Perfect Layering for Winter Workouts

By , SparkPeople Blogger

When there is a chill in the air, it's easy to assume you'd be better off heading to the gym or hibernating in your workout room at home. But as long as you dress properly, there's no reason you can't venture outside for a workout that is both comfortable and enjoyable. 
The tricky part is wearing enough that you're not shivering from the cold, but not so much that you're sweating because of all of the heavy layers.  Here's a guide to knowing what—and how much— to wear so that you can be prepared all season long.
Layering for winter workouts typically consists of three basic layers:

The Base Layer

Start with your base layer, which includes undergarments, socks and the first layer of clothes (tops and bottoms) closest to the skin. This layer should be made of "wicking" material, meaning it pulls moisture away from the skin. Remember: Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you won't sweat, and when you do, wet skin is going to lose heat significantly faster than dry skin. Look for words like breathable, Dry Fit, wicking, or Cool Max on the label.  These technical fabrics might cost more than cotton, but are worth the extra expense for the comfort they provide.   

The Insulating Layer

This middle layer helps trap warm air, which is especially important on those really cold days.  Popular insulation materials include fleece, a synthetic fabric that dries quickly and maintains its insulating ability even when damp, and wool, which naturally wicks moisture away. This insulating layer should be loose enough to trap air between layers, but not so heavy that it restricts movement; your insulating layer should fit comfortably, offering you maximum range of motion for your workout.

Additional Weatherizing Accessories

We lose the majority of body heat through our heads, so a hat is a good idea when exercising on a cold winter day. In fact, you might find that you don't need as many layers of clothing because of the warmth a good hat can provide. 

Like clothing, you want gloves and mittens made of sweat-wicking, waterproof and breathable fabrics. Mittens are generally warmer than gloves, but offer less dexterity, so consider the type of activity you'll be doing. Be careful not to buy gloves or mittens that are too tight. You want a bit of air space at the tips of your fingers to act as additional insulation. For me, the worst part about being outside is cold fingers. I use lightweight stretchy gloves for cool days, and thicker gloves for when the temperature dips much lower. Consider investing in a quality pair of gloves or mittens, or even a couple different pairs for different weather conditions.

After reading about the various layers and clothing possibilities, you could be wondering how you'd ever afford to buy it all. You can spend tons of money on winter workout clothes, but the good news is that you don't have to! Here are some great tips for saving money on high-quality workout clothes

What to Wear in Any Winter Temperature

Now that you have all of these clothes, how do you know how much to wear and when? My suggestion would be to experiment with what works best for you. Temperature is relative, so if you come from a cold-weather climate, a 50-degree run might sound hot to you. If you're from Texas, 50 degrees might be a cold day.

Everyone is different. My dad runs in shorts if it's 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while I would be in pants at that point. As a general guide for winter layering, follow this chart.

Be sure to "Pin" this graphic for future reference!



Base Layer

Insulating Layer

Protective Layer


> 50⁰ F/
> 10⁰ C

Shorts + Shirt (long- or short-sleeved)




40 to 50⁰ F/
4 to 10⁰ C

Pants (cropped or full-length) + Long-sleeved shirt

Light sweatshirt (optional)



30 to 40⁰ F/
-1 to 4⁰ C

Pants or tights + Long-sleeved shirt

Sweatshirt or Fleece


Light gloves + Ear warmers

20-30⁰ F/
-6 to -1⁰ C

Tights (optional) + Long-sleeved shirt

Pants + Fleece

Lightweight jacket

Heavier gloves + Hat

< 20⁰ F/
< -6⁰ C

Tights + Long-sleeved shirt

Pants + Fleece

Lightweight jacket

Hat + 2 pair gloves + Neck/face gaiter

I've always followed the rule that if I step outside for a run and I'm comfortable, I'm overdressed. You should feel slightly chilly for the first few minutes of your workout, as your body will start to heat up as you get moving. Being comfortably dressed during your outdoor workout will keep you motivated to stay active all winter long.

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PATRICIAAK 12/29/2019
:) Report
CKEYES1 12/28/2019
Layers - very important Report
ANNIEMAROO 11/20/2019
Awesome tips - and you used bot C and F - Thank you!!! Report
Love this article....sooo helpful....when the weather gets cold here in Georgia and it does, I never quite dress right to run....either not enough or too much and I get sweaty....this is great advice.. Report
Cute! I live in Miami! Report
KHENDERSON5 1/30/2019
Great information especially on days like today, -34 with windchill of -57. No amount of layers will keep me warm today. ?? Report
I appreciate all of the information. Thank you! Report
Thanks for the article. Report
May need to dig out the snowshoes this winter. Report
I'm printing this out...Thanx! Report
Great information. Thanks. Report
great ideas Report
Great tips! Thanks! Report
That’s good info! Report
These are really good tips for someone who hates the cold weather, like I do. Thank you! Report
Thanks for the helpful article:) Report
Good info. Report
Great suggestions...................Thank
You. Report
People with breathing problems like asthma should warm their air with breathing masks. It can literally save your life, because the cold can cause deadly asthma attacks. And you can be more active in your life and able to spend more time outdoors if you wear a cold weather breathing mask. Breathwarmers looks like a promising company. I read their story on their website. Sorry, not allowed to post the link, but look it up! Report
I would say this is overkill, but I love the cold. I can't possibly undress enough for summer. Happy to see cooler weather coming in. Report
Very good article. Report
The only thing I can't keep warm are my toes. The article says nothing about footwear. Report
One of the big advantages of running in my neighborhood is that I can start out in a jacket and drop it off when I'm warmed up. Report
Wow you have only covered down to -6 ! Not at all concise as an article. It is minus 21 here where I live....with wind chill factor -27 !!! Report
I moved to North Carolina almost ten years ago, after living in Miami for fifty! I walk with my dog every day, including winter days, unless it is too icy. I cannot go without my Thermaskins long underwear; they are so warm, but not bulky. They are available online from Land's End. Have had constant problems keeping my fingers warm, until finding a pair of fleece-lined mittens earlier this winter; so far, they have been great! Report
It says what to wear in any winter temperature but the chart only goes down to 20 degrees. Also noticed spark articles saying get out in any temperature no matter how cold no excuses etc. but I don't think the writers have ever been to Northern Minnesota or North Dakota in the winter. When the regular temps are -25 to -40 and the windchill hits -40 to -60. It is not advisable to go out in those temps unless you want frostbite or worse.

But it is nice to know what to wear so when Spring comes and it warms up to 20 above there is a guideline here we can look at. Report
For running, my general guideline is to dress as though it will feel twenty degrees F warmer. Takes a mile or two to warm up but then I feel about right. I also plan runs to end with the wind at my back so I'm not running into the wind when tired and a little sweaty Report
In weather below 10 or 20 F I duct tape the front of my running shoes and wear socks with mohair and or wool content Report
The elephant in the room hasn't been addressed. Sneakers are not warm, waterproof or built for winter workouts. Imagine running in a New York ice storm with running shoes? You'd lose a toe to frostbite in the first block. In a place where snow shoes and crampons are recommended, how are people going to be prancing around in sneakers?!
A blog with good winter (waterproof, insulated, warm) running shoes would be great, don't forget to include socks.
"We lose the majority of body heat through our heads,"

No, we don't. Stop quoting full of it research that's been debunked several times already. Yes, cover your head, but seriously? Stop it.

Also where's my below 0 degree F guide? Report
For me, the essential piece of cold-weather gear was not a neck gaiter but a form-fitting balaclava (from a certain brand-name company). It keeps my ears, cheeks, and chin warm. I find that I don't have to cover my nose (which causes my glasses to fog up) unless it's really cold -- just covering my mouth is enough. Report
Is this more geared toward walking, or jogging/running? I think I'd be cold wearing shorts when it's 50, but if I was jogging I'd probably be fine once I warmed up. My biggest issue jogging outside in cold weather is usually my glasses fogging up or the cold air making my sinuses hurt. Report
Duck tape placed lightly over mesh on my running shoes. Report
I was once told to dress as if it is ten degrees warmer than it really is. I have followed that rule and it usually works like a charm. I also use tops that zipper in the front. Sometimes if I get too warm, just opening the zipper a few notches is all it takes. Report
I solve the layering problem by going to FL for the winter! Report
I have said when I feel the first chill in the fall, I will be "cold" until spring - so this was very helpful. I find I just do not go out - even tho I really want to -
Clothing (and layering) makes all the difference in walking and hiking! When we hike I leave room in my pack for clothing I've removed when I warm up. Report
It gets way below zero here. It is very frustrating to sit in the house all winter. In the past I layered, but not as recommended here. I would nearly get frostbite within a short time, and then go home and not exercise. While I do love our YMCA, I prefer long distance walking outside. I am saving this article for future reference! Thank you for this article! Report
I saved this graphic on my iphone - it's SO helpful! Also, I had no idea what on earth a neck gaiter is....but I always listen to Coach if she says it's an essential....I think I better get one! Report
Very helpful. Report
Great article. I feel the cold before anyone and wear wicking under garments even to work (inside job). I am going to try to walk even when it is cold but it is difficult for me. Report
So happy I live in Hawaii. I my biggest choice is sleeves or no sleeves, since I prefer capri length leggings, no matter what activity I am up to. Report
I read this article in the early winter and clicked on the link to find out what piece of apparel Coach Nicole couldn't live without. Based on that article I bought myself 2 neck gaiters for this winter and I agree, a neck gaiter is a must. On those truly brutal days they really saved me and kept me warm for my long daily walks. Report
Great article, I wish I read it when I started to run outside!
For me the clothing suggested under 40 oF seems perfect for walking but a bit too warm for running. Usually I wear 1-2 layers less or thinner layers for running.
And thank you for providing the temperatures in oC too! Report
I find the humidity and wind factor of the day plays a big role in what I need to wear also. I enjoyed and appreciated this article. The graphic was excellent in my opinion. Report
Great post - I found the graphic really helpful and loved that I could "pin" the graphic for later reference! Report
I have such a hard time figuring out what to wear when it is cold. I tend to be chilly most of time anyway. I want to be warm enough but sweating is bad too. I need breathable clothing that is moisture wicking. Report
Head bands too can be really useful when a wool or fleece cap is too much. They come in different weights and keep your forehead and ears warmer ... at least warmer :-)
I play between using both a wool hat and a light headband underneath today for instance. Depending how hot I was and how cold where I was running through I used one or the other and in the beginning both! Report