It’s 3 P.M. on a weekday. I’ve been staring at my laptop for seven hours, and I’m frazzled from being on deadline. My fingers are sore from typing. A 30-minute run would be the perfect reset, but it’s 35 degrees and windy. Do I really want to go outside?
Thanks to some specific, well-used gear, I usually make it out the door. The first quarter of the run is a slog, but the rest is pure joy. When I get home, I feel energized and present. Still, there are days when I can’t find the motivation—when it’s so damn cold that running would be pure misery. That’s when I pull out the yoga mat or these other essentials to help me regain focus to finish the workday.
Patagonia Houdini Air Jacket ($170)
I call this my “first 15 minutes” jacket. That’s because the Houdini Air’s thin nylon shell cuts the cold air just enough to help me find my pace at the beginning of a chilly run. With its breathable back, it also vents as I heat up so I don’t soak my shirt in sweat. If I get too warm, I take it off, pack it into its chest pocket—it squishes down to the size of an apple—and stuff it into my shorts pocket. I appreciate that it comes in bright colors (I have the chartreuse yellow, which helps drivers see me during the day) and is coated with a DWR finish that lets me shrug off light rain or snow. When I’m not running in it, the Houdini Air lives in my hiking and spring-skiing bags. It’s the layer I throw on when I’m topping out on a windy ridge or skinning up the mountain.
Jaybird Vista Wireless Headphones ($180)
It’s better to run with headphones than without them. An up-tempo playlist keeps me motivated and improves my pace by at least 15 seconds per mile. There are cheaper versions, sure, but I like the Vista buds because they have all the features I want for exercising outside: they’re wireless and sound amazing, with sharp highs and full lows; they’re fully waterproof, so I don’t have to worry about ruining them with sweat or in the rain; and they never slip out of my ears or need adjustment as I bound along on trails or pavement. A full charge in their case gets me 16 hours of use.
Lululemon the Reversible Five-Millimeter Yoga Mat ($68)
I’ve suffered from lower-back problems for years, and I’m so tight that I scream out loud when I try to touch my toes. That’s why using this mat more has been a big focus for me this winter. I use it every morning to loosen up my back, and if it’s too cold to run, I’ll go through a stretching routine or an online yoga session instead. I still have a long way to go before anyone could call me flexible, but stretching is a great brain refresh and makes me a better runner and cyclist. Weighing more than five pounds, this mat provides plenty of cushioning, and the five millimeters of padding make a tile or brick floor more forgiving (but you probably wouldn’t want to lug this thing to yoga class). A polyurethane coating soaks up sweat, keeping me from falling on my face, and an antimicrobial additive prevents it from smelling.
Hoka One One Clifton 7 Running Shoe ($130)
There was a time in my early thirties when I thought I’d never run again. My lower-back pain was at its worst, and running only added to the agitation. But thanks to some physical therapy, stretching, and these Hoka shoes, running is now my main form of weekly winter exercise. Built to be supportive but also comfortable (credit the thick, signature Hoka sole), these kicks have kept my back happy and allow me to put in 15 to 20 miles each week—or just enough for me to enjoy a guilt-free beer each night. They have a breathable mesh build, but when paired with a wool sock like this one from Voormi, I have no problems wearing them in below-freezing temperatures. At under nine ounces per shoe, they feel flimsy out of the box, but even after a couple hundred miles they still have plenty of life.
Black Diamond Sprint 225 Headlamp ($45)
Sometimes my day is crazy and I can’t get outside until it’s dark. I could theoretically run without a headlamp, but I’ve tripped over hidden potholes one too many times or been buzzed by cars that couldn’t see me until they were too close. To avoid all this, I now use the Sprint, which pumps out 225 lumens but weighs a feathery two ounces. At full brightness, I can see well over ten feet ahead, and running at full speed is no problem. If I want a dimmer beam, all I have to do is tap the side of the light instead of fumbling with a button. I’m also a big fan of the rechargeable battery meter on the side; it quickly tells me how much juice is left, so I know whether to plug it in at the end of my run. (It gets me about two and half hours of light on its maximum setting.) The Sprint is my choice for backcountry skiing, too, because it’s powerful enough to illuminate the trail if I’m off to a predawn start or stuck on the trail after dusk.