over a layer or two, so we suggest getting a size up from your usual. Read product descriptions carefully! Some are wind blocking/windproof layers, others are just water resistant/waterproof, and then there’s the holy grail of wind and water proof, though these usually come at a cost…the one that comes from deep in your wallet.

Blocking wind can really be a key gear choice in the winter. Wind can quickly take away your body heat. You can sort of block the wind with enough layers, but shuffling around feeling like the Michelin Man isn’t much fun and can be pretty restricting once you get to that 3rd or 4th layer. Then you might start dealing with trapped sweat which can be counterproductive and chill you from the inside out. It’s all about balance.

Base Layering

Probably one of the trickier layers and gear choices: base layers. It’s great to find a good working base layer, both top and bottom, to help wick sweat away from your body. As we mentioned above, having too much sweat build up will start to chill you. One absolute must is a wool or wool-based layer next to your skin. This natural material will not chill you when wet, and absorbs more water per fiber than synthetics.

Not a wool fan? An alternative material is silk. Not as stretchy and a little more on the delicate side, it’s another natural material to help you fight the cold. A side effect, it might make you feel quite fancy!

Trail Shoes

We’re not trying to be biased here, but trail shoes are a fabulous option for winter running and adventuring. Not just on trails, but everywhere. Trail shoes typically have much better traction overall compared to regular trainers, and are designed to grip surfaces. While the treads are more aggressive than regular shoes you’d take out, they still struggle a bit on icy surfaces.

We recommend if you are out a lot in icy conditions, go do a nice screw job (we’re serious!) on an older pair of shoes. Screws in shoes is a really cheap way to get good footing in adverse terrain. The other alternative is of course micro spikes sold in stores. For running, you will want to avoid the much longer ones as they can become uncomfortable over a long period of time.

At-Home Gear

We can’t do an essential list of gear without mentioning at-home strength and recovery tools! Always make sure you are recovering from your bouts with the frozen tundra. Roll out those muscles, especially if you are training in the snow. You’re using different muscles and exerting more power per step. Get some resistance bands and work in some short sessions with it to keep yourself strong through the winter.

A Plastic Bag

Worst case, if you lack funds or didn’t bring the proper gear, you can always resort to using a plastic bag. This is particularly useful for the head if it’s very cold but raining or windy. Even a plastic bag under a regular ball cap will provide enough warmth to make it through. Keep in mind plastic is absolutely not a breathable material so keep an eye on your sweat production.

A ziplock can also serve you well, either gathering or holding snacks, or keeping your phone from the elements. Keep in mind some phones do not function well below a certain temperature (or above), so have your phone in a place where sweat won’t affect it AND a place where you can provide it heat like an inside pocket.

Sweat management

The key to staying comfortable is sweat management. If you layer properly, you won’t get cold. It’s recommended that you dress for 10 degrees above whatever the actual temperature you will be running in as a guideline. If it’s 30 degrees, then dress as though it’s 40. It will be a bit nippy at first, but if you do some warm ups before heading out (dynamic stretching), it will help a bunch. Another tidbit is if there is sun. If you go out and it’s sunny, consider sunblock on exposed areas especially if it’s snowy around you. Sun will also be warmer feeling than overcast.

Stay happy and keep trying. It could take a whole season to get layering right for one person, so don’t give up. Play around, find a short loop nearby to practice your layers and gear. Too hot? Drop a midlayer or downsize the top layer. Too cold? Wait for 10 minutes and re-evaluate, and if you are still cold, you need to try something different. Cold after an hour? You’ve probably layered too much and sweat has begun to take over. Find clothes with vents if you tend to run sweaty and need to regulate a bit more.

Finding what works for you might end up being a puzzle, but all of running is a puzzle of finding what works and what doesn’t. It’s no different from nutrition for you or the right training pace! One last note, check out the real feel, or wind chill temperature when preparing to go out. That’s the temperature you should eyeball, not the actual temperature–it’s literally the temperature you will feel if you are outside and is influenced by wind. Happy trails!

Stephanie Dannenberg

Steph has been running really far in really hot, cold, dry, and rainy places. She is the newest coach for Becoming Ultra and contributes on the podcast regularly!