As hard as we wished against it after last winter, the cold weather has returned. For many people that means holing up for the next few months with a cup of tea, a bag of popcorn, and a TV equipped with Netflix. For others, though, training can't (or won't) stop just because the weather changes. For those runners, what you wear is even more important since, in addition to keeping you dry and comfortable, your clothing now has to keep you warm as well. And, since not every day calls for the same level of warmth, wind deflection and protection from precipitation, making sure you have the proper apparel for winter can seem like a confusing process.
Luckily for you, we are hear to simplify things a bit.
Put simply, there is no single piece of clothing that can do everything, so layering is the key. There are three basic layers that runners can mix and match depending on the needs of the day. With a reasonable selection of each layer to choose from you can be prepared for any run conditions. Here is what they are and what they do:
As in the summer, the main purpose of the base layer is to keep you dry. It should be touching your skin so that it can take sweat and wick it away. From there, the sweat is either evaporated or passed on to the next layer. Cold sweat acts as a cooling agent, so by keeping your skin dry you are also keeping yourself warm.
The base layer can be compression or just form-fitting, depending on your preference, but in order to function properly it should touch your skin directly. It can be worn on its own on warmer days where just long sleeves are necessary to keep you warm.
In this image, Chris is modeling a Nike Dri-Fit Knit long sleeve tee for his base layer. He also appears to be pondering whether anyone will actually believe he's stretching and not just posing.
The warmth layer does exactly what it sounds like it does - it has the tricky job of allowing sweat to pass through and evaporate while trapping body heat inside. To accomplish this, the warmth layer is typically made of a slightly different, thicker material than the base layer and also tends to be either a full- or half-zip. The zipper allows the top to be easy to put on and take off, and also allows the wearer to ventilate a little (by lowering the zipper a touch) if things get too toasty out on the road or trail.
In this image, Chris is taking a breather, mid-run. For more warmth he has added Brooks Essential 1/2 Zip III to his ensemble. The zipper is down to let some extra body heat out, but the rest of him is perfectly regulated. ..which is more than can be said for that "No Shave November" beard...
Though the shell layer can add a degree of warmth, its primary job is to protect you from the elements. The fibers used to make these jackets and coats are interlocking and woven so tightly that a water molecule won't penetrate the fabric naturally. This means that water and wind resistance is achieved without a chemical treatment. As a result the fabric is breathable, meaning it works with the layers below it to evaporate sweat and keep your body temperature stable.
On rainy days that are not exceptionally cold, a shell can be worn directly over the base layer. On cold runs, adding a warmth layer in between acts as an extra bit of insulation.
In this image, Chris has added a Saucony Nomad jacket to his base and warmth layers. He still hasn't mastered a believable pose, though.
Mastering the Mixology
Mixing and matching is the name of the game when it comes to layers. Once you have a few options for each layer, how you choose to mix them is entirely up to you and mother nature.
Socks Will Make or Break Your Run
No, we're not joking. Socks really are that important, so don't put all this thought and effort in to taking care of the rest of you, only to throw something cotton on your feet. It is sometimes a little difficult to process, but even a thin non-cotton sock will keep your feet warmer on a run than a thick cotton one. It's all about moisture management. Over the course of an hour the average foot can lose one to two cups of sweat. Since cotton can hold up to three times its own weight in water, a cotton sock soaks that moisture up and keeps it right there against your foot. This effect, at best, makes feet really uncomfortable and, at worst, can lead to frostbite. A non-cotton sock, by contrast will hold less than 10% of its own weight in moisture, evaporating the rest out through the shoe. A good sock, then, is essential to the well-being of your feet. Since they are the part of you actually doing the running, protecting them just makes sense, no?
Some Other Suggestions
Since your legs are doing most of the work on a run, keeping them warm is not as nuanced as your core. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be protected, though. Tights and pants can be mixed and matched, or worn solo, in the same way as tops, depending on the weather. Just make sure that whatever you wear is moisture wicking.
The same goes for gloves and hats. Gloves especially are often a tricky balancing act. They need to be capable of keeping your hands and fingers warm, but breathable enough to keep them dry. Trying on a few brands and models to find a balance that's right for you is probably a good idea. The same goes for hats. Not everyone likes to have something on their head, but sometimes it's a necessity. Try a few and choose the one that feels most natural.
Hopefully we've shed some light on the subject for you. Now all you have to do is come in and try some things on! We look forward to seeing you.