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Triathlete’s 2020 Winter Running Clothing Guide

We sort through and rate some the best chilly-weather gear for running this fall, winter, and spring.

Keeping the “just right” running temperature when running in frigid weather is a fine balance of protection, insulation, breathability, moisture management, and adjusting on the fly. When it comes to winter running clothing, layering and the right accessories of hat and gloves or mittens helps a lot, as does a healthy circulatory system. But modern jacket materials are a key ingredient, and water- or snow-proof breathable shell fabrics quickly become our saving grace. Gore-Tex, Pertex, stretch-woven, microfiber, and other shell compositions are there to ward off the wind and elements, let the sweat out, and seal in the warmth without overheating. 

In addition to selecting some top-shelf hats, gloves and pants, we at Triathlete have tested a wide array of winter running clothing and specifically jackets, culling the number down to the six we’ve included in this review. The goal was to choose a variety that would work for different climates—jackets with a variety of weatherproofing, insulation, breathability, versatility, and affordability as well. In evaluating the jackets, we included a rating system of scale of one to five, with one being the lowest score and five being highest for the six jackets,off the following criteria:

Protection – We looked at how well the jacket shields against rain, snow, sleet, and wind. In addition to the shell fabric, we considered factors like hoods, waterproof zippers, collar height and hem, cuff, and hood security.

Insulation – Here we judged the piece’s ability to retain warmth. Some of the jackets are merely outer shells and, in those cases this rating was simply not applicable.

Breathability – Waterproof breathability is an aspiration and, due to perspiration, it has yet to be truly achieved. In this rating category, we acknowledge that and looked at factors such as venting and both the chemical and mechanical elements of the fabrics deployed in the piece and whether they served to allow runners to stay dry from the inside out.

Fit – As is the case for most apparel, for a jacket to work well it needs to fit well. Noting that triathletes come in all shapes and sizes, we eyeballed what a “standard” size would be for the tested jacket and noted the overall impression of whether it fit long, short, loose, or tight for the whole upper body.

Scroll to the bottom for a bonus collection of important winter gloves, hats, and pants that should be a part of any winter run, and be sure to check out our extended reviews of each jacket below.

Note: While the gear below was loaned out by the brands represented, all choices were selected independently by the tester without any promotional consideration or brand input. 

Winter Running Clothing: Jackets

Sitka Vapor SD Jacket

$300, amazon.com

winter running clothing

Protection – 5/5
Insulation – N/A
Breathability – 3/5
Fit – 4/5

Sitka deigned this whole jacket meticulously, especially the hood, where they must have put in a lot of thought, knowing that when runners pull a hood over their head  it is out of urgent need—when the use of the single-pull scrunch to secure it for a close fit and the ability to see peripherally is crucial. Even though it is super light and fits easily into a hydration vest or other convenient pocket, the jacket features zippered side pockets, a rare find in ShakeDry jackets. The attention to details is outstanding. It’s also worth noting the substantial front zip with chin protection. The fit is standard but the arms come in on the short side.

Read: Full Sitka Vapor SD Jacket Review *This review is exclusive for Active Pass Members*

Craft Lumen Sub Z Running Jacket

$180, backcountry.com

Protection – 2/5
Insulation – 3/5
Breathability – 4/5
Fit – 4/5

Craft, with its hard-earned expertise in Nordic skiing, really knows how to keep crucial body parts warm while simultaneously managing moisture for optimal temperature regulation during strenuous physical exertion. The Lumen Sub Z does a fine job focusing on core warmth and preventing overheating by venting heat and wicking moisture with strategically-placed soft, breathable fabric in the arms and back. The generous arm length and functional thumb loops, zippered pockets, and form fit are welcome too. 

Read: Full Craft Lumen Sub Z Running Jacket Review  *This review is exclusive for Active Pass Members*

Ortovox 2.5L Civetta Jacket

$315, backcountry.com

Protection – 4/5
Insulation – N/A
Breathability – 4/5
Fit – 4/5

Ortovox has tested the Civetta under some extreme conditions with equally extreme athletes and pared it down to just what you want and need. Given its minimalist qualities, it’s top notch when it comes to delivering packable protection from the elements and doesn’t skimp on key features, such as a waterproof zipper front with chin protection and the best hood in the line-up—one that includes a wool and elastic inner cuff and visor. If you run cold, you’ll want to wear a hefty base layer or add in some mid-layer insulation because the Civetta is merely there as a lightweight shell that will keep you dry from the outside with laudable breathability so you can stay sweat-free from the inside out.

Read: Full Ortovox 2.5L Civetta Jacket Review *This review is exclusive for Active Pass Members*

Cotopaxi Monte Hybrid Jacket

$180, amazon.com

Insulation – 4/5
Breathability – 4/5
Fit – 3/5
Protection – 3/5

This jacket kind of hits the millennial market in a number of ways: It is versatile, fashionable, green, well-priced, and young-looking. It uses zoned construction with a quilted, insulated torso and stretch fleece in the sleeves and side panels. And yet it isn’t so sporty or edgy-looking that it won’t also pass for casual—especially with its plastic zipper and zip side and inner chest pockets. The collar is, unfortunately, quite modest and leaves you reaching for a Buff or neck warmer and the cut is generally short for both the sleeves and hem, which helps it as a mid-layer but not so much as a shell. Size up if you want to use it as an outer layer.

Read: Full Cotopaxi Monte Hybrid Jacket Review *This review is exclusive for Active Pass Members*

Tracksmith NDO Jacket

$300, tracksmith.com

Protection – 5/5
Insulation – 4/5
Breathability – 4/5
Fit – 4/5

This stretch-woven, merino-lined bulwark of a coat bestows “I’ve got this” confidence in the face of biting, blustery, bone-chilling weather. Thus the name, NDO for “no days off.” The combination of technical fabric materials blend for a wind- and moisture-blocking shield that is rugged and burly. Other than the loose, boxer-robe-like hood, the fit is athletic and trim, and the wooly inner fabric is soft and features all the desired qualities of wicking, odor minimization, and temperature regulation. And then there is Tracksmith’s fine attention to detailing—especially the bold, reflective, white back sash to alert those approaching from the rear.

Read: Full Tracksmith NDO Jacket Review  *This review is exclusive for Active Pass Members*

Decathlon Kalenji Run Warm+ Jacket

$40, decathlon.com

Insulation – 3/5
Breathability – 5/5
Fit – 4/5
Protection – 2/5

How can this be priced so low? If you want an attractive, functional, performance running sweatshirt with all the bells and whistles for what you’d pay for a tech t-shirt, the Warm+ is an unbelievable deal. It lacks weather proofing so you’d only use it on non-inclement days or as a mid-layer, but it is both warm and highly breathable, thanks to its wicking fabric and hood. Other features include thumb loops, zippered pockets, mesh in high-output zones, reflectivity, and a functional front zip with a weather-resistant guard. The form fit is svelte enough to easily accommodate a shell on rainy or snowy runs.

Read: Full Decathlon Kalenji Run Warm+ Jacket Review  *This review is exclusive for Active Pass Members*

Winter Running Clothing: Gloves

Outdoor Research Vigor Heavyweight Sensor Liners

$40, rei.com

Wear these gloves without an outer mitten shell, and take advantage of their breathability, silicone grip, and touchscreen-activating thumb and index finger materials. Wear them with a shell and keep warm with the thermoregulating and moisture-wicking double fleece.

Under Armour Convertible Run Gloves

$40, underarmour.com

Kind a two-fer, these glove/mitts feature a pull-over shielding hood constructed with water- and wind-repelling lightweight material. The inner glove is soft and has touch screen compatibility built in, as well as a fleeced thumb and index finger so you can wipe off snot without that abrading, sandpaper-like rub of frozen phlegm.  

Winter Running Clothing: Hats

Icebreaker Merino Tech Trainer Hybrid Beanie

$40, icebreaker.com

Made of Icebreaker’s Cool-Lite merino wool for the body of the hat and a wind-cheating wool overlay lower band to protect your ears and forehead, this beanie was designed for high output. It has a snug, head-conforming fit and works remarkably well under a helmet and for Nordic skiing. Pro tip: Wear your sunglasses on the outside of this beanie.

Winter Running Clothing: Pants

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor Pants

$110, underarmour.com

Given that keeping one’s nether regions from freezing is pretty much a top priority for everyone, these pants are a must. Incorporating an insulated and water/wind resistant pant upper front—like quilted down shorts sewn over a pair of soft knit track leggings—the Reactor Pants will let you run through the most severe of winter blizzards. Your future generations will thank you.

Brooks Men’s Spartan Pant

$75, rei.com

Relaxed fit so you don’t need to look the part of a runner when not running, these moisture-wicking pants are soft, supple, and warm. The zipped ankles, elastic waist, and draw cord of these semi-fitted pants allow for quick changes.