When I think of running in the winter, I think of friends meeting on dark, cold mornings when our beds feel oh-so-warm. I think of the way the chilly air feels during those first 10 minutes, and how softly yet suddenly the cold wanes, and I feel toasty.
I think of the way snow falls from a tree as I pass by, and the glitter of the snow as the sun rises. I think of empty sidewalks and muted roads. I think of the way the warmth of home hits my face and the ice on my lashes melts when I walk in the door after a great winter run.
Running in the wintertime is magical, and the iRunFar editorial team wants you to experience that magic! With this guide, we share some of our favorite winter pieces to help you run safely and comfortably through the winter.
With this guide, we share not only our favorite gear, but also the joy of winter running. For example, when I recommend the Black Diamond Sprinter 275 Headlamp, I am sharing with you a dark evening run on a frozen dirt road in Northern Virginia while training for a spring marathon.
When I recommend the Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody, I’m thinking of a windy tempo run in Bend, Oregon, last winter and remembering the inspirational quote about cows that my friend told us as we began our final and windiest mile. (“Cows can’t cross a painted cattle guard — not because they aren’t physically able, but because they don’t believe they can.” Thanks, Camelia Mayfield.)
These pieces have been tested by our team over multiple years and seasons, on variable terrain, around the world, and in diverse winter conditions. We are excited to share these recommendations, selected for their strengths as well as their versatility.
In categories where needs are more specific, such as with shoes or traction devices, we offer a few specific options. When provided by companies, we also include information on sustainable manufacturing practices.
Best Shoes for All Winter Conditions: Salomon Speedcross 5 ($130) and Speedcross 5 Gore-Tex ($150)
These are our picks for general, all-around, variable-terrain winter running shoes. There are two versions of this shoe, the Salomon Speedcross 5, and the Salomon Speedcross 5 Gore-Tex, the latter a version to provide additional coverage in wetter conditions. For most winter conditions, and sometimes during the shoulder seasons (mud!), the focus is on lugs and the traction they provide.
These shoes not only have Salomon’s notoriously grippy outsole that helps with traction on nearly every surface, but they are also built with five-millimeter multidirectional lugs to help dig into and generate grip in soft snow. They will also adapt well to variable conditions where you may encounter a mix of soft snow, mud, or generally wet ground.
They aren’t the lightest shoes, but they are very protective. Though the fit is described as standard, with high foot protection and neutral support, Salomon shoes tend to be on the firm side with a nimble footprint. This is a definite strength when navigating sloshy, slippery terrain.
Best Shoes for Packed Snow: Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 ($145) and Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 GTX ($160)
The Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 is already one of our general trail favorites for its grippy outsole, stability, and ability to perform on aggressive terrain. Not surprisingly, it also holds its own in snowy conditions. We recommend this shoe and its Gore-Tex counterpart, the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 GTX, on packed snow — think groomed trails where foot travel is permitted and urban singletrack that gets packed down by trail users.
Similar to the Salomon Speedcross 5 above, the Speedgoat 4 also has five-millimeter lugs for traction, but carries a slightly larger snowshoe-esque footprint and some increased cushion (though this is one of Hoka’s stiffer and more stable shoes), which is why we recommend it for more packed snow over slush or icy conditions.
Hoka describes the Speedgoat 4 as a shoe with neutral stability and a balanced cushion, but we have found the shoe to be very plush indeed. The standard version is also a pretty standard weight.
Best Shoes for Ice: Salomon Spikecross 5 Gore-Tex ($185)
The Salomon Spikecross 5 Gore-Tex is a shoe in its own class when it comes to running in icy winter conditions. Not only do they feature the same five-millimeter lugs mentioned in the Speedcross above, they also include small, but very effective tungsten carbide spikes that help with grip on the most unpredictable of winter conditions: ice.
I’ve owned a single pair of Spikecross shoes for years: they’ve gotten me through multiple winters across the U.S. West in Bellingham, Washington; Missoula, Montana; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Bend, Oregon. If you want confidence on the ice, I cannot recommend these enough. Taking a corner on ice can be unpredictable and risky, and after multiple winters running with these shoes, I’m impressed by the immediate confidence I have in these to keep the rubber (and tungsten) side down — and keep my body bruise-free.
What sets these apart when considering a shoe with built-in spikes versus a separate traction device, is the comfort on runs where I encounter a mix of both ice and clear roads. I found the Salomon Spikecross 5 Gore-Tex to be relatively comfortable on hard, non-ice-covered pavement, and even after several winters of running on this ice/pavement mix, the spikes have held up.
The lugs perform really well on trails where you anticipate encountering ice, but may also spend a lot of time sloughing through snow. I love wearing these shoes on winter singletrack where I anticipate areas of packed trail that have converted to ice. This is a heavy shoe, but that weight all goes to added traction and protection from snow.Shop the Salomon Spikecross 5 Gore-Tex
Best Traction for Off-Road Running: Black Diamond Distance Spike ($100)
Not long after this traction device hit the market, the Black Diamond Distance Spike became the go-to choice for the iRunFar team. The design is reminiscent of a mountaineering crampon, with a rubber wrap around the back and sides of the shoes, a fabric toe cap, and a pull tab at the heel to make it easy to put on.
For the amount of traction and toe coverage they provide, with 14 spikes at 8 millimeters long, the Distance Spike is extremely light. This lighter design cuts the weight nearly in half compared to other traditional full-spikes traction devices on the market today. The spikes are made of stainless steel and are heat-treated for strength, corrosion, and wear resistance.
To learn more about why the iRunFar team loves this traction device, read our in-depth Black Diamond Distance Spike review, as well as what we said about it in our best winter running traction devices guide.Shop the Black Diamond Distance Spike
Best Traction for Road Running in Mixed Conditions: Kahtoola EXOspikes ($60)
Tungsten carbide tips atop five-millimeter lugs — the Kahtoola EXOspikes have a profile similar to the Salomon Spikecross highlighted in the shoes section. However, these traction devices can be placed on any shoe, and removed when needed. The EXOspikes have a low profile with tiny metal nubs and a rubber wrap that easily goes over the sole of any shoe. So if you’re running over slush, a bit of ice, or crusty forest roads, these are a great option.
These traction devices are very light, despite their 12 spikes that are 10 millimeters long that afford stability on all kinds of road running terrain. To learn more about these traction devices, check out iRunFar’s in-depth Kahtoola EXOspikes review and our best winter running traction devices guide.Shop the Kahtoola EXOSpikes
Best Pack: Salomon Adv Skin 12 ($160)
The Salomon Adv Skin 12 is one of Salomon’s larger vests, with 12 liters of space to fit many layers and all the essential gear you need for long and cold outings. It even includes loops on the base of the pack so you can stash a pair of collapsible trekking poles. However, despite the capacity, it is a light and low-profile pack that fits the body well even when it’s nearly empty. This low-profile design allows you to wear the pack both over and under a shell jacket in the winter, the latter to keep your water, food, and phone from freezing.
One complaint on this pack is that the two front pockets meant to hold soft flasks for hydration are tall and narrow, and only really accommodate Salomon-specific HydraPak soft flasks. However, I think for winter outings, soft flasks can be preferable over a bladder, as I find that bladder hoses tend to freeze fairly quickly in sub-freezing temperatures. Salomon does a great job at keeping its hydration packs light, even those that have ample storage like this one.Shop the Salomon Adv Skin 12
Best Waist Belt: Naked Running Band ($50)
When you need some additional space to carry smaller items, a waist belt can be a nice way to add another mini-base layer of warmth where your shirt and tights meet. And despite being only a running waist belt, the Naked Running Band will accommodate different-sized hydration soft flasks from a variety of brands, as well as other gear including a headlamp, sunglasses, phone, and nutrition. It also includes silicone grip loops to help carry larger items like poles or a jacket.
Obviously, the more stuff you put in it, the bulkier it will be, but generally speaking, if you only need to carry a few things, this is a great option that fits well under a jacket — which is crucial for winter running as it helps keep food warm enough to not chip your teeth!
All of Naked’s products are billed as extremely light, and this running band is no exception. That’s pretty incredible when you consider it can hold up to two liters of storage.Shop the Naked Running Band
Best Light Jacket: Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell ($140)
The Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell is very lightweight and optimal for milder winter days, or for forays where you may need some extra wind protection. The material of the jacket is permeable, allowing it to breathe a bit better than some other more rain-oriented jackets. It has a PFC-free water-repellent finish and will provide some protection from the elements. The jacket itself is made of 100% nylon and 15-denier ripstop material, which helps it strike the perfect balance between sufficient wind protection and a feather-light item for your running quiver.
The Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell has a roomy fit, which is great for wearing over a pack or waist belt to keep the food, water, and gear warm in winter weather.
This jacket also includes a hood large enough to accommodate a winter beanie, a headlamp, or a swishing ponytail; a chest pocket that also doubles as a stow pocket when the jacket needs to be packed away small; and elastic cuffs at the wrists to help keep warmth in.
Best Rain/Shell Jacket: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket ($160)
We love the Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket for its light weight and small footprint when packed away despite being a fully waterproof jacket. When not in use, it will take up minimal space in your running pack or tied around your waist. Other elements of the jacket include an adjustable hood, a drawcord hem, elastic cuffs, and a chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack.
The jacket is quite light for a waterproof rain shell. Made of 30-denier ripstop, this jacket is also extremely durable. It can get a little warm if it’s just raining and not very cold.
iRunFar’s editor Alex Potter owns this jacket and runs in it often when the element to beat is either sleet or rain. She found this is a great lightweight option, and attests that the hood is easily adjustable around the face, and easily tucked behind the head if you don’t want it close by.
Best Insulated Jacket: Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody ($300)
When we asked our team for recommendations on jackets for this category, several people quickly replied with the Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody. This was recommended for the coldest of days: 20 degrees Fahrenheit down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Two people did note that it would be easy to be too warm while running in this jacket in any weather above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but they also mentioned the jacket has excellent wicking qualities that help prevent sweat from staying against your skin.
It features a hood with a halo drawstring and elasticity to fit snugly around your head and face. The cuffs are soft and stretchy, which helps contain warmth around your hands and wrists. When not used for the coldest of cold running adventures, our team said it’s thin enough to fit under a shell for additional warmth while winter biking or casual around-town wear.
It is easily squished down into a backpack, and can also fit into a larger hydration vest. The DWR finish ensures you won’t get absolutely soaked if it starts to sprinkle.
iRunFar’s editor Alex Potter owns this jacket, which she purchased while working as a wildland firefighter. While she doesn’t run in it often because it truly is too warm for running in weather above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, she wears it almost every day out of the house for going about town, hiking, biking, and anything in between in temperatures from 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Best Insulated Jacket: Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody ($260)
The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody garnered similar recommendations from the iRunFar editorial team as the Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody above. This jacket is hip length around the hem, meaning it will keep the top of your bottom warm throughout a run. The hood tightness is adjustable via an elastic pull tab at the back of the head, and the wrist cuffs are nice and wide to keep the snow and wind out.
According to the Arc’teryx layering guide, this falls at a three, just about in the middle of five different levels of thickness: meaning this can work well as a midlayer for really cold days (more for skiing than running) or as a jacket on its own. The outer shell is 20-denier nylon, making it pretty darn durable, and the DWR treatment protects you from a bit of precipitation.
Best Base Layer Shirt: Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer 1/4 Zip ($90)
Smartwool has a variety of base layers for pretty much any activity you embark upon. The Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer 1/4 Zip is a versatile base layer that can be worn alone when it’s not super chilly, but fits comfortably under a more substantial layer when the weather warrants. It’s a great option when you need that extra layer of comfort immediately out the door, but know you’re likely to warm up. This also works really well as a layer under a rain or wind jacket on late fall days when you have a protective layer on top to help combat rain or wind, but don’t want to overheat.
Wool base layers are great because they pull moisture away from your body, retain warmth even when wet, are light on the skin, and dry quickly. The quarter-zip is the winning feature of this shirt because it’ll help you thermoregulate quickly — unzip and you’ll quickly lose heat or zip it up all the way for those truly cold first miles of your run.
Best Midlayer or Thick Base Layer Shirt: Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Zip-Neck ($100)
The Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Zip-Neck is a heftier, lofted base layer. Where the Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer 1/4 Zip base layer above is more of a second skin, this layer acts as a warm hug. It has been tested comfortably in a wide range of temperatures, but really stands out as a more substantial midlayer in cold weather — as a standalone or with a vest for added warmth. It has a bit of spandex, which dries quickly and contributes to the shirt’s durability.
There are a few elements of this shirt that make it stand out: first, there are thumb loops, but they sit inside the sleeve rather than being cut out of the sleeve itself. The Polartec Power Grid fabric is treated with odor control to keep the smells down on a multiday adventure or really intense activity.
The bottom hem comes down quite far, sitting on the lower hips and ensuring that no wind will sneak in the top of your spandex or pants. And finally, the half-zip is great for helping to moderate your temperature through all the highs and lows of a run.
This comes in a really wide variety of sizes, which makes it a great gift for pretty much any body type. This shirt is Fair Trade Certified and produced with recycled materials.
Best Midlayer or Thick Base Layer Shirt: Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody ($150)
I came to wear the Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody via an out-of-the-blue text recommendation from a friend I hadn’t heard from in over a year. I took their advice, and this shirt is now my go-to on medium-cold winter days.
The lightweight, almost sweater-like knit of this shirt may mislead you to think it is a light base layer. When paired with a vest, it keeps me surprisingly toasty on 20- to 30-degree Fahrenheit days. It’s very soft, with a little bit of stretch, and longer arms to provide extra coverage around your wrists and hands.
The hood is minimal, with very little movement or bounce when not in use, and when pulled up, fits snugly on your head allowing for good peripheral vision and ability to hear your surroundings. The hood has Patagonia’s signature high neck that will come up over your mouth and nose for extra protection from the wind, but also tucks nicely under your chin when it’s not needed.
Because of its open knit, this shirt could benefit from a windproof layer on the windier cold days, but it’s a gem that our team has used successfully on both mountain adventure days and on speedy road tempo runs. An additional benefit is that this top looks nice enough to transition to the office if you’re running short on time or space in your run-commute pack.
Best Tights: Patagonia Endless Run Tights ($100)
Known for being breathable and moisture-wicking, the Patagonia Endless Run Tights are also appreciated for their mid-rise fit, which moves well and doesn’t shift while you’re running.
These tights are sufficient for a wide range of cool to cold days. They are made of material designed to keep you warm and dry, and include mesh on the sides of the lower legs and backs of knees for breathability. These pants are also Fair Trade Certified.
The men’s version has two side pockets, as well as an elastic waistband with a drawcord. The women’s version doesn’t include the side pockets, but does have a semi-secure (no zipper) back pocket on the waistband for keys or credit cards, and possibly your phone.
Best Insulated Tights: Gorewear R3 Thermo Tights ($100)
Don’t let the most challenging winter weather keep you from running! When it’s really cold and/or stormy, the iRunFar team turns to the Gorewear R3 Thermo Tights to get out the door, and stay protected and comfortable while we’re out there.
These tights are the warmest in the Gorewear running collection with a brushed fleece lining for warmth and comfort. They were designed for cross-country skiing and running — they move well with your body and include panels of breathable poly-elastane to allow for natural venting.
These tights zip at the lower leg for easier donning and doffing. There is an easy-access side pocket on the thigh, as well as a small zippered rear pocket for keys and other small valuables.
Best Headband: Buff Dryflx Headband ($17)
Buffs are known for their versatility, which makes them very applicable to a variety of needs on a cooler run. While a Buff may not be your top choice for the coldest, windiest, and snowiest of days, the Buff Dryflx Headband is on the advanced end of the Buff market, touting an ultralight, breathable, and quick-drying fabric.
You can wear it as a traditional hat, as a scarf or balaclava pulled up over your nose, or if you get warmer than expected, you can easily loop it around your wrist and forget about it.
The special feature of this Buff is that it has 360 degrees of reflectivity. Winter isn’t just cold, it’s dark, and any additional visibility increases your safety. Lighter than a feather, this thing will squish up and store anywhere, too.Shop the Buff Dryflx Headband
Best Beanie: Smartwool Merino Sport 150 Beanie ($25)
Smartwool has a number of hats of a variety of thickness levels, but this is the one we like the best for running. Made with a mix of merino wool and polyester, the Smartwool Merino Sport 150 Beanie is a very lightweight jersey fabric hat that serves well for a wide spectrum of winter conditions. It also includes some reflective elements for visibility in low light conditions.
It sits very close to the head and looks pretty sleek — it fits well under a biking or climbing helmet as well.Shop the Smartwool Merino Sport 150 Beanie
Best Brimmed Hat: Buff Pack Merino Wool Fleece Cap ($40)
Fleece and merino wool pair together in the Buff Pack Merino Wool Fleece Cap to help keep you warm on colder days. This cap includes ear flaps, as well as a rear drawstring to help ensure a tailored fit. An additional perk is the added brim — which is unique for a winter hat — to keep your eyes and skin shielded from the elements. Also, there’s an opening at the back for your ponytail to slip through.
This is a really unique product, the first of its kind that we’ve used — the combination of brimmed hat, winter hat, and headband makes this the ideal topper for winter days that are also sunny and could have light snow as well — keeping your head warm and dry, but also keeping the light and snow showers out of your eyes.
The wool for this product is humanely sourced, and Buff, through a partnership with UNICEF, donates two percent of its global yearly profits to projects helping combat COVID-19.Shop the Buff Pack Merino Wool Fleece Cap
Best Gloves: Ultimate Direction Ultra Flip Glove ($50)
The glove-to-mitten combination is no longer a unique design, but the Ultimate Direction Ultra Flip Glove has been a favorite of iRunFar’s managing editor, Meghan Hicks, over the years. It was chosen in our best running gloves guide, and reviewed thoroughly in our Ultimate Direction Apparel Review.
The convertible glove is a great design for variable temperatures — think a long run started in the morning where it warms up over time — those who have circulation issues like Reynaud’s syndrome (when you don’t get enough circulation to your fingers), or for those who want a pair just for reassurance if the weather might turn while out on your daily adventure.
The inner glove is grid fleece, and the over-mitt is a silicone-coated Cordura ripstop. The mitten part of the glove folds up into the wrist section, which is a nice touch, as there’s no issue with the unused mitten portion flopping about once removed.Shop the Ultimate Direction Ultra Flip Glove
Best Gloves for Very Cold Conditions: Black Diamond Stance Mitts ($70)
The Black Diamond Stance Mitts were also reviewed in our best running gloves guide where they were chosen as the best cold weather running glove. These are great for super-cold weather, which we consider under 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
These are great running mittens and though not fully waterproof, our reviewers note that if it’s cold enough to wear these gloves, the precipitation is typically dry snow that bounces right off the gloves’ Pertex outer. The mitten is made from Pertex Endurance fabric, the palm has a goat-leather patch, the insulation is PrimaLoft Gold, and the wrist cuff is stretch polyester.
When it comes to running in frigid temperatures, it’s all about keeping your appendages warm and dry for safety purposes, and these mittens do just that.Shop the Black Diamond Stance Mitts
Best Sports Bra: Smartwool Seamless Racerback Bra ($60)
Bras are a specialized category, and it’s challenging to appeal to all shapes and sizes, but when discussing comfort for winter running, we like the Smartwool Seamless Racerback Bra. It has a fairly simple, slim design – seamless to help reduce chafe, with wide straps that provide stability and support.
It has molded padding, which some people love and some hate. The good news is, the pads are removable, so if you don’t like them, toss them. Most importantly, this bra has a merino wool liner for next-to-skin comfort that helps keep you dry and warm.
This bra is made of a mix of merino wool, nylon, and elastane, meaning it keeps you warm and dry while retaining a good bounce-back stretch. The Seamless Racerback Bra isn’t the most stylish or engineered, but for winter activities, it’s the perfect item to keep your top half warm, dry, and comfortable.Shop the Smartwool Seamless Racerback Bra
Best Wool Socks: Smartwool Run Cold Weather Mid Crew Socks ($22)
Designed just for running, the Smartwool Run Cold Weather Mid Crew Socks are made with a merino blend — with nylon and elastane mixed in — with mesh zones to help keep your feet both warm and dry in colder weather.
The mid-crew style is the perfect length for running in winter — it keeps your ankles covered and warm in a cold breeze, snow, and/or slush. Targeted cushion at the toe and heel helps keep those areas blister-free, especially a concern for when feet get wet. The toe is virtually seamless, so you don’t have to worry about blisters in that area as well.
Even though our team has given this sock the Goldilocks description of “not too thick, but not too thin,” they are a true winter sock. We found them to be a little on the thicker side.
We covered these socks more in-depth in our best running socks buyer’s guide.
Best Synthetic Socks: Drymax Cold Weather Running Crew ($19)
Drymax tends to design slimmer products for almost all their socks, so if you have narrower feet or like things to fit a bit tighter with a slightly higher ankle (almost to shin height), we like the Drymax Cold Weather Running Crew.
They have a very good thermal conductivity rating, helping keep the skin warmer by drawing less heat away from the skin than socks made with other fibers. The material is a mix of Drymax specific blend, polyester, and nylon.Shop the Drymax Cold Weather Running Crew
Best Headlamp: Petzl Iko Core ($90)
We particularly like this headlamp for winter running because of its unique structure that allows it to easily fit over a hat or buff, or even a helmet. The Petzl Iko Core was designed with a silicone band, rather than the traditional stretchy headband we’re used to with most headlamps. Because the Iko Core has a more solid skeleton, it also helps reduce pressure headaches and sore spots that can occur with other types of headlamps.
The Iko Core puts out a maximum of 500 lumens (which can reach 100 meters), has a minimalist design, and is lightweight. It is rechargeable, but is also compatible with three AAA batteries. If you’re in a pinch, the Iko Core will run for 100 hours on the lowest six-lumen setting, or 2.5 hours at the highest of 500 lumens.Shop the Petzl Iko Core
Best Headlamp: Black Diamond Sprinter 275 Headlamp ($75)
I first bought the Black Diamond Sprinter 275 Headlamp back in 2009, while training for the New York City Marathon. Nearly every run I did was in the dark. I bought this headlamp specifically, because it not only allowed me to see the road better, but also because it has a red blinking light on the back which made me more visible to cars. At 275 lumens, this isn’t the brightest headlamp out there, but it was bright enough that we didn’t observe any bouncing light in my field of vision, and most importantly, it gave me peace of mind that cars were more likely to see me running very early or late in the day.
The Sprinter is made to be rechargeable, but also works with three AAA batteries, which are strong enough to keep the lamp lit for four hours at the brightest setting. An additional plus is that I still have this headlamp, and it continues to work great 12 years later.Shop the Black Diamond Sprinter 275 Headlamp
Best Sunglasses: Julbo Aero ($130)
Sunglasses are an important piece of winter gear, as they not only help protect from the bright reflectivity of light off snow, but also shield your eyes from the cold winter wind. We like the Julbo Aero with the Reactiv lens option.
Reactiv photochromic lenses get darker or lighter to match changing light conditions. At their darkest, the lens is dark enough for bright days on snow, while they’re absolutely clear during the dark of night. Julbo Aero sunglasses were designed with running and mountain biking in mind, and allow for more breathability (anti-fogging) on slower uphill slogs.
While these look a little bit more technical than other running-oriented glasses, we’ve found their sturdiness, durability, and eye protection to far outweigh the style factor.Shop the Julbo Aero
Call for Comments
- What do you use to keep warm in the winter?
- Do you live in a climate or have hobbies that necessitate very specific winter gear?
- Use the comments section to share your favorite gear for winter running, too!