Is it crazy to run when the How to Prep for Running When Its Cold Out? When snowpocalypse season lays siege to half the country and the “real feel” index makes Antarctica sound like a reasonable vacation spot, you might be forgiven for hitting the treadmill. But some hardy souls are motivated by the crisp air, bright light, and in-it-together camaraderie of running in the cold—it beats sweating through humidity, they say. And truly, if you layer up properly in warm, sweat-wicking gear, you probably can tolerate temperatures colder than you realize. (Don’t overdress, however, or you’ll overheat, and as your sweat chills, you risk hypothermia. You should feel slightly cold when you first step outside and warm up within 10 minutes.)
Runners World Editors
The myth of losing 15 percent of your body heat through your head was long ago busted, but it sprang from seeds of truth: If your noggin is cold, you will be, too. We tapped into a community of like-minded pals who run through all the elements winter throws down to find the best beanies to see you through until spring. The perfect hat will keep you toasty warm while wicking sweat to keep you dry; look for one that covers your ears and stays securely on without squeezing your forehead. And then get out there: You’ll be happier and healthier, just like the other cold-weather-loving crazies.
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Every hat 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 wearing these caps in cold conditions to determine the best for your runs. We evaluated them on performance, price, comfort, technical features, warmth, and style to come up with this list of the best options to keep your ears and head cozy while you tackle the worst conditions.
This best-selling lightweight beanie is made from a poly-spandex blend that stretches over your head, sits close on your ears, and effectively wicks away sweat. Thin enough to fit under a ski or bike helmet, it kept warm-blooded testers toasty at temps as low as 10 degrees; others used it as a liner underneath chunky knit caps. Runners prone to overheating appreciated being able to roll it up and stuff it in their pocket. If you don’t love it, Tough Headwear has a generous return policy. The beanie is also available in bright orange or neon yellow for increased visibility on winter’s limited-daylight days or in snow.
Most winter hats leave my giant, chaotic ponytail with nowhere to go. This fleece cap has a little hole for it to escape through, so all that hair stays out of sight and out of mind. It’s an ideal pick for sunny, below-freezing days, as the bill is big enough to protect your eyes, and the drop-down ear flap is cozy against ears and neck. It’s also versatile—the ponytail slit is almost unnoticeable if you’re not using it, and on warmer days, you can tuck the ear cover back into the cap. The all-over fleecy fabric is soft, comfortable, and warm, but doesn’t provide much rain protection for those in wetter climates. Also be warned that the hat stretches to fit in one-size-fits-most fashion, so runners with bigger heads might find it to be too tight.
My former male coworkers who ran together at lunch wore nothing but black, like a gang of ninja warriors. With 30 percent wool and a channel-stitched internal brim, this thick Swedish-brand cap holds heat like an old-fashioned ski hat yet also breathes well on the run. It is one of the few options that come in sizes (S/M and L/XL). There’s also a jaunty red version, if you feel like standing out in the crowd.
If you tend to overheat in heavier winter hats and just want an ear-grazing head covering that will stay put and relatively dry, this DryFit beanie will serve you well. It strives to give you the best of both worlds—little ventilation panels throughout the wide brim keep the air flowing, but the thermal lining retains some heat and feels soft against your skin. The hat is unlikely to be enough when the temperature dips down into the teens, but for most 30- to 40-degree runs, it’s ideal. (Your mileage may vary, of course, if you’re the type to wear shorts in below-freezing temps.)
A pal who ran every day last year wouldn’t let a little thing like subzero temperatures and 40mph wind gusts get in the way of his Strava-tracked miles. This soft beanie’s Gore Windstopper fabric across the forehead and on the extended ear flaps effectively blocks icy blasts; the internal polyamide and elastane lining wicks sweat to keep you dry. Neon yellow makes you visible in snowy and low-light conditions as does reflective stripes along the sides.
When you just need a warm layer to get the job done without setting you back too much cash, this skullcap has you—and your ears—covered. Made of a blend of polyester and spandex, the hat wicks away moisture and keeps sweat from pooling into your eyes. It’s robust enough to block out the windchill, but still lightweight enough that you won’t overheat on balmier days.
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-locked for extra warmth, which is no surprise, but it’s also soft, it breathes, it wicks moisture, and it resists the odors that some man-made materials never shake, even after repeated washing. 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 rave about this perennial fave.
Made of 100 percent polyester fleece, the Surgent beanie is wooly-soft and warm enough to keep your brain (even big brains, as this beanie is available in L/XL) cozy in subfreezing temps without feeling overly hot or heavy. It’s also deep-fitting enough to cover your ears, so you have no temperature-related excuses not to crush a 20-degree January long run. Cyclists and multisport athletes will appreciate that it’s sleek enough to layer under a helmet.
The Greenlight Beanie fits your head like a skullcap (or even a swimming cap, if you really want to be honest about it), which keeps it firmly in place. It’s designed to balance warmth and breathability, so you might want something bulkier for running on truly cold days or for casual winter wear. But if you like an ultralight layer to keep your ears covered and your head UPF 50+ protected, this hat is a good value. It’s easy to pack down into a small pocket if it gets too warm.
Give your head some soft merino love with this lightweight winter cap—or “toque,” as Arc’teryx dubs it, by virtue of the outdoor brand’s Canadian-ness. A blend of wool and acrylic fabric with a fleecy interior keeps you cozy on cold runs without leaving your scalp itchy and overheated; the just-snug-enough fit stops the cap from sliding off without inducing a pressure headache. If you need a little flight inspiration to pick up the pace, Arc’teryx’s unmistakable bird logo is stitched onto the outside of the hat.