Best winter running tops 2020: running base layers and T shirts for cold weather


It may be cold, dark and miserable out but thanks to the latest in hi-tech fabrics, the appalling weather is no longer a valid excuse to skip your training sessions.

We’ve put in the miles wearing the best new running tops to see which will keep you the warmest without leaving you feeling like you’re running in a duvet.

We also have a guide on the best running tops, should you want to feel a bit less toasty.

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When it comes to covering the miles over the colder months you can just throw on a hoodie to keep warm, but if you’re planning on being out for a while and actually putting some effort in, you’ll soon suffer under the weight of sweat soaked cotton. Thankfully, things have moved on since the Rocky montage.

In hi-tech running kit you’ve got two main options, synthetic polyester or natural merino wool, or a blend of the two. But when it comes to warmth and performance, which is best?

Merino is one of the finest (in thickness terms) fibres in nature, which means – unless you’re particularly sensitive – it’s itch-free and super soft. It’s also excellent at absorbing water and can soak up to 35% its weight in water, expelling it into the air to regulate your temperature. This means that you stay dry and comfortable in warmer climates, but also insulated on colder days.

Merino is also odour resistant and actually traps stink in the fibres, releasing only when the item gets washed. These naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, due to the lanolin and keratin wax produced by the sheep, basically means merino base layers can be worn for days without needing to be washed.

Synthetic fibres like polyester are lighter than merino and don’t absorb water so fabrics stay dryer for longer during intense workouts, which helps with overheating. Synthetic layers can also offer impressive breathability, helping you stay cool when things heat up. Synthetic fibres are also harder wearing and, on the whole cheaper, than natural alternatives, but you won’t enjoy the same amount of warmth.

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Best winter running tops, in order 

The Brooks Notch Thermal Hoodie is the perfect solution for those intermediate days when a running jacket would be too much but t-shirts would not be enough. It’s warm, soft to touch and the notched interior wicks away sweat as well as channelling away heat.

The moisture control magic happens thanks to the DriLayer fabric which wicks sweat away to keeps you comfortable, dry and feeling light on your feet. Even better, the Brooks Notch Thermal Hoodie is made with bluesign-certified materials, which conserves resources and minimised impact on people and the environment.

Running brand snobs should probably skip this one, but for the rest of us, this hoody offers style, warmth and innovation for less than £20. Its toasty generously cut double layered design can make all the difference on chilly mornings, especially with a thin breathable t-shirt underneath.

The high collar design protects your neck from biting winds and the full hood proved particularly popular post workout, and while it’s probably a bit too insulating if you tend to sweat buckets during a workout, if you only gently perspire the underarm mesh panels will do enough to keep you cool.

Did we mention it was also ridiculously affordable, especially given they’ve taken the time to include soft seamed thumb loops and a large hand warmer pocket with two zipped pockets. Our only complaint is that the zipped opening is pretty tight.

There’s also a Men’s version which swaps out the hood for a thick, soft snood with a small back pocket for keeping keys safe. It is arguably even warmer thanks to the mix of polyester and Lyocell, a super-insulating material made from wood pulp. 

New England-based, but Old English at heart, Tracksmith make vintage inspired running gear using natural materials. Their ‘Chariots of Fire’ esthetic is a welcome change from the more typical super technical, pro-athlete inspired kit, but has been designed to still perform when you need it too. 

The new Fells Layer Henley top perfectly encapsulates this vintage styling, but by using a 65% Merino / 35% Polyester blend you get the temperature regulating, sweat wicking, pong minimising properties of the finest wool in a top that will survive more than a handful of wash cycles (not always the case with 100% merino layers).

It has a roomy cut with plenty of space for a t-shirt or base layer beneath and similar, albeit with more pre-war styling, to the ON Running Weather Shirt, the waffle helps circulate air, so it dries faster. And there’s no chance of zip chaffing here as they’ve been swapped out for super-smooth buttons.

We’re not sure the dedicated PB chasers amongst us will like the heavier weight here during sprint sessions, but it’s an exceptionally comfortable design that will keep the chill off and look good even if you decide to skip the track for a session in the pub. 

Aside from our wedding suit it’s the most expensive thing we’ve sweated profusely in, but the Weather Shirt from ON Running justifies the high price by being incredibly warm, light and comfortable.

At first glance it looks like a basic long sleeve running top, but the fabric is an elevated form of polyester featuring lyocell – a material made using dissolved wood pulp, which helps add in huge amounts of insulation without making it bulky. Look inside and you’ll see a ribbed design that has been incorporated to trap in more air, warming you up, while at the same time wicking away sweat so you feel more comfortable for longer.

Heading out on a pre-7am November run we had second thoughts on whether to add a base layer, but within a few minutes warm-up the top had done the same without feeling like we were overheating, or overdressed.

The ‘Athletic’ fit means it’s mercifully roomy and not skin-tight like many technical tops, so we could add an extra layer when the frost really bites, and the over-head design and short zip gives a nice amount of ventilation without letting in the chill, and no hint of chin rub, which is always a bonus. There’s a bit of reflective edging to catch headlight’s attention, but it’s only an accent.

Aside from the warm-but-thin fabric used, ON Running has been extremely clever with the sleeve design, adding generous length thumb loops in a contrasting fabric and a neat opening that allows you to view your running watch’s screen without unhooking the thumb loops first. If you’re into your data and heart rate training, it’s a brilliantly effective.

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