Winter Running Tips: What You Need to Run Outside

“It’s not that bad when there’s no wind.”

Ah, a timeless classic. I have said this a time or two, almost always when I’m justifying why I continue to run outside in the Midwest during winter.

And it’s more than just “not bad,” winter running is great. The cold weather is invigorating, the crisp air is refreshing, and it’s a great opportunity to get outside.

Layers for winter running
Cold weather running is great – with the right layers.

Plan For Success

A great winter running experience boils down to a little mental preparation and, also, a good layering strategy. That is why I have one more saying that goes with winter running — “There is no bad weather, just bad layering.”

Winter Running: Expectations and Safety

But before we dive into all the clothes, gear, and accessories, I’d like to offer a few reminders about what to expect with winter running.

1. Prepare to adjust your pace.

Between slippery sidewalks, snow-packed paths, and mountains of buildup at intersections, there are a lot of obstacles that can slow you down. Don’t fret if your overall pace is slower than average.

2. Up your hydration game.

It sounds funny to imagine getting sweaty in 10 degree weather but it’s going to happen. Drink plenty of water after running, even potentially mid-run depending on duration and effort.

3. Factor in the wind.

Wind is a game changer. Fargo knows wind, no doubt. And it bites extra hard in the winter. Know that it will affect your clothing needs, potentially your route, and even the simple ability to run outside safely.

For example, running in five degree weather with no wind is a very different experience than running in five degree weather with a 20-mile-per-hour north wind.

What to Wear

There’s no shortage of specialty running gear an outdoor enthusiast can buy. There are things you’ve likely thought of like headbands, gloves, and neck buffs — all of which you definitely need.

And in the Fargo area, as we all know, winter can arrive as early as September and stick around until May. So, that’s nine whole months to use your cold weather running gear!

Winter running gear to have a great outdoor run
Just me, still wearing my winter running gear in May.

There are also items you might not need but could consider. Such as, over-the-shoe spikes for navigating snow, headlamps and mittens with built-in lights for dark mornings/evenings, and specialty running sunglasses to prevent fogging.

But overall, you don’t need a ton of the extra gear to enjoy the pavement year-round. Here is my breakdown of what to wear when the temps dip:

Temps in the 30s

When it comes to winter running, 30 degree days feel downright dreamy.

People will run in shorts in this weather!

It’s not as bizarre as it sounds, especially if it is sunny with light wind. I still recommend capris or running leggings, especially if the wind is in the double digits. 

As for layers, start with a nice warm base layer. Just about every company makes some form of a long sleeve, high neck, formfitting top that’s meant to be worn as a base layer. These are designed to wick away moisture while keeping the body warm. Add a light pullover or even a long sleeve T-shirt and you’re set.

If there’s minimal wind, you might not need a hat, but a headband or light buff over the ears is a good idea. And you could forgo gloves, or even get by with simple light ones.

Temps in the 20s

Still a fairly comfortable temperature, layering can stay pretty simple on 20 degree days.

It’s best to opt for full-length tights at this point, although the shorts enthusiasts will still be rockin’ the bare legs.

Up top, I recommend adding a warm fleece pullover on top of the base layer.

A headband can be replaced by a hat and light gloves would be a nice addition. Also at this point, you might want to take a simple buff and wear it as a neck gaiter.

This temperature range is when I recommend warmer socks. Smartwool makes great running appropriate socks that are both warm, yet not so thick that shoes suddenly feel too tight. Bombas are also a great option of a warmer sock that still has an athletic, flexible fit.

Temps in the Teens

Things are chilling down and the layering begins to amp up!

Full-length running tights will still serve well. If it’s windy, consider adding a wind-resistant pant.

If it’s not windy, a vest might be enough to add adequate warmth. But if it’s windy, go with a wind-resistant jacket.

A hat, a neck buff, and warm socks are all a must by now. This is also the point where outdoor activity-specific gloves come into play. Casual gloves are fine in warmer winter weather but now a pair designed to withstand the chill, wick away moisture, and still be comfortable is essential. My favorite pair has both fingers and a mitten top covering for some extra protection. 

Temps in the Single Digits

Bundle up, folks. When single digit temps roll in, it’s time to pull out all the stops.

For legs, tights plus pants is the best combo. While on top, the full layering of a base, a fleece, and now for sure a jacket is the triple threat you’ll want for warmth.

Running in below zero weather
Yes, it can get dicey below zero – but it’s still doable.

Bust out the warmest hat, gloves, and socks here. A warmer buff to pull up or specialty fabric face covering is nice to have.

By now, many runners will bow out and opt for the treadmill. In addition to the time it takes to layer up, things can start to get a little uncomfortable at this temp. Eyelashes freeze together, hair freezes to your jacket, and your breath freezes on the buff covering your face. And, if it’s sunny and shades are needed, even the best ones will fog up when wearing a face covering.

Temps below Zero

You are about to bravely go where few people have gone before. Below zero running is the cutoff for many outdoor runners, and with good reason. Along with everything freezing, below zero temps just feel noticeably colder than above zero.

I will brave the below zero temps if, and only if, the wind is in single digits, ideally straight out of one direction so I can mostly avoid it with a strategic route.

Take the warmest of all the gear and pile it on. Once you get to the point where it’s a little tough to move freely, but not quite to the point where you’re like the little brother from A Christmas Story, you’ve got it!

Embrace the Cold

Living in Fargo means winter is going to come every year. Wish it away, curse it, or embrace it full force with winter running.

I hope this list of tips and layering strategies keeps you running all winter long!

Do you have more questions about running outside in the winter? Do you need some simple inspiration to brave the cold for your miles? Connect with me @lindsayinreallife on Instagram or @LindsayIRL on Twitter. And find more tips for staying well on Wellness in Real Life, wellirl.com.

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You know the moms who bake delicious treats for school, throw Pinterest-worthy birthday parties, and have picture-perfect Christmas cards with the whole family in matching pjs? Lindsay is the exact opposite of that. What she lacks in creativity, skill, and simple willingness to do ALL the things, she tries to replace by being present, patient, and positive. Her top priorities are her family - her husband, Chris, two boys born in 2018 and 2020, and dog, Burton - herself, and her work in public relations. When it comes to herself, exercise, gratitude, and mindfulness keep her well. Her first love is running and she has run marathons in several exciting places, including Boston, Chicago (which she ran pregnant with her first son), Duluth, and of course, Fargo. Her writing is often based on personal stories, with a touch of humor, and lots of honesty. She hopes all moms know how strong they are and encourages you to embrace who you are, rather than try to be who you think you should be. Read more from her on her site Wellness in Real Life.

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