What to Wear Running Outdoors Year Round
When it comes to running outside there are a lot subjective and personal decisions to be made. Everyone is unique and tolerances for climate, culture and consideration for fashion are all different. That said I am going to run down some basics I think that will help any one feel more comfortable and able to focus on running outside year round. If you are lucky enough to live in a climate that is warm or one that does not vary wildly, lucky you. For myself over the year the temperate will vary from nearly -40 with icy wind chill in the winter to high humidity within reach of 40 degrees during the summer and with that comes a lot of gear change.
One thing to keep in mind throughout these temperature ranges is that everyone needs protection from the sun and wind. A good sunscreen even for bits covered by a UV rated material is essential to staying well protected from burns or worse. On cold weather runs protection for lips and face can also mitigate a lot of discomfort later.
At the end of the post I have included links to some of my favorite gear to keep cool, keep warm and perform as best I can year round.
When it's Hot
20 to 30+ Celsius (70 to 85+ Fahrenheit)
During the height of summer days it's hot and humid, it's sunny and it's not always everyone's first choice to venture out to run in the midday heat but maybe it's race day, maybe it's just when you can get out or maybe it's a challenge that drives you.
The most obvious selection here is shorts. Just how short they are depends on what you are comfortable with wearing in public. At this level I prefer a 3-5" inseam, ladies can go shorter but everyone should be looking for a thin light material that wicks sweat away as much possible. Synthetic materials and blends will work best, cotton is going to get hot and heavy quickly. As for fit; a looser cut style will breath a bit better than snug fitting compression but this is somewhat a personal preference. For men it's best if the shorts have some built in support. You can wear underwear if you choose of course, with a good pair of shorts it will be ok if you don't. It's super hot out and being as thin and light as possible is key to being comfortable and running.
On top things are going to vary as you'd expect for men and women. Men can go with nothing at all here if they feel comfortable, it's appropriate and within the rules; many organized races require some sort of torso coverage. Women will have to determine if just a sports bra or combination with a light top works for them. There are literally hundreds of designs, colours technologies and styles from t-shirt, sleeveless and tanks to consider. It can be a bit overwhelming particularly if you are into the fashion of running. But again beyond the style the material should be light and breathable, wicking sweat away and keeping you cool is the priority. I have found through experience that a form fitting shirt will end up a bit lighter, chafe less and be more comfortable as things get sweaty. In reality it will probably take a little experimentation to find exactly what fit and brands work for you.
In the sun and heat a few other accessories can be critical; sunglasses with proper UV protection, a hat with a good visor, and/or a sweatband or cool wrap. With experience others may find benefits from wrist bands, sleeves and knee socks whether the compression type or not.
You may also find you need to wear a hydration belt or pack for longer runs in the heat, I prefer a hand bottle and planing routes around available water sources. Either way job one is keeping as cool and hydrated when trying to run successfully in the heat.
When its Warm
10 to 19 Celsius (50 to 65 Fahrenheit)
Whether it's Spring, an early Summer morning, later in the evening or just when things start to get cooler in the early Fall running outside gets a lot more comfortable with less effort when it's warm but not oppressively hot and humid. This is a great time for personal best times and going further distances.
At the higher end here you are essentially wearing the same clothes as when it's hot though maybe a t-shirt instead of a tank top. You will likely require less hydration options during your run but protection from the sun is still a priority. Towards the lower end of the range you may find that personally you like to switch to a light longer sleeve shirt or a light jacket for the rainy days and change out wearing shorts for 3/4 length tights.
When its Cool
0 to 9 Celsius (32 to 50 Fahrenheit)
Things are starting to turn cold and the switch to warmer layers is starting to happen. While it's not really super cold at the higher end it's still cool enough that long sleeves are probably a go to and even a thin hat and gloves might help keep you be comfortable especially at the start of a run. An alternative option here is to use fitted arm sleeves with a sleeveless/t-shirt which can be useful because you can pull the sleeves down as you warm up.
The colder it gets means a long sleeve over a fitted or compression layer designed to keep you cool and wick sweat away can work well. An alternative to thin layering would be to use a soft mid layer running jacket on it's own or in combination. Another great option is a vest that will help keep your core warm while still allowing your arms to be cooler and keep you regulated.
I tend to stick with shorts throughout this range, doing most of the work, your legs will likely feel the chill the least once you get moving but layering looser shorts over a layer of compression is a good option to protect things higher up. This is also a good time to use shorts made of softer heavier materials. While in the heat you looked to thin, light, synthetic materials, cotton based shorts can work well to keep you feeling snug and comfortable as it gets colder. Tights will be a staple here for many and get a lot more attractive to all as the temperature drops and the wind picks up.
When its Cold
-15 to -1 Celsius (5 to 30 Fahrenheit)
Now it's starting to get cold and while some people will want to head directly towards the indoor options, many think the quiet air, snowy landscapes and crunching under foot makes for some of the best running experiences to be had.
We are building on the layers that we started with when it was just a bit cooler and ideally working towards a three layer system. A thin base layer, a mid layer and outer shell.
The base layer's job will be to wick sweat away from your skin to keep you feeling dry and warm. A fitted or compression layer designed for keeping you cool will get the job done. There are products designed exclusively to be cold enviroment base layers but these can also offer too much heat retention while actively running. At this temperature range you can still opt for a short sleeve base with or with out removable sleeves.
The important mid layer works to absorb some of the moisture wicked from below while trapping your body heat. The should be a soft insulating material designed to fit closely and keep you warm without being thick or heavy. Ideally there is an attached hood for when you need it is nice to have thumb holes in the sleeves to help keep them down and prevent cold air from leaking in.
The outer shell can offer a little extra warmth but shouldn't be extremely heavy as it's primary function is to break the wind and cold air as you run through it as well as offer a barrier to any falling snow and rain without adding a lot of bulk. The benefit of combining three layers that work together is the ability to remove or reconfigure them once you are on the move.
It's very likely that even I have given up heading out in shorts now and have switched to tights (or leggings if you prefer). I will stick with just the tights layer unless it's wet enough to justify a thin pair of splash pants. Typical 3/4 length active wear tights are fine at the warmer end of cold though it's probably a good idea to wear a little something underneath them at colder levels as the thin material will not block much cold where it will count the most.
You may find that the thin running gloves that you've worn previously may not be warm enough at the start. I recommend keeping them though and layering on another pair. Like the outer shell for your body a pair of outer gloves or mittens can offer relief from the cold and wind but as you run it's likely you will find that you will want to remove them, having two layers gives you options.
A light but warm hat is a must but again you can benefit from layers here too. I will continue wearing a head wrap or thiner running beanie to help wick sweat away and keep things drier underneath the primary outer layer. The important thing is to keep your head and ears covered but also to remember to protect your lips and face with a balm and Vaseline or what works best for you. Also while it's cold it can also be bright and sunny, combined with reflection off the snow and ice wearing sunglasses is a logically good idea. Metal frames can conduct too much cold into your temples and head so a rubberized or soft plastic pair is better.
When its Colder
-25 to -16 Celsius (-14 to 4 Fahrenheit)
Now it's really cold out, there is probably snow, the wind is fierce, the sky is grey a lot and days are short. You see others huddling happily inside for warmth and comfort but you look out and think that noting would feel better than a few kilometres of you versus nature.
We are taking all the layering we've built up previously and simply refining them to take on the challenge. Your base layer should probably be long sleeve and while not one purpose built for weeks climbing a mountain, one with moderate cold protection will help keep you warm and dry. Your mid layer remains the same in principle though if the windchill is severe enough layering a vest over top can add just that extra amount of needed cold defence. If you have a slightly warmer or high end outer shell layer you likely wouldn't need the extra vest. The idea is not to add so much bulk that it makes it awkward or frustrating to run but to also keep as warm and dry possible through all the bone rattling gusts of wind.
On the bottom you can still wear a pair of good full length tights, or two but as the temperature drops a pair designed for cold weather running can make a lot of difference in maintaining mobility and comfort. A layer of wind breaking splash pants might also be something to consider if you find your legs getting too numb.
As before layering your gloves and hat is a great idea but you should also add a scarf or balaclava to better protect your face. Your mid or outer layer should have a hood in case you need a bit more warmth.
- Shorts: UA Performance 5"
- Shorts: UA Performance Split
- Shorts: Lululemon Surge Short 3-5"
- Sleeveless: UA Raid
- T-Shirt: UA CoolSwitch V-Neck
- T-Shirt: UA CoolSwitch Compression
- T-Shirt: UA HeatGear® Armour Compression
- Base: UA Base™ 1.0 Crew
- Base: MEC Merino T3 Long Sleeve Crew
- Jacket: UA No Breaks ColdGear® Infrared Jacket
- Jacket: UA No Breaks Balaclava
- Jacket: MEC Fury Reflect Jacket
- Vest: MEC Kinglet Vest
- Tights: UA CoolSwitch Compression ¾
- Tights: UA No Breaks ColdGear® Infrared
- Accessories: UA ColdGear® Infrared Hood