Staying comfortable during cold weather running is all about the fabrics and fit of your base layers. Ideally, they should wick moisture, insulate (even when saturated with sweat) and feel comfortable during long runs. Here are some options for both the top and bottom to keep your core and extremities warm while out in the cold.
Merino wool is an amazing performance fabric for cold weather, and the Harrier has just about highest merino percentage possible at 89%, with a bit of nylon for shape retention and enhanced wicking capacity. The fabric feels extremely soft, seams are minimal, fit through the torso is not excessively roomy and the hem is just long enough for tucking securely into a waste band. This is our favorite shirt to layer under a light jacket for back-to-back runs, thanks to the inherent odor-reducing property of wool. However, the drying time is noticeably longer than shirts with a higher synthetic content. Worn alone, this midweight thickness top kept us warm in temperatures down to the low 40s.
If you like your running pants to fit like a second skin, Tracksmith’s Allston models are an excellent option. Fabric construction is an Italian blend of 57% nylon and 43% elastane that has a smooth feel and moderate compressive property to hug the contours of your legs without bunching. The waistband stays securely in place, and the stretch allows full range of motion. Small pockets at the rear provide a bit of storage capacity, with zipper closures for security. This material dries exceptionally fast (unlike the Harrier shirt), and wicks moisture very effectively with intense activity. In fact, these are our favorite pants for speed training in frigid temps. The Allston comes in several varieties: either full-length or half-length 8” inseam (our favorite for running in the rain), and both lengths have the option of including a soft built-in brief liner. The lined versions for both half and full tights are $10 extra. All Tracksmith apparel is available at www.tracksmith.com.
rabbit Cocoon 2.0 Shirt ($125)
We love this shirt for its versatility in a range of temperatures, and for its ability to make you look like a running ninja. The main body of the shirt utilizes a midweight fleece-lined poly/spandex blend with a non-PFC Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish for a bit of weather resistance. Rabbit excels at making comfortable fabrics that wick moisture rapidly, and the Cocoon 2.0 is no exception. The torso is somewhat generously cut with a long hem for easy tucking, and extra-long sleeves have both a watch notch and thumb holes to maintain warmth down to your knuckles as well as dexterity. But really, this shirt is mostly about the hood: a somewhat ingenious design made from a thinner and more breathable poly/spandex fabric that can be worn as a loose turtleneck, pulled above your mouth and nose to prevent your cheeks from freezing or pulled completely over your head as a secure hood. The full hood is nearly as effective as a full fleece cap to keep your head warm, but thin enough that it can be easily worn under a bike helmet. The women’s version has another clever detail with a ponytail hole in the back of the hood.
rabbit Runners Pants ($100)
These unlined pants are made from a soft, moisture-wicking fabric that is made of 40% recycled content and has excellent stretch capacity. The semi-relaxed fit is roomy through the thighs and tapers through the calves. In our testing, the inseams are slightly short, landing above the ankle bones for taller runners; this is partially because they were designed to layer over base tights, but the Runners are perfectly capable as a standalone piece. The same eco-friendly finish found on the Cocoon 2.0 is used here for weather resistance, and these pants insulated us in temps near the low 30s. The lightweight material prevents them from getting too soggy or heavy if you get caught in a downpour. Two large zip pockets on the sides can accommodate a phone, and they’re great for stashing a wallet or keys if you’re wearing them casually. Rabbit apparel is available at www.runinrabbit.com.
This is among the thinnest and lightest merino shirts we have tested, which makes it ideal for layering under a jacket and a perfect piece for running through transitional temperatures. We love it for frigid mornings that will eventually become warm, because it has solid insulation to start and doesn’t feel excessively warm or heavy when the sun comes up. Fabric construction is a blend of 65% Responsible Wool Standard-certified merino wool and 35% recycled polyester. The thin material is barely noticeable against the skin and dries much faster than thicker wool garments. Side vents also help with thermoregulation in the torso, and a drop-tail hem rides comfortably whether tucked or untucked.
Patagonia Wind Shield Pants ($169)
Wind Shield pants are our favorite option for long endurance efforts in frigid conditions, thanks to their combination of soft-shell weather resistance on the front panels with more breathable construction on the back side to prevent overheating. As the name implies, the front shell panels have strong wind resistance and a DWR finish to keep off precipitation along with four-way stretch capacity to facilitate movement. The interior has a microterry surface with Capilene Cool fabric, and a natural miDori bioSoft additive for increased softness. This Capilene fabric continues onto the back side of the legs, and breathable panels on the sides and lower back help prevent heat buildup. A stretchy waistband stays secure without even needing the drawstring closure, and the ankle cuffs have an additional detail of stretch-woven gussets along with the zippered openings to facilitate pulling these tights over shoes when necessary. Patagonia apparel is available at www.patagonia.com.
Allbirds has gradually been expanding beyond their established footwear offering, and this fall they’ve released cold weather apparel. The Performance Quarter Zip is the thickest top we tested in this group and provides the best insulation as a standalone layer, as we wore it comfortably during temps in the mid-30s. It’s also very generously cut, so size down if you are between sizes. True to the Allbirds ethos, the shirt is made from sustainable materials, including merino wool and wood-based Tencel fabric that has exceptional softness and enhances moisture-wicking and drying speed. The quarter zip sits just below the chin when fully closed and thumb holes are great for securing the sleeves under a pair of gloves or just tucking in your bare fingers.
The same merino/Tencel fabric composition used in the Quarter Zip shirt is duplicated in these running pants that are roomy enough to layer over shorts, but also provide strong insulation. The cut of these is more generous than most running pants down to the knees, but tapers sharply to become almost form fitting through the calf. We appreciate the thick drawstrings that are easy to manipulate with gloved fingers, and it’s important to keep the drawstring secure because the thick fabric and generous cut of these pants causes them to sink below your hips when wet. These are probably better suited for shorter distance outings than high-mileage days, but their overall styling and odor resistance makes them well suited for a variety of uses in addition to running. Allbirds apparel is available at www.allbirds.com.