The question is simple, but it’s something beginner and experienced runners alike ask: what should I wear for running? What you wear running depends on the temperature, the type of workout you are doing, and your own personal preference. The recommendations in this article provide general guidance; your exact choices may vary.
The Basics of What to Wear Running
Fabric Choice Matters
You sweat while running – and your clothing should be made of fabric that can handle a large amount of sweat. Cotton holds onto moisture, which means it will also hold onto sweat. A fabric that retains sweat can prevent you from cooling fully and lead to chafing. Opt for fabrics designed to wick sweat from your body and dry quickly. Many sport-specific synthetic fabrics will wick sweat and keep you cool. In winter, merino is an option for a wicking fabric that will also keep you warm.
Running Clothes Should Feel Comfortable
When it comes to waistband height, short inseam length, shirt length, and other features, the best choice is what you feel most comfortable in. Some runners love high-rise waistbands, others find them uncomfortable. Some prefer sports bras and crop tops, others like tank tops. You may find spandex tight shorts comfortable, while others opt for flowy loose shorts.
The fit should be comfortable. You should not feel waistbands or seams digging into you during a run. The fit should facilitate a full range of motion. Sizes vary widely across brands. You may wear an x-small in one brand and a medium in another. Pick clothes that fit and disregard what the tag says.
If you are comfortable, wear whatever cuts of clothing you want. If you want to wear just a sports bra, do that – without worrying about what other people think about your body. Do not feel like you need to overdress for any reason; dress as lightly as you need to stay cool on runs.
A Good Sports Bra is Essential
For female runners, the most essential piece of running clothing is a sports bra. A sports bra provides extra support and compression to avoid uncomfortable bouncing and chafing on runs. There are several different styles of sports bras, from basic compression bras to supportive sports bras with clasps and adjustable straps.
A good sports bra should minimize bouncing without feeling so tight that it affects your breathing. More styles now offer bras that feature pockets to stash your phone, keys, or fuel.
Pick Socks Designed for Running
Just say no to cotton socks. The retained moisture can lead to blisters. Instead, pick socks specifically designed for running. These provide enough cushion to keep your feet comfortable and wick appropriately to prevent blisters.
Add Accessories for Sunny Days
Whether it is hot or cold outside, a sunny day requires a few extra pieces of running gear. Sunglasses and a visored hat provide protection from the sun. Whether you wear one or both depends on personal preference and conditions.
What to Wear Running…In the Heat
While personal preference is important, be mindful not to dress too warm in the heat. Long leggings retain too much heat for summer weather. There are several models of shorts with longer inseams if you are concerned about chafing.
For a majority of runners, shorts and a tank top or short sleeve shirt is optimal in summer. Female runners may prefer just a sports bra. This combination encourages cooling and avoids holding sweat against your body in the heat. Pick lightweight, wicking fabrics in light colors.
What to Wear Running…In the Rain
If it’s cold rain, you want to ensure you stay warm. Pick a running-specific rain jacket, wear a visored hat, add layers under the jacket to keep your core warm, and wear a bottom that controls your temperature without weighing you down. Wicking fabrics for your bottoms and socks are extra important in the rain. (More on running in the rain in this article.)
What to Wear Running…In Mild Temperatures
The ideal temperature range for most runners is 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 15 degrees Celsius). In this range, dress as if it were 10 degrees warmer than it actually is. You may wear a long sleeve or short sleeve shirt, but you likely do not need a vest or jacket. Most runners will wear shorts in this range, although some may prefer capris. Materials should be lightweight and wicking since you will sweat some.
In this temperature range, your outfit choice may vary based on the purpose of your workout. In low-intensity easy runs, you are producing less metabolic heat, so you may dress a bit warmer. For example, a long sleeve shirt and shorts in 50-degree temperatures. In a hard workout, you are producing more metabolic heat and sweating more. Therefore, you may need to wear less clothing than you would for an easy run in the same temperature. At 50 degrees, you may opt for a short sleeve shirt and shorts. On long runs, plan ahead for increasing temperatures throughout your run. You might start off with a light quarter zip, tank, and shorts, and then shed the quarter zip as you warm up.
If you struggle to figure out exactly what to wear once you factor in wind and cloud cover, an online guide such as Dress My Run can help you decide.
What to Wear Running…In the Cold
Once the temperature dips below freezing, you should dress to stay warm and prevent frostbite. You will want to minimize exposed skin in freezing temperatures. In addition to long pants/leggings and a long-sleeve shirt, you will need a hat or beanie, thick and tall socks, and gloves or mittens. As the wind chill drops further, add a vest or jacket and more top layers. (This article details in full what to wear for winter running. )
What to Wear for Trail Running
Trail running clothing follows the same basics as road running clothing. However, you may want to make some adjustments based on trail conditions and safety considerations.
Ticks, thorns, and other hazards pose risks on the trails that you do not get with road running. For extra protection, consider taller crew socks to cover the ankles. In addition to bugs and plants, weather requires extra coverage to stay safe. Weather can change quickly in the mountains, so prepare accordingly. Stash a rain jacket or extra layer or two in your hydration pack for a sudden rain shower or if the temperature suddenly drops. In addition to all these, you will want to wear trail shoes, a hydration pack, and a hat.