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Running & Walking In The Cooler Months
Some of the more demanding - but stimulating - physical challenges in the colder months are walking, hiking and running. In much the same way as during summer, your winter walking, hiking and running gear should assist your body to operate at its optimum efficiency. By putting some thought into the most appropriate gear, you can reap the physical and mental benefits of exercising when the mercury drops.
Whereas staying as cool as possible in the summer months during exercise is the name of the game, when it comes to outdoor activity in the cooler months, keeping warm enough to avoid injury while still allowing your body to breathe should be your aim. Conversely, you also need to ensure you don't overheat.
The secret to effective outdoor activity winter clothing is layering: a base layer, middle layer - often referred to as your insulating layers - and an outer layer. Each of these layers serve a dedicated purpose in keeping you warm, dry and comfortable.
Good base layer clothing keeps you dry and stops body moisture from making you feel cold by drawing sweat away from your skin. It can also prevent chafing and blisters.
Polypropylene - as well as materials like merino wool, Thinsulate and DryFit - are the most effective options for your base layer because they are designed to wick away moisture and help regulate your body temperature. With a number of options acting as high-performance undergarments, but also wearable on their own, you can get a lot of mileage from these base layers, which means value for your money.
In terms of fit, thermals should sit close to your skin so they can function properly, drawing away moisture and trapping the heat appropriately. Never use cotton as a base layer because, once cotton becomes wet, it stays wet.
The next layer of clothing is your middle layer. The colder the weather, the more likely you'll benefit from adding an insulating layer before you head out.
Similar to base layers, your insulating layer needs to have moisture-wicking properties. As well as being comfortable to wear, the clothing of your insulating layer should strike a balance between breathability to allow moisture to escape and insulation for trapping body heat to keep you warm.
Materials like Polartec, microfleece and polyester do an excellent job of keeping you warm and dry, while still supporting the full range of motion you need during a hike or a run.
The final layer also depends on the conditions in which you'll be exercising. The colder the climate, the more benefit you'll get from an outer layer. As with your insulating layers, your outer layers also need to strike a balance between allowing moisture to escape, yet retaining body heat, but they additionally need to protect you from harsh, wintry elements such as wind, rain and snow.
When considering outer layer clothing, look for garments with fully taped seams to prevent water seeping in through the stitching holes. Taped seams will give you greater protection, while also maximising your comfort while walking or running.
Head & Neck Protection
A percentage of your body's temperature escapes from your head, so taking steps to prevent excessive heat loss by wearing a fleece or woollen hat or beanie is an important accessory in stabilising your body temperature when exercising in colder weather.
You may have seen a lot of skiers wearing neck gaiters, which serve the same purpose but with the added benefit of wicking away moisture from the base of your neck and offering significant UV protection. Many runners also like to pull a neck gaiter up and over their mouth to warm the air as they breathe it in.
There's also a wide range of balaclavas and bandanas made from moisture-wicking materials that can help protect your face against wind and rain.
Socks & Shoes
Forget about cotton socks - they won't keep your feet dry enough. Instead, look for socks made from materials like merino wool or COOLMAX®.
When it comes to footwear, make sure you're wearing shoes that match the exercise. Ensure the shoes you select offer you the right kind of arch support and overall stability to help guard you against joint and soft-tissue injuries.
Choose running shoes with as little mesh as possible because mesh will let in water from puddles, slush and snow. Trail running shoes and ice spikes are good options if you're doing a lot of running in areas that might have snow.
When trying on footwear, do so with the socks you plan to wear when running and walking. Some socks come with considerable bulk, which might necessitate going up a size from your normal, everyday footwear.
Points to Remember
The cooler months of the year should not mean a decrease in your activity levels. Whether you live in a large city, or you yearn for the adrenaline rush of getting out for a run in high country or along a deserted beach, it's important to wear the appropriate clothes so you get the most enjoyment out of your activity - not to mention avoiding unnecessary injury or some of the more serious health issues like dehydration or hypothermia.
Because of the popularity of running and walker in cooler months, there's a lot of functional and fashionable clothing to choose from that will properly protect you from the elements and help you reach your personal best - no matter how cold it is outside.