Chi Running winter running clothing suggestions - Chi Running

Chi Running winter running clothing suggestions

Posted by Danny Dreyer on Sat Jan 2nd, 2010, 10 comments

I got really spoiled living in California. I was in the Bay Area and I think I saw it snow maybe twice in the nine years I was there. Winter running there is no problem at all if you didn’t mind getting rained on every now and then. But now that I’m living in Asheville, NC where there’s actually some semblance of winter, I’m having to resurrect some of the adaptations to my running that I learned growing up in Colorado.

Here are a few clothing options for those of you who are adventurous enough to insist on running outdoors through the snowy and cold winter months. If you’re a beginning runner you might find some of these tips helpful. If you’re an old-timer, I hope you’ve figured some of this stuff out already. If you live in a temperate climate, you can skip this blog and thank your lucky stars. My next few blogs will be on alternatives to winter running…for those of you who wake up to snowy days finding that there is absolutely nothing in you that wants to go brave the elements.

Upper body layers
1.) I’ve found that a good, thick wicking, sip-front turtleneck top works great for any temperatures from 25º- 40º. If you have trouble maintaining body heat you can add a lightweight nylon vest with a high collar. Your arms don’t need as much protection from the cold as your torso does. If you’re still having trouble keeping warm add on a lightweight windbreaker over everything. It’s amazing how well you can heat and cool your body by merely covering or uncovering your neck and upper chest area to regulate your body temperature.
2.) Wear a good hat made of fleece, wool (ideally with a non-wool lining on the inside of the headband) or some other wicking material. It should be comfortable, stretchy and be able to completely cover your ears.
3.) Get some gloves that will completely block the cold air. I’ve tried every type of glove and mitten in the world to keep my fingers warm and I’ve found that insulated leather gloves work best in temperatures above 20º. For colder temperatures I have to resort to mittens, or I can forget about having any fingers when I get back from my run. You can stretch the lower range of your mittens or gloves by wearing liners.
4.) Cover your face if it’s below 20º out. If you want to stay healthy you have to protect your lungs from getting too much cold air. If you’re in a climate where you’re running in temperatures below 20º it’s also important to protect your nose and cheeks from frostbite (this suggestion is for you diehards). The best thing I’ve found for this is wearing a dust mask (also called a particle mask) available at most hardware stores. It’s worth it to pay for the higher quality ones because they won’t collapse against your face if they get wet from your steamy breath.
Lower Body Layers
1.) Running tights are great in temperatures between 20º and 55º depending on how sensitive your legs are to the cold. If it’s below 20º I’ll wear lightweight warm-up pants over my tights. (A note for men: the best thing for keeping your private parts from freezing off is to wear windproof briefs.)
2.) Smartwool socks…nothing works like these.
3.) A good way to block wind from freezing your toes is to cover the top of your socks (toe area) with good ol’ duct tape. Another option is to get some running shoes with Gore-tex uppers, which do the same thing. (it still amazes me that the shoe companies haven’t jumped on this obvious market need)
4.) If you run in icy conditions often you might consider taking one of your old pairs of running shoes and “equipping” them with ¼” sheet metal screws drilled into the bottoms. The screws aren’t long enough to stick into your feet and they’re much more practical than trying to run in something like Yak Trax.

All I can say is, if you’re going to run outdoors through the winter, be smart about it. It won’t help you a bit if your running program comes to a screeching halt because you’re either sick or nursing running injuries.
Stay warm,



  • running injuries,
  • winter running,
  • beginning runner,
  • gore-tex,
  • running conditioning,
  • shoes,
  • windproof clothing

10 CommentsLeave a comment below

Another fantastic blog entry on an important and relevant topic, Danny!  I live and run in Michigan where it is often 20F or below in the Winter.  The best product I’ve found for your Upper Body #4 is the SIMMS ExStream Balaclava.  It’s designed for fly-fishing, but it’s the perfect running face cover.  I love it so much that I made this brief video:

I’ve read that covering your face in the extreme cold can also help prevent exercise-induced asthma.

I can personally vouch for what you say about the “screw shoes” solution.  I love mine!  I ran an 8K race on snow-packed roads a few days ago, and my screw shoes were a life saver.  This is a much better solution than YakTrax, as the screws are directly attached to your shoes.  They come out leaving practically no marks if you want to remove them.  Here’s a great explanation about “screw shoes” by Matt Carpenter:

Thanks for thinking of those of us up here in the cold climates!


Michal Enders Jan 2nd, 2010 06:17am

Try Yak Traks instead of screws- there are some generic ones this year also.  A must for Michigan!

running mom Jan 2nd, 2010 08:07am

How do you keep water from freezing on your long runs?  After about an hour I have ice in my bottles.

I’m from Wisconsin, and it’s routinely around 5 degrees F when I go out for my early-morning runs (the dogs are too smart to leave the house when it’s any colder than that).  Vaseline etc. is another great way to keep exposed skin from getting frostbite.  And I resoundingly second your advice on the windproof briefs…you especially notice it when you’re running into the wind, even if it’s just a breeze.  Maybe about 10 below zero is where I give up—at that point I have augmented all your suggestions with a second mask, ski goggles, a second pair of mittens, a second pair of windproof undies, a thick insulated layer between my windproof jacket and long-sleeved tech shirt, and plastic bags between my Smartwools and my shoes to keep my feet from getting frostbite.  That’s also when I start thinking about developing a running snorkel (but that’s all I’m going to say about my “million-dollar” idea).  When I start thinking about inventions is when I give up running for a week or so and go swimming.

As for running on ice, I think running on slippery surfaces is a really good way to get a feel for relaxing the legs more.  I find I tend to lose my footing when I’m pushing off with my legs, but not lose my footing if I’m running with my core.  When my lean is right and my legs are just keeping me vertical, they aren’t pushing against the ground, hence no slip.

Maybe I’m just trying to make lemonade about going out when the conditions are semi-insane, but I love the challenge and the solitude.  I used to live in the Bay Area, too, and one of the things I really disliked was the similarity between the seasons, especially relative to Wisconsin.  Although I can see why people enjoy it, I actually feel sorry for those who have to run in the same weather all the time.

My running group and I have been using these particular ice cleats called “spiky ie cleats” for years now and we all love them.  Just did a few runs in Bozeman Montana last week and brought them with me, used them on a bunch of trails.  Love the duct tape tip.

Susan Calderon Jan 12th, 2010 02:52pm

When it’s very cold outside I wear my “Hannibal Lechter knit mask!

Yeah running in the winter takes a someone thats truly passionate about the sport.  We run in vermont and the ice is our biggest challenge. I have been running in Spiky Ice Cleats, best product I have found on the market yet.  They are a bit more expensive than others, but it’s because they really are high quality and trust me I put them through the test.

Danny, something you might want to tell people, espically if they are experienced runners and are trying to learn Chi running after years of power running, in repect to running in cold weather. When I was power running, I could get away with wearing shorts in weather as cold as 30 degrees, because the work from my legs kept them warm. But with Chi Running, I try to relax my legs and they get cold even at 40 degrees. Just someting to be mindful of.

Hi, I ran the Goofy Challenge in Orlando this January.  The temps were 28 deg (-1 w/windchill) on Saturday for the Half; and 22 deg (-20 w/windchill) on Sunday for the Full.  I prepared for the cold by wearing thermal wicking long johns - the kind skiers wear (I used Cuddl Duds); and a Gortex lined running shoe.  Considering the fact that I get cold easily, I only had on the undies with a shirt and thin jacket - which I took off and wore around my waist - with my compression tights.

Hi Andria,
Sounds like you did a fabulous job of wearing all the right things to prevent hypthermia at the Goofy Challenge. You are definitely hardier (if not crazier) than I.  I used to get cold easily until I moved to the South. Now I get hot easily.

All the best,

Women's Running Clothing Sep 3rd, 2010 11:12am

Great suggestions, I live and run in Utah where we have a real winter. Thanks

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