Winter Running Gear – Reviews of Personal Favorites From Head-to-Toe

Well, winter is upon us, and as the dark arrives progressively earlier, the cold wind starts to howl, and the snow begins to fall, we runners who live in the northern climes must begin to adapt. I’ve received a number of emails recently asking for recommendations about winter running gear, so I figured it was time to write up a post. I’ll be open and admit that last winter was the first where I ran all the way through the worst winter had to offer (a January marathon helped with that, as well as my hatred of the treadmill), and with a 50K in March and Boston in April, this winter is going to be another where I have no choice but to brave the cold. Below are a few of the items that I have found to be winter running essentials.


 Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp

Black Diamond SprinterNow that it’s getting dark by about 5:00 here in New Hampshire, my evening runs most definitely require some illumination. I reviewed the Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp last year, and it is still my go-to headlamp for night runs. It’s bright, the rechargeable battery seems to last forever, and the red LED blinker in the back is nice for added safety on the roads. For a great all-around headlamp, you need look no further than this one.


Hat – Mountain Hardware Dome Perignon Hat

Mountain Hardware Dome Perignon Hat I have a number of hats that I rotate regularly depending on weather conditions. My go-to hat for really cold runs is a Mountain Hardware Dome Perignon hat. Constructed with Gore Windstopper fabric, it does a fantastic job of keeping cold air at bay, and is breathable enough to not cause my head to get too hot. The only drawback is that the Windstopper fabric can make it hard to hear, so you have to be extra vigilant about cars if you are a road runner.


Balaclava – Under Armor Coldgear Hood

Under Armor Balaclava For really cold days it’s critical to be able cover up as much skin as possible. In the dead of winter I frequently run burglar-style with a balaclava covering my face. The one I have is an Under Armor Coldgear balaclava that I bought at a local sporting goods store, and I like it because the portion that covers the nose and mouth can be pulled down off the face if it’s not too cold. The one issue I sometimes run into with the balaclava is that if I cover my nose with it, condensation from my breathing will tend to pass up under my sunglasses and cause them to fog up. This can be a pain, so I rarely go full coverage on the face.


Neck Gaiter – Columbia Fleece Neck Gaiter

Columbia Fast Trek Neck Gaiter Neck gaiters are handy little accessories since they can be raised up or down off the face to act as an additional barrier layer from the cold wind. I tend to skip the balaclava unless it’s really frigid, and the Columbia fleece neck gaiter is a perfect alternative since it is more versatile. Neck gaiters also help keep cold air from passing down the collar of your jacket.


Windbreaker – Saucony Epic Run Jacket

Vizi Pro Epic Run I tend to prefer layering to wearing any type of heavy coat on really cold runs, so my top layer is usually just a simple windbreaker. Lately I have been testing out a Saucony Epic Run jacket made from their blindingly bright Vizi-Pro orange fabric (disclosure: this jacket was provided to me by Saucony), and it works great as both a top layer and as a high-visibility layer for night runs and hunter alert on trails.


Tights – Most Any Will Do

Saucony Vizi Pro Tights Yes, I fought it for a long time, but I’m now a true believer in the value of winter running tights. They can be pricey, but are well worth it on those very cold days in the dead of winter. I have tights from Brooks, Nike, Under Armor, Target, and Saucony. Of these, the Nike are the most comfortable, and the Saucony Omni LX II Vizi-Pro tights (see left) are cool because they have a zipper at the bottom of the leg that makes them far easier to put on and take off. Interestingly, some of my fastest races have occurred while wearing tights, not sure what the correlation there might be…


Gloves – Brooks Vapor Dry 2

Brooks Vapor Dry Glove Similar to hats, I also have a variety of gloves that vary in thickness so I can choose the appropriate pair depending on the weather. My personal favorite are my Brooks Vapor Dry gloves. They are medium weight and work well in the coldest conditions I have run in. I like that the thumb folds off to allow for easy iPod adjustment, and there is a nice, terrycloth nose-wipe strip along the thumb and index finger – gross, but necessary when running in winter.


Traction Device – YakTrax Pro

YakTrax Pro Several people have asked me about winter running shoes, and to be honest, my answer is basically to wear what you usually do and add in a pair of YakTrax if it’s messy out. I do have a pair of La Sportiva Wildcat GTX Gore-Tex trail shoes that I will sometimes wear if it’s wet and cold, but the high heel on those is not to my liking these days. I have heard that the YakTrax can have durability issues, but haven’t run into that yet myself, and they’re pretty affordable. This winter I’ll be testing out a pair of Stabilicers traction devices which are supposedly more rugged, so stay tuned for a review on those – they were sent to me last winter just after the last snow melted, so I never got the chance to use them.


Where to Buy

If you like buying on-line, my advertising partner Running Warehouse has a great selection of winter running gear, and you get 10% off all purchases with the Runblogger discount coupon (click here for coupon – discount appears in shopping cart). Many of these products are also available at your local running store or via various other on-line retailers.

Disclosure Statement

The Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp, Saucony Epic Run Jacket and Omni LX II Vizi Pro tights, and YakTrax were provide to me free-of-charge as test products by the manufacturers. All remaining products were personal purchases.

Running Warehouse: Great prices on closeout shoes! View men's and women's selections.
Amazon.com: 25% or more off clearance running shoes - click here to view current selection.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Good post Pete. Living in NW Indiana we have our fair share of cold weather too. In past winters I have worn shorts until 20 degrees, then tights. This winter I’ve been wearing tights starting about 25 degrees. Probably better for my legs, to help keep the muscles warm. I have a pair of Hot Chilli tights (ski base layer) that work well and a cheap pair of Starter tights that I really like. The Starter tights tend to block the wind better.

    On top I wear a short sleeve compression shirt and UA Cold Gear mock. That does the job pretty well, but if it is windy or temps in the mid-low teens, I’ll throw another shirt on top.

    My biggest issue is gloves. I have a thinner pair of cotton gloves that work OK, but when colder some of my fingers get cold. I have a pair of thicker gloves, but then my hands almost sweat too much. Santa is bringing a pair of Saucony Ulti-Mits soon. I’m excited to try them out. They are a glove with a fold back mitten covering the fingers. I’m hoping the will breathe better.

    Thanks for the work you do on runblogger. Always good information!

  2. Love finding out about the Brooks gloves & the Yak Trax… think I”ll put a request in to Santa. Unfortunately, Running Warehouse doesn’t have any girly sizes of these. I need to get the inside scoop from Mrs Runblogger on where to shop!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Sadly, my wife doesn’t share my penchant for buying fancy running gear :)

      Pete

      On Friday, December 10, 2010, Disqus

  3. Great cold-weather gear review. My challenge is that while running I build-up an incredible amount of core heat, so that even in nearly zero (F) conditions I’m completely happy with a T-shirt, windbreaker, ear protection, running shorts with a liner, and mittens (my hands get colder quicker than most runners).

    My concern is, if I were to somehow be incapacitated, say by twisting an ankle after slipping on the ice (despite my YakTrax, which I agree are great) and be forced to walk home that the clothing that I’m carrying that’s suitable while running is totally – and potentially dangerously – inadequate. Consequently, especially when running in cold weather I: a) Wrap an extra very think Tyvek windbreaker which I wrap around my mid-section, and that would serve as an emergency garment under such a circumstance; b) Carry a cell phone with my local emergency contacts already pre-programmed such that frigid fingers can still place a call; c) Begin my run *into the wind* such that the return leg (where I’m potentially walking) would feel warmer due to the reduced wind chill; d) Have a route which has *absolutely minimal* interaction with vehicles (most of whom are NOT expecting a pedestrian on the roadway, and given the icy conditions and their narrowed road width they’re *far* more likely to strike a runner). Winter weather is a lot of fun, and with a few precautions you can assure yourself and your family that it’s safe too!

  4. Cherelle5kids says:

    Running in the U.P. of MI is challenging. I have the Black Diamond headlamp and use it on every run from fall till late spring. I like that the light is adjustable and it is rechargeable.

    I’ve recently discovered some Smartwool glove liners. Though temps need to be below 10 F to use them with my Asics running mitts.

    Janmac,
    My ‘girly’ places to shop are Athleta, SkirtSports, Endless shoes and REI My favorite tights are Athleta Windwarrior Tights which are available in tall. Those paired with the Ice Queen Skirt and you can run in any cold weather.

  5. Nice reviews, very helpful. Thanks mucho!

  6. Runnermatt says:

    I generally have a pair of trail shoes for winter/ snow conditions. Regular shoes simply are not made for wet conditions- especially some of the more minimal shoes. (not too mention the wind blows right through them) We get a pretty quick snow melt here in CO so I deal with slush more than anything.

  7. Having run in the REAL north I can easily say none of that stuff is needed. If you have trail shoes and some winter gear such as a toque, gloves, jacket you’re good to go.

  8. Joe Maller says:

    Thanks for posting this. Winter came fast in the NE this year. I’m still trying to figure out what I have and what works (every year?) but two items I’m happiest with so far this season are my Under Armour Coldgear Mock (as Matt mentioned) and Injinji Nuwool socks. Otherwise, lots of layering.

  9. Whotrustedus says:

    I’m into my 4th season with my Yaktrax Pros. The wire grips are definitely wearing out. But I love ‘em.

    I also like the Under Armour balaclava. Light but warm with lots of wearing combinations.

    For my hands, I picked up a pair of heavy duty mittens with mitten liners at my local outdoor store. I think they were designed for snowmobiling or something. I choose the liners and/or mittens over any glove in my closet most colder days. yeah, i have to pull them to adjust my ipod but my hands are just more comfortable in mittens than gloves.

    I’ve swore off tights at any temp. If my feet, hands, head, & torso are warm, i don’t need any leg covering to stay warm. And I get the added benefit of great reactions from others when they see me running in shorts in 10 degree weather!

  10. Chris Szumigala says:

    Thanks for the ideas! Greatly appreciated here on the north coast in Erie, PA.

  11. The one piece I never go without in the winter is a baselayer from Craft. I used to wear a UA cold gear top, but I felt it lacked breathability. Also a pair of well fitting tights is nice too (tights are way warmer than pants for their weight)

  12. Though temps need to be below 10 F to use them with my Asics running mitts

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