Men’s Winter Running Apparel (2011/12)

In my past, running in the winter time always meant piling on the layers of cheap race shirts underneath a windbreaker of some sort and making sure that my loops didn’t end with a run into the wind causing my sweat to freeze. This was especially important in the northern Midwest where I spent eight years trying to avoid the treadmill in perpetual zero-degree darkness. Now, winter on Colorado’s Front Range doesn’t have the same bite, but it has thrown one extreme variable my way in this winter’s pre-dawn darkness…wind.  These 30-50 mph Chinook winds combined with a few mornings close to zero degrees and some sideways snow and I’ve had a pretty good apparel testing laboratory.

Winter running clothes

The author wearing the gear reviewed below.

Since Punxsutawny Phil saw his shadow this year many of us across the nation will be in for a longer winter, and because I’m a huge believer in rodent weather predictions, I am sharing with you two items that have made my winter running much more bearable this year.

Pearl Izumi Fly Jacket

Having always erred in the past toward windbreakers, I was a bit skeptical of the soft-shell phenomenon. Aren’t these for “lifestyle clothing” on college campuses? How could they possibly provide a wind barrier? Won’t I overheat in a thicker fabric? The answer to these three questions is, of course, no. Pearl Izumi’s P.R.O. Thermal Fleece fabric is both water and wind resistant and somehow manages to be breathable at the same time. The jacket doesn’t have any open vents or areas of mesh that could make it vulnerable to weather. Bottom line… this jacket just works. The Pearl Izumi Fly Jacket ($110) has become my go-to jacket for runs in temperatures 35 degrees and under (coldest run so far was two degrees) and I have yet to find a weak point of this jacket.

Pearl Izumi Fly Softshell JacketTo properly test this jacket, I did the following idiotic activity: On a 15 degree morning with a stiff wind, I started my workout by squirting a 20-ounce water bottle all over the front and sleeves of this jacket only to watch it bead off. I started my run and noticed that the P.R.O. Thermal fabric had not absorbed any of the water and I was warm and cozy running into an eight-degree windchill with only a thin long-sleeve base layer underneath. My days of layering are over! I also tried out the Fly Softshell on warmer days with morning temps in the mid-30s and noticed that, while I was sweating under the jacket in just a tech t-shirt, the jacket did not absorb much of this sweat and when I turned into a stiff wind (read: 40 mph), I felt protected and warm.

The Fly Softshell is very form fitted and the P.R.O. Thermal polyester is very stretchy allowing for a full range of movement. The cut of the jacket also facilitates raising my arms over my head and not having the jacket creep up which would make it perfect for almost any winter activity. The Fly Softshell features:

  • Two front zipper pockets which made storing gels, a cell phone, or a camera easy and the form fit of the jacket kept everything from bouncing.
  • Longer sleeves that are wider at the cuff fit well over my bulky Garmin and there is a built-in nylon wind barrier that you can tuck your fingers into if they are getting chilled.
  • The collar of the jacket features a soft lining and a zipper garage and feels fitted around my neck, keeping the elements out on the coldest days.
  • Zippered vents under the arms allow a bit more ventilation on warmer days or while running with the wind.
  • There are also plenty of reflective markings, especially on the back of the Fly Softshell, which make it easy for cars to spot me at night.

At 5’10” and 140 pounds, I wear a size small and it fits me like a glove.

Salomon Exo XR Tight (aka Banana Pants)

It is important to note that the Salomon Exo XR Tights ($85) come in a more modest shade of black. However, Salomon was kind enough to provide me with the more European “Corona” color that made me want to do jumping spin crescent kicks ala David Lee Roth. Either way, these tights will be making a Halloween appearance as half of a certain Ambiguous Duo from late 90s SNL.

Salomon Exo XR Tight M

The Salomon Exo XR Tight M in Self Confident Yellow.

Anyway, enough about the color. Gentlemen, imagine slipping into a form fitting, extremely flexible tight with a hint of compression and you have the Exo XR tight. It feels like a seamless base layer that hugs your skin and supports the muscles, but performs in cold weather more adequately like a tight. When I first showed up for a group trail run in the Banana Pants, my fellow trail runners simply shook their heads, wondering how they were going to expend serious effort over the next few hours all while containing a ridiculing belly laugh. However, as the high-desert winter weather heated up from 25 degrees to 45 degrees and fatigue accumulated, I heard comments such as, “So those really look like they hold your muscles”, and “Those look a lot more breathable than my my tights.” The answer to these questions was, of course, yes.

The Exo XR tight offers a thin web of woven-in compression that doesn’t feel restrictive at all, but did seem to fight muscle fatigue on long runs. The seamless nature of these tights means that there are no zippers, pockets, or drawstrings and it is important to note that the support panels for the knees and hips take some adjustment to get into the right spots when putting them on. Also, the waistband of the Exo XR tight comes up very high, like up to your belly button, which felt bizarre at first, but didn’t take long to get used to as it is a very soft elastic.

I was initially concerned about the durability of these tights, but after about 40 runs in temps from 18 degrees up to 50 degrees, they have performed very well. I’ve also completely ignored the washing and care instructions and simply washed and dried them with no ill effects. Each morning when I step out the door I can feel the wind blow through them, but as I run the Exo XR tight seems to heat up and I stay warm throughout the remainder of the run. Plenty of reflective highlights keep you safe in traffic. This tight also works phenomenally as a base layer and breathes well under my ski pants made of completely windproof material.

Remember folks, we have six weeks left of winter according to the Eastern Marmot. Maybe you could use some great gear to make these last few weeks as comfortable as possible? The Salomon Exo XR Tight is available, in black and yellow, through the iRunFar Store.

Call for Comments
Guys, what have been your favorite apparel items for running in the cold this winter?

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 36 comments

  1. Bartman

    Tom,

    Nice review. I too am rodent weather prophet believer, however I think Phil bombed this year; at least for us. 68 degrees in Asheville NC yesterday.

    The idea of longer sleeves so you can tuck your hand up inside is a good one and to bad it is not employed by more outdoor clothing manufacturers. I think Patagonia and Marmot (not the woodchuck) were the first to recognize this many years ago. Good to see others are catching on.. finally.

    The tights sound awesome, but I think I will opt for the black ones; the yellow is a bit to flamboyant for me. However, you are to be commended for having the intestinal fortitude to don the "corona" colored tights in public for the sake of testing these for the habitual irunfar reader. Bryon, please make sure that Tom receives an official "IRunFar Certificate of Courage (or guts)" in recogniation of the above.

    Great report Tom,thank you.

  2. Matt Lutz

    I have just been layering up here in MN with two long sleeve Patagonia Capilene 1 shirts (one reg, one stretch) and wearing their Speedwork tights on the legs. Only issue is finding something to wear underneath the tights so the seams don't chafe. Solution was to wear my normal summer running shorts (short! with high cuts!) underneath.

  3. Iain

    Is that photo in the Front Range? If so I'm coming to vist! Looks good….

    In Cumbria, UK, winters are wet so I thoroughly recommend the Montane Minimus Jkt and a good fast drying set of leggings…

  4. dogrunner

    +1 on the Salomon Exo XR tights (but mine are black). Very comfortable. Just to be clear – these are NOT the Exo tights with the relatively inflexible plastic hexagons for compression, so are more flexible with more give.

  5. Jeremy

    I wonder if the Salomon people know the joke they made by calling their men's tights "corona"? Are they suggesting the corona is accentuated by their tights? Hilarious.

  6. KenZ

    I liked both the ladies' and mens' winter clothing reviews. I know ya'll go to the outdoor shows 2x/year; what would really be nice is a rehash of these interspersed with the new stuff you see, oh, around Thanksgiving timeframe. Not so I can buy for me, but for others either right before winter hits (and we're all thinking about it) or as holiday gifts. Just a thought…

  7. Andy

    Pearl also makes a fantastic tight to complement their PRO outerwear. I've rolled with the evo tights and fly termal top (pullover) with just a short sleeve underneath. Very comfortable and warm.

  8. the other "geof

    "Guys, what have been your favorite apparel items for running in the cold this winter?" The easy answer is shorts. The mild Winter has allowed many of us outside of Chicago to be seen out and about with exposed legs. : )

      1. CraigR

        Aren't we headed into Spring? I thought so anyway or maybe it has been Spring like weather all winter. I have worn shorts more outside this Winter then ever before. Bring on the Spring line of wear.

            1. the other "geof

              I think you cursed us here Bryon and Karl… Ran in shorts last night and now we are getting *hammered* with snow. Thanks!

  9. Henri Chinasque

    Hi Tom,

    great review. Can you please mention what size of tights you were wearing, as I am approximately the same size.

    I think the color is great! Can someone explain (to a european, where males are known to wear colors other than black…) why there is so much anxiety centered around clothing color scheme?

    1. Tom Caughlan

      Henri,

      You're right. American men are afraid of bright colors and wearing tights in general. There is certainly a trend of returning to brighter colors from the apparel photos I saw from the winter outdoor retailer.

      In the Exo XR tights I wear a size small. I do recommend using the sizing chart at the iRF store and measuring your quad circumference for the correct size.

  10. lor

    I know why men prefer black tights, they are more discreet :)

    I have these exo women's tights ….. they are comfortable and warm, but even I wear shorts over the light blue. Men … yellow is great but PLEASE wear shorts over the yellow ones (just a women's point of VIEW)

    Love this site Byron and your book RFP.

  11. Mike Papageorge

    How does the compression of these tights compare to, say.. a pair or Skins tights or cw-x or Compressport? I'm guessing when you say "hint of compression" that these are more tights than compression tights… After using compression I'm finding it very hard to run in something less fitting.

    1. dogrunner

      Depends on how each fits YOU, of course, but these tights have nothing like the compression of the CW-X (I have not worn the others you listed). Similar to the Sugoi tights and others I have tried that are not sold as compression per se.

  12. Henry Bickerstaff

    These tights look like they run a little short in the length. I have a 36" inseam and most tights do not cover my ankles. The only ones I have found so far that are adequate length are the smartwool merino wool tights. But I do love the color.

  13. Matt

    On the Pearl Jacket, the product image (Fly Jacket) and the one pictured of the author wearing (Fly Softshell Jacket) are not the same. Can you clarify which product was reviewed? Thanks.

    1. Bryon Powell

      The Fly Softshell Jacket was reviewed. I made an error in selecting the auxilliary image as don't have either jacket. I hope the new image correctly represents the Fly Softshell Jacket. Thanks for pointing out the error.

      -Bryon

  14. Viper

    omg – self confident yellow, great tights. i once wore those for a run in our neighborhood & the wife wouldn't let me back in the house. i slept outside that night; surprisingly the tights have such great warmth, they're excellent for overnight use =S

  15. Perry

    Looks like another great piece of running apparel from Salomon.

    It's been so warm here in PA this winter, my running shorts have gotten more of a workout than my tights…

  16. Anonymous

    Hi just for you to know the corona is only the name of the color called corona yellow:0)

    The name of the tight is EXO Xr motion tight..;0)

  17. Tom Caughlan

    Matt,

    I used to wear running shorts underneath tights all the time. It's bizarre feeling but it works. When I lived in MN I got really into Sugoi wind boxers, and Midwest Mountaineering carries them for about $30. Well worth it for the freezing temps and the wind on the river (if you're in the Twin Cities). You have to be tough as nails to trail outside all winter there.

  18. Inge

    Great review – it taught me how to use my Exo XR' tights in the winter: I have a women specific pair (it said men's apparel – but Salomon is kind enough to make their greatest hits for us girls as well) and I have had great success recently by using them as a base layer under my windstopper, soft-shell Asics tights – in -22 degrees celsius, chill factor temperature -34 – feeling warm and snug on 10-15k runs. And for the record – mine are black. I would definitely be out of my comfort zone in a yellow pair come spring when I' ll be using them as outer layer tights (I live in Greenland….)

  19. Mike

    Just wanted to say that I bought the Pearl Softshell after reading this article, and love it! I've only run in it twice, both were just mid-30's, but I felt warm in just the jacket and tech tee, and have no doubt it would perform well in the 20's and below, not that we get much of that in the Carolinas, unless I'm heading to Asheville or Boone. Definitely using it for Mount Mitchell next year, if I get in.

    My only problem is that the sleeves aren't longer, which is my fault for getting a medium to fit my torso rather than the large that would fit my arms. It isn't that the sleeves pull up, it's just a bit awkward trying to use the hand-wind barriers. Not a fault of the jacket, just my own issues with being between sizes.

    Also love my CW-X Insulator Tights

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