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Cold Weather Workout Clothes

What to wear so you won’t freeze your ass off when working out or running outside.

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Photo: Run Wild

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Running outside when it’s cold as hell is slightly less bad than suffering through the boredom of a treadmill, which means that for most of the year, you’ll still find me doing my cardio outdoors.

The key to not freezing your ass off is wearing the right layers. All of the runners, outdoor workout enthusiasts, and class instructors I spoke to agree: Tight leggings, long sleeves, a breathable sweatshirt or jacket, and gloves and hats will be your saving grace.

While you can certainly make do with what you’ve got at home — I wore crappy cotton long-sleeved shirts under college hoodies for years — you’ll be a lot more comfortable, and yes, actually warmer, if you take advantage of some of the new technical fabrics and breathable layers out there on the market at the moment. (And hey, if you’re going to be red-faced and sweating, there’s no harm in looking cute while doing it.)

Whether you’re logging 12 miles on icy streets or just making the sprint from the car to the gym, consider this list of layers for your outdoor workouts this fall and winter.

Compression Tights & Thermal Leggings

For your bottom half, there are generally two options for extra warmth: compression tights made of fabric geared toward cold weather, or fleece-lined thermal leggings. Plenty of workout brands make both, but Nike’s Pro Hyperwarm leggings are moisture-wicking and printed with a cool ombré effect, and Lululemon’s fleece-lined leggings have thoughtful extras like pockets on both thighs and at your waist. Both are available in three colors. (A tip on the Lulu leggings — these are designed to be super tight, so you may want to size up.)

Sweat-Wicking Long Sleeves

Under a jacket, a long-sleeved shirt helps you lock in body heat, and if you get too hot, you can strip off a layer without risking cold, tight muscles. Look for one with sweat-wicking or quick-dry fabric (to keep you dry after you start sweating) and antibacterial properties (less stink).

If you’re into the Nike leggings above, opt for the matching mock-neck top ($80). Lulu’s First Mile long-sleeved shirt is sold out, but check out similar items — all quick-dry and with those little thumb holes to keep the sleeves pulled down — from GapFit ($35), Under Armour ($55), Athleta ($89), and LNDR, a British brand that straddles the athleisure line with some really stylish and functional pieces. (Its leggings, jackets, and sports bras are worth a look, too.)

Sweat-Proof Jackets & Vests

Depending on exactly how cold it is, you’ll want a jacket that warms you up, but also one that’s ventilated to let your body breathe. Whatever you do, don’t work out in down — it will end up smelling like a locker room. Instead, look for Primaloft, a down alternative that can handle sweat and machine washing.

Lululemon’s First Mile jacket is pricey ($228) but awesome, combining a stretchy, water-resistant fabric with extra warmth (thanks to Primaloft fill) around the core, and featuring back vents, chest vents, a hood, several pockets, and sleeves that pull over your hands like mittens. Antibacterial fabric is a major plus here too, since you’re probably not going to wash your jacket after every wear. Oiselle, a women’s running brand, makes an even warmer quilted jacket from the similar, sweat-proof materials ($208).

At the lower end of the price spectrum, you can still get some of the same features with GapFit’s Primaloft Performance Fleece Zip Hooded Puffer Jacket ($118) and C9 Champion’s cold weather run jacket ($45).

For a lighter top layer, Prismsport’s zip-down Pacesetter Jacket ($128) has a pocket on the back for credit cards and keys and thumb holes to keep your wrists warm, while Adidas by Stella McCartney’s Ess Seamless Hooded Top ($150) has a half-zip and a hood.

C9’s Embrace Hoodie ($30) is a great lower-priced option. You can always layer a vest on top of your light layers for added warmth, like Athleta’s Sprinter Vest ($148), which lets heat (and sweat) escape through back vents while still warming your core and neck.

Gloves, Hats, & Neck-Warmers

When it’s freezing, hats and gloves are a must. If you tend to get hot after warming up, go for a headband rather than a hat — it will keep your ears toasty without making you overheat. Brands at both ends of the spectrum make matching sets, from Adidas by Stella McCartney (headbands from $50) to Old Navy (headbands from $10).

A neck-warmer is another great item to have in your cold weather arsenal if you want to be able to add or remove that layer instead of wearing something like a turtleneck or zipped-up jacket. Go for one that’s made of the same stretch-jersey as leggings or compression tops, or one that’s made of fleece Primaloft-fill for the most warmth.

Not finding exactly what you want? Use the layers above as a shopping list and consult our Where to Shop for Workout Clothes guide, which covers the classic spots as well as indie brands and inexpensive options, for even more places to look.