Running in the winter can be a challenge because you need need to stay warm, dry and visible. Legs are even easier to layer up than your torso, but it is more difficult to strip layers off as you warm up. |
I am always start with just running shorts. They are comfortable, they provide enough protection in most circumstances, they can fit under most of my other options, and they conform to the local decency laws.
When it starts to get cold, the next step up are running pants. Look for pants that are tight enough to your legs that they don't run against one another and against your legs excessively while you run, which can lead to chafing. One thing you might want to avoid is wearing cotton sweat pants because they'll get heavy and wet from any precipitation or sweat that they soak up.
Ski pants or warm up pants are good for if you are at a race or track meet, where you want to go out and get a quick warm up in or you want to stay warm between your events. They are generally heavier than running pants and may be lined with multiple materials in order to keep you warm. Warm up pants are generally best for wearing between events or for short jogs, as long as you have somewhere you can take them off and leave them behind when it is time to go longer or run your race. If you are just going out for a long run, then invest in a good pair of running pants because these types will almost always get heavy and cause chafing from rubbing up against your skin as you run. Most of the ones that I have owned have also made a really annoying noise when you run, which I like to avoid.
For the really cold days, I recommend that you wear running tights. Running tights will give you more of a compression effect and will generally keep your legs a little bit warmer than pants will. Underneath of the tights you can either wear briefs or running shorts, or if it's not super windy out then you could just go commando underneath. If you are going to experiment with that, though, stick to short runs because you don't want to get chafing around those sensitive areas whether you are a man or a woman.
Running pants also come available in shorter lengths that only reach down to your knee or mid-calf, which can provide you a little protection from wind or the elements without causing you to overheat.
Compression socks or leg sleeves work from the opposite direction to keep your legs warm. They will generally only cover up to the top of your calves. I've found that when my compression socks get wet, they tend to keep an insulating layer of skin-warmed water between me and whatever elements I am running through which works out pretty well in above-freezing conditions.
When you reach those really cold conditions, you can easily mix and match to find what works best for you. Just remember that removing layers off of your legs is generally more difficult than removing a layer from your torso, so discover where your individual comfort levels are during your shorter runs so that you are better prepared for the longer ones.
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