Winter Running above 9,000ft.

This is actually Spring running, when I can start getting high again, but my outfit is exactly what I wear most of winter. Photo: Frank Bowman.

It’s Winter! The backcountry is buried for now and my running is. . . different. I am in the mountains so the snow falls at my doorstep and the trails and the roads – the whole town, is a blanket of white. 

 Living at 9,600ft. it is dry and the temperature can swing 30° in either direction all winter. I love it – I thrive on change and this town’s weather is consistently always changing.

So the morning routine goes: Check the weather. Based on what temp. it is decide how early or late you will be running that day, and then pick your outfit. 

There is plenty of “parts” to winter running, but this post is about gear and how much to wear or not wear in certain temperatures. I am not going to get specific in reviewing certain brands, just list the basics of what seems to be working for me as I navigate running in the winter.

This list is purely subjective and it is based on a Colorado climate above 9,000ft. This will not be accurate for every body type or region. However, I hope it is a good starting point and will make it easier for you to figure out what works for you. 

The snow princess getting after it. View of the Ten Mile Range in Breckenridge, CO.

So far, this is what I have found: 

WEAR SUNSCREEN. For real. All year. Any skin that is exposed. High country sun is no joke nor is skin cancer. 

40° and above: 
If it’s sunny out and this warm, consider it summer. I would wear:
Shorts, long sleeve light base layer. Light running gloves, buff, hat and sunglasses. The buff and gloves might be too warm, but it’s good to have them. I would wear crew length socks in case I get stuck post-holing. The snow will eat your ankles.

If it’s sunny out, I will wear shorts or capri tights. Long sleeve light base layer and I would tie a light windbreaker, like the Brooks LSD Jacket around my waist in case the weather turns colder. Again, crew length socks in case of post-holing. Light running gloves, hat, buff, sunglasses.

I like full length tights. Mid-weight long sleeve base layer. I usually have to wear a second top layer and I love the La Sportiva Task Hybrid Jacket. It might be my favorite piece of running clothing. It has primaloft insulation in the chest acting as a vest and a jacket. Mmmm, I think it is the perfect winter piece. Crew or knee-high socks. If it is sunny, definitely crew – if it’s stormy then knee high. Light running gloves, hat, buff or beanie, sunglasses. Special note: This is a really nice temperature. Crisp winter air, but you easily stay warm if you are moving at all. When the sun is out it feels about 10° warmer and it’s magical.

10° – 20°: 
This is where it starts to get challenging. I think I have nailed the outfit, but regardless, it’s hard not to be a little cold somewhere. Especially if you hit the trails and run in snow. At this temperature, you have to keep moving to stay warm. Full length tights, mid-weight base layer, a layer like the Task Hybrid Jacket and I like to add a lightweight vest underneath. Knee-high socks. 2 buffs; one for my neck and face and one for my ears. Medium weight gloves, sunglasses. 

Below or 0 – 10°:
Personally, 10° and below is all the same. Movement is crucial to survival, your lungs dry out and the icy air will burn them if you breathe too heavy. I normally opt for the gym on the few days a year it gets this cold – but some days I just have to run and this kind of cold makes it interesting. I wear everything mentioned in the 10° – 20° range but I add a beanie to my head instead of the buff. I wear a legitimate face mask with air holes in it. The buff will fall off or become frozen from your breath. This face mask is crucial. I also wear the thickest gloves I can find.  Special note: I never plan on running longer then 4 miles in this kind of weather. I’ve found that is my breaking point of when I’ve enjoyed the fresh air, but no matter what I am cold and it’s beginning to not be fun. 

Here are the key pieces of an outfit that I do not leave the house without when running in winter:
Always, always, always wear or have with you:
Gloves – you are useless without coordination of your hands
Buff – this has multiple uses for warmth
Sunglasses – this is specific to CO. Even if it’s cloudy when you start, the weather changes rapidly and if you get stuck in the sun and snow – snow blindness is a real thing. Just sayin’.
Cell phone: In case you need to call for help, look at a map, or take pictures for your Insta. 

This trail is packed down enough to run sans micro spikes. 

An extra note: When running in my county, I try to keep it around two hours or less and I have been doing it long enough now and on the same trails that I don’t carry a backpack with extra stuff. If you are learning to run in winter, please carry a backpack with a few essentials in case something goes awry. A first aid kit, a puffy jacket, water ( make sure it doesn’t freeze), extra beanie, some snacks. This list is based on the fact that you aren’t planning to go more than a few hours and you are familiar with the trails you are running. 

Cheers to Winter,



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