Craft Winter Apparel Review

Winter is here in Colorado again—for at least the fifth time since our first snow in October—and I’m finally getting my layers dialed in this year for the 60-plus-degree temperature swings that can occur from one day to the next or even in the same day. I have long relied on multiple layers of polypro and fleece tops coupled with a wind-resistant layer to keep my core warm as the temperatures drop into the single digits and below. My legs have typically been fine with only one or two layers unless the negative wind chill dictates a third. There have been two downsides to my layering system. First, wearing four or more layers on top and two or more layers below tends to give me the sense of restricted motion which I don’t prefer. Second, my favorite polypro layers tend to feel cold when wet from sweat until they move that moisture out which, of course, is slowed with increasing numbers of layers. Enter Craft gear—winter layers I am psyched about!

Who’s Craft? Craft is a company from Sweden that has been designing and perfecting moisture-wicking, high-performance clothing for endurance athletes since 1973. Because Olympic-level cross-country and alpine skiers have long been their target audience, they have high-intensity moisture management in wildly variable winter conditions perfected. They added runners and cyclists to their focus in the 1990s per their website and continue to dial in their layering system for each sport.

The Craft website has an excellent tool where you can build your winter outfit by selecting your activity (running, cycling, cross country, alpine, indoor), intensity level, temperature, and gender. The tool then recommends layering options beginning with your base layer. Craft gear is designed to work as a three-layer system as the weather gets increasingly challenging. The base layer (Layer 1) is primarily designed to transport moisture away from the skin. It functions best directly against your skin, hence the snug yet stretchy fit. Layer 2 is the insulation midlayer which continues with the moisture transport yet provides insulation and retention of body heat. The outerwear layer (Layer 3) is the shield against whatever craziness nature is throwing your way while maintaining excellent breathability to avoid sauna conditions inside the layer. One overriding theme in each of these layers is the attention Crafy pays to the ergonomics of the sports they design gear for. Their gear does not restrict no matter what kind of rock ledge I hauled up on, how high I reached my arm to grab a branch, or what yoga pose I attempted after my run. This is impressive given the close fit the gear provides.

Earlier this winter Craft sent me four of their winter layers to test. Let’s just say I’m in love with these pieces and that’s not something I say lightly. The day after they arrived, temperatures dropped from the 50s Fahrenheit into the teens with wind chill approaching zero and fresh snow a’swirling. I did what any exuberant runner would do: I tried out all the new gear on a two-and-a-half-hour run in the mountains.

Craft Active Extreme Crewneck ($70) and Craft Active Crewneck ($60)
The Active Extreme Crewneck and the Active Crewneck from Craft are part of their Layer 1/base-layer collection which targets the provision of warmth and dryness in fair-cold conditions via different types of polyester fibers (described on website). The fit is “like a glove”… but it’s a stretchy glove that doesn’t restrict at all and has a soft, warm feel. The Active Extreme has enhanced moisture-wicking capabilities for the highest-intensity output, but I couldn’t tell a significant difference between the two shirt fabrics in temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. I felt like it did keep me a bit cooler than the Active fabric when I tested them in temperatures between 30 and 50 Fahrenheit, especially if the sun was intense. One interesting aspect of these tops is the length. These are meant to be tucked in. They come down to the crease of my hip and if not tucked in, they tend to roll or slide up within a few steps. I appreciated this actually, as it increased my overall warmth by eliminating any breezes that might otherwise enter in the gap between my shirt and tights. The arms are similarly long which I love given my penchant for pulling them over my cold hands.

Craft Active Crewneck

The Craft Active Crewneck. All photos: iRunFar/Kristin Zosel

Craft PR Thermal Tights ($90)
The PR Thermal Tights from their Layer 3/outerwear collection are a form-fitting fleece tight that has a smooth face with a brushed interior and is designed to not limit hip and knee motion while still providing warmth, moisture management, and ventilation. While these are not wind resistant, the tights worked well from 10 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and required just one additional layer (polypro shorts) from -5 to 10 Fahrenheit to keep my thighs and glutes toasty. I needed a wind layer if it was below -5 Fahrenheit with wind chill. They have a long ankle zip laterally which has a lightweight material inset to prevent any snow from getting in through the zipper and also prevents any chafing or lateral ankle irritation. I loved this feature as it allowed for a bit of ventilation on the warmer end of the temperature spectrum as well. The tights have a right zippered hip pocket that easily held my key and two gels. The only thing I’d note about the tights as a potential yellow flag is if you have very large trail runner calves (ahem), the tights are quite snug through that region (almost like a compression garment). In no way did it cause me any numbness, tingling, or restriction. Frankly, these tights rock.

Craft PR Thermal Tights

Craft PR Thermal Tights.

Craft PR Brilliant Thermal Wind Top ($100)
Lastly, I received the PR Brilliant Thermal Wind top with 360-degree visibility (Layer 3, outerwear). If you live in wintery areas, this piece alone will get you out the door on days you’d otherwise consider the treadmill. It has a deep front neck zipper which is easy to manage with gloved hands and allows for great ventilation as the temperatures rise during your run. The fleece gutter at the neck line prevents any irritation. The sleeves are long and accommodate my gloved hands at the beginning of every run and glide over my base layer nicely despite having an incredibly soft brushed-fleece interior. The wind panel on the front is excellent for blocking stout breezes and increasing overall core warmth while the rest of the medium-weight fleece garment breathes beautifully while keeping me toasty warm. There is one zip pocket in the central back that is easy to reach with either arm. It accommodates a phone, key, gels, or small bar. Again, this top was constructed with extra length in the front and back which I loved as it eliminated any drafts around the mid-section and stayed put regardless of what I was running up or down or how deep my snow angel was at a trail junction. The reflective hits along the sleeves and on the front and back of the upper half of the garment are outstanding whether under a headlamp beam or car lights. The neon orange also allowed me to be easily spotted in the forest and on the town trails.

Craft PR Brilliant Thermal Wind Top

Craft PR Brilliant Thermal Wind Top.

Overall Impressions
Why am I so jazzed about these layers? I finally have two thin, long-sleeved synthetic tops that have a terrific warmth-weight ratio and never feel clammy or cold even if I overdress as I’m prone to do and don’t de-layer right away. The base layers and tights are form fitting and resistant to odor, so even if I wear them two or three times without washing them, I’m not scaring off any running partners. (Sorry, Tom Caughlan, I just couldn’t do the three-week test.) I can run in temps from 8 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit using one base layer and the PR wind top and the PR tights. That’s brilliant! I still pack a wind layer just in case, but it stays in my pack. The only layer I didn’t test in this round was a piece from their Layer 2/insulation collection. With as well as the Layer 1-plus-3 combination did for me, it would have to get significantly colder before I’d add Layer 2. Then again, if I was moving more slowly through the cold (hiking, long alpine day on high peaks in the winter), it would be the perfect addition.

A hearty ‘well done’ to the folks at Craft for these excellent winter pieces to help anyone engaged in moderate- to high-intensity endurance sports get out the door when the temperatures plummet and the snow swirls. These pieces are now part of my regular ‘no bad weather if you have great gear’ line-up!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run in Craft apparel before? If so, which pieces have you tried and what were your thoughts?
  • For those who have run in Craft apparel, given the company’s origins in making skiing gear, what details have crossed over well into their running apparel?
Kristin Zosel

is a mom, wife, ultrarunner, physical therapist (on sabbatical), and transcriptionist for iRunFar.com. Her love of steep uphills, high mountain environments, and Swiss “lovely cows” keep alpine visions dancing in her head and strong cappuccinos in her mug.

There are 8 comments

  1. sanrensho

    I have half a dozen Craft top layers that I rely on for all my cycling and running activities. Fantastic moisture wicking and the durability has been outstanding. I've had some of these pieces for at least 8 years and have yet to wear through any pieces or get close. On my runs under 10 degrees Celsius I wear a SS Craft layer underneath a LS Craft layer. Throw a thin cocona hooded top over that and I've yet to be cold or clammy, with almost zero bulk. Big thumbs up from me.

      1. sanrensho

        I wear two L1 (base) layers! Keeps the bulk down and is plenty warm enough for the temps I run in. Similar to the author, I haven't found the need to grab that mid-layer.

  2. BCinNOVA

    Craft and Swix (Norwegian manufacturer of XC ski wax and clothes) are what I do all my winter running in. Excellent quality. And, quite a bit cheaper than many winter offerings from running-specific brands. And better!

    I often wonder why more runners haven't discovered XC clothes. Seems the obvious choice.

    But, yes, Craft is awesome stuff. Great base layers. Lasts a long time, and does the job time after time.

  3. kjz

    The wind proofing is just on the front panel from top to bottom and across the front panel between torso side seams but stopping short of the arms.
    Appreciate the comment!

  4. karlhenning

    My favourite Craft gear is the boxer underwear with windstopper over the crotch. I later added the long sleeve Base layer with windstopper material on front. Also long insulated tights with windstopper over the knees. Everything bought for Xc skiing but translates well to running. If it is to cold for synthetic 2 layer build up I usually change up the baselayer to merinowool rather than adding layer 2.

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