In much of the country, the “-ber” months see reduced daylight, warm temperatures, and a runner’s motivation. Let’s admit: It’s hard to drag yourself out of bed when it’s pitch black outside and your breath crystalizes the instant it escapes your lips. Or, if we do gear up for a run, it’s often on a treadmill at the gym, avoiding any wintry slop outside.
But with the right attitude and tools, you can make it through. Being equipped with the proper winter accessories—like the selections below—that fend off all but the worst Mother Nature delivers will help bring back the joy of playing outside.
Take a look below at info on five of the best products from our testing, then scroll down for buying advice and more in-depth reviews of these and other top performers.
Gloves Before Sleeves Before Pants
As the temperature begins to slide, you’ll see runners sweating buckets beneath windbreakers and running pants. Resist that temptation to bundle up because, as soon as you’re moving, you’ll quickly overheat. If you’re unaware what you should be wearing given the conditions, you can always turn to our What to Wear tool. And take our advice: The first thing you should reach for is a pair of thin gloves to wear with shorts and a T-shirt because fingers often get chilly first. As the winds pick up and the temperature dips further, swap the tee for a long-sleeve shirt, then progress to pants and a jacket when the conditions worsen.
Layering Is Wise
Smart runners know to dress in layers. A thin jacket can be tied around your waist easily if you find yourself too warm. Beneath that, look for a synthetic base layer that will wick sweat away from your skin or wear a half-zip top that you can use like a window—open it to dump heat quickly so you don’t get too clammy.
You can apply the same concept to your hands. As the temperature gets too low for lightweight gloves, slip a mitten over top to boost your warmth and comfort. Modern materials even allow you to operate your smartphone or watch without taking your hands out of the mittens.
What about your head, where you lose the most heat? Unless you’re bald, you might find a hat to be too warm on any days when it’s not cold enough to snow. In that case, consider pulling on a headband or Buff, which you can use to shield your dome from the cold wind relentlessly pounding your forehead.
[Related: The Best Winter Running Shoes]
How We Tested
Every piece of gear on this list has been evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and designers, and use our own experience running through winter in this stuff to determine the best of the best. We base our evaluations on performance, price, comfort, and style to come up with this list of options to keep you running outside year-round. To help you get out the door, here are the 13 best winter running accessories.
Smartwool Merino 250 Beanie
This is the go-to head warmer for the brave soul who runs in all conditions, including snow, sleet, and ice (which we don’t recommend). Here’s why: Smartwool’s 100 percent merino is double-layered for extra warmth. No surprise. But it also breathes, wicks moisture, and resists the odors that some man-made materials never shake, even after repeated washing. Plus it’s super soft. Roll the cuff up for a stylish touch or down low over your ears on the frostiest days. A few outliers complain that the weave on this year’s model is thinner than in the past, but most runners back it as their favorite.
Gore Wear Opti Headband
Some headbands lose their stretch or become malformed, elongated circles of what they once were. Not so with the Opti. The band stayed in place and kept ears from freezing. “The Opti headband is supremely comfortable,” she said. She also wore the headband under her helmet while cycling. “I get headaches from anything that’s too tight on or around my head. This includes headphones, ponytails, earmuffs, you name it. The Opti provided the exact level of comfortable pressure to stay in place and not cause headaches or any other kind of discomfort.”
Brooks Carbonite Gloves
These gloves are made of Brooks’s proprietary polyester-spandex blend fabric, which does a great job of wicking away sweat and allowing fingers to flex. Wind-proofing and water-resistance also come included. The Carbonites are part of the brand’s Run Visible Collection and have 3m Scotchlite Black Reflectivity panels so you can be easily detected at dawn or dusk (and in between).
[Related: 12 Great Running Gloves You’re Sure to Love]
Lululemon Down For It All Vest
The Down For It All is made of a water- and wind-resistant material that insulates you when direct sunlight and precipitation are fickle. Lululemon’s vest runs small and its fit is quite snug, which is a plus if you want to store your phone and keys in its deep side pockets. Our tester did just that and experienced no bounce on her runs—one of which was in 25-degree weather with snow flurries. “Even with a light long-sleeve underneath, it kept me warm and toasty,” she said. This is because of the goose down in the vest’s interior. It comes in seven colors, including dark adobe, night driver, and lavender dusk.
Tracksmith Brighton Base Layer
Test editor Amanda Furrer wore the Brighton Base Layer for a full week to test Tracksmith’s claim of the merino material being “almost completely impervious to odor.” It was an easy week packing her duffel in the morning, but her workouts were far from lazy. “In upper 30- to mid-50-degree temps, I did 6- to 10-mile runs,” she said. “I was surprised at how warm I felt when the weather app read ‘feels like 28’ and appreciated how my pits and back didn’t become saturated with sweat when the humidity was at 76 percent.” The shirt didn’t stink up her duffel or compel coworkers to pinch their noses when she returned from a lunch run. The shirt also feels pajama-soft because its construction is seamless for chafe-free runs.
[Related: The Best Shirts for Runners]
Brooks Momentum Thermal Tights
These 28-inch-inseam tights are woven with another of Brooks’s proprietary fabrics, this one with slightly more polyester than in the Carbonite glove’s blend. Material differences aside, it wicks away moisture and locks in warmth so you won’t freeze. Both the men’s and women’s tights have side pockets with ample room for storage. Testers liked how comfy the tights were but wished there was more reflective detail. For a more visible option, we recommend Brooks’s Carbonite Tights ($130).
[Related: Best Running Leggings]
Whether you wear it like a headband, a face mask, a neck gaiter, or nearly any other imaginable way you can wrap it around your head, a Buff is one of the most versatile pieces of gear you can own. The 360-degree reflectivity on this one keeps you visible on pre-dawn jogs. And if you get hot, it’s super easy to pull off and wrap around a wrist.
These traction devices function similarly to the chains you strap around your car’s tires. The steel spikes cost more than other options, but they’ll last far longer and keep your feet planted more firmly on the ground. “I find they work best on snow and ice, but the ride gets a bit harsh when you hit long stretches of exposed pavement,” says our Runner-in-Chief Jeff Dengate. “If you only occasionally get snow or want to save some cash, drive some 1/2-inch screws into the rubber of your shoes using a 5/16-inch magnetic nut driver and your cordless drill.”
Amphipod Hydraform Minimalist Handheld Water Bottle
Cooler temperatures may trick you into thinking you don’t need to drink fluids on your run, but don’t be fooled. If you’re logging long runs in preparation for a spring marathon, you’ll especially want to stay hydrated, so reach for this insulated bottle. It’ll help keep your water from freezing midrun, plus the reflective pattern and stripes will catch the attention of car drivers.
Julbo Aero Sunglasses
It might sound strange to wear sunglasses on overcast days, but UV is still present in the winter. But an even more compelling reason to wear shades is to block the wind and snow. Look for a versatile pair like the Julbo Aero, which has “Zebra Light” lenses that automatically darken on bluebird days but remain nearly clear under storms or low light.
Merrell Ridgevent Thermo Jacket
It was fortuitous when our tester wore the Ridgevent during an unexpected squall on his run. “The snow didn’t impede me or my run at all, and I can chalk much of that up to the jacket,” he said. “When I came inside, I was barely wet, even though it was heavy snow.” Although the Ridgevent isn’t necessarily a running jacket, it doesn’t impede movement and serves well when the temperature dips below freezing. The mix of down and synthetic insulations means you get a capable warmth-trapping, moisture-resistant mix.
Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Socks
If you’re a believer in ultrarunning R&D and sock doping, you’ll love the Rob Krar-designed Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance print crew socks. They’re a combination of merino wool, nylon, and elastane. In addition to the vibrant print, we love them because they keep our feet dry and comfortable in every season: We’ve worn them for winter runs and summer races over five months of testing, and they’ve excelled in all conditions.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
As the weather turns colder, you’re going to have to log miles in the dark unless you’re fortunate enough to sneak out at lunch time. So charge up that headlamp. The Actik Core is a great option because it’s powered by either three AAA batteries or a rechargeable “Core” battery pack that comes with the lamp. Best of all, the micro-USB charging port is built right in; in a pinch, you can leave it plugged in at home while you use the headlamp with AAA batteries.