What to wear when running in winter: best women’s exercise thermals, from trousers, leggings, fleeces, to tops
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The key to giving your best running performance in any weather? It’s all about wearing warm, comfy layers next to your skin. And there’s no season where dressing for your workout is more important than winter. While on summer jogs you can get away with just sticking on a t-shirt before you go for a jog, but when temperatures drop, good thermal tops and bottoms designed specifically for runners are a must – they’ll keep you comfortable and at a cosy temperature mile after mile.
Best women’s winter running gear at a glance
- Best for comfort: BAM Novea Base Layer
- Best for cold conditions: UnderArmour Outrun the Cold
- Best running tights: Montane Thermal Trail Tights
- Best mid layer: Icebreaker Merino Quantum III
- Best running trousers: 66 North Straumnes running trousers
- Best short-sleeve top: Craft Active Extreme X Short Sleeve Top
- Best headwear: Sweaty Betty Therma Run Ear Warmer
- Best vest: Under Armour ColdGear Infrared Vest
What to wear when running in winter
Thermal layers, also known as base layers, are usually worn alone for running, and are so-named because they are designed using materials that trap in body heat. If you’re getting started in winter running, we’d recommend buying a set of full-length leggings and a long-sleeved top. Good running thermals should feel close-cut to your skin without being restrictive, and have enough stretch that they move when you do and hug your body, keeping your body warmth in.
Check when you try them on that you can move your arms and legs without feeling any tightness, and that there’s no empty space between the layers and your skin that could let cold air in. Snug cuffs on arms and ankles are useful, and we always look for a wide, comfortable waistband on leggings and tights. Heading outside in snow or really cold conditions? We’d recommend kitting yourself out with warm thermal leggings or looser trousers, a long-sleeved top, a neck warmer and a headband (and we’ve recommended great kit in all these categories below). Gloves are an essential too.
What material should winter running gear be made of?
Thermals for running are usually either synthetic, such as polyester or a polyester blend, or made with a natural material such as merino wool or bamboo. Avoid cotton - it absorbs moisture and holds it against your body, making you feel colder. Polyester is light and quick to dry, and is often cheaper than merino.
Merino wool (either 100% merino or a stretchier blend) is a great, if more expensive, choice, as it’s naturally antibacterial and wicks away sweat well, meaning that it doesn’t instantly need washing. Relatively new to the market are thermals made using bamboo – these are also antibacterial, and often wonderfully soft to wear.
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Ultra comfy, organic and highly breathable, bamboo is a bit of a dream material when used to create running wear, and BAM do it best. Their base layers are smart enough to wear as regular tops when you aren’t jogging and are great value for money, with long-sleeved layers starting from £32.
Effective antibacterial and wicking properties makes bamboo clothing a treat for runners and we especially like the comfy crew neck and thumb holes of the simple Novea long sleeved top, which wicks away sweat really well.
A firm favourite with sporty types, Under Armour’s Cold Gear range of thermals are exactly that – reliable kit for working out temperatures drop.
Simple designs and a beautiful fit makes these pieces a joy to wear in the outdoors, and we found the great stretch from the jersey fabric of the OutRun top was ideal for longer runs in the cold. This turtleneck dried and wicked away sweat the best of all the base layers we tested – perfect if you like to get your endorphin hit by running hard in the cold. Reflective detailing helps keep you visible on night runs.
Form-fitting, stretchy thermal tights are our go-to bottoms for winter runs, and our pick of the pack are Montane’s cosy tights for women. We’ve been able to test these out in the recent cold snap that has gripped Britain and have been really impressed – Montane’s design offers a slim-yet-stretchy fit that keeps legs cosy but don’t feel restrictive as you move, with a wide, comfortable waistband that you won’t notice you’re wearing. While the Thermal Trail tights add welcome warmth, they’re very breathable, so if you sweat it won’t give you a chill. There’s also a rear zipped pocket perfect for your keys. Lovely stuff.
When it’s really freezing outside, a skinny thermal top worn alone may not cut it. Add a welcome warming layer to your running setup with Icebreaker’s cosy Quantum III, which is made with magical merino wool for warm and wicking.
This pleasingly soft top adds a lot of instant cosiness without much extra weight or bulk, and the high zip neck offers further warmth around your face. There’s a handy zipped pocket, and a hoodie version is also available. A versatile mid layer you can wear casually, too.
Icelandic brand 66 North know a fair bit about training and working out in inclement weather – so when they turned their hand to running kit, we were excited to test out what they came up with. Their new Straumnes trousers are indeed outdoors-ready – they’re light, comfy and breathable to wear, but are tough and water-resistant thanks to a Gore-Tex membrane, repelling rain and snow and keeping you warm and dry in challenging conditions.
The fit is looser than tights but very comfortable, and you could even layer these over baselayers on freezing days. Reflective stripes help make you visible on night runs, too. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? We think so – if you get outdoors to run come rain or shine.
Whether you’re heading out the door in milder winter weather or just tend to overheat when you layer up too much on intense, hard-hitting runs, a short-sleeved thermal top can be a good transitional piece to swap to if long sleeves aren’t cutting the mustard.
Our top pick of the t-shirts is this techie treat from Decathlon, which is super stretchy and hugs the body really nicely, trapping in warmth, but also has built-in mesh panels under the armpits designed to wick away sweat, so you stay the perfect temperature. We like that this top is made from recycled ocean plastic.
Thermals for your head? You bet – while it isn’t actually true that you lose most of your body heat through your head, you do need to think about keeping your head, face and ears warm in cold conditions. Thermal hats are one option, but we prefer ear warmers and headbands, which help keep your face and ears cosy but stop you overheating as you jog.
Sweaty Betty’s offering is made from soft, recycled fabric, is water-resistant, so it’ll still keep you warm in the rain, and is delightfully comfy to wear, even on long runs. A thicker Sherpa fleece version is available for snow running.
Meet your new secret weapon – a running vest is that bit of workout kit you never knew you needed.
Trapping in warmth around your torso while your arms are free to move is a great way to layer up for a run in sub zero temperatures, and our favourite sleeveless mid layer on the maker at the moment is this smart Infrared vest.
It’s highly breathable but traps in welcome extra heat instantly, and a good amount of stretch stops you even noticing you’ve got an extra layer on. Under Armour’s vest is also so smart and sleek-looking in subtle black that you can wear it to keep cosy when you’re off-duty, too.