Photo: Joe Klementovich/Tandemstock

How To Choose the Right Winter Running Hat

From rain-shielding caps to warm, breathable beanies, here’s how to pick the right lid for you.

In chilly conditions, finding the right lid can make the difference between an enjoyable run and a downright miserable one. While a dedicated winter running hat might seem unnecessary, pulling on your favorite après-ski hat or football game beanie will leave you a sweaty mess, as they’re intended to trap heat to keep you warm when you’re not moving. For winter running, the key is to find a hat that provides warmth and protection while still allowing heat to escape from your head.

Fortunately, there are plenty of great winter running hat options, including some that aren’t hats at all. Here’s a guide to help you zero in on the right winter running hat for you.

Running Caps

Baseball-style caps can provide just enough warmth on cool to cold days, though they won’t be as warm as beanie-style hats. A benefit of running caps is that the bill shields your face from rain and snow. Wearing a cap on a rainy or snowy day can make a huge difference in comfort. The downside to a cap-style hat is that the bill can also act like a sail and blow right off your head in windy conditions. On blustery days, opt for a beanie. 

Fit

Caps are usually adjustable via a snap-back or Velcro closure at the back of the hat. Unless they have ear flaps, caps generally do not cover the ears—something to keep in mind if you’re concerned about your ears getting cold.

Materials

Most winter-oriented caps utilize smooth polyester blends that wick moisture and dry quickly. They may also include polyester fleece for warmth and comfort. Some winter running caps are made with water-repellent fabrics like Gore-Tex, and others are treated with a waterproof or water-resistant finish. Keep in mind that these types of hats can be less breathable than non-weatherproof options.

Best For

Rain or snow, cool to cold conditions

Running Headbands & Earmuffs

Since heat escapes from the top of the head, runners who overheat easily often prefer a warming headband that leaves the top of the head bare. They cover the ears to keep them warm while also allowing plenty of heat to escape as you run. 

Fit

Headbands are usually constructed with elastic or designed to stretch so that they wrap the head closely. 

Materials

Headbands are generally made of polyester fleece (including wind-blocking fleece) or wool. These materials are great for retaining heat around your ears while still promoting breathability; they’ll also feel soft and comfortable against the skin. Some options might use polyester blends for increased durability or moisture wicking.

Best For

Those who overheat, cold conditions

Beanies

Beanies intended for running aim to provide warmth while still allowing some heat to escape from the top of the head. They differ from a classic casual beanie in that they’re designed to be lightweight and wick sweat. 

Fit

Running beanies either fit snugly over the top of the head or they can have a slouchy fit with a little extra room at the crown of the head (mainly for style). Some beanies extend low enough to cover the ears, while others do not. If you want to protect your ears from the cold, make sure the beanie is designed for that.

Materials

Beanies come in a variety of fabrics. Polyester fleece does a good job of providing warmth while still allowing heat to escape, and wool also retains heat while offering good breathability. Beanies made from polyester blends with a smooth exterior and a brushed interior can block some wind while venting excess heat. For frigid winds, a beanie with a dedicated wind-blocking layer such as Gore WindStopper or Polartec Windbloc can cut through cold, but it likely won’t breathe as well as other options.

Best For

Cool to freezing temperatures, windy conditions

Additional Features

Consider these extras when choosing the ideal winter running hat. 

Reflectivity

Winter’s shorter days and gloomy weather often mean venturing out in low-light conditions. Running in a hat with reflective taping or high-visibility coloring enhances safety by making you more visible to traffic on roads.

Built-in Lights

A handful of caps and beanies integrate LED lights for added visibility. Check the lumen output of the lights offered—these usually aren’t meant to illuminate your path in very dark conditions. For that, you’ll need a headlamp.

Ponytail Opening

If you usually wear your hair in a ponytail while running, the small opening cut into the back of some beanies can be a nice feature.

Sweat-Wicking Bands

Since you’ll sweat even in the winter, a winter running hat should have the ability to wick sweat off your brow. Most running hats are intended to do that, though some do it better than others. If you sweat heavily, look for hats that have a dedicated sweat-wicking band that rests on the forehead; it’ll keep beads of sweat from dripping into your eyes. These are often built into cap-style hats and more rarely on beanies meant for running. 

Combining Hats

In certain weather conditions, combining hats is a good idea. For example, in cold and actively snowy conditions, it works well to wear a headband or thin beanie that covers your ears underneath a brimmed cap.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.