Cross-Hobby Post: Winter Running!

Sometimes I use my blog to expound about some other topic aside from watercolor, especially when I find some obscure set-up that works. I like blogging because it lets me take notes on discoveries I’ve had, especially seasonal ones, so that I can refer back to them the following year when I inevitably forget. Today, I’ll be talking about my hobby of winter running!

I did a watercolor chart of my supplies to tangentially bring in a watercolor angle.

Winter Running Gear Temperature Chart! The chart above shows which gear I use for which temperature. Everybody’s perception of cold is different, so your mileage may literally vary.

My history with running

I’ve tried to pick up running a number of times in my life, but it’s usually short-lived. I don’t like running on a treadmill, but running outdoors means I seem to abandon it whenever the weather gets too hot or cold, leaving me a couple of short windows of temperate weather per year. (Why are spring and fall so brief, and summer and winter seem so endless?)

My last attempt was early spring of 2023, and I didn’t pick it up again until late in November upon learning that I was pre-diabetic and needed to become more physically active for my health. Since I had started so close to winter, I decided I needed to become a winter runner and figure out what gear I needed to keep going through the cold weather. Even though I don’t consider myself hardcore – I go out for 15-30 minutes at a time, near my house, and I don’t run very fast – I quickly found that I couldn’t half-ass my gear. Winter running requires totally different clothing than temperate running, and different gear from winter walking/hiking/general living.

Lessons About Gear

Here’s what I’ve learned this winter about dressing to run in cold weather:

  • Summer clothes are sufficient in cooler temps than you think. My lifetime of dressing for the weather has set me up to think that you wear shorts only in hot, summer weather, but running is much hotter work than walking, so for me, shorts and short-sleeved shirts dominate from about 50F/10C. The fluctuating temps of New England mean that even in the winter, some days are shorts days.
  • Gloves are necessary in warmer temps than you think. Conversely, I’ve always thought of gloves as winter-only outerwear, but I find that even in borderline-shorts weather, my hands can get icy cold, especially if it’s windy. Wind resistance on your hands is relatively high when running, even if the rest of you is getting warm; you can be overheating in my core and still have frigid extremities. I ended up getting a variety of gloves for different specific temperatures, from windproof mittens for cold days; to ultralight liners for relatively warm days; to lightweight gloves with a windproof mitten hood for moderate-but-windy days. By the same token, a wool or fleece headband is nice to protect the ears.
  • Cover up… Minimize exposed skin when it’s really cold out. Even if you don’t feel cold, you can get frostbite.
  • …but lightly. Sweating in below-freezing temperatures can be dangerous because as soon your body cools off, the sweat can freeze and make you even colder. Paradoxically, that means that to avoid freezing, you need to use shockingly lightweight gear (and keep moving!) I run in clothes I would consider far too lightweight for walking around in such cold temps.
  • Layer. In the coldest temps I actually experienced (about 20F/-7C), my best outfit consisted of an ultralight merino wool base layer under an ultralight windproof shell (both top and bottom, e.g. baselayer top + windbreaker + baselayer bottom + wind pants). A nice thing about layering is that you can adjust if you get hot. Each item can also be used separately in other outfits. For example, I wore my baselayer top as a shirt on warmer calm days, and my windbreaker over a T-shirt on moderate-but-windy days.
  • Merino wool is amazing. Somehow, it’s both the coolest and the warmest material; breathable, temperature regulating, and quick-drying. My favorite warm-weather running shirts are short-sleeve tees in an ultralight merino and lyocell blend (125-150 gsm), while my favorite cool-weather running shirts are long-sleeve tees or baselayers worn as shirts in the same weight or slightly heavier (150-175 gsm). 200gsm or higher wool, for me, gets into “heavy baselayer” territory where it’s just too warm for running. The main downside of merino wool is that it’s expensive; the next-best choice is probably synthetic. Avoid cotton, which gets and stays waterlogged.
  • Windproof doesn’t mean waterproof. A lot of windbreakers tout their waterproofing, but I avoid waterproof items for winter running because they’re not breathable enough.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen are important even in winter. The sun can be less strong overall in winter, but I’m also more likely to go out in midday, when it’s strongest. Sunlight can also reflect up when the ground is snowy.

General Winter Running Tips

Aside from gear, here are some lessons I feel I’ve learned about winter-specific technique.

  • I think the most cost-effective way to ease into this hobby is to keep running at progressively colder temperatures until you hit a point where it’s unpleasant, then problem-solve that specific issue for next time. I have a tendency to overprepare, which meant that I got gear I never used (in particular, I overestimated how much I’d use core insulation and underestimated how important windproofing and extremities would be).
  • There’s cold and there’s cold. 32F/0C feels totally different when it’s calm and sunny vs overcast with 20mph gusts of wind. When checking the weather forecast, note wind chill. You may want to shore up the windproofing aspects of your kit if it’s windy out, even if the temperatures are relatively high.
  • Although I’m determined not to let cold stop me from running, ice can. I draw the line at running on thick sheets of ice or during freezing rain because it feels like there’s about an 89% chance I fuck up my knee for good. I try to wait a day or two after an ice storm and seek out roads that have been plowed.
  • I thought nighttime visibility was going to be a big issue because there are so few hours of daylight in winter, but I found that I prioritized making time to run in midday because in addition to being dark, it’s also much colder at night. I literally never ran after dark the entire winter.
  • A five-minute dynamic warmup indoors is an ideal way to transition from sitting still, cold indoors, to being warm enough to brave the outdoors with such light layers! Save static stretches for after the workout.
  • If any part of your body is incredibly cold while you run, turn back. Don’t power through. Frostbite and hypothermia are nothing to mess with. Warning signs: numbness, skin changing color (pale, red, or yellowish), chattering teeth, shivering.


I hope you (and future me!) find these tips useful or, if you have no interest in running or do not live in a part of the world that’s getting cold right now, at least didn’t find it tiresome.

The overall lesson about winter running that I learned this year is this: it’s not as hard as it seems! The overwhelming desire on a cold day is to stay indoors, but I often felt better (and warmer!) when I got moving outside for a bit.