Autumn is arguably the best season for running for one reason above all: temperature. For much of the fall, the mornings and evenings are cool, the days are mild, and the air is pleasantly dry. These are the perfect conditions for a great run because they require minimal gear and water, reducing kit weight so you can log more distance in greater comfort. However, fall is also a season of change. In September, the temp can still creep up into the 80s and 90s in many places, and by the time December rolls around, some regions will already be experiencing deep freezes.
Even a single autumn day can see dramatic shifts in the temperature and weather. Some fall runs require nothing but a good pair of shoes, socks, and some base layers, but other days will require rain gear, outerwear, a hat, gloves, and more — and don’t forget about the growing hours of darkness.
Ultimately, running in autumn requires you to dress for the weather and temperature of the moment, not the season. Here’s the best fall running gear.
I tend to run in neighborhoods and on prepared trails, so for the most part, I’m fine in regular running shoes during the spring, summer, and early fall. When the weather starts to get colder, when slick, damp leaves line the sidewalks, and when frosty days leave ice on the ground, I often switch to trail running shoes even for my road runs. The added grip and support is worth the few ounces of extra weight when running on terrain that can be varied and slippery. This year, I’m breaking in a new pair of HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat2 trail runners. If you’ve never tried this brand (or even heard of it), now is the time. The brand’s shoes are designed with maximum cushioning, which is welcome on hard, cold ground and when your joints are a bit stiffer during that first mile. The outsoles are good and grippy, keeping you upright over wet leaves, black ice, and all the other terrain that comes with cooling weather. Just keep in mind that wearing trail runners on roads will wear down the treads faster, but committed running requires a few new pairs of shoes each year anyway.
As with most fall running apparel, choosing the right socks means balancing warmth and wicking. You don’t want your feet to be cold, of course, but even worse than cold feet in cold weather are hot and sweaty feet in cold weather. I balance this out by wearing socks with a tight weave that aren’t that thick. Feetures Elite Max Cushion Quarter socks rise up just above the ankle, meeting full-length running tights or pants and protecting your ankles. They have excellent arch compression zones and breathable uppers so your foot stays supported and cool even as you log the miles and your body temperature rises. As the days grow colder, you can switch to crew-length for even more coverage.
I don’t care for running in tights and long-sleeve shirts when I can avoid it, but I dislike skipping a run or jogging in abject misery due to the cold even more. So when I finally have to turn in my T-shirt and Path Projects Sykes PX running shorts for the season, at least I can pull on Mammut Go Dry Tights and Go Dry Longsleeve and know I’ll stay warm and dry and if a bit less comfortable what with compression from ankle to hip. The multi-direction stretch fabrics don’t inhibit movement, they keep your body warmth next to you where you want it, and they draw moisture off your skin and disperse it into the air. On cool days, I often run in base layers alone.
I recently spent a week in the French and Swiss Alps, during much of which I was running around Chamonix. It was August, but at that elevation, the weather was distinctly autumnal, with icy breezes often blowing in off the mountains. Most of the days, I was plenty warm wearing just a Columbia Titan Lite II Windbreaker over a T-shirt (until the sun set and the temperature plunged, that is). This lightweight, highly flexible jacket takes the sting out of the cold and wicks sweat away from your body so you don’t get chilled or overheat. As a bonus, in the Red Element color, it also looks fine with a pair of jeans, so you can pack even lighter when planning for your active and casual activities.
I am a huge fan of the Cotopaxi Feugo LT Down Jacket for two reasons above all else: the two side panels that release excess heat and provide superb breathability. With its 950-fill down rating, this jacket is suitable for use under a shell while you traverse a glacier or go ice climbing. But thanks to its great breathability, it works perfectly over a T-shirt for a late autumn run (or hike or walk). It’s comfortable, flexible, and does not have a hood, which often bounces around during a run. While quick-drying, the Fuego LT isn’t waterproof; when it rains, I slip on a Columbia OutDry Ex Caldorado Shell.
Nights come on faster and faster with each passing day, and when Daylight Saving Time makes us wind our clocks back an hour, later afternoon or evening autumn run will be in the darkness. Light things up for yourself and improve your visibility to others (meaning motorists, really) with a lightweight headlamp from UCO Gear. The Vapor Headlamp shines at up to 300 lumens, lighting your way and making you impossible to miss, yet it weighs in at less than a quarter pound.
Sure, when it gets super cold out, I’ll pull on a hat and gloves. But my favorite fall weather running accessory of all? It’s the same as my favorite summer running accessory: a great headband. I use a Columbia Montrail Neck Gaiter because I can wear it bunched up as a headband, pulled back to cover my entire head for added warmth and sweat-wicking, around my neck for added insulation, or even up over my face when the icy wind blows.
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