Running Fashion Police: Running Tops for Every Temperature

M-65 US Army Parka with Hood
Don’t go running in this. Seriously. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dressing for summer running is easy: less is more! But if you live in the northern US like me, you’ve probably realized that it’s officially fall, and that means A+ running weather!  But it also means the temperature is fluctuating like crazy.

I often marvel at the differences in how runners dress for weather. A few weeks ago I was enjoying a run on a dry 50 degree morning wearing shorts and two top layers: one short sleeve and one long sleeve technical shirt. I passed a woman running in pants and a winter parka.

A thigh-length, fur rimmed parka.

I instantly felt the urge to have a What-Not-To-Wear-Style intervention. But rather than forcing a stranger into confrontation I thought, hello – Running Fashion Police: Weather Edition!

Since there’s so much information to consider, we’ll talk about this in two parts. The next part will discuss bottoms and accessories, but in light of Ms. Parka’s dire need for advice today we wanted to get right into tops.

One thing newer runners sometimes forget is that it’s important to check the weather before heading out the door. Before you dress, check the temperature by looking at the current conditions and hourly forecast.  Checking the precipitation is much harder–you need to cross the room, open the shades and look out the window.  Once you have the information, you’re ready to put some clothes on!


Choose your weapon, road warrior.

There are so many different kinds of tops it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but once you break it down it’s not so bad. The basics are: sport bra, singlet/tank, short sleeve tech shirt, long sleeve tech shirt, baselayer, thermal top, and jacket. Phew!

From L to R: sports bra (Nike), shimmel singlet (Northface), short sleeve tech (BIA), long sleeve tech (Outdoor Research), baselayer (Under Armour), thermal top (Mizuno) and jacket (Saucony).

Sport Bra: This staple in your running collection needs no introduction. As we love to say on Salty Running, don’t be afraid to go shirtless (just don’t go shirtless in white) as long as you are comfortable-I run this way almost every day from May through September.

Singlet: Singlet is just a fancy word for tank top. These can be tight, like long sport bras or looser-fitting, more like a jersey.  Some singlets have built-in sport bras, and are called “shimmels” by retailers to denote this.  Singlets are available in a wide range of fabrics, and I find the best are lightweight tech fabric like this Aero Tank from Oiselle. For me if it’s warm enough for a singlet, it’s warm enough for a sport bra, but it’s a great modesty touch for the gym, for aprés-run, or if you just want to cover your tummy.

Tech shirts: Whether long- or short-sleeved, tech shirts are definitely a running drawer standby. Light material that doesn’t get heavy with sweat, what a marvelous invention! If you aren’t sure what tech fabric is, check out your local running store-basically though, if your running shirt doesn’t feel like cotton, it’s probably a tech shirt.

Baselayer: A baselayer can be designed to be worn under other clothing or it may be intended as outerwear; the best do both jobs equally well. The key is that it is tight enough to wear another layer comfortably on top. UnderArmour is known for their baselayers, but popularity doesn’t always mean quality, so shop around to find what’s right for you. My collection includes UA in addition to Nike, Avia and some off-brands.

Thermal top: One of the keys to running outside when it gets cold is having the right gear–not a parka!  A good thermal top will change your life. And since it’s worn over other layers and winter sweat is scarce, you really only need 1 or 2 of these to get through a week of running. It’s always best to shop at your local running store, but for these I wouldn’t buy any other way since your idea of “cold weather top” may be very different from an online retailer.

Jacket: You may have a broader definition, but I think of a jacket as a water-resistant top layer. Jackets can vary in warmth, from lightweight tech material to cozy fleece. I have a few very lightweight jackets that I wear when it rains or snows and I layer other tops underneath as needed.

My temperature-based formula for what to wear, for tops


Just in case you’re still overwhelmed, I’ll share a piece of information that helps me keep it simple: the “+20° Rule.” At some point in my running past I read you should dress for running as if the weather is 20° warmer than it is. This helps account for the fact that you will warm up and generate heat as you run.  And that’s easy to remember!

If you liked today’s post, make sure to stop by next week, when Rosemary will talk about how to cover your butt (literally) in every weather condition!


How do you decide what to wear when the weather changes? What are your favorite cold or hot weather running tops?



I'm a pediatric physical therapist by day. Running mostly early am miles as I balance life as the mom of a toddler. With PR days in the past, my primary running goal is to be a lifelong runner. With 20+ years behind me, I still love the sport and I am truly grateful for every day I get to run.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. For the first 40+ years of my life, I never looked at the weather. My theory was that in the Summer it’s the same every day anyway (100+ here in Texas) and other than that, I’d figure it out. I noticed that people love to talk about the weather and someone will always give you an on-the-spot weather forecast “so did you hear it’s supposed to rain Thursday and have highs of 82 this weekend?”

    Then I started running.

    Now I check weather forecasts so I can lay out or pack my running gear the night before. I think my first year of running, I consistently wore too warm clothing. That year I wore long pants and long sleeve tech under 60 degrees. Last year I decided to challenge myself by seeing how cool it could get and if I would still be warm enough in shorts/short sleeve shirt or at least shorts/long sleeve tech. My coolest running day last year was 26 and I did wear pants that day but over 30, I wore shorts on every run and only long sleeve tech under 40. I notice that 1. I actually like being cool if not cold on my run and 2. I can control my temperature a lot by wearing a hat and gloves. Frequently, I actually remove one or both gloves once warmed up. It’s easy to run carrying one glove in your hand and lets me really customize my temperature.

    I see the same thing you do though. I go run at the park and will see people dressed ranging from guys in thin shorts and bare chests and people running in sweatpants and a sweat shirt.

  2. I often want to stage an intervention on runners I see like the guy wearing dark clothes running with traffic on a major road wearing headphones: BAD IDEA! I’m a little more forgiving of fashion faux pas than safety issues, but the parka is just way wrong – especially for September in Ohio. I almost never see a runner underdressed. They are almost always overdressed. I love it when it’s 48 and sunny and I’m wearing shorts and a long sleeve and people come running in the opposite direction in ear muffs and mittens and jackets and pants. It makes me hot just looking at them. But that being said, I used to overdress myself. I remember my first spring running and May was pretty cold. It was always about 55 and I felt frozen unless I wore a long sleeve tech shirt with a race t-shirt over it 🙂 And then I was all astonished that my husband could wear shorts in any weather over 25 degrees, but then I tried it and realized it’s really not that bad. I prefer capris when it’s colder like that, but if it’s not wet or really windy shorts really are doable. Now that I run with a stroller a lot of the time I’ll wear a fleece vest when I’m starting out if I’m feeling like a freeze baby and then bag it a little into the run once I warm-up. Ha! And then Pepper’s known to bag her shirt at 50 degrees, that little hot tamale 🙂

  3. I’m a Brit so I’m OBSESSED with weather forecasts and I can’t get used to the whole California sunshine thing. I am very guilty of over dressing…primarily in terms of wearing long-sleeved tops over tank tops if it’s grey outside. I ALWAYS end up with a top tied round my middle and it kind of bugs me!!! As you said, the benefit of stroller running is that you can stash your layers and look decent again!!!

    I do find that my hands get cold, so I try to wear gloves when it’s chilly, even in NorCal!!

  4. I’ve gotten in the habit of going outside. If I am slightly uncomfortable wearing what I am wearing (temperature-wise), I’ll be perfect once running! I too get so annoyed when I see people wearing 3 or 4 more layers than what I’m wearing! haha! My legs seem to not get cold and I struggle with having tight layers over my shoulders, so when cooler I like a loose long sleeve tech shirt, or a tank with arm warmers so my shoulders are not bound! I have just ran one to many races with something wrapped around my waist to overdress now! Great article and info!!

  5. So after all that blah blah blah I typed earlier today, I TOTALLY overdressed for my 6 mile run today! ARGH!!!! Headed out in capris and a short sleeved tech shirt and was so ready to whip off the shirt by mile 3! Thankfully after the turnaround I was running into a bit of a breeze, so I saved all the passerby’s the frightful sight of my pale midriff bouncing around! Thanks for the “+20 rule!”

  6. Ugh, Diane, I hear you! I’ve had runs where I curse myself for wearing those darn capris, wishing I could somehow roll them up to bear more leg! Though cute, there really are very few instances when capris are indicated:)

  7. Rosemary, great post! I used to always overdress but now I have certain temperature ranges that for me dictate the top. much like yours. Although I ditch the long sleeves at around 45 or 50 honestly! My new obsession is tops that have thumbholes. They are great for those kinda in-between temps, and you don’t have to worry about taking off arm warmers or gloves!

  8. I live by the 20 degree rule!
    Plus, you know I get so warm when running, so image sue to think about comfort 20 mins into the run and going forward rather than the first 2 mins.