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Exercising In Cold Weather – Temperatures, Wind Chill Factor, Wind Strength and Choice of Outdoor Clothing

December 8, 2012 - Posted by

How cold temperatures are OK for exercising outdoors? How the concurrence of wind and frost affects you? What kind of wind strength is still safe? How to combine pieces of outdoor clothing according to wind chill factor? How can one recognize the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbyte?

How cold temperatures are OK for exercising outdoors?

   +5 … 0 C – Shrewd. Threat of getting cold – doesn’t feel that cold yet.
    0 … -5 C – Perfect winter-weather for exercising.
  -5 … -10 C – Take it shorter for a couple of times to get used to it.
-10 … -15 C – Take it shorter for a couple of times to get used to it.
-15 … -20 C – Stick to low or moderate intensity. Kids train indoors.
-20 … -25 C – For healthy grown-ups. Stick to low or moderate intensity.
-25 … -40 C – Not advisable for outdoor sports.
-40 … … C – Unless you really know what you are doing, stay indoors.

Wind chill factor

The windier the weather the colder it feels. This cooling effect of wind is called ‘wind chill factor’. Take a look at the table below to see how the strength of wind makes you feel the actual air temperature. When choosing your outdoor clothing you should definitely consider the wind chill factor rather than the actual air temperature. If your sport involves high speeds (cycling, inline skating, downhills of cross-country skiing etc) add your average speed to the speed of wind.


 How strong wind is still safe?

Even if the wind chill factor says it’s OK to go out, you should still be aware of the threats of strong winds.


Choosing sports clothing according to wind chill factor

Although people stand cold very individually here’s a quick starting guide how to choose your clothing for exercising outdoors. You should find your own comfort combinations for different temperatures, because both feeling too cold or too hot ruin your training.

Sports cap – different thickness for different weather. Wind stopper needed.
Face mask (Balaclava or Buff) – protects you face, neck and nape from cold.
Warm collar – protects your throat.
Gloves – different thickness for different weather.
Socks and shoes – avoid low socks in cold weather. Socks must be long and thick enough to keep your achilleses and ankles warm.

3-layer clothing

Inner layer – Thermal underwear should be made of materials that help draw sweat away from your skin. Avoid cotton, as it absorbs water and stays wet when you cool down.

Middle layer – The need for the middle layer is very individual. Depending on the outside temperature it might differ from nothing at all to two-three fleece jackets. Even one cotton T-shirt adds a lot of warmth. This is also the layer that you remove during the exercise when you feel too hot. Usually one doesn’t need the middle layer for trousers, but in case of harsh cold middle layer shorts/tights would be a good idea to protect your hips and sciatic nerve from cold.

Outer layer – Wind restant, waterproof and breathable. Despite of manufacturers’ claims in reality usually the waterproof and the breathable don’t match. Get two sets of outer layers – one for usual workouts (including slight rain) and the other for heavy rain. And accept that the heavy rain suit just isn’t breathable. Never train with open zipper – you don’t want to catch cold. Remove the middle layer instead. Wind resistance test – when buying a wind jacket push your lips tightly against the garment and blow as hard as you can. If you can blow through the garment, so can wind, don’t buy it.

You should dress in a way that you feel chilled outdoors while not exercising, otherwise you will feel too hot when you start exercising. A good tip is to start with a dynamic stretching warm-up indoors – your body temperature raises and you will feel more comfortable when you go out.

When you finish your exercise change your wet clothes for dry ones immediately, even if you have to undress outdoors. Also change your outer layer for a proper winter jacket to keep you warm.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia

Cold sensation, goose bumps, confusion, numbness
Intense shivering, lack of coordination, sluggishness
Violent shivering, difficulty speaking, mental confusion, stumbling, depression
Muscle stiffness, slurred speech and trouble seeing

Signs and symptoms of frostbite

Skin turns hard and white
Skin starts to peel or get blisters
Skin starts to itch
Skin gets firm, shiny, and grayish-yellow


Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about exercising outdoors, shoveling snow or performing any other hard work in the cold.



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Tõnis Saag

Tõnis is the founder of He was an active sports karate athlete, representing the Estonian National Team 53 times over a 10-year period and winning numerous international tournaments and Estonian Championships. Tõnis was a certified youth coach for 13 years, working constantly with 100+ athletes. Half of that time he was also responsible for their club's development and daily administration. He was also a co-author of the first Estonian textbook for karate coaches and a board member of the Estonian Karate Federation for 2 years. Before starting with Sportlyzer, Tõnis founded and managed functional testing and sports medicine lab

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