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Ask A Gear Guru: What Should I Wear For Spring Running?

Knowing what to wear, how to wear it, and when to make adjustments while spring running is more of a fine art than science. Fortunately years of getting it right (and wrong) will help us help you.

Sometimes the life of a Gear Guru is super fun: “Look how many boxes of neat things there are on my porch to try out!” (Much to Mrs. Gear Guru’s dismay.) Sometimes it’s not so fun: “Look how many bikes need to be built this week! Fun bonus, they all have hydraulic disc brakes with proprietary and integrated front ends!” Sometimes it’s a mixed bag. Like this week when I had to patiently wait for a huge impending downpour to start before throwing on a bunch of spring running gear that needed to be tested out in the rain. “Sorry 11 a.m. meeting, I have to reschedule—it just started pouring and looks terrible, that’s my queue to head outside and run!” But then of course very few runs are truly horrible, and after 40 minutes of sideways rain, the clouds broke, the sun came out, and the empty trails and roads were Insta-ready at every turn. A 40-minute run can easily become a 90-minute run on days like that. 

But in the wild emotional and physical whiplash of my bad run/good run day, there was a lot of adjusting that went on with my gear as I ran to keep myself from dying of hypothermia one minute, dying of heat stroke the next, then back to hypothermia as my overheard body began to recool on the downhills. Spring running is a tricky game, and when the rules keep changing, you have to adapt as you go. Fortunately, years of succeeding (but mostly failing) has allowed me to create a few tricks that help me know what I should wear for spring running.

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When It Comes to Spring Running Gear, Change Is Good

Some of my running buddies make fun of me, not only because I wear a running backpack most of the time, or because I love arm warmers (I really love arm warmers), but also because I am known for changing shirts—particularly in the spring. If I do a big uphill run that starts cool, but ends with me finishing in a soaking, sweaty mess, I’ll swap that shirt out for a new one before I descend. No, I probably won’t win any races that way, but I’ll be burning way less energy trying to keep my core temperature up when my heart rate drops on the descent. And absolutely if it’s going to be spotty rain I’ll bring a backup shirt in my backpack for when my first one inevitably gets soaked through. Don’t be afraid to change your gear as you go, and if you opt to run with a running backpack or waistpack, use that space for extras you might need. Finally—and this is a hard one for many runners to hear—don’t worry about stopping quickly or changing on the fly (it’s a fine art); it takes about as much time as waiting for a red light, and doing it right will have a huge impact, especially on long runs.

When It Comes to Spring Running Gear, More Than You Think, Then Less

While this simple advice goes for most running, the springtime is often when you have the biggest contrast between your start temperature and your finish temperature. Chilly spring mornings can give way to sun and moderate temps in a matter of minutes; spring showers can disappear in the blink of an eye; and don’t forget you’re probably starting to get in shape, so some of your runs may require a build in effort and therefore body temperature. I’ve always been a fan of putting on a little bit too much at the start to get myself out the door and warm up fully knowing I’ll have to shed that layer in 10 to 15 minutes. If I keep it on any longer, I’ll be sweating through any excess layers and getting super cold almost immediately after. But you need a plan with your extra layers, which leads us to…

When It Comes to Spring Running Gear, Choose Stuff That Can Be Stowed

There is a very very fine art to stowing layers while running: Do not simply tie that jacket around your waist, letting the body section flap wildly behind you. It’s insanely annoying, and it could trip you up. I always make sure I wear the lightest outer layer I can find, knowing that I’ll roll it up tightly (by spinning it around itself), and then tying it tightly around my waist like a belt—no flappiness allowed. If you have more than just an outer layer, like gloves or a hat, you might need a small waist belt (more on that below). If you’re a big layerer (that’s a word…), you might need a running backpack or hydration vest, but we’ll get to that later too.

When It Comes to Spring Running Gear, Think Modular

Some of my absolute favorite pieces of gear for running—so important that I have multiple pairs—are arm warmers. I still don’t understand why arm warmers are commonplace in cycling, but rarely seen in running. I love starting a chilly run with my arm warmers on, then rolling then down to my wrists, where they live so unobtrusively until I might need them again if temperatures go south. Sweaty forehead? Use the rolled up arm warmer to wipe your brow. Heck if I’m doing a super hilly run, I’ll roll them to my wrists on hard uphills, and fully extend them on the downhills on automatic. The point is the arm warmer is modular, it serves many uses and can change on the go, just like a neck gaiter that you can also use as a hat. The more uses you can get out of a thing, the better.

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Spring Running Gear

Castelli UPF 50+ Light Arm Sleeves

$40, competitivecyclist.com

The Castelli UPF 50+ Light Arm Sleeves are a great choice for spring running gear.

I love these arm warmers because they pack down crazy small, they’re super lightweight, but they still take the chill of your arms and will help you out in a light drizzle. Best of all, because they’re so lightweight, they dry off super quickly if you start to get too hot and roll them to your wrists. The sun protection they offer is another bonus, but selfishly I’ve only been concerned with how they keep my little stick arms warm.

Tracksmith Run Commute Shorts

$100 (men), $98 (women), tracksmith.com

Tracksmith Run Commute Shorts are a favorite piece of spring running gear.

These are some of the most comfortable—and versatile—water-resistant run shorts we’ve tested, and they’re ideal for springtime running with changing conditions. Designed to be used for runs to and from the office, they’re quick-drying, super breathable, and offer a relaxed fit. We’ve put them to the test—logging some morning miles, leaving them to dry through the work day, and then putting them back on for an evening run—and they always perform well. Bonus: The Run Commute Shorts feature two zippered pockets located on the back of the hip to store things like a phone or small clothing items.

Rapha Technical T-Shirt

$75 (men, women), rapha.cc

I’ve written about this shirt before as one of my favorite items, in part because it’s made by a top-level cycling company, but it works even better for running. The midweight mesh fabric is ideal for slightly chilly morning starts, when you need to keep some wind off of you, but the zoned construction means you won’t overheat. Quite possibly my favorite part of this shirt? Super clever reflective grippers around the sleeve hem that can be flipped up to provide visibility if you’re running in low light.

Hoka One One Gore-Tex Shakedry Run Jacket

$250 (men, women), hokaoneone.com

Ok, so the price might be a little on the obscene side, but this is hands down the best jacket I’ve tested for keeping water off you (completely) while still managing to breathe very very well. The tight-fitting hood with visor works well for huge downpours in chilly temps, and the two side zips not only offer some increased airflow when you heat up, but they allow access to front-mounted hydration packs like the Ultimate Direction pack below. 

Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0 (men), Race Vesta 5.0 (women)

$125 (men, women), ultimatedirection.com

This is a great running vest/backpack for those who are looking to stash a little gear or bring a little hydration without the sense that you’re wearing anything extra at all. The close fit of this vest means there’s no bouncing, and the bungee compression on the outside is the perfect place to stash that soaked shirt you’re changing out of—giving it a chance to dry. Even better, the low profile on this pack still fits well under most outer layer shell jackets.

Buff Lightweight Merino Wool

$30, rei.com

Neck gaiters like this one from Buff are the ultimate spring running staple. Use it as a hat when it’s super chilly, roll down to a headband as you heat up, then drop to your neck when your head no longer needs any warmth. Tthe soft Merino fabric is certainly warmer than their regular material, so be sure to grab the lightweight version if you don’t want to overheat.

Gore Thermo Mid Sock

$30, amazon.com

I’ll admit it, Gore-Tex stuff used to make me sweat my brains out back in the day—it was like my kryptonite. Today’s Gore is totally different, way more refined, and actually breathes while keeping chill and water out. This pair of socks from my previous arch-nemesis works well in very chilly temperatures, but we’ve had great luck with these even in spring temps. The even better news is that they dry quickly and still breathe well—perfect for changing conditions.

Amphipod AirFlow Trail Pack

$35, rei.com

So even if you’re not a big fan of running with a backpack or hydration vest, there’s a good chance you’ll need to stow some of your spring running gear layers as you put them on and take them off. This minimal waistpack from Amphipod is big enough for today’s huge phones or things like gloves, a super packable outer shell, and more. The best thing about this setup is unlike a backpack or vest, you should be able to change and stow as you run with a little practice.