Before we start: there are three considerations:
First, we have to define cold.
When you google for info on running in the cold, you’ll find that most information isn’t for Yukon Cold. It’s for Vancouver Cold. Or California Cold. In other words, cold that isn’t that COLD.
Because Yukon cold can be extreme, we find that it’s best to think of it in 3 levels for winter running:
0 to -10C
-11 to -25C
-25 and below
Second, we have to understand that running in any weather takes layers and accessories:
Layers: base, mid and outer. Your layers should not contain cotton. When you run you sweat. Cotton will slurp up the moisture, then promptly freeze, and freeze you in the process! Be sure to wear wicking wool or synthetics.
Accessories: Toque, scarf, neck tube, balaclavas, gloves, mitts, overmitts…
Yes, it gets complicated! We like to simplify by thinking of warmth from our head to our toes.
Third: Be bold and start (a little) cold.
At cold temperatures there is danger if you over dress for a run.
If you overdress, your core overheats and it is hard to gauge whether your extremities are cold. This can lead to real discomfort, or worse.
When you overheat, you then want to start stripping down but this will expose wet layers. Your skin and the fat layer under it will become cold and uncomfortable and you might even begin to suffer from a cold core.
It’s always hard to know if you are starting too cold. A good test is to start your run with a loop around the block to see if you warm up just enough. Not too hot, not too cold… you want to be ju-u-u-ust right!
Overall, you will learn your personal internal temperatures. Our resident hardcore runner starts cold then becomes a furnace…she knows she has to start her run like an icicle. Your softer core writer has a more even temperature but suffers from cold extremities and always wears big mitts and thick socks.
OK now that that’s done, here are our recommendations from head to toes.
0 to -10C
- A lightweight toque like our Sauce Swift Toques or a lightweight Merino or fleece!
- Thin synthetic or wool neck tube. We like Buffs because you can wear them as a hood should you need to cover your head…. Or they can be twisted into a toque… or they can be a face mask.
- A 150 weight merino base layer or a synthetic layer like the Arc’teryx Motus AR Crew Long Sleeve or a Patagonia Mid Weight Capilene.
- Mid Layer: A lightly insulated jacket like an Arc’teryx Atom Lt Hoody
- Outer layer: if you‘re wearing a coat like the Atom LT you probably won’t need one. You might also opt for a lightweight fleece and then a running shell.
- Light windproof gloves such as The North Face E-tips or the Arc’teryx Venta gloves
- Running pants or tights… But beware, the thickness will be important. Thin tights or pants meant for the gym will be too cold. You can put a pair of long underwear under these to boost them.
- mid weight socks such as hiking socks
- Consider a waterproof shoe because it adds a little bit of warmth and keeps the feet dry just a little bit longer
-11C to -25c
This is getting more serious. As the temperature lowers so should the intensity and duration of your runs. You must protect your lungs, your ears, your hands and your feet.
All the layers above apply. Just a step warmer.
- Get a thicker, wind resistant toque like the Outdoor Research Wind Warrior.
- At these temperatures there is the danger of frostbite so be sure to protect your face, nose and ears. We love Buffs for this. They are breathable and available in many thicknesses. They can be worn in so many ways and will turn into a toque or headband in a pinch. We recommend a merino wool one because when it’s wet from your breath it doesn’t freeze to your face.
- Although we are all getting more used to being masked, sometimes breathing feels too restricted by a buff or scarf… Your alternatives are face-tape or Vaseline. What’s face-tape? Face tape acts like an extra skin. It protects your cheeks, nose and chin from wind and frostbite. And Vaseline? When you slather it on, it provides a barrier much like tape. Plus it protects your skin from winter dryness.
- Consider a 200 weight merino baselayer with your Atom Lt and a shell over that.
- You can buy shells to put over your fleece gloves. Or wear thicker, windproof gloves or mitts. Mitts are better for those of us with challenged extremities as the fingers can work together to warm up!
- And for women: a lightly insulated skirt or a thermal/windbreaker short. Yes a skirt or shorts. Women get cold behinds and thighs. They just don’t have the circulation. Our hardcore runner prefers shorts as skirts affect her stride. Your writer has no such stride length problem and finds that a skirt is terrific. They are so versatile and look great. You will put a skirt over pants for every walk in the cold. With either shorts or a skirt you will turn your jog into a warm positive healthy experience instead of an uncomfortable-I-my-never-sit-again tribulation.We also suggest merino bra and panties. Merino is not itchy and it is warm even when wet. These will help keep your core and your derrière from cooling.
- Gentleman: mind the boys. Thermal or windbreaker shorts will become essential as the temperature drops. We also recommend merino boxers. Cold privates are uncomfortable and can become numb and even painful.
- Running shoes and the thickest wool socks that you can fit comfortably in those shoes. Gore-Tex runners will be warmer than non-Gore.
-25C and lower
First of all: Wow you are a warrior. The fresh, very crisp air, the air crystals shining like diamonds and the giant puffy ravens cawing at you will be your reward. All in addition to the surge of endorphins and the increased fitness. Likely you will have worked your way from warmer conditions to these arctic temps so we will simply list tips that we have learned:
- Do not try to break speed records. You must breathe slowly and consistently without pain in your chest.
- Don’t go far. Remember, your cell won’t work in these temperatures or your fingers won’t work to enable your screen so stay to better populated areas in case you literally run into trouble.
- Tuck in. Be sure that you have a shirt that tucks right into your underwear so that the cold air that will inevitably seep up under the hem of your jackets won’t hit your abdomen. Cold Core equals DANGER.
- Your nostrils might start to freeze: line them with Vaseline.
- Never forget Vaseline or face tape on your cheeks, nose and chin.
- Look for winter running shoes like the Salomon Gore-Tex Speed Cross Snow Spikes or the Innov8 Arctic Talon and wear them with thick wool socks.
- Any bit of wind will significantly increase the cold. Be sure you have a good wind barrier (windproof toque, windproof shell, wind resistant pants) and stay to protected trails and roads.
- Consider both a thick fleece scarf or neck tube to keep warm air from rising from the collar of your jacket and a merino fleece neck tube to cover your face.
And at all temperatures: traction, headlamps and reflective gear.
- Traction: your running shoes will become more slippery in the cold. Consider traction devices as soon as it seems even a little hard and icy. There are different types depending on your activity. We suggest the Yaktrax Running Ice Traction Device.
- The snow will provide some reflected light but you will be a dark shape for cars: wear a reflective vest, arm bands or toque.
- Since it is dark so long you will likely be running in the dark and some nights or mornings you will need a light. Be sure that the lamp is secure on your head so that it does not loosen with your motion and be sure that it has enough lumens for a cloudy night in the trees: likely you’ll need about 300 lumens.
It sounds like a lot but running or walking in the cold is wonderful. Start slowly and remember to look around as much as you can to take in our beautiful Yukon landscape and to catch those ravens laugh, er, cawing at you.