Women’s Winter Running Wardrobe (2011/12)

Let me be honest. This season, Mother Nature has not unleashed the winter ferocity I know that she can in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. We’ve had mild temperatures and abysmally thin snow depths. Heck, I’ve done lots of packed-snow trail running this winter on trails that should be neck deep in pow. This is a runner’s winter.

But, if you run enough, you’ll encounter nasty weather at some point. I found two degrees Fahrenheit on a morning or two. I experienced sideways sleet. I ran through 25-mile-per-hour winds. Indeed, it’s been a mild winter, but it hasn’t been perfect.

Ladies, let me introduce you to my go-to outfit for winter’s doldrums: the Brooks Women’s Playground Jacket, the Brooks Women’s Silver Bullet Wind Tight, and a Sauce Headwear lid. These three pieces of clothing, when worn simultaneously through snow, cold, or even a sunny day, are akin to wearing heaven.

Brooks Women’s Playground Jacket

Tetons winter running

The Brooks Playground Jacket and Silver Bullet Wind Tight helped the author take in the Teton Mountains at twilight on a cold winter's night. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

The Brooks Women’s Playground Jacket has a front and back panel composed of water-resistant and wind-resistant polyester containing a lightweight poly fill for insulation. Each sleeve is composed of Brooks Playground Jacketwind-resistant, stretchy polyester. Together, the panels and arms create a versatile jacket that’ll perform in a variety of winter conditions. The jacket has some fab details, including sleeve thumbholes, an internal pocket for electronics, and flower embroidery. These details add style and functionality to a piece already ready for whatever winter throws at it.

I wore the Playground Jacket in pretty much every condition winter has dished. On a sunny, breezy winter day, this jacket, along with a thin wool shirt underneath kept me warm but not hot. On those super-cold mornings, I layered a thick wool shirt and a fleece vest beneath the jacket. The combination made me feel like a comfy oven. I even wore the jacket in sleet heavy enough to soak its outer layer. When I peeled it off at home, however, I found that my under-clothing was dry.

If I could ask Brooks to change anything about the Playground Jacket, I’d beg for armpit vents. The jacket is so warm that, when the weather is nice, venting was necessary. Without pit zips, I found myself unzipping the jacket halfway.

Brooks Silver Bullet Wind Tight

Brooks Silver Bullet Wind Tight Women

Brooks Silver Bullet Wind Tight for women

The front of the Women’s Silver Bullet Wind Tight is composed of Brooks’ Silver Bullet fabric, which achieves wind resistance with polyester through an aluminum membrane. The waist and back of the tight are an un-membraned, stretchy polyester designed to provide for movement and breathability. The pants are lined, too, with a poly/spandex material. Finally, articulated knees make movement even easier and ankle zippers help you get the pant on and off.

I believe there are two kinds of runners in the world, those who don’t need much on the bottom half of their body to stay warm and those who do. Without a bulletproof pant of some sort, my thighs and tushie get way cold on a winter run. I find it difficult to explain how much love I, thus, possess for this inanimate object. I love, love, love the Silver Bullet Wind Tight.

This isn’t a traditional tight in the sense that it doesn’t cling to your body. The piece, when sized well, is pretty fitted. It’s got a little space to give around the waist, hips, and calves.

Howling wind, be dam#ed, these tights plow through anything. I enjoy them so much that I wear them for just about every other winter sport. Cross-country skiing? Check. Snowshoeing? Yep. Walking the dog? You betcha’. I can’t find an activity too fast or too slow or a temperature too warm or too cold to be uncomfortable in these tights.

Sauce Headwear Chill Toque and Ventilator Headband

A bit newer on my list of happy winter attire discoveries is the lids made by the ladies at Sauce Headwear. I met and fell in love with Shayla Johnson, Sauce’s founder, and her toques in January. What we Americans call hats, Canadians call toques and, since Shayla’s a former Canadian National Team Nordic (Cross Country) skier, we’re gonna’ call her invention by its proper name. Shayla’s now Bozeman, Montana-based and she sells four products, two toques and two headbands. I’ve so far tested the Chill Toque and the Ventilator Headband.

Sauce Ventilator Headband

The author headed out for a run in the Sauce Ventilator Headband (and Brooks Playground Jacket). Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Why am I obsessed with Sauce Headwear? It’s simple: the products cover my ears. Have you ever had a hat that you adore for the way it covers your noggin, keeps your head warm no matter the condition or sport, and looks nice only to find that the hat doesn’t cover your ears and they nearly fall off in winter’s chill? Athletes rejoice, you can yank these suckers down over your ears!

Sauce Headwear Toque - plum houndstooth

Sauce's Toque in plum houndstooth

The Chill Toque and the Ventilator Headband are Sauce Headwear’s warmest models. The Chill Toque is composed on the outside of two layers of Meryl, a stretchy nylon. Inside you’ll find a wide fleece headband. Unique to Sauce Headwear is that the hat twists to a small opening less than one inch in diameter, right on the top of the hat. Sauce says this lets heat out, but I can’t really tell. I do know that the fabric twist is a style curve ball to the traditional winter hat.

Nordic skiers love headbands. I think skiers love the fact that, when they are going hard, a headband holds less heat than a hat. I don’t know why we runners haven’t picked up on what skiers have known all along. Headbands, when worn in moderate-to-benign winter conditions, are the perfect head cover for us runners, too. The Ventilator Headband is composed on the outside of one layer of Meryl and a fleece-like inside layer.

Winter runners, watch out. Sauce Headwear is crossing over from its skiing history and into a future with us.


There, I did it. I composed a 1,000-word soliloquy on what I’ve been wearing this winter. If you know me in person, you know me as a pretty utilitarian kind of girl. I’m not into passing fads. I steer clear from gear that serves singular purposes. I’ll sacrifice fashion in one heartbeat for performance. I must be serious when I’ve got this much to say about a couple pieces of clothing. Winter, what? I hardly noticed with this serious apparel.

Call for Comments

Ladies, what have been your favorite pieces of running apparel this winter? Tried any of the above items? If so, what’d you think?

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 18 comments

  1. A. Pace

    Got to say, even though I'm a fella, the ladies of Skhoop down in Anchorage (http://www.skhoop.us/) were kind enough to lend me a down mini for my winter training for the Little Susitna 50K, & it was a wonder to have on cold days. I just think of it as an action kilt & my manliness stays intact. A lot of my women friends here in AK wear them for skiing, running, walking dogs, mushing, etc.

    Also, the irony of a fella posting the first comment here is not lost on me.

    1. Meghan

      A. Pace,

      I'm *this close* to investing in a down skirt. I have a couple gal friends who live and play in that same supercold stuff as you and they all say the same thing. Here in Utah, our uber-frigid days are few and far between but we've seen -15F a couple times since I've lived here. Also, I love that you call it an action kilt and I'm honored that you were the first commenter!


    Editor's Note: This comment has been removed.

    Personal attacks are not permitted on iRunFar. In addition, unfounded attacks and accusations against iRunFar's writers are not tolerated. The removed comment did both. Furthermore, the commentor did so anonymously.

    I welcome dissenting points of view regarding the substantive points of iRunFar's articles and comments. In the other hand, I will not permit the breakdown of civility and common courtesy.


    1. Andrew

      I found nothing moronic about the article/reviews. It seemed fairly straight forward and honest to me. The only thing unusual to me is that such an innocuous article was the target of a flame troller… the blogosphere must be slow today.

  3. Kristin Z.

    great review, meghan. i appreciate hearing what works for others because i love gear and thoroughly enjoy it when i have something totally dialed in… makes it hard when all your gear starts showing the signs of all the use and abuse and you're not sure what you'd ever replace it with… despite faceplant holes, dog chewed pockets, a general "thinning"… and/or a move to a completely different climate. so i like reading gear reviews from people that run in the same circles i do (no pun intended)… even if we haven't met.

    i'm pretty sure you're spot honest on whether you got paid and really, i'm naive enough to believe that even if you did get paid you'd still be honest with your review. so just disregard lame lame lame up there… obviously not part of this community.

    i'll totally check out the sauce headwear… i'm a long time believer in headbands and enjoy my buff versions but it's fun to have a few… they get washed more often. :)

  4. John

    Thanks for the review, My wife runs with me in the winter (even though she's a bit cold blooded) and I'm always looking for ways of making her time outdoors more enjoyable.

    1. Meghan


      Your comment made me laugh. When I go out running with a dude, I love seeing how few layers he has as compared to me. No contest, I'm a cold-blooded just like your wife!

  5. Brian Bradley

    Nice jacket selection, I've been running this winter in Minnesota in a similar jacket by The North Face, the Animagi. I agree that these kinds of jackets with the insulated body get really warm really fast. I actually like the TNF "Better Than Naked" jacket with wicking layers underneath. If you know of a "perfect setup" for winter running, not too cold, not too warm, let me know!


    1. dogrunner

      The real key is matching the layering to the outside temp and your heat production. It has not been that cold here in the northern plains this winter, so lots of insulation is not necessary. I like a good base layer for wicking (Craft is my choice), a middle layer that can vary in warmth depending on outside temp (including nothing if it is above freezing), and an outer jacket that blocks the wind and has a wicking liner (but liner is not really insulating). My favorite winter outer shells are the lined Craft jackets or the Marmot windshirt or jacket.

      Meghan – thanks for the hat tip – those look great and I'm going to check them out for my wife and myself.

  6. Alison

    Merino wool Buff has about a million different uses and is vital sub 10 degrees, in my opinion, as a balaclava. I also got a pair of Ibex tights this year and they were great, even when temps dipped below zero. And then of course there are the sheet metal screws to turn any shoe into a winterized wonder.

  7. Steve Bohrer

    I hardly ever wear a beanie or "toque". I've got a very well worn Pearl Izumi headband that I wear when it's above ~10 degrees. I'll wear a balaclava below that, and if it's really cold/windy I'll wear both. I love the venting the headband gives. About the only time I wear a beanie is when it's snowing hard. Even then my running beanie of choice is also a Pearl, the one with the elastic drawstring closure that allows you to open the top like, surprise, a headband.

  8. dogrunner

    I bought a couple of Sauce Chill hats after reading Meghan's review; they showed up on Saturday, it is still sort of like winter here on the northern plains, so we put the new hats to use.

    My wife is really picky about her headwear, mostly about fit and function. Her first reaction after putting on the hat was: hey it covers my ears, AND it stays in place, AND I can still hear :) She must have liked it because she wore it all weekend. I thought I'd post that observation here, and saw Meghan's comment from her review:

    "Why am I obsessed with Sauce Headwear? It’s simple: the products cover my ears."

    So make that +2. I liked it too, very comfortable without squeezing my head. The chill model is probably slightly too warm for me for running at the temps (15-20F) we had this weekend, but would be great at cooler temps. I need to get the none lined version too, I guess. But the hats were great for riding the runners (dogsledding) at these temps.

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