How to Layer for Winter Running

How to Layer for Winter Running - Eat Spin Run Repeat

Winter running.

They’re two words that you won’t often hear come out of my mouth, quite simply because I rarely partake in this activity. Although I was born in Edmonton, Alberta where winter temperatures have been known to dip below -40C, my 5 years of living in Bahrain 100% sucked any sort of cold tolerance out of my body. As for the question of why I decided to return to Canada and live in a city within Ontario’s snow belt, I can’t give you a good answer.

While I absolutely detest winter, there’s no way I’d survive the season without regular exercise – it’s just not normally the outdoor kind. I’ll happily sweat it out on the treadmill, bike, or cross trainer, or lift weights and burpee until my bod just won’t burpee anymore. Exercise, sunlight and sleep are (in my opinion) the 3 biggest things that seem to affect whether I feel on top of the world or under the weather at this time of year, and if any one part of that magical trifecta is lacking, the effects are almost instantly noticeable. Anyone else feel the same?

asics in the snow

On most days, training indoors doesn’t bother me. I’m in the gym early in order to avoid fighting the after-work folks for equipment, and not having to worry about traffic, snow, wind, slipping on ice, or where to stash keys makes it easy. There are also very few clothing decisions to be made:

  • Which shorts do I need? You’ll see me in Lululemon Run:Speed shorts almost always if I’m not cycling, but this girl doesn’t get near a bike without cycle shorts these days. The outcome of this decision then leads to….
  • What tank top will match my shorts? These things are important, even at 4am. 😉
  • What shoes I need to bring? This depends on whether there’s running, cycling, or cross training/lifting on the agenda.

With all that said, sometimes, just sometimes, even the biggest winter haters need to get out into the fresh air. And in those situations, figuring out what to wear so that you don’t die of frostbite but don’t overheat is very important (although I’m about 99.9% sure the latter would NEVER happen to me.) I was going nuts indoors the other day and vowed that my next run (even if very brief) would happen outside. And luckily, I recently received some winter layering running gear from Icebreaker to take for a test drive. (While I have an extensive wardrobe of shorts and tanks, those obviously don’t cut it when you’re outside in the middle of January!

i'm not going outside until the temperature is above my age

Since I’m a complete newb to the whole layering thing, I enlisted the help of the internet, as well as this infographic to figure out what to suit up in:

Icebreaker - How to Layer Infographic

I hate being cold, so I knew my temptation would be to over-dress and put on heavier clothes – especially on my top half which seems to get chilly a lot faster than my legs. The clothes I received from Icebreaker are made of merino wool from sheep in New Zealand. Merino wool is known for being some of the softest, non-itchy, breathable and odour-resistant wools in the world, yet it’s still tough enough to protect from harsh weather – hot and cold. (Note If you’re worried or wondering about the ethical treatment of these sheep, you can read about Icebreaker’s policies, practices and supply chain here.)

winter running layers

Icebreaker claims their material will save sweaty enthusiasts from having to layer up in half a closet’s worth of clothing. The pieces I received seemed quite thin and light, and I figured there was no way they’d keep me warm, but I hoped to prove myself wrong.

My layering started with the basics: a Lululemon Energy Sports Bramy Polar V800 and heart rate monitor, and a pair of Fabletics zebra print tights from last month’s order. (On a side note, I’ve been buying from Fabletics since November and I’m absolutely 10000% obsessed. The quality is awesome, the prices are awesome, and I’m hooked. If you want to sign up, feel free to use this link which kicks a little bit of referral credit my way. Your first outfit is $25, which is a steal of a deal and I think you’ll love it too!)

Fabletics tights, sports bra and Polar heart rate monitor

Next up was my base layer top, a Lululemon Cool Racerback tank which, per the instructions of the infographic above, has a snug fit and stays close to my skin. One of the things I hate about being outside in the winter is that lovely gust of cold air that comes up under your clothes, but I find that these tanks are long enough for my long torso and don’t ride up. (I know the infographic says that merino wool shouldn’t be mixed with other fabrics, but I was workin’ with what I had!)

tights and Lululemon Cool Racerback tank

On top of the tank was the Icebreaker Pace Long Sleeve Zip top, which is technically a base layer but I figured that with a jacket on top and a tank beneath, it would probably be fine as a mid-layer. It also has thumbholes, a high neck line, and a bit of stretch.

Icebreaker merino wool midlayer

Next up: An Icebreaker Flexi-Chute Stripe neck warmer…

Icebreaker merino wool scarf

And of course, gloves, socks, and shoes. I’ve been using Mizuno Breath Thermo running gloves and I really like that they come up high on my wrists. (Again, cold wind rushing up sleeves is no bueno!) I have no idea what brand my earwarmer is (I think I got it at Target!) but in really, really cold weather I think I’d swap it for a hat because we lose a ton of heat from our heads when running outdoors in the cold. My socks of choice are cycling socks which come up higher than ankle socks – again, perfect for keeping the skin protected. My shoes were Asics GT-2000s that I bought last year. The treads on them are still decent, but in more icy conditions I think I’d want Yaktrax over them for extra grip.

earwarmer, Asics GT-2000s and mittens

And last but not least, the outer layer, an Icebreaker Gust Long Sleeve Zip Hood jacket. It’s got a merino inner layer that’s soft against the skin, a polyurethane middle layer to protect against the wind, and a polyester outer layer to repel rain. Luckily there was no rain when I headed out to run, but it was windy and snowing a bit (because this is Canada and when is it not?)

Icebreaker Merino running jacket

With that whole getting dressed process finished (phew!) I headed out to put the gear to the test. It was just a short run and the temperature was -9C, but apparently felt like -15 with the windchill. To my great (and very pleasant) surprise, my body was actually warm! The wind on my face made me grit my teeth a bit – ok, a lot – but as far as the layers went, I felt like I could have easily stayed out for at least 30 minutes longer. The jacket fit a bit more loosely than expected (I ordered a size up out of fear that it would be too short) but this turned out to be a non issue and my core stayed plenty warm.

To be honest, the only thing that was an issue was keeping my footing on some of the hills in our area, but as I said earlier, there are several gear options to help with this. You won’t find me running outdoors regularly until it gets to at least 0 degrees, but I’m pleased to report that this one was a success and satisfied my need to get out of the recycled gym air for a while!

cold weather running gear selfie

[Tweet “How to #LayerUp for winter running via @eatspinrunrpt @icebreakernz #run”]

In case you’re looking for some other winter running tips, I’ve collected a few gems from around the web for you:

So tell me…

  • What are some of your best winter layering tips for running (or any other sport you do outside?)
  • What’s your favourite piece of cold weather running gear? 

And last but not least, with Valentine’s Day coming up this Friday, I’ve got a little giveaway happening over on Instagram to make your week a bit brighter. If you want to win yourself a box of limited edition Love O’s from Love Grown foods, a re-post will get you an entry. Check it all out here!

16 thoughts on “How to Layer for Winter Running

  1. Hi, I’m actually new to your site, so apologize that I’m jumping in and asking questions of a complete stranger (well, I suppose the internet makes friends of all of us! haha). May I ask what cycling shorts you wear? I’ve gotten back into spinning recently, and although the dreaded butt and “crotchal” pain has subsided, I wonder if there’s a more comfortable way to ride on what will never ever be a comfortable bike seat. As for running outside, I don’t tend to run much period, as I find it a really dreadful experience, but extremely admire people who actually find it fun! (my friends feel the same way about spinning though, so I suppose it’s all relative).

    1. No problem! I have a couple of pairs that I like, and trust me, I have tried many because I’ve experienced more than enough of the problem you described! The two I like are a pair by Bontrager (I can’t find the exact model but I think they have the same chamois as this pair: and any shorts from 2XU that have their Elite LD Chamois. I’ve done long rides in both and they make a world of difference!

      1. Thanks! I’ll look into them. I’m glad they’ve made a noticeable difference for you. LOL the only comfortable bike seat is on a recumbent, but I don’t typically use those so better cycling shorts it is.

  2. If your icebreaker gear ever goes missing, you know where to look…
    That looks totally cozy! Layering is SO important to stay warm when running in the winter. Loved this post.

  3. Ang! I ordered those fabletic zebra pants in shorts and I am in LOVE! I wear them to barre and spin and they’re awesome!!

    Definitely jumped on the Fabletics train too!

  4. Love all these pieces! I always wear ALL THE LAYERS. It’s easier to take off pieces that to regret not putting enough on. The worst is going on a long run thinking you will warm up and then YOU DON’T.

    I personally love my Mizuno Breath Thermo tights. They have definitely done the trick thus far!

  5. Layering is very important! 99% of the time I overdress, get hot and my runs can suffer. I have gotten much better this year by adding light layers, a vest is nice on not so cold days too. We have been lucky here in Idaho to have been in the mid 50s lately so I broke out the capris for a run this weekend.

  6. Great post! I wish I had seen this infograph a month ago. Since I got my new bike I’ve been trying to get outside when the temps creep above my age. The balaclava and booties over my cleats have been game changers. My toes are still numb but are not being assaulted by the wind.
    Yaktrax are amazing!

  7. While I absolutely love your outfit, that many layers would kill me 🙂 I run very hot, especially around my core, so three layers on my upper half would have me overheating very quickly. I normally just wear a tank or tshirt and arm sleeves under a fleecy top. If it’s really windy, I’ll either throw a windbreaker over that or swap out the fleece for my Resolution Run jacket. I can only wear that on the -25 days! My favourite piece of winter gear is my long johns! My top half easily overheats, but my bottom half is always cold!

    1. It sounds like we’re the complete opposite, Linda! I rarely feel my legs getting cold once I get moving, but it takes me FOREVER to get my shoulders to relax (and I guess most of my upper body too.) Regardless of upper or lower body, let’s hope that we don’t have too many -25 days left this winter!

  8. Pingback: Bean Bytes 128

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.