As with any aerobic activity, running becomes more comfortable when you have clothing that keeps you properly ventilated or—in cold and wet conditions—lightly insulated and dry.

This article gives you the basics about running clothing and how to stay comfortable on the roads or trails.

Shop REI's selection of:

See also the REI Expert Advice article, Sports Bras: How to Choose.

Warm-Weather Clothing

For warm days, your running clothes should help wick away moisture, keep you cool and protect you from the sun’s rays. Key features to shop for:

Lightweight fabrics: Moisture-wicking polyester is marketed under a variety of names (e.g., Nike DriFit, The North Face FlashDry, Polartec Power Dry). Each has proprietary performance tweaks to enhance performance. Many tops are augmented with cooling mesh panels for high-heat areas such as your back, underarms and sides.

Chafe-free seams: Look for flat or welded seams placed away from areas that could impede your stride or natural running motion.

Sun protection: Items with UPF ratings provide tested protection from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. The higher the number, the better the protection. See the REI Expert Advice article, Sun Protection Clothing Basics, for details.

Reflectivity: If you run at night or in the cool hours of dusk or dawn, you’ll want gear with reflective accents to be better seen by drivers.

Pockets: These can unobtrusively hold your ID card, debit card and keys. Common on shorts, concealed pockets are sometimes offered on shirts as well.

Cool-Weather Clothing

When the temperature drops, look for insulated versions of the warm-weather choices noted above. Differences include:

Tops:

  • Insulating fabrics: Lightly insulated styles provide a bit more warmth with minimal weight. Some include water-repellent finishes or waterproof membranes to create all-in-one protection from cool, wet weather (versus wearing a separate rain shell).
  • Thumbholes and mitts: Many long-sleeve tops offer thumbholes to increase hand coverage and warmth so you can possibly skip the need for gloves. They also help to keep sleeves in place as you run. A few styles even have mittens built in to the sleeves.
  • For colder conditions, soft-shell jackets offer a combination of light insulation and breathability that works well for runners.

Bottoms:

Running tights (many with windproof fronts are also good for cross-country skiing) provide light insulation and generous breathability in cold weather. Most feature a snug fit and stretchy fabric to allow unencumbered motion.

Cold-Weather Clothing

For seriously cold conditions, consider layering your clothing to keep your core body temperature consistent as you work out. Layering consists of 3 basic stages: an inner wicking layer, an insulating middle layer and a weatherproof outer layer. The key is to stay comfortable by peeling off layers as you heat up, and adding them when you slow down and cool off.

See the REI Expert Advice article, Layering Basics, for details.

Accessories

Don't forget your head and extremities for overall comfort.

  • Hats: Your exposed head responds to changes in temperature more quickly than any other part of your body. It's easy to carry along a fleece or wool hat for winter workouts to cover your head in cold weather. A breathable, lightweight hat can also help you stay cool in summer.
  • Gloves: When it's cold out, your body tries to preserve heat within vital organs by decreasing the amount of blood pumped to your extremities. For cold-weather exercise, a pair of moisture-wicking, breathable gloves is advisable. For cool conditions, thin liner gloves may be all that you need.
  • Socks: When you exercise heavily, your feet produce a lot of perspiration. In summer, this can lead to blisters unless you wear synthetic or merino wool socks that wick away moisture. In winter, this moisture can lead to cold feet. Avoid cotton socks for all but light workouts.

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