Apparel for Inclemental Weather

Desoto Sport Cold Weather Gear [link here]

The key to being comfortable
running in any condition is selecting the proper apparel and wearing appropriate combinations.  I have lived through a lot of winters in the Midwest.  Even though I live in Nashville now it still gets cold. 

Here I will provide a summary of the different pieces, the purposes of each, and suggestions on acquiring and utilizing these items.  To remain comfortable in a range of conditions, the key is layering.  Here is a discussion of layers for the upper body:

1. Base layer (wicking):  The base layer is probably the most important because this is they layer closest to the skin.  What purpose does the base layer have?  Wick moisture away from the skin to keep you feeling dry and warm.  Even if you are wearing non-technical layers (such as a cotton sweatshirt) over a base layer, you will be more comfortable with a quality base layer.  Technical base layer clothing will consist of synthetic materials such as polyester, lycra, or spandex.  These fabrics are called different names by different companies. Some examples are dry-fit, cool-max, duo-max, etc.  Base layer can be long or short sleeve. Some are a more plush, soft material and others are constructed to be a thicker “weave” type texture.  If it is a nice day out this is the only layer you would wear.  The base layer will not absorb and hold moisture (sweat) as a cotton fabric would. 

2. Mid-layer (warmth): When selecting multiple layers, the mid layer is typically an insulative, heat-trapping garment.  Traditionally this layer is some kind of fleece material that traps in body heat.  Newer high-tech middle layers have a tighter, denser weave than fleece.  In cold (but not frigid) weather with minimal wind or precipitation, a combination of base and middle layer is appropriate. 

Most middle layers have a zipper at the neck.  Raising and lowering the neck zipper can greatly vary the amount of heat that your clothes retain.  When you shift into or with the wind, earlier or later in the run, etc., you will probably want to make fine tune adjustments by moving the zipper.

3.  Outer layer (vapor barrier): The purpose of this layer is to repel wind and precipitation while still allowing sweat to escape.  Remember, if clothing traps sweat then you will feel colder.  These garments range from wind- and water- “resistant” which means they repel some wind and water, to the designation of  “windproof” or “waterproof” which is very heavy duty outer layer.  In all likelihood you will not need the latter for running because you will be generating enough body heat during exercise.  Sometimes a mid-weight outer layer and a base layer are a good combination for running.   

In very cold conditions you may need a base/middle/outer combination, but normally running generates enough body heat that you don’t this many layers.  Remember start with a good base layer, then add what you need: Is it windy or damp out? Then add an outer layer.  Is it especially cold? Then add extra insulation with a middle layer.

4.  Legs:  A range of options are available here too.  Again, synthetic/technical fabrics are the preferred choice.  Tights will keep the legs warm and range from light-weight to wind-and waterproof.  Track pants fit similar to tights but are a little more lose for a more conservative profile.  Running pants are fine too.  Look for ones with zippers on the ankles so you can take them off/put them on without taking your shoes off. 

5.  Head and hands:  The first thing to get cold will be your hands, and the most body heat escapes from the head.  That means that the first thing to be covered should be hands and head.  I will sometimes race in nothing but a tank top, shorts, gloves and hat.  You can wear fewer other clothes if you have these covered.  NO ONE SHOULD SHOW UP FOR A RUN IN THE COLD WITHOUT STOCKING CAP or HEADBAND, and GLOVES.   

Jog bra.  As a male I don’t have to personally worry about this piece, but my female clients do.  Be sure to find a synthetic material that offers enough comfort and support for your needs without causing chafing.  


Cycling: Apparel for cold weather riding takes special considerations because your exercise is occuring at 15-25 miles per hour.  You also have the special consideration that you want tight fitting clothing because loose apparel flops around in the wind and is distracting.  For cold weather cycling focus firstly on wind-resistance and wind proof apparel to keep the wind from sapping your body heat. 

Tight fitting, layered apparel can keep you comfortable in temperatures of 40's-30's-even 20's.  Smart combinations will keep you dry, warm, and training dilligently.

Be especially agressive in keeping hands and toes warm: I bike in heavy duty ski gloves, and lobster gloves are also warm.  For your feet it is pretty much a necessity to have toe or shoe covers once the temp drops.

Acquiring technical apparel: To go out and purchase at retail price each of these items would be fairly expensive.  Do not worry if you can’t afford one of everything right now.  Be sure to start with a base layer that you like. Then add a piece here and there when you can.  Over time you will accumulate a nice collection that you can mix-and-match to wear in any condition.  Trial and experimentation will help you discover what to wear in each weather condition. 

Start Cool. Another warning…if it is cold out and you start your run comfortable, then you will probably get too hot.  You probably want to be just a little chilly at the start of a run to account for body heat when you get going.  Again, zippers and flaps can be opened up to allow some heat to escape, but nothing is worse than being too hot when it is cold out.  This is less a worry on cycling. But still remember if you overdress you will sweat too much and end up miserable.  Remember, experimentation will lead you to find combinations that you like.