Winter race gear is a pretty personal affair, and will depend on what your gameplan is for race day. You have to ask yourself what you want to get out of the day; are you pushing for time, or are you planning on being out in the field for up to eight hours (yes, that happens)? Will there be water? Full submersion? Are there opportunities to change clothes after a lap, as with NUTS, for example? If so, bring extra tops and wrags at least, and you can change them in transition before setting off on the next leg.
They may seem like simple things, but they’re often overlooked – as illustrated often by the sea of non-finishers at winter events in various stages of hypothermia.
Obviously faster runners, and those that run hot are going to want to go for a more streamlined and lightweight approach. Some kit suggestions for those would be:
Cold weather base layers
Cold weather leggings and base layer: Brands that spring to mind include Sub Sports Cold (just be aware that they do run small), and Under Armour Cold Gear. Firm favourites 2XU also have a cold weather range, but just be aware that some of our coldest races are often the roughest on the knees, so don’t go blowing your cash on brand new things before the likes of Tough Guy and NUTS. You can get cold weather synthetics from places like TK Maxx and Sports Direct, and a personal favourite has always been Nike’s Hyperwarm range.
To merino or not to merino is an entirely personal choice; as a natural fibre, it wicks moisture effectively and can keep you both cool and warm, like some sort of wizard garment. Though usually expensive in the form of an Inov-8 merino baselayer, tops and bottoms can be found everywhere from Sub Sports to Aldi (who have been killing it in the affordable winter sportswear department lately).
Socks can be a divisive issue; for winter races involving lots of water, I cannot recommend neoprene enough. Even just a 2mm layer of neoprene around your feet can make tramping through rivers in January much more bearable, and, if worn over very thin anti-blister socks, they aren’t uncomfortable to run in. Just be sure to test them in your trainers before event day, as you may need to remove the insoles to accommodate the extra width on your feet. You can grab neoprene socks from just about anywhere, and a word to the wise: TWF and Decathlon’s ranges don’t have annoying seams to rub your toes up the wrong way. Some will swear by waterproof socks, a la SealSkinz. Personally I can’t comment on their usefulness, but I think in full submersion or heavy water-based races, neoprene will probably pip them for warmth.
Windproof layers are helpful even for the fastest of runners, particularly in races that have a set water section followed by running through more exposed terrain, or night races, like Deerstalker. Wind can whip up really quickly and completely trash your body temperature, so a lightweight windproof layer subtly stuffed down your top for most of the run may be a morale saver. These can be picked up from just about anywhere, and shouldn’t cost more than a tenner.
Neoprene and wetsuits
For the colder runner, or one who may be out on a wet course for a bit longer, let’s talk survival in the form of magical neoprene. Whether it’s a vest, 1mm glorified swimming costume, a 2mm shorty or a 3mm full-length wetsuit, neoprene does have a place on the more gruelling winter races, particularly if you are concerned about swim sections. They really help to slow the ingress of freezing water to all of those bits that could do without being frozen and, once wet, will try to regulate body temperature by using your own body heat to warm a thin layer of water around you. Like a big wet hug. They won’t guarantee a hypothermia free race, but they will certainly help. Wetsuits are fairly personal choices, but there are some tips that we can offer when you’re choosing the one for you:
- Consider a front zipping suit or vest – that way when you are in the running sections, you can allow your chest more room to do that breathing thing that we’re all so fond of.
- Think about your range of movement – though they are designed for swimming, sleeved suits will restrict your arm movements, which is something to consider for more technical obstacles.
- Adding millimetres to your thigh-girth might seem minimal, but it might mean that your legs snag on each other as you’re running. Sticking a pair of Lycra shorts on over the suit, or Vaseline-ing up might help to reduce the friction and the irritating slopping noise. This is also true for rope traverses; neoprene doesn’t slide the way that normal running leggings do.
- Look at triathlon wetsuits – they’re slightly more forgiving under the arms and in all areas that facilitate running.
- Don’t spend a fortune, as mentioned above, winter obstacle races are notoriously rough on clothing.
Making no attempt to dispel the rumours of a neoprene fetish, I can’t recommend a neoprene beanie enough. They can be found on every corner of amazon, and are, chinstrap or not, much of a muchness. It is most sensible to keep them dry until you need them the most, so if you can put them either down your trousers or top (in a plastic Ziploc if you’re feeling fancy) and pop them on for the submersion sections, that would work.
Wrags / scarves
Last but not least, I must extol the virtues of wrags – you can never have enough of them in any race, and winter ones are no exception. I usually plod around with three: one for a headband, one around my neck and one around my wrist as a spare.