When running in the heat, the garments you wear will have a large impact on your performance and how much enjoyable your run will be. As you gain more running experience and read more literature about the subject, you will learn that certain types of garments are better for running than others. For example, certain fibers and knits are more breathable and dry quicker. By wearing these types of garments, you’ll run better, more comfortably, and safer. Here is a guide on how to dress for running in hot weather.
Ditch The Cotton
We all probably grew up with cotton. It truly is the fabric of our lives. When I’m lounging around my home, there’s nothing more comfortable than my old cotton t-shirts and shorts. However, for running, cotton is the worst thing that you can wear. The body naturally cools itself by transferring excess heat via sweat. When the sweat evaporates or is wiped off the skin, the heat is released into the outside environment. If you wear cotton, you will inhibit this process because cotton likes to retain moisture. If moisture can’t escape, heat can’t escape. Not to mention that cotton becomes heavy and coarse when it is wet. This combined with excess heat build up will lead not only to a drastic decrease in performance, but also to an extremely uncomfortable experience. You’ll fatigue faster, and you’ll come home with painful chafing and blisters.
When running in the heat, you’re better off wearing synthetic blends, such as polyester. Synthetic fibers help facilitate the body’s cooling process by retaining less moisture and transferring sweat to the outside surface where it can evaporate or wick away.
Many companies make and sell moisture wicking apparel. They have their own illustrious names but are all quite the same. For example, Nike sells Dri-Fit, ADIDAS sells Clima Cool, and ASICS sells Hydrology, but they’re basically glamorized polyester.
You may find some pieces with other synthetics blended in, such as nylon, acrylic, lycra, and spandex. Additionally, some companies will add other exotic materials or knit their fabrics in a unique way and claim that their stuff is superior to the competition. For example, Brooks adds silver threads to their product with the idea that silver’s conductive properties disperses heat faster. Nike claims that it’s Sphere technology can keep the body cooler because the hundreds of micro spheres embedded within the fabric creates spaces between the skin and fabric, which maximizes air flow across the skin. Although having these high tech extras are nice, because many of them do work, you’re probably going to pay much more for them. Keep in mind that you can never go wrong with athletic garments that are 100% polyester, which are much more affordable. The best value that I’ve seen is offered by Wal-Mart’s Dri-Star and Target’s C9 lines. They’re cheap and get the job done.
If you are into more natural fibers, I suggest SmartWool’s NTs Microweight Wool line. It does a fairly good job at wicking sweat and is much more breathable than cotton.
For running in the heat, wicking shorts and shirts are the most important pieces to your athletic wardrobe. But don’t stop there. Replace your cotton socks, underwear, and hat as well. Trust me, when you’re running on scorching asphalt or dirt, you’re feet will feel much more comfortable in a wicking sock. They’ll stay cool, dry, and be much less susceptible to blistering. Ditto with your private areas. They want to be just as comfortable. Ask anyone who has done a long grueling run in the heat wearing cotton underwear and I’m sure you’ll be told of the painful chafing on the thighs, loins, and buttocks. Wicking underwear will drastically reduce these incidences. I personally like to wear compression boxer briefs with combination of polyester and spandex. They not only wick, but further reduce friction by keeping the leg transitions slick. Furthermore, they won’t bunch up every five minutes like cotton underwear. Getting a wicking hat is extremely helpful in the heat. It will keep the sun from burning your face and sweat from swinging your eyes. In fact, it can actually cool you down faster than if you were to go hatless because it will pull the sweat away from the surface of your head rather than let it just bead or soak into your hair. Preferably, get a hat that has integrated mesh vents and UV protection.
A Few Other Things to Consider
Make sure that your workout apparel is loose. This will allow air to flow and vent better.
If you can, get apparel with a mesh knit because it’s more breathable. Alternatively, get thin, lightweight apparel and you will receive a similar effect.
Wear light colored apparel, preferably white. Dark colors absorb solar energy and get hotter than lighter colors. Lighter colors reflect solar energy and therefore will be cooler.
Get a good pair of sunglasses. Your eyes are one of your most important assets. The sun’s rays can severely impair your vision permanently if you are consistently exposing them to the sun. Go to your local retailer and ask for sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection, which shouldn’t cost much. I prefer to run with lenses that have a reddish tint to them. A red tint calms the eyes, and therefore makes you a more relaxed runner. When you have to squint your eyes when running, the muscles in your face, neck, and shoulders tense up. This tension causes your running to be more stiff, which not only slows you down but also makes you fatigue faster.
Wear sunscreen when running in the heat. Painful sunburns can form in as little as five minutes for some people. Sunscreen can save you the anguish. Wearing sunscreen will also protect you from more extreme consequences of long term sun damage, such as skin cancer. Make sure that you wear at least SPF 15 sunscreen and apply it at least 30 minutes before you go out for your run. Banana Boat Sport is a good one.