I run, outdoors. That’s my preferred exercise. I would rather a path to a treadmill, a sky to a ceiling. During the spring and summer months, my pension for outdoor exercise is easily satisfied. I grab a pair of shorts or lightweight sweats, and a t-shirt, enjoying the seasons’ warmth. I’m deterred only by heat advisories and summer storms. But, when the leaves begin falling and the days start shortening, my motivation wanes. I find extremely rational reasons as to why I should stay indoors. It’s too cold; it’s damp. It’s windy. While they are all accurate climate descriptions, they are not legitimate anti-exercise excuses. If you’re an outdoor junky, changing seasons shouldn’t change your fitness. It should simply change the way you dress. And, that means more than one shirt.
The key to exercising outside, throughout fall and winter, is layers. They protect your body, provide warmth and keep you dry. They also have the added bonus of being peel-able. If you find yourself overheating, you can take a layer off. You’ll be more comfortable but still have the fabric shields you need. However, don’t wear too much. Overdressing will lead to sweat-soaked clothes, which will eradicate any of the desired insulation. With that in mind, then, how much should you wear?
You want to be slightly cool, not cold and not hot, when you step outside. To accomplish this, try the following three-layer plan:
1. The Inner Layer – the first layer’s primary goal is to keep you dry. You want something lightweight, very thin and snug-fitting. Opt for fabrics that won’t stay wet. Cottons, for example, will soak up your sweat and keep you damp rather than delightfully dry for the remainder of the run. Acrylics or synthetics are the best choices.
2. The Middle Layer – the next layer should be somewhat thicker than the first, since its function is insulation. It should also fit more loosely than your inner layer. Try a fleece or thermal top, and if you can find something that will cover your neck, that’s even better.
3. The Outer Layer – this is your protective shell. It will shield you from the wetness, the wind and the cold. Thickness will vary depending on your exercise of choice, but your best bet is a nylon or wind jacket. Finding one with a hood gives you the added bonus of protecting your head (a large portion of your body heat leaves from the top, so keep it covered).
4. The Extremities – did I say three layers? I believe I meant four, because protecting your fingers, toes, feet etc. is vitally important. As the temperatures drop, add gloves and hats. When covering your feet, once again, avoid the cotton. Sweat soaked socks equal wet feet, blisters and frozen toes.
Follow these rules, and you’ll be able to stay outside well into the winter. One final side note however: there is such a thing as too cold. Pay attention to the temperatures and stay safe.