What to Wear Running Based on Temperature

Runner's Guide to Layers 620

If you've ever sweated through your running clothes on a cold winter day as if it were the middle of summer, then you're probably familiar with the guessing game faced by runners everywhere.

How many layers should I put on? How can I avoid overheating? I don't want to be cold!

Yes, figuring out what to wear running can become harder than the run itself.

"In my mind, comfort is key," says Keith Klebacha, a personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine and an avid runner and triathlete who constantly battles the Chicago elements. "It's as simple as that. You have to be able to enjoy the experience and get the most out of your time."

Klebacha broke down what to wear by temperature (in 10-degree increments no less!), so you can spend less time guessing and more time running.

What to Wear Running

What you wear on your run is important, especially in extreme cold or hot weather. You still sweat when you’re cold, and certain materials can trap that moisture and result in a dangerous drop in body temperature. Before layering for a run, check the temperature and use this breakdown to pick out your clothing.

80-90°F…or Hotter

When it's this hot, the word "breathable" is key. Look for a running tank made with sweat-wicking material that will keep you nice and dry. Choose a pair of shorts that are light and breezy and get good airflow. If it's sunny, you can also look for clothing with SPF ratings that will block harmful rays from your skin.


It may not be boiling hot outside, but it's still warm enough to overheat quickly. "The rule of thumb is to always dress for a run like it's 15-20 degrees warmer," Klebacha says. In other words, still stick to non-cotton materials and don a short-sleeve shirt and shorts.


It's a little cooler now, so it's time to start experimenting. Do your running shorts need a break? Opt for capris with ventilation panels and pair them with a short-sleeve t-shirt. The focus should still be to avoid overheating, while managing the accumulation of moisture on the body. 


Ah, near perfect running conditions. When it's in the 50s, a comfortable body temperature doesn't take much maintenance. A light, long-sleeve tech shirt with shorts or capris should work fine. You don't need multiple layers yet, but keep an eye on precipitation reports and have waterproof clothes at the ready.


It's time to start layering, but don't go too crazy. A simple running tank under a long-sleeve shirt will maintain your core body temperature. When adding extra layers, make sure you still have full range of motion. A light running jacket is also another great choice. "Don't forget to look for zippers for ventilation," Klebacha says. "You'd be amazed at the body's capability to still overheat." For bottoms, your normal running capris should still do the trick here. 


It's time to start taking your base layers seriously. Make sure they are non-cotton so that they wick sweat off your body—extremely important in colder temperatures when body moisture can lead to hypothermia. Also, start thinking about extremities. Try a fleece headband over your ears and fingerless running gloves for your hands. If it's below freezing, consider lined leggings and a long-sleeve shirt paired with a running vest. Aim for two layers on top.


It's officially cold, so you will have to step the layering up. Invest in an insulated running jacket and layer it over a long-sleeve shirt. If you're feeling extra chilly, feel free to increase it to three layers, starting with a compression tank as your base. Remember to always check windchill or "feels like" temperatures so you have a better idea of what to expect when you’re actually out on the road.


It's well below freezing, so it should now be your priority to minimize skin exposure. Trade out those fingerless gloves for lined and wind-resistant running gloves, wrap a scarf around your neck and wear a running cap instead of just a headband. Definitely stick with three layers on top—a base layer, a long sleeve and a heavy running jacket—and choose thick, fleece-lined leggings.

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Layering for Running FAQs

Is it okay to run in shorts during the winter?

While leggings protect the skin from harsh temperatures, shorts allow air to circulate freely. That’s why it is generally okay to run in shorts if it isn’t super cold. However, if temperatures are below 40 degrees, it’s probably best to stick to leggings. Make sure they are made from a breathable material so that you don’t end up even colder due to trapped sweat.

How many layers should you wear when running?

Typically, it’s a good idea to wear two or three layers on your run. It’s always better to be able to take layers off as you warm up and start to break a sweat. Of course, if it’s the middle of summer, one layer is probably just fine.

What is a running base layer?

Ideally, your base layer, or the layer closest to your skin, should consist of items that will wick away sweat and keep you dry. This will help your body regulate your temperature so you don’t overheat or freeze.

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About the Author

Jackie Veling

Jackie Veling is a past Senior Editor at ACTIVE.com. She’s passionate about overall wellness and body positivity, and her favorite way to stay active is through running. You can follow her on Twitter.

Jackie Veling is a past Senior Editor at ACTIVE.com. She’s passionate about overall wellness and body positivity, and her favorite way to stay active is through running. You can follow her on Twitter.

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