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.
Now 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.