Gear Up: My Must-Have Accessory for Winter Workouts

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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

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RYCGIRL 11/9/2019
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Thanks for the great article! :) Report
I have a neck gaiter that is long enough to cover my neck AND go up over the back part of my head. Keeps my ears warm that way. My problem has been fogging up my glasses when wearing something over my mouth and/or nose. Report
thank you Report
My ears are sensitive even in "warmer" spring and fall weather - so I like to use earwarmers or neck gaiters. I especially like the lighter weight Buff Bands - they are made in several models, but the longest one is probably 15-16 deep and can be used like a neck gaiter, a hat, ear warmers, turban, balaclava (sp?) etc (their website has a video, and I think it's on YouTube, showing all the dozens of ways it can be used.).

So, having said all that - I did NOT know SmartWool made gaiters! I only found out about SmartWool socks through one of Coach Nicole's other blogs, and they are wonderful (although I generally have to buy the men's socks in order to get them large enough for my swollen feet). I'll be checking those out for this coming winter! Report
After living 16+ years years, at 7500ft elevation in the Colorado Rockies, the best winter gear is moving away!!!
Yes! I had all the gear! Yes! I never let the weather dictate to me...not too much..blizzards were the only thing that kept me indoors.
But really....I don't miss that cold!!! Report
I rely on my ice cleats and I really want a neck gaiter now. Regular scarves just slide too much. Report
I wear sometimes a neck gaiter, but I have trouble with my glasses fogging up if I pull it up over my mouth and nose. I have a very tall cotton interlock tube that I use like a hood and then I wear a fleece hat over it. It rarely gets below 20F in VA but I'm out walking the dogs every morning no matter what the weather. Report
I rely heavily on my cleats as well. It gives me a lot of confidence on snow and ice, especially on slopes. I wear a rabbit fur hat which keeps me comfortable in a variety of sub zero (Celsius) temperature conditions. I bought a neck gaiter to use under the hat when temps fall below -20C. While I do not like the cold, I am looking forward to trying it out. Report
I wear a neck gaiter, a beenie hat (specially made for sports so it stays on my head!), running gloves, UnderArmour leggings (my savior!), my Nike dry socks, a CuddlDud long sleeve top (though I'm going to buy an UnderArmour top when I get my next pay check) layered with a t-shirt and vest. It's about layering, yes, but it's also about making sure that you don't OVER layer. I do a loop, and sometimes I'll find myself coming back to take off a top layer.
Keep up the work Coach Nicole! You're awesome! Report
Coming from a neck gaiter wearer--a must have! I wear "Turtle fur" gaiters and head bands (nice soft fleece). Report
The underarmor hood is great - covers neck and head, and you can pull the front up or down to cover up to your eyes, or keep the face exposed. With a knit cap it is very warm.

Most import accessory I have though, is cleats for my shoes - they pull on and provide just a little bit of grip - makes all the difference when there is ice under loose snow. Report
Oh this is perfect! In December I ran my first 5K - in unplanned snow. It had been warm up to that point - in the 40s was the coldest run I had done, and I had my layering down pat - I just added a vest for the snow, but I was shocked at how cold my chin of all things got. It was by far the most uncomfortable part of the run - I zipped my vest all the way up and kept trying to tuck my chin into it, but it just wasn't working. I have been running inside on a treadmill since then, but I will definitely get one of these so I can get back outside. Thanks! Report
I'm not a runner - bad ankles - but I have a lot of work to do outside in the winter (cutting, spliting, and hauling wood, and keeping up the vwildlife habitat). Scarfs always come loose and get caught in things. I've been wearing old, stretched-out turtlenecks and pulling them up over my nose, but they often slip down and I can feel the nose hairs beginning to freeze. The neck gaiter sounds like a solution I could live with. Thanks! Report
I have never used a neck gaiter during winter workouts. I stay warm by layering, but I live in FL so it doesn't usually get too bad. Report
Okay, something new to knit.. sort of a tighter version of the cowl. Report
When I lived up North, I had a "scarf" to wrap around my neck, so guess I'd just use one like that again. Report
I love walking outside except when it is very hot. In the winter, I layer up before heading out and the face, mouth and nose are the hardest parts to keep warm and stop from breathing that cold air. The gaiter is a great idea--don't have one--but I had just started knitting a large scarf--I bet I can transform it to a gaiter. I shall give it a shot. Report
I've never even heard of a neck gaiter before. That sounds like it could make many winter sports more enjoyable for those of us who don't love the cold. Thanks for sharing. Report
I got a gaiter for my daughter when she was two. I watched the children at her daycare go down the slide/jungle gym thing and a girls scarf got caught. After that no more scarfs!!! Lands End makes them for children and adults. Report
Nicole, you REALLY need to learn to cross country ski.I don't know where you live, but when I lived in the mountains north of Spokane, I lived for the winter.
Imagine this. One day, I was on my skii's in the woods, looking down on an open meadow of about 3 or 4 hundred acres. I'm about a half mile in the woods, on an old logging trail, and about 6 or 7 hundred feet above the meadow.
About 150 yards into the meadow is a HUGE group of Elk, it is snowing moderately, (for northeast Washington, you might call it a snowstorm where you live), and I am in Military Alpine camoflauge.
I start down the trail flat out, enter the meadow doing about 40, in a semi crouch, and ski three fourths of the way through the herd, before any of the Elk even know that I am there. Only THEN do they scatter in all directions.
Once you become accomplished, you can move at speeds like that without making a sound. Brie Report
Isn't SmartWool located in Steamboat Springs, Colorado? Report
It's such a coincidence that you would write about this. I live in southern AZ and even though it doesn't seem cold to others, the upper 30 and low 40 degree temps in the wee hours feels pretty nippy to us especially to run in. Anyway, several months ago I picked up a wide knitted headband thinking it would hold my hair back when I ran. Well, it didn't work for that but it was great for keeping my neck, chin and mouth warm! I guess that's my neck gaiter and I didn't even know there was a name for it! Whatever works....right?! Report
i use the under armor hood when it gets down around single digits, above that it is just a cap. love that you are getting out in the weather Report
I forgot about my neck gaiter, thank you for the reminder! Last Christmas I received the best gift for winter wear, the Canadian Red mittens with the olympic symbols on them. The white is a great safety feature when it's dark and they are amazingly warm no matter what the temperature is. I'll grab my gaiter for my run tonight too. Thanks again for the reminder. Report
I love winter sports and get out running, snowshoeing, skiing, etc. lots of days when it is below freezing. I LOVE Smart Wool and wouldn't give it up for anything. Smart wool hat, undershirts, socks (that keep you warm even when your feet get wet), glove liners, underwear (wish they made smart wool bras!) It's all about layering and keep moving.
I have tried a neck gaiter and it doesn't work for me - like one poster said it gets wet and gross as you breathe. I do use shoe/leg gaiters - things that attach onto your shoes and then your ankles to keep the snow out. Report
Ah, yes... I was a skiier in the past (really gotta get back into that) and the neck gaiter is absolutely essential. I didn't know SmartWool made one. I'm definitely going to look into that! (or I guess I could knit my own...) Report
One of my rewards when I hit a 5lb weight loss goal is a Loki Sweatshirt or Jacket. They have something like the neck gaiter built in, and they also have built in mittens. I don't think it's made of the wicking material, but it would be perfect for chilly fall and winter days!! Report
Thank you! I didn't even know these things existed. I was going to look like a criminal wearing a ski mask in the dark. Report
Thanks for the hint, I have a gaiter, but have not worn it much. I do like to walk outside early in the morning. This will definately help. Report
I run outside unless it's below 0, but I can't STAND gaiters! They're good in theory, but once you breathe into them, they get wet and I just can't run with a soggy piece of material across my face/around my neck. Yuck! I know people love them, but they're definitely not for me. Report
I've been trying to run in this cold weather, but don't push myself to go out if the wind chill is below 10. I'm just a wuss! I appreciate the gaiter idea. I have one and use it when I have to be out for long periods, but never thought about using it for running. I'll have to give it a try. thanks! Report
If you are going to order, I would highly recommend looking up wool neck gaiter made in America! Instead of SmartWool, help support America and stay warm. Report
I love the cold weather and prefer to walk when it's cold. I am not a runner -- knees won't let me -- but I layer my clothing. I have never used a neck gaiter, but will try it. Thanks! Report
I don't bother going outside much in the winter. I have other means of getting my cardio inside - a stationary bike at home, my dance-exercise DVDs, and my local YMCA has an indoor walking track above a basketball court. Report
During winter months, I do all of my running on the treadmill and long for spring... I stopped running outdoors because the "cold lungs" and wheezing were not fun... Since I have all the other winter running gear, the neck gaiter sounds like a great addition and my ticket to outdoor runs again... Thanks, Coach! Report
I live in Florida - 'nuff said. It gets cold here occasionally, but not enough to make a neck gaiter a necessity. In fact, had never heard of them before. Interesting though. Report
I have a neck gaiter and it really helps.

I try to layer and follow the books/articles I've read, but I have yet to find the magic combination that allows me to WALK (which doesn't heat one's body as much as running) when the temperature is below 40.

I am still working on it though! :) Report
I have not yet run outside in sub-30F weather, but I think my neck just started sweating just thinking about running in a gaiter! Last week, I ran on a 35 degree day in tights, shorts, two long sleeved crew neck technical tees, thin gloves and the thinnest nylon hat possible, and I came home with a sweaty neck and head. I do own a couple of neck gaiters. I grew up skiing and those things saved my face on many a windy chairlift. It's supposed to be in the mid-20s this weekend, so I suspect I'll at least be carrying a gaiter. It may not make it beyond the "insurance" stage, though. I'm a lot less tolerant of heat than I am of cold. Report
Nose hair icicles!!! Oh, man! I haven't had those since I was a kid! Thankfully it doesn't get that cold here in Texas. I don't think I'd make it! ;) Report
wow I really feel like a wimp. cold nose hairs ??? lol haven't had that, due to the fact that it rarely gets below 45 here. So to all of you that brave the cold weather my hat off to you and I'll try to keep all of you in my thoughts when I complaining that it's 45 and too cold to run. Report
I just got a neck gaiter for Christmas. Haven't used it yet, but I'm hoping it helps keep me warm! Report
My eyes always water if I am doing outside winter activities so I had to give it up. I hear the gators are nice but if you can't afford one-get a ski mask, they work great too. Report
I use a gaiter when it is 15 degrees or below. I love it. I would never be able to run in the cold Vermont weather without one. Two drawbacks to be ready for are that sometimes the warm air travels right up to your glasses and fogs them. I have tried defogging products and can't seem to find one that works without distorting my vision. Also, the neck gaitor can get very moist with my breath and it can make my chin breakout. I wear anti-chapping lotion on my chin, nose and mouth to prevent breakouts. Report
I always use a neck gaitor when the temp drops below about 25. I use it in all the ways you describe and also in conjunction with a hat so often only my eyes are showing. I've tried balaclavas, but they make me feel suffocated. The gaitor is so easy to adjust. The biggest drawback for me is that when the gaitor is pulled all the way up over my nose, and I'm wearing sunglasses, most of my breath goes immediately into the glasses and they fog up. Report
I never go skiing without one, even if I only plan to wear it on the lift. Talk about wind-chill, ouch! I have several, each made of a different material, and choose depending on the weather. From double layered fleece, windproof "turtle fur", and plain cotton bandanas. Love them all and they really do save the day. Great tip for those still scared of winter weather. Report
sounds better than the scarf I wore yesterday while I was out running! Report
When I was little, my mom made me wear a scarf over my nose, and just thinking about the smell of wet acrylic makes me cringe. I never, ever wear anything over my face when running. Report
I have made these for years. I have to wear them in the winter since the cold Maine air is an asthma trigger for me.I used to cut up wool scarves before Polar Fleece became available in yard goods stores. I fold the fleece to make a double layer that way it does not ice over ever.They are easy to make from old fleece sweaters also. I see few people with these on and have been most self conscious wearing it on my river rail trail. Now I will think of you and I know I will feel much more comfortable. YES THEY KEEP THE FACE FROM FREEZING AND CHAPPING. Pat in MAINE. THANKS FOR POSTING THIS. I blogged yesterday I gave up my walk because of wind chill. Today I will go again and walk it with friends and I will wear my Neck gaiter uo to my eyes if need be Thanks again. Report