Cold Weather Training & Clothing


Experience From - Charles Steele#1, Janice O'Grady, Charles Steele#2, Karl King#1, Dave Hurd, Kevin Setnes , Dave Cooper , Sam Lucido , Gary Bruner , Richard Ratzan , Damon Lease , Barry Craig , Dana Roueche , Karl King#2 , Bill McCracken ,

Charles Steele #1

I do long runs in cold weather, including sub-zero blizzards. For a long run (say at least two hours) I've run at temps down to minus 20-25F. It requires some caution and preparation, of course. I suggest:

  1. try shorter distances first, to detect any problems you might have; e.g. what clothing and other gear works, what body parts get cold, etc. This takes some experimenting and adjusting; it's easy to have part of yourself way too warm and other parts frozen at the same time.

  2. run on a course where you are never more than a few minutes from indoors, just in case you get into trouble. I never have had a problem, but if weather is truly extreme a dangerous problem (e.g. hypothermia, frostbite) can develop very quickly.

  3. take extra precautions to make sure you are visible to cars. Drivers can't see in the snow, especially since their windshields are iced over, and the last thing they expect to see is a maniac out running in the snow. They can't stop or maneuver on the ice, either.

I love cold weather and love cold weather running; it tends be very slow running, and takes some fortitude; it is thus great for building a mileage base, and a "keep moving" attitude. And it changes your idea of what constitutes tough running conditions.

Janice O'Grady

100-mile training can be done in the cold! I never had trouble with getting cold--and I think the idea of "freezing your lungs" is an old wive's tale. Never heard of a frozen lung among the hundreds of winter runners I know. Most of us wore good Gore-Tex running suits. Underneath wear one or two layers of polypropelene or similar tops and bottoms, as necessary. Gore-Tex mits over gloves work great. Good wool hat, neck warmer, and ski mask if windchill is bad. You'll be warm within half a mile. I agree with the advice about not getting too far from where you can get indoors in case of emergency. Our group did 30-milers in Minneapolis when it was below zero with no problem. Some of the snowy days were the best. Just don't worry about going fast. It takes a lot of energy for your body just to stay warm, and footing is often crumby. So take your time and enjoy!

Charles Steele #2

Janice's advice on cold weather running is good. Here are my thoughts on a few of the details:

    It's very easy to overdress. This is no problem on a short run, but very bad on a long one, as you'll sweat heavily and then chill down badly. It is surprising how little clothing you can wear and be comfortable. I think the key points to dressing correctly are:

    The primary purpose of windchill measures is to make the weather reports seem more dramatic. When I originally said I have done long runs in weather down to -25F, I meant temperature, not windchill. Windchill changes every time you change direction or speed.

    You can defeat windchill by

Karl King #1

Some locals here swear by riding an exercise bike for 10 minutes before going outside to run in the cold. The indoor warmup has them at comfortable temperatures when they step out the door.

Dave Hurd

Because I lightly frost bit my toes years ago, they are sensitive to cold. I struggled with ineffective methods for years, including vaselining the toes, heavier socks in larger shoes, two and three pair of socks. plastic over the toes (baggies or bread wrappers) and then socks, or first socks and then bread wrappers. None worked. Experimentation over time has produced an effective, if somewhat awkward, answer. I glue (with Shoe Goo) narrow strips of Velcro from the extreme front of each shoe, along both sides, to a point about halfway back towards the heel. Then, I have sewed some crude hoods (with which to cap the toes) with Goretex outside (cut from a worn out jacket) and wool and neoprene lining inside, with strips of the other face of Velcro running along each hood's lower edge. The Velcro shoe-gooed to the shoe is placed just above the edge of the sole on the shoe's upper. (in earlier attempts I shoegooed the Velcro to the edge of the sole, but constant compression and expansion just popped the Velcro off the sole edge). Then the hoods are simply placed over each shoe's upper, and the Velcro holds them in place. For further certainty the hoods will stay in place, I safety pin them (2 pins each foot) to the shoelaces at the highest point the shoelaces reach. These hoods do a splendid job in keeping the toes warm. They do not interfere with running.

For biking, there are excellent booties on the commercial market which work well without modification, but I've not seen commercial toe "hoods" for running. For ice skating, the bike booties are splendid. Just slit the sole from toe to heel in a single line parallel to the length of the bootie, and drop them over the ice skate before donning the skate. They can be lifted out of the way to lace the skate, and then dropped back into place for use.

One caution: in shoegooing the Velcro to the shoe, the glue is quite slow drying, and the Velcro is flowing around curves as it follows the shape of the shoe. A long strip of Velcro tends to pop up from the shoegoo around a curve, and so does not stick. Holding it in place for 5 minutes (boring) seems to keep the glue and Velcro from separating. One can do one side of two shoes in one evening, and the other sides the next. May your toes be comfy!

Kevin Setnes

It's Cold Again - Layer yourself for protection.

For us in the great white north, its winter - and this year it arrived early with heavier than normal snow for November and early December.

It seems that whenever I travel, especially to warmer climates, people will ask me "How do you run during the winter?" Same old question - same old answer. You dress for it. This weather is nothing new for us. Most of us have grown up with it. The big difference today though is the clothing. The advances in hi-tech clothing have been a big help to the distance runner. Polypropylene, Goretex and Micro fiber to name a few of the materials that help protect us from the elements.

Wind Direction
The first and what I feel is the most important thing about running in cold is the WIND DIRECTION. Wind direction and wind speed can vary your "feels like" temperature greatly. It is imperative that you plan your run with wind direction in mind.

The "feels like" temperature can vary by as much as 50-60 degrees depending on whether you are running with the wind or against it. If you have a strong wind out of the west and the wind chills are in the minus 40-50 degree range, it is far better to warm up inside briefly and then head out into the wind direction (west). This may be tough, but it is worth it once you get to turn around and head for home. More runners have suffered frost bite (or hypothermia) from getting wet from perspiration and then having to turn into the bitter wind and make their way home. Even with great outer shell like Goretex suits, it can be dangerous.

Layering the body is one of the biggest tips a runner can receive. The layering concept consists of areas. The first is:

The Inner Layer: This layer should adhere to your body fairly closely. It should be of a material that is moisture resistant. The idea is to whisk the moisture away from the body as much as possible. This inner layer should pass the moisture away from the body to the middle layer of clothing.

Example of inner clothing are: Drylete, Polypropylene and Thermax.

The Middle Layer: The second or middle layer is not always needed. However if it is extremely cold it best to wear a layer that insulates the body as much as possible and is capable of absorbing the inner layers moisture. While it is common for people to put on a larger cotton like top here, it is wise to choose a middle layer that is still moisture resistant. The idea is to continually to try and pass the moisture out ward.

The Outer Layer: The outer layer or shell is designed to protect you from the wind (windbreaker) and/or freezing rain. At the same time it should be ventilated to allow escaping moisture to be evaporated. This outer shell should be loose fitting to allow for a better insulation and better performance of the inner moisture resisting fabrics.

The Hands: The hands are out there exposed - away from the body. I recommend a thin inner glove made of Polypropylene or similar moisture resistant fabric followed by a outer mitten made out of Goretex. This is the best combination for keeping the hands dry and protected.

The Head: Don't forget about the head! A tremendous amount of heat can be lost through the head. If you loosing a lot of heat through the head, the rest of your body suffers.

Dave Cooper

Kevin Setnes post was the best and most complete on this topic but I would add one thing for the feet. Fleece lined neopreme socks. Someone else mentioned these a few months back and they are great. Try it you'll like it.

Sam Lucido

Peyton Robinson wrote

"I'm looking at a cold! weather run tomorrow. For those who have seen the weather reports--you know, cold! Hey, I've run in -5 before, for 8 miles or so. I had icicles hanging down from my ears. And I did not like it. But I'm looking at a long run in the morning. Now I live in Kansas. But there are many of you listers that live in the upper regions. Please advise: How do you do it? I got the basics down. I can figure out the clothes for the two hour run in most cold weather. But is that all there is? Am I missing some of the finer points? What layers do you wear? Do you run indoors instead? Is there some special fabric involved here? Is it just what is going on inside that matters? A posting of advice from those in the know might help many of us who just do NOT like cold.


If you do not like the cold you may have a problem. Here in Minnesota, this winter has been a runner's dream....(if you like the cold).

As with most things attitude is key. Also, as with most things, preparation is also critical. Runs in temperatures at -10 degrees, -15 degrees? with wind chills at -40 degrees? who knows? As you may find out, the colder the weather, the better the traction. As the temperature warms toward 32 degrees, traction gets terrible.

As far as clothing, its the standard response. Lots of synthetics that will wick sweat. lots of layers to allow you to adjust for wind and body heat during your run. When wind chills get much below zero, protect all skin from frost(face, ears, etc).

I encourage venturing out in the coldest possible conditions. Its an especially good feeling to dress well for a long run and know your comfortable when no one else can believe it.

You may be quite surprised at how much water you'll go through. The colder the temperature the lower the humidity and the more moisture your body loses. Carry a water bottle and keep it under a layer of clothing so it doesn't freeze.

There are lots of little tricks that you'll find through experimentation.

Gary Bruner

Let me jump in too, some philosophy, some how-to...

Stan Lucido's comments are right on the mark about attitude. I definitely am not a masochist, but I do confess to a warm, fuzzy--OK, smug--feeling when I'm out there and the other guys aren't. Some of my greatest runs have occurred, when by any objective standard, the weather stinks. In a certain sense, there's no such thing as bad weather, only weather for which you are unprepared.

Here in PA we get our share of cold weather, though not as severe as the upper Midwest. But regardless of the absolute temperature, we all know the standard advice is that you gotta go in layers. That's correct, but what you don't really hear emphasized much is the flip side--that you also gotta be willing to peel off those layers as you warm up and with temperature/wind changes. For example, in say 0-10 degree weather I wear a long sleeve polypro type turtleneck, another long sleeve T-shirt, and then a short sleeve T-shirt. If I sense that I'm sweating a little too much I'll stop to take off the second long sleeve T-shirt and tie it around my waist before my whole top gets real wet. Also I'm always tinkering with my knit hat, mittens, whether I push my sleeves up, etc. In other words, actively manage your personal microclimate. Sure, it's a minor hassle to peel clothes off/on. You can't avoid getting damp from sweat but you do want to avoid getting wet.

If the winds are strong, or if I'm going to be off the beaten track I'll also begin the run with a windbreaker top on, or around my waist for backup.

My wife worries about me going off into the hinterlands alone, and even though I always tell someone where I'm going and when I expect to be back, let's face it--if you keel over for any reason you're going to be out there hours until help arrives. You could freeze, literally. So in my belt pack I always carry a space blanket (virtually no weight) plus a candle/matches with which to start a fire (assuming I am conscious!).

Richard Ratzan

I couldn't agree more and am glad I'm not the only one into rugged ultra-running i.e., off trail and also not the only one whose wife wants me to write down each planned trail before running (I have agreed to do this but don't). I have even gotten a bracelet/anklet for id should I suffer a problem. However, where I run often there is no one for hours (many hours) who would find me - which is why I run these trails - for their solitude - so I am not sure why I bother.

Andy Holak

I ran last night (granted only 4 miles) in some bone chilling weather as well (Minnesota). We didn't crack zero here, and the wind chills were in the -30 degree range. I find that you don't really have to dress in TONS of layers to stay warm. The most important thing is to cover as much (all) open skin as possible. This means definitely wearing some sort of ski mask. I have been wearing a stocking cap with a neck gaiter pulled up over my nose and face. This works pretty well, but it gets a little cold around the eyes.

Last night I got hot wearing a Polypropylene top, long-sleeve T-shirt, wind jacket and heavy gloves on top, and polypro long johns and wind pants on the bottom. I ran at a fast pace since I wasn't going that far, and heated up quickly. Running at a slower pace may require that you dress a bit warmer. Good luck, and be careful on the ice!

Damon Lease

I've gained some good experience in this in the few months I've been in Anchorage, and I've been pretty comfortable in some very cold weather so far. But, of course, some of the other list members gave me some good advice before I moved here, and a local running shop gave me the rest of the advice, selling me lots of good cold weather clothing. I can't take credit for coming up with this equipment list, but I have been comfortable in temps that would have kept me inside in bygone years.

One of the rules up here seems to be a twenty degree rule - what would you wear if you were inactive, and the temp was twenty degrees higher? Start with that, use good whisking materials, and you don't need to add or peel layers.

For 20 degrees with no wind, I would wear the following, from bottom to top:

When it gets windy, or the temps drop below five, I add the following to the above list: I've been out up to three hours with highly negative wind chills recently, and I've had no problems at all. It's actually very peaceful to be out when so few others are out. Although, in Anchorage, there are always at least a few other souls out, even in sub-zero weather.

Last Saturday I saw eight moose and one bald eagle during my run. A few weeks before I saw a small while weasel, whose official name I forget. The ravens are always nearby, almost like vultures waiting for you to drop. They're going to have to wait a few more years to have my carcass.

Barry Craig

I have more experience with fast packing than with ultra running. But starting out with more and "layering down" works best for me. The trick is to layer down before too much "moisture"(nice word, don't you think?) builds up.

Heavy layers at the temps you describe will cause you to overheat as you run but you need to make sure you have enough in case you have to walk. At 8 degrees and 50+mph winds my windproof shell was my most important piece of clothing. Under it I had two midweight poly pro shirts. I was fine as long as I kept moving.

My beard seems to protect my face but my wife uses a windproof mask.

Duct tape? Of course duct tape. There is always room for duct tape.

Today when I ran it was 25 degrees and 15mph winds. The poly pro and sweatshirt I wore were almost too much but not if I had needed to walk.

Dana Roueche

Andy Holak asks:

Could the cold weather running be making us tougher?!? What do you all think?

I agree with Andy. I have 25 winters of experience of running in sub zero weather. I run at 5 AM every day, 4 days/wk is on a 14.4 mile loop that I do regardless of the weather. Lately it has been 10 to 15 F below zero in balmy Colorado. When it warms to zero, I feel like I'm in a heat wave. Over the years, I've found that after getting used to running in sub-zero weather, when it does warm up, I am as strong as a lion.

There are several factors I am aware of that you have to deal with when cold.

First, you are wearing a lot more clothes and carrying a lot more weight, especially after it gets wet. These clothes will restrict some movement. Your muscles are colder and physiologically, the enzymes don't work as well and the muscles tend to be lethargic. Your body is trying to stay warm, possibly shunting blood from the muscles to maintain core temp. Possibly there is less traction and poor footing from snow and ice. There is stress on exposed flesh and mentally, it is a lot of work to hang in there. All in all, you really have to bust your butt just to maintain a slog.

After becoming accustomed to all of that, yes you can with the right attitude. It can be so beautiful and serene, why not. When it does warm and you strip all those layers and weight, your footing improves, your muscles work, you will be ready to conquer the world.

Karl King #2

Vida asked if it is better to be over or under dressed in cold weather.

Been there, done that. I ran in the 1989 Ice Age 50 in the clothes and conditions you describe. I was cold but having fun for about 4 hours. Then the hypothermia started to get a grip on me. Eventually I got to the point that simple mechanical things one normally takes for granted rapidly became impossible. For example, I could not make my hands do the gripping on clothes necessary to go to the bathroom. I got to an aid station that was 4 miles from my car and warm clothes. The trail was wet and slippery, and there were some rocky stretches on the next section. My mind was not working too well and it took a while to dawn on me that if I twisted a knee or ankle on the next section and had to walk a couple miles, I might lose so much heat that the hypothermia would go from bad to deadly. I dropped at the aid station and was shivering greatly. When the driver took me back to my car, he asked if I needed help opening my car door. I was offended - do you think I'm too stupid to know how to open my car? It took me 5 minutes to get the key in the door and turn it.

It seemed like half an hour as I stood there shivering in the wind and rain.

The next year, I and others were prepared. I brought my Goretex shell and some substantial gloves. Some folks at the starting line laughed at my ridiculously over dressed body. A couple hours into the run, we had very similar conditions to the year before ( not quite as cold, but wind and rain for 4 hours ). Thanks to the clothes I had, I finished my first 50 mile run.

So, my experience is that you can underdress and be uncomfortable without penalty if nothing bad happens, but if a freak accident leaves you walking, you can be in big trouble. I'd rather have on too many clothes and have a margin of safety. I may sweat more than is necessary, but if I couldn't stand sweating I'd take up stamp collecting instead of running.

Bill McCracken

Vida asked if it is better to be over or under dressed in cold weather.

Karl King responded:

"So, my experience is that you can underdress and be uncomfortable without penalty if nothing bad happens, but if a freak accident leaves you walking, you can be in big trouble. I'd rather have on too many clothes and have a margin of safety. I may sweat more than is necessary, but if I couldn't stand sweating I'd take up stamp collecting instead of running.

Vida and Karl and all:

I learned back in 1976 when I started ridding my motorcycle again that there is one CARDINAL RULE: "You can take it off if you don't need it, BUT you can't put it on if you didn't bring it with you!" 31 July 76 was a hot day in Portland, OR. Next day, Sunday 1 Aug we went on a motorcycle road run. Cloudy in the morning (8:00am) when we left the house in our jeans and shirts (the Langlitz leather's were still on order); figured it would warm right up, since yesterday was so hot. By noon, we were "frozen" blue. It didn't warm up and it got down to 30 some odd degrees in the coast range where we were riding. After that, I always carry rain gear and start out over dressed, if I am not sure of the conditions.

I carried that philosophy over into my running, and usually it works. I did however, show up in Squaw Valley in June of 1991 and find it cold, windy and raining. Just like Portland. The temp at the top of Emergrant Gap was 32 degrees... and I didn't have tights, long sleeve shirt or gloves along...

I too was running in the mud at night at the Bridle Trails Twilight 50KM in Kirkland, WA. When we started, it was misty and cool, (it had been raining). Started out with coolmax long sleeve shirt, t-shirt over it, tights, ear muff, gloves, and a tyvek jacket. By half way or there about of the 1st loop, I took off the ear muff and the jacket. left the gloves on for "falling " protection. Ran that was the rest of the run. The last loop was run in the rain but I didn't need to put on my jacket.

So my 2 Cents worth is "carry everything in your bag and be prepared for whatever you might encounter." Over dress and cast off if you need. The nice thing about a tyvek jacket is it is light and you can tie it around your waist. I have started out a race with my jacket tied on "just in case, I needed it"