By Chad Heald
So winter is upon us…does that mean that we possum tuck our tails and head for our burrows? Of course not! We charge forth, ice-beards and snotcicles be-damned! Remember, that there is no such thing as bad weather, simply inadequate gear. So, this post is intended to give you some suggestions for winter running gear which will help you make it through the long winter months so that you can be ready to roll when springtime comes around!
Traction: Obviously, running is best done while upright…which can oftentimes be challenging on icy snow-covered trails. While a heavily lugged trail shoe may be sufficient in powdery conditions, if things are at all icy, you are likely to need some assistance. Essentially, there are a few different options: the first is the Over-the-shoe “crampon” style traction likely provides the best traction in icy conditions. Essentially, these are affixed to your trail shoes and typically provide a metal traction, which is superior to the traction provided by your shoes on their own. Sounds great, right? It is…to an extent. While they provide great traction, anyone who has run with these attached to their shoes knows that snow can accumulate in them, adding excess weight with each footfall, and making it feel like you’re running with concrete shoes. Some of the major manufacturers of this type of product are Khatoola and Yak Trax. The second option for winter traction is to “screw” your shoes…easy there tiger…we’re not suggesting anything tawdry here, rather, you insert short sheet metal screws with hexagonal heads into the lugs of your existing trail shoes. Here is a youtube video that walks you through the entire process. This approach is lighter and certainly less expensive, and also works well if you are running on icy roads and sidewalks. The biggest drawback is that you have to use a pair of shoes that you aren’t planning on using once the snow and ice melts, as you will be screwing holes into them! Be aware, that there are also some folks out there that are making “running specific” screws for this purpose. I’ve not used this product in any fashion whatsoever, but at least know that they exist.
Coat: Let’s face it, nothing will cut short a winter run faster than a wet, freezing, core. I would suggest that of all the winter running gear you may look at, your money is best spent on a good running coat. Honestly, there are some pretty amazing coats out there that provide great combinations of being water/windproof and yet breathable. I’ve had good luck with coats from The North Face, Brooks and Mountain Hardwear but those are only the manufacturers I’ve tried. I would submit that you want to look for a coat that is going to be waterproof, windproof and still breathable. Fit will be a personal thing, but unless it is a truly frigid day, you will likely be able to get away with a single baselayer and your jacket if you choose wisely. Do your research and look online for deals!
Base layer: You are going to want to have a baselayer that will wick moisture away from your skin. Some folks swear by Merino wool, others prefer synthetic fibers such as Patagonia Capilene. Either of these (and there are others) perform the essential task of wicking sweat and moisture away from your skin to help keep you dry and warm. Most base layers are going to be relatively lightweight. Talk to other runners and see what they prefer…and then do what seems right for you!
Insulating layer: For those really, really cold Ohio mornings where you are looking to run more miles than there are degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer, you will want an insulating layer on top of your base layer and underneath your waterproof/windproof jacket. I believe something fleece with additional wicking capabilities is our best bet here. Polartec and Thinsulate are products which are certainly appropriate as an insulating layer.
Hat: I’ve always been a fan of Headsweats, but in any event, you will want a fleece or wool hat that can cover your ears. There are hundreds of styles out there…go nuts.
Gloves: Gloves, mittens…gloves with a convertible mitten top…everyone has their own preference. Personally, my hands get pretty chilly and I prefer mittens. I’ve had the same pair of Brooks fleece mittens for about three years and they are great. You do give up some dexterity in mittens, but they do keep your fingers warmer in my opinion.
Pants/Tights: What can I say…no matter how hard-core you may be, there comes a time when you’ve simply gotta accept that it’s too cold for shorts (unless you’re into that whole “frostbite” thing). For those days, you’ll need a pair of pants or tights. I have a basic pair of running pants from Adidas that are pretty comfortable and a thicker pair of tights from Mountain Hardwear that are nice for the really cold days. Once again, do your research, look for deals online and pick the ones that are best for you!
Balaclava/Neckwarmer: If you don’t mind looking like you’re heading to/from a bank robbery, a balaclava may be for you…essentially, these things will cover much of your head (think of the old school winter hats with the face cut-out…but only much more hi tech. I’ve got one of these things, and occasionally will wear it…but usually when I’m fairly confident I won’t see another soul. Once again, search online and you’ll be able to find lots of suggestions! If you aren’t looking for full coverage, you may be interested in a Buff, which can serve as a neck-warmer, hat or balaclava in one.
So there you have it! Some of my suggestions for keeping toasty during your winter runs…understand that for every brand mentioned above, there are probably ten others out there that make a competing or similar product. Ultimately, you should shop around and find something which works within your budget and which serves the purposes discussed herein. Some of my favorite runs have happened on mornings when everyone else is way too sane to venture outside. I recall one run in particular a couple years ago with five other friends when it was 3 degrees out…during that 90 minutes we had all of Highbanks to ourselves and it was fantastic! So don’t let the cold and snow scare you away…just be prepared and get out there!