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Staying Just Warm Enough in the Cold


I’ve run across Death Valley in the middle of summer, and I’ve run a marathon to the South Pole. So which do I prefer, the heat or the cold? Personally, I’ll take the heat any day. In the heat, you remove things. In the cold, you put things on. And knowing what to put on, and how to put these things on, makes a world of difference. Here are some thoughts and suggestions.

Let’s start with the central governor. Keeping your noggin warm should be the first level of defense against the cold. While there is some debate about precisely how much heat is lost through the head, anecdotally I can tell you from experience that when your head is cold, the rest of the body follows. Even wearing something as lightweight as the Hammer Running Hat can help combat the cold and keep you comfortable. And the SweatVac Winter Beanie is next level warmth when conditions get really wicked.

After deciding on the appropriate level of head coverage, we’ll move down ever so slightly to the neck. Since the carotid arteries are near the surface of the skin on the neck, best to insulated them from the cold as well. The Hammer Buff provides an ideal amount of insulation from the elements and is snug, though not constrictive, around the neck.

Moving further down the body, how best to enrobe the torso, which is home to the body’s motor compartment (i.e., the heart)? It is here that I have witnessed more foolishness than one can imagine. For starters, a plastic trash bag is not appropriate workout apparel. I can’t tell you how many race starting lines I’ve been at and seen droves of runners wearing plastic trash bags as protection against the morning chill and mist. Environmental concerns aside, a trash bag might seem like it offers a barrier against the elements, which it may, but it also traps the heat and moisture generated by your body inside, effectively preventing the natural thermoregulation process. It’s no wonder so many novice runners overheat early in a race when they’re draped in a plastic sauna.

A better approach is wearing a moisture wicking base layer, like the Aero Geothermal Undershirt, with a Long Sleeve Running Shirt on top, all covered by a breathable shell (the weight and density determined by the temperature and overall weather conditions). Needless to say, gloves are also and essential part of the cold weather kit, and there are plenty of good options to choose from nowadays. One of my personal all-around favorites is the Zensah Smart Running Gloves.

Tights, leg coverings socks and shoes are a final consideration, of which there are an abundance of choices and possibilities. A general approach to keep in mind when dressing for the cold is finding the balance between being warm enough, but not overheating. Let that be the guiding principle when making your layering decisions. Much of it comes down to personal preference, so try various combinations to find what works best for you.

Lastly, fueling during the cold is a topic worthy of an article in itself (keep an eye out for future Endurance News stories!). I will, however, leave you with this tidbit. Hammer Nutrition Caffe Latte Perpetuem is delicious served hot ;-)

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Dean Karnazes is an ultramarathoner and Hammer Nutrition Athlete.
His latest book is A Runner’s High.


It would be helpful to note that maintaining a consistent pace makes it easier to maintain your body temperature. For example, if you increase effort on an uphill, you may end up sweating. When you go over the top and down the other side, your effort decreases, you’re not producing as much body heat, and that’s when you get cold. Perhaps hypothermic. If you maintain a consistent pace and adjust the zipper of your jacket or other articles of clothing, you can avoid the sweating and refreezing cycle during a run.
Hammer Nutrition replied:
Hi Jim,

Thank you for your comment and great suggestions! BDF

Jim Mason

Here is a rookie runner’s mistake from years ago to be avoided. I used to think that when I started sweating, I was getting too hot. Layering down to almost nothing kept me from sweating. However, at the end of the run I found that it took me hours to warm up again even if I had not felt cold while running. I was getting chilled even though I did not sense it.

The simple solution was to wear enough to keep sweating but change clothes immediately, so the wet clothes did not then make you much colder. Seriously, wearing so little I did not sweat felt smart, but I was cold for a couple of hours afterward even if I changed clothes. Staying warmer than made sense made sense for me.
Hammer Nutrition replied:
Hi Jim, Thank you for your comment, and 28 years of support! Great point! BDF

Jim Summers

Rock solid advice.

Timothy Coats

This article is amazing! I just happened to meet Dean at a Running Show in Boston last weekend. I told him of my upcoming marathon in Antarctica next month and my trepidations. Staying warm but not too warm is on the top of my list. It is as if he wrote this piece just for me with some great suggestions for running wear. Thank you, Hammer Nutrition. I am a customer for life!

Lisa Thornhill

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