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.