I just finished the St. Paul Winter carnival Half Marathon in snow that changed to ice pellets that changed to sleet that changed to freezing rain, with 20 mph winds. I thought that since this experience was still fresh in my mind, this would be a good time to go over how to prepare oneself for running in all types of cold weather.
Each one of us has to prepare based on how our body reacts with the weather. I say this because what works for me might be too light (or too heavy) for other runners. But I believe this is a good guideline to go with when judging what attire to wear for cold weather.
The basic concept is to use layers. I have the following temperature ranges (in Fahrenheit) for the clothes that you need to have to run safely in these temperatures:
>50 degrees – shirt and shorts. Anything more than this in the fall through spring season really isn't necessary.
40-50 Long running shorts, long sleeve shirts
20-40 Light weight running jacket, long sleeve shirt, light weight running pant, gloves, knit hat.
0-20 Warm running jacket, long sleeve shirt, leg long johns, running pants, gloves,
0 to -40 – need to very careful running weather like this. LEAVE NO SKIN EXPOSED when running in weather below zero. I would suggest three layers on the top and bottom. Two layers on head and hands. If you have any exposed skin [nose, checks, chin, forehead, etc.] cover this area with a thin coating of Vaseline. It protects like a second layer of skin.
-40 below and lower – I have only run once in weather like this (and mostly just to see what that was like, and yes, even I try dumb things sometimes). I would recommend running indoors on a treadmill when it gets this cold. If you fall or become incapacitated, it might be a while before someone finds you.
So what did I wear this morning whether the weather drifts between the freezing levels (32 degrees)? Whenever you find yourself in these conditions, I would suggest wearing my suggested running gear for the temperature listed above, but make sure that the jacket/pants are water resistant.
In fact, with all the gear listed above makes sure that it's made of Dri-weave or poly propylene, so that it takes the sweat/water away from your body. You should never wear any cotton, no matter if it's cold or hot. Cotton retains all moisture, and beyond chaffing you, it also adds weight, which works against you.
One last thing to close out this discussion, which I will mention with all running apparel discussion. Don't go cheap. After running for a number of years, I find that every piece of clothing that I picked up at a discounter or for $10 at a running expo, ended up not lasting a year – or I couldn't use it within a year. Running shorts drawstrings that snapped, zippers that continually got stuck, and seams that rip in jackets and pants, the list goes on and on. Go to your local running store and look at what the sales people wear, and ask them their opinion on what's best. Most run twice the distance that you or I would run and can give you all the pros and cons of any clothes investment you plan to make.