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Braving the Elements: Running in Cold Weather Part 1 – Fabrics

With winter coming up and fall already upon us, it’s time to gear up to be able to bear whatever mother nature throws at us. Just because it’s cold out or raining doesn’t mean we can’t train. Trust me, running in -40 Celsius can still be fun!

Really, the key to running in adverse conditions is all about:

1) Layers; and

2) Fabrics.

By keeping those two things in mind, you’ll be happily running in any type of conditions

Today, I’ll limit myself to just talking fabrics. If you’re running with cotton, it’s time to upgrade. When cotton gets wet (whether from sweat or rain) it doesn’t keep you warm anymore. Not only that but unlike modern fabrics, it won’t wick sweat away from your body, leaving you uncomfortable and grumpy.

Here are my picks for fabrics from best to worst:

1) Merino Wool – This stuff is amazing. It’s a natural, very fine sheep wool that outperforms any synthetic fabric out there. It will keep you warm when wet, wicks moisture and the best part, WON’T STINK! Yes, there is an anti-bacteria property in there that means you can wear Merino wool products over and over again without washing and you won’t smell like a wet dog. It’s pretty amazing. Bare in mind this stuff is $$$. Expect to pay around $100 for one thermal merino wool long sleeve top. All my hiking socks are merino wool, as you can imagine, is a huge benefit over a multi-day trek where you have to wear socks more than one day.

2) Polypropylene – A synthetic fabric that you really need to check labels for. It wick away moisture well and feels soft. It feels very similar to polyester but is denser than polyester for the same amount of weight. This means a polypropylene shirt that is the same weight as a polyester one will be warmer. Really look for this fabric as more often than not polypropylene will be priced the same as polyester but will be between two different brands. For example, I find that similarly priced Helly Hansen thermals are polypropylene but Under Armour will be polyester. Long sleeve shirts in this category usually run around $60.

3) Polyester – Another synthetic fabric that wicks away sweat and feels good. Most shirts and pants that you’ll find are made out of polyester. It’s a big big step up from cotton and definitely still a really good fabric despite being only number 3 on my list. You’ll find different weaves and thicknesses are available. Fleece products are made out of polyester too!

4) Nylon – Often blended into polyester or polypropylene. Clothing with a high concentration of nylon is good for light jackets that will go over polypropylene or polyester clothing to break the wind and protect yourself from rain. Just make sure your nylon blended clothing can breath or it’ll be like you’re training while wearing a garbage bag.

5) Cotton – Ugh. Don’t use this stuff! Doesn’t keep you warm when wet. Chaffs a lot when wet and just feels plain bad. Invest in one of the above fabrics. Your body will thank you for it.

So next time you are looking at getting some training clothes keep these fabrics in mind. In part 2 I’ll talk about layering and what I usually wear in different temperatures.

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