A quality winter running hat is important to stay warm and comfortable on your run. Your head can lose a lot of heat in cold weather. A great hat can make the difference between an enjoyable run or a miserable, cold run. So, let’s explore what proper headgear is and why you need it. What should you wear on your head during a cold weather run? I will also tell you my favorite hats that are reasonably priced?
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Updated November 4, 2021
I pulled out all my winter running gear and clothes the other day. I have a lot of hats and headgear for winter running. And when I say lots… I mean tons! So, I thought I would tell you about my favorites, what I like about them and what I don’t like.
I will also tell you about a new purchase that I am super excited about.
Your Body Temperature during Winter Running
One of the most difficult things to do for winter running is to maintain a proper body temperature throughout your run.
When you run, your body will generate heat. For most runners that can make the temperatures outdoors seem about 10 degrees warmer.
If you are too hot, you sweat more and feel uncomfortable. If you slow your pace down, you become cooler. But being wet with sweat can make you feel chilled when you run slower or take a walk break.
If you are too cold, your joints and muscles don’t work as well. Your run will feel heavy and slow. You may get chilled or even hypothermic.
“Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).” – Mayo Clinic
How Should You Dress for a Cold Weather Run?
So, dressing for the weather when you run outdoors in the winter can be tricky. You need to factor in the outdoor temperature, how fast you are planning on running, and how much your body may heat up.
For this reason, most coaches and trainers recommend dressing in layers. This way you can take off the top layer of clothes if you are too hot. And you can put them back on if you feel too cold.
Dressing in cold weather is one question I get asked the most when I am coaching running.
I wrote a printable Guide on What to Wear Running that you can download for free in the Pink Ribbon Runner. All you need to do is become a VIP email subscriber. That is free too.
Do You Experience Cold Weather Headaches When Running?
Have you ever experienced brain-freeze when eating or drinking something ice cold? Well this same thing can happen when you are out running. When the cold temperatures hit your forehead, it can cause a similar stabbing pain. It can also trigger migraines.
Your Head Loses Significant Heat on a Winter Run
One of the most forgotten places we lose body heat is our head.
Your body’s priority is to keep your brain warm. When it is cold out, the blood vessels in your hands, arms, legs and feet constrict to send warm blood to your body and head.
“Every organ in your body is connected to the one under your hat” —Unknown
But the blood vessels in your head will not constrict. They need to keep your brain bathed in nutrients and warmth. So, we can lose a lot of head from our heads if they are not covered.
What you wear on your head can make all the difference. The colder it is, the warmer your hat should be.
And that is why I have so many hats. I have hats for almost every cold temperature combination there is.
“So many hats and only one head!” —Unknown
What Do I Look for in Ideal Running Headgear?
I have a few things that I look for when I go to buy a good run hat or headwear. Let me quickly list them for you here before we get into my favorites below.
1. Good Quality
We work hard for our money and a good run hat has to last. The fabric needs to be durable and withstand repeated washing. The stitching needs to be quality and not easily unraveled.
2. Wicking and Quick Dry
I never wear cotton fabrics on my head for running. I sweat. So, I like to have fabrics that will wick that sweat away and dry as quickly as possible. Synthetic or merino wool fabrics do this nicely. Cotton does not.
Another benefit of headwear is that it absorbs that sweat so it doesn’t drip into my eyes. This is another reason to wear a hat or headband when running in winter. Who wants sweat in their eyes?
Winter headwear must protect me from cold weather elements, such as freezing temperatures, wind, and snow.
I like to have my ears and forehead completely covered. I don’t enjoy post run ear pain or headaches that can happen if those areas aren’t sufficiently protected from the cold.
It has to be comfortable, or what is the point? I won’t wear it if it isn’t comfortable. It will just sit in my run drawer, even if it looks fabulous.
For me, comfort means that it won’t pull at my hair as I run. I also don’t want to be tugging at it during my run. That is just distracting and irritating.
It should accommodate a ponytail or bun, as I like to put my hair up. But that isn’t essential. If the hat is perfect in every other way, I can wear my hair down or do a low ponytail to tie it back. So, a ponytail hole isn’t essential. But it is bonus.
5. Reasonably Priced
I am not looking for the cheapest price on the market. I understand that quality costs a little more. But I avoid overpriced branded merch. You can get quality products without taking out a mortgage on your house.
And, lastly, a hat has to look good. Am I right, ladies?
I like to coordinate my run outfits. Some days that doesn’t work out so well. But when it does, my runs just seem to go better. And this is how I justify owning so many run headwear items.
Now, let me tell you about my favorite cold weather headwear that are affordable.
Headbands for Winter Running
When it is starting to turn colder in the late fall, I usually start by wearing a headband.
I like to protect my ears from the colder winds of autumn. I tend to get ear aches when I don’t. So a headband is perfect for these days.
A headband leaves the top of my head open to radiate out any heat I create while running. Yet, they cover my forehead to collect any sweat created. I truly hate it when sweat drips into my eyes while I run. Don’t you?
Folding or scrunching up a light weight Buff or neck tube also works as a headband.
Buffs are such a versatile item for runners. And they have such awesome colors and prints. I can’t even count how many I have. They make excellent gifts for runners. You can never have too many Buffs.
Light Weight Running Hats for Women
I have a lot of light weight running hats. This is the category where most of my run hats fall.
These hats are very lightweight, so I use them for warmer winter days.
But I also like them for layering too.
I have also been known to turn a Multifunctional Buff Tube into a hat to coordinate with outfits. Warmth can be fashionable too.
To make a neck tube hat, I put half of the tube of fabric on my head inside out. Then, I twist the fabric 360 degrees and pull the other half of the fabric, right side out, over top to cover the other layer. Ta-da! You have a hat.
Heavy Weight Running Hats
When the temperatures drop below approximately 15oF (minus 10oC), I will usually grab a warmer hat. I have two favorites in the heavy weight category.
These are my main go-to hats for colder weather. The one I choose depends on the color I need to coordinate with different run outfits.
Disclaimer: The outside temperatures I mention in this post are not temperature ratings for these hats, only my preferences when running. Everyone will need to determine for themselves what is comfortable for them. Wear more or less on your head, as you see fit. There will be a bit of trial and error involved to get it just right for you.
My Favorite Heat Reflective Run Hat
I have an Under Armour ColdGear Infrared Storm Beanie. Mine is in pink, of course.
I bought my first Under Armour hat several years ago. I bought it because it was pink and on sale. Win-Win!
But I absolutely love it. It is my go-to hat for when temperatures drop below about 15oF ( minus 10 oC).
My beanie fits comfortably and covers my ears without much effort when my hair is down. When my hair is up in a ponytail, it doesn’t sit quite right. So, I usually just do a loose tie-back at the bottom edge of the hat.
This year’s model seems to be a bit bigger with a fold over option, which I think would be better than the one I currently have. More room for putting your hair up and still covering your ears.
While these hats feel light weight, the infra-red technology reflects your own body heat to keep you warm. When running it keeps you very warm, like a heavier weight hat. Thus, I put this hat in the heavy weight category. I find that this hat is too hot for warmer temperatures. I sweat too much underneath.
My Favorite Thermal Run Beanie
My other favorite hat in this category is my Craft Thermal Running Beanie. These are unisex hats. Mine is a safety yellow color and has reflective dots all over the bottom ledge. I bought the L/XL size because I wanted it to cover my ears. And I am glad I did. It JUST covers my ears. But it is very comfortable and soft.
I was first introduced to Craft hats when my husband bought his. He has the Helmet Hat with extensions that covers his ears. He wears this hat all the time. And I mean ALL the time. He doesn’t just wear it running. He wears it for shoveling the driveway, walking, winter hiking … any outdoor activity, really.
So when I needed a hat to match my new trainers jacket, I looked for Craft Sportswear brand. I do love the hat I found, I just wish it was a little longer. I can’t wear a ponytail under it.
My favorite thing about my Craft running hat is how reflective it is. It sure lights up when cars approach. It is hard for drivers not to see me when I wear this hat. I actually had a driver stop and thank me for wearing such a reflective hat.
“Saying you don’t look good in a hat is like saying you don’t look good in shoes!” —Unknown
Headwear for Very Cold Weather Runs
When it is really cold out, approximately minus 5oF (minus 20oC) or colder, I usually layer my hats.
I will sometimes wear a light weight hat as a liner underneath another hat. Any hat, that is not cotton, will work. I have even been known to layer another run hat under a dollar store synthetic fabric hat. You can’t beat those prices.
The lighter weight running hats act as a wicking base layer to keep moisture away from my skin and keep me drier. The upper layer provides the warmth.
Cheap Hats Make Great Winter Race Throw-Aways
These cheap, dollar store hats are great for throw-aways in races too.
Wear one at the start line. Then when you are running and warmed up, throw it off to the side of the race course. This way you don’t have to carry it with you. You are not out a lot of money. And the race crew will usually pick it up and donate it to a local charity.
Women’s Winter Running Hats with Ponytail Hole
Craft does make a Cold Weather Ponytail Beanie Hat that looks like it could be good. I really like the brand, but haven’t purchased this one yet. I might have to try it. The price is good for a quality running hat.
My current favorite winter hat with a ponytail hole is my Turtle Fur Ponytail Conquest Comfort Hat. I love how soft this hat is. Again, my only complaint is that mine is a bit too short. If I don’t have my ponytail adjusted just right, the hat will ride up and uncover the bottom of my ear lobe.
… I am beginning to think that, maybe, I just have long ears? …
Turtle fur makes some fabulous hats. I always drool over the colors and prints. I want one of every print to match different outfits. They are definitely reasonably priced. But, sadly, I can’t justify even more hats.
Women’s Cold Weather Running Hats with Brim
Just because it is snowing, doesn’t mean you can’t go for a run. But one of the issues with falling snow is that it gets in your eyes. This is especially true during windy days.
Snow flakes in your eyes can hurt. Those pretty little, seemingly gentle, flakes are like flying shards of glass in the wind too.
Having a hat with a brim on it can help protect your eyes from falling snow.
In earlier years, I would layer my buff liners under a ball cap for these days. I still needed my ears covered and ball caps just don’t do that.
But then I found this Trailheads Trailblazer Ponytail Hat. How awesome is this!
I bought this hat last winter. It keeps the snow and cold wind out of my face. It covers my ears completely. This hat has a ponytail holder and fits very well on my head. It is made of a stretch fleece fabric that is very comfortable, quick drying, and super soft.
My hat has been through several washings and still looks new. I am absolutely in love with this hat.
This could very well be the perfect winter running hat. It seems to have it all.
My only complaint about this hat, which seems minor, is that they did not finish the edge of the brim well. It is a raw, unfinished edge that is popular these days. And while there is no issue with the functionality of the hat, it does look a little cheap in my opinion. Perhaps you might disagree? But, minor appearances aside, I still think this is my favorite winter running hat of all times.
Happy Winter Running!
Well, I hope this helps you choose what to wear to keep your head warm when you are out running this winter. Being outdoors is a fabulous way to stay healthy. There are so many benefits to running outside all winter.
“Grab your coat, and get your hat, leave your worry on the doorstep. Just direct your feet, To the sunny side of the street.” —Dorothy Fields
And don’t forget to grab my free Guide to What to Wear Running to take that guesswork out of dressing for a cold weather run. It is ready for you to download from the Template Library when you sign up for my free newsletter and emails.