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Q&A: How to Dress for Cold-Weather Running

What’s the best way to dress for a long run in cold weather?

The winter is often a challenging time to train and get inspired to get your mileage in. The cold weather can make for some difficult runs if not dressed appropriately for the conditions. Because the body generates heat when exercising, a general rule of thumb to consider when running in cold weather is to dress like it is 20 degrees warmer than it actually is.

It is important to keep the following guidelines in mind when choosing what to wear to run in chilly conditions:

1. Dress in layers of insulating fabrics.
The first layer should be a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene, which wicks sweat from your body. It is recommended that cotton be avoided because it has a poor insulating and wicking ability. The outermost layer should be a protective shell fabricated with a breathable layer of nylon or Gore-Tex; this will help protect you against wind and any precipitation while still letting out heat and moisture to prevent overheating. In between layers, depending on the temperature, polar fleece can also help to serve as an additional insulator.

2. Cover your exposed skin.
The body loses the majority of its heat through unprotected skin—mostly through the head, hands, and feet. Protecting these areas through the use of gloves or mittens, a winter hat, a scarf, and insulating socks will help prevent heat loss, so that your circulatory system will have more heat to distribute to the rest of your body. In addition, sunscreen and lip balm are other tools to utilize to protect your skin.

3. Stay hydrated.
While you may not feel as thirsty as you get when running in warmer weather, your body is still creating heat and losing fluids through sweat. It is important to fuel your body and to hydrate before, during, and after your run.

4. Be aware of the temperature and the wind chill.
Sub-zero temperatures with even stronger winds are dangerous conditions that pose the threat of frostbite and further medical emergencies. In these cases, it may just be smarter to train on the treadmill or cross-train indoors.


Tracey Colantonio

Tracey Colantonio, PT, DPT, is a doctor of physical therapy at Hospital for Special Surgery. She did her undergraduate work at Manhattan College and her graduate studies at Hunter College. She played soccer in college and has since found a love for running. She is passionate about sports medicine and specializes in treating orthopedic injuries.

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