I never learned to ski or snowboard. I've never been tubing or snowmobiling. And not once have I donned snowshoes, ice skates (as an adult anyway) or cross-country skis. Why? Because I have always hated winter. I'm cold when it's 75 degrees out, so just imagine how I feel when it's in the teens! "I don't want to be outdoors in the winter unless I have to be," I'd think. As a result, I've missed out on a lot of the events above…but at least I could always feel my toes.
When I became serious about running over the last year and a half, I knew that running outdoors in the winter would be a must. And happily, it has become something that I look forward to! I actually enjoy the winter and tolerate the cold so much more now that I am a runner; sloshing through all kinds of elements and pushing through dropping temperatures for mile after mile puts the walk from the car to the office into perspective. Running in the winter has taught me to appreciate the cold, ice and snow, and I'm thankful for that. But the key to enjoying an outdoor workout in the winter isn't an attitude adjustment (although that has been part of it): It's all about the clothes.
When you wear the right apparel and layer properly, there is nothing uncomfortable about heading outdoors to work out. I've ran in snow, single digits, cold rain (not that I recommend it), and never once suffered for it. And I attribute a whole lot of my comfort and ability to withstand the cold to a single piece of apparel…
The neck gaiter.
You can cover your ears and head. Layer with tights, fleece pants and waterproof jackets all you want, but when your face is cold—your chin, mouth, nose and even your lungs—there is nothing comfortable about it. A neck gaiter is the key to keeping you warm from your neck to your nose (without looking like a bank robber in a ski mask while you run). What's more: No more nose hair icicles (you know what I'm talking about)! No more painful, cold lungs due to cold air. No more painfully cold chin or cheeks.
A neck gaiter is like a fleece headband but thinner and wider. It can be several inches tall, and it's a little stretchy. You can find them made out of a lot of different materials. My material of choice is wool, which is breathable, wicking (it won't hold onto moisture like cotton), and insulating all at the same time. I got my SmartWool gaiter on sale for $20 last season, and it retails for $25, but other brands might cost more or less depending on what you buy.
On the coldest days, I wear my ear warmers and my neck gaiter, pulled up over my nose and covering my mouth, cheeks, chin and neck. There is nothing like the warmth that this provides—it has literally saved my winter workouts! Like my other must-have running accessory—arm warmers—a neck gaiter is easy to adjust throughout your workout as you see fit. If I get too warm, I just pull it down a little, sometimes to just cover my chin or mouth, other times just to layer around my neck only. If I get chilly again, I just pull it up and it stays put. During a long run last week, I took it off completely and put it into my pocket for a few miles, then brought it back out again—without breaking stride. One running buddy of mine with wears his neck gaiter around his ears and head (like a cross between a hat and ear warmers), so needless to say, this little piece of fabric is pretty versatile.
So if cold lungs, cold cheeks, and frosty lungs are keeping you from heading out for your runs, hikes, bike rides or walks this winter, investing in a neck gaiter could be your winter workout savior!
Have you ever used a neck gaiter during winter workouts? How do you stay warm on the cold days?
Neck gaiter photo above courtesy of cheaptents.com
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