When it comes to running clothes, you might think, "Hey, all I need is a shirt and some shorts." Indeed, getting dressed for a run generally doesn’t require much attire. But the clothing choices you make can affect your performance and comfort, so here’s a head-to-toe guide to help you out.
TAKE IT FROM THE TOP
No matter your gender, preferred terrain, or the season, there are lots of things to consider putting on your head:
In the warmer months, there are two main reasons to wear a hat: to keep the sun out of your face and to help keep sweat out of your eyes by soaking some of it up as you perspire. Lots of companies make ball cap-style hats designed specifically for running, which means that they are lightweight and built to breathe so you don’t risk overheating.
If you’re leery of covering your entire head, you could wear a visor instead, which would still protect you from sun and sweat without trapping any heat. (If you primarily run trails, however, consider going the full-coverage route as it will also act as a first line of defense for your head against ticks.)
When the temperature drops, the major reason for wearing a hat is to stay warm. A lightweight fleece hat is usually perfect, but if you run warm (pun half-intended) and just want to keep your ears covered instead, a fleece headband will do the trick.
A Versatile Alternative
Buffs have been getting increasingly popular as an accessory for any outdoor activity, and runners are no exception. Wear it in any weather condition as a headband, beanie, or even as a balaclava if it’s really cold out. It’ll keep the sweat out of your eyes, your hair under control, and some models are also treated with Insect Shield, which is an added bonus for trail runners or anyone running in buggy areas.
Protect Your Eyes
Whether you run with a hat/visor or without, you should consider investing in a good pair of sunglasses for running. UV rays are just as harmful to your eyes as they are to your skin, but you obviously can’t protect your eyes with sunscreen, so sunglasses are the next best thing.
On the trails, sunglasses will also keep the little black flies out of your eyes and fend off attacks from low-hanging branches (you know, the ones that your running partner pushes out of the way for himself and then sends flying back at your face).
BELOW THE NECK
Unless it’s the middle of summer, chances are pretty good that you’ll be wearing a shirt of some sort during your runs. When it gets cold, you’ll probably wear two or three shirts. Here are some tips to make sure you stay as comfortable as possible:
Wear the Right Kind of Bra
Guys—go ahead and skip this part. Ladies—make sure you always wear a sports bra to avoid back and neck strain, chafing, and damage to the breast ligaments. For running, look for a "high-impact" bra that provides sufficient support, wicks sweat, and dries fast.
For more tips on figuring out which bra is right for you, read our “How to Choose Sports Bras” article.
Save the Cotton Tees for Post-Run Relaxing
There's no way around it: when you run, you sweat. Wearing breathable fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin will help keep you more comfortable throughout your run.
Unlike 100% cotton, which gets wet and stays wet, wicking fabrics help you better regulate your core temperature to avoid both overheating and chilling. A great example is EMS Techwick which wicks, wears, and washes like nothing else.
Layer Up When Temps Go Down
Running in cooler temps is generally much more enjoyable than running in the sizzling summer heat, but it can require more careful wardrobe considerations. Knowing how to layer properly is key, but since every body reacts to temperature differently, there’s no one “right” way to do it and it may take some experimenting to get it right for you.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you still need to avoid cotton. No matter how many layers you put on, each should be able to wick and breathe. You also want to make sure that you don’t wear too many layers, or you’ll overheat. Remember to “start cold”—if you’re wearing so many layers that you’re warm before you even start moving, then you’re wearing too many layers. If you’re a little chilly at the start of your run, the combination of warmth from your layers and the heat your body generates by running should be perfect.
Shield against Wind and Rain
Mother Nature shouldn't slow you down when you're moving fast. With the rise of “fast and light” materials—and every brand competing to make the lightest, most efficient gear—you can easily pack a wind or rain shell without adding discernable weight. Some of these lightweight wonders weigh just a few ounces, but are fully waterproof, breathable, and windproof to battle windy summits or surprise squalls with ease.
BELOW THE BELT
What you wear on the lower half of your body is just as important as what you wear on the top (legs get sweaty, too!) Many of the same rules apply—don’t wear cotton, wear layers when it’s cold out—but here are a few other things to consider:
I See London, I See France...
The wrong pair of underpants will inevitably lead to a really uncomfortable run. It’s silly to invest in a high-performance running wardrobe if you’re going to (quite literally) undermine it all with cotton underwear.
Make sure you pick up a few pairs of technical under-things if your running bottoms don’t have a liner built in.
Choosing a pair of running shorts is pretty basic, and mostly just comes down to how well they fit. The same style short is often available with different inseam lengths, so whether you prefer them a little shorter or a little longer, you should be able to find a pair you love. Running shorts also typically have a built-in liner, which eliminates the need for underwear.
Running tights are available in several different lengths—from knickers to 3/4-length to full-length—and are one of the greatest pieces of running gear you’ll ever own, whether you opt for a pair of the compression variety or not.
Tights are perfect for cooler weather, and many brands also offer thermal tights for winter running. If you run trails, tights also provide extra protection for your legs from things like biting insects and pricker bushes.
Treat Your Feet
Avoiding cotton on your feet is just as important as the rest of your body; to reduce your chances of blisters and chafing, make sure your socks are a synthetic or wool blend, or high-quality wool. You’ll also want to be sure that the sock fits your foot snugly and works well with your shoe combination (no weird rubbing or hot spots).
Compression socks are also a great option, particularly for trail running or hilly road routes. If you don’t like to wear compression socks during your run, you can wear them afterward to help speed up recovery.
(Choosing the right shoe is a topic worthy of its own article. Click here to check it out!)
No look is ever complete without the right accessories. Depending on where and when you run, you may want to consider some of the following:
If you run early in the morning or late in the evening, make sure you can both see and be seen with reflective or illuminating gear. When road running, oncoming traffic should be able to see you from 300-400 feet away. Look for jackets, tops, and shorts/pants with reflective panels, stripes, or dots. Also consider a small headlamp or LED wrist band and a lightweight reflective vest.
When trail running, you need to be able to clearly see where you’re going so you don’t trip and wind up injured. Again, consider a small headlamp. If you don’t like the feel of running with a light on your head, opt for a small handheld LED flashlight instead.
Protect Your Extremities
In an effort to maintain its core temperature, your body doesn’t pump as much blood to your extremities when it’s cold out. For this reason, it’s important to wear gloves during cold-weather runs. Look for lightweight, breathable, wind-blocking gloves that warm you up without overheating your hands.
Get a Grip
Running in the winter can be great—there are no bugs to deal with and you don’t sweat as much—but it quickly loses its appeal when you take a spill on an icy patch. It doesn’t matter if you take to the roads or the trails, if you plan on running in the winter, you’ll want to consider some lightweight traction to make sure you stay upright mile after mile.
Nature Belongs Outside, Not in Your Shoes
When you run in the woods, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll end up with dirt, twigs, pine needles, or leaves in your shoes, which is really uncomfortable. And if you run in the winter, you risk getting snow and slush in your shoes, which is uncomfortable and cold. You can avoid all of this with a pair of low-cut gaiters that cover the tops of your shoes and your ankles to keep debris out.
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