Do Compression Garments Actually Keep You Warm?
Learn about the go-to baselayer of athletes when temperatures drop.
Just because the temps are dropping outside doesn’t mean it’s time to call it quits and hang it up for the season. With the right gear you can go year round through any weather conditions or temperature fluctuations.
When conditions turn chilly, you’ve probably noticed how athletes start to wear those snug and stretchy layers beneath their jerseys or regular workout attire. These are known as compression garments and have become the go-to baselayer choice for athletes.
But if you’re not very familiar with compression garments, you might be wondering whether they can actually keep you warm in cold weather conditions. After all, the fabric looks lightweight, relatively thin, and wears tightly like a second-skin on your limbs and core.
Here, we’ll cover why compression is the most common baselayer choice for athletes in cold weather, as well as how it works and how to wear it.
What Is the Best Cold Weather Baselayer for Athletes?
Cold weather can create a tough predicament for athletes. On the one hand, you want to fight off the cold, which means layering up. But on the other hand, you want to maintain full mobility so that you can perform at a high level, which usually means minimizing layers.
The solution for athletes is a stretchy and snug compression baselayer. Compression garments offer a full range of mobility while also stabilizing and improving blood flow to the applied muscles.
Other common fabrics like cotton fail when it comes to providing warmth. And heavier fabrics like wool can cause you to overheat when you’re active. Compression fabric, however, provides a breathable layer of warmth that also wicks sweat away from your body to keep you dry.
This combination of benefits makes compression garments ideal for any cold weather activities that include running or other high-intensity movements.
If you’re participating in a low-intensity activity, look for cold-weather compression blends that have brushed or thermal interiors. While general compression garments help in the cold, compression gear specifically designed to combat the cold will keep you warmer for longer.
How Does Compression Keep You Warm?
Wondering how exactly compression garments are so much better than other fabrics at keep you warm while still allowing you to perform at a high level?
The key here is body temperature regulation. Compression garments create a breathable shell that helps to trap body heat without overheating. Without the breathability that compression allows, you might be surprised at how quickly your body can overheat during activity—even in cold conditions!
Another helpful factor is the compressive pressure applied to your muscles, which stabilizes and reduces excess vibration and shivering. This otherwise lost energy can be used to keep your body warm and lengthen your endurance.
Additionally, many compression garments designed to combat cold weather will have a brushed or thermal interior. This provides a toasty interior in both performance and feel, which is a great way to keep you going in damp and chilly conditions.
How to Wear Compression As a Baselayer for Warmth
If you’re looking to keep toasty against frigid temperatures, it’s important that you wear and layer your compression gear the correct way.
For starters, compression is designed as a baselayer, which means it should be worn right against the skin without any barriers between the fabric and your skin. When worn correctly like this, you maximize the compression benefits of the garment and allow it to function properly.
This is key when it comes to combating cold weather conditions and maintaining an optimal body temperature. In order for compression gear to effectively help with body temperature regulation, it must be worn right against the skin. This allows the garment to wick sweat away from the body and serve as a breathable barrier against the elements.
Keep in mind that layering is an option when it comes to wearing compression. In cold conditions, some athletes might be tempted to put an undershirt beneath their compression shirt or wear a layer under their compression tights. Note, however, that additional layers should always be worn over the top.
Not only will the compression garment be allowed to function properly and help you perform your best but this will also eliminate any garment bunching and rubbing from occurring that can result in discomfort and chafing.
Purchasing Compression Gear for Cold Weather
If you’re going to be layering your compression garment, whether a compression shirt or compression tights, generally any style of compression will work well. You’ll get the basic compression benefits that are key here: breathability, sweat-wicking, and muscle support, among others.
However, in very cold weather, or if you’re looking to wear your compression garment without layers over the top (compression tights are a common example), you’ll want to look for compression that is specifically designed for cold weather conditions.
If you’re specifically looking for a cold weather design, there are a few indicators that can key you in. For starters, many brands will emphasize their cold weather products in the fall/winter season and their warm weather products in the spring/summer season.
Another thing to look for is an indicator in the product name. Good examples of this are Under Armour’s popular HeatGear and ColdGear compression products, where HeatGear is designed to keep you cool in hot weather and ColdGear is designed to keep you warm in cold weather.
But those indicators are not always available, so another way that you can tell is by looking at the compression gear’s product details. Here, you can spot features that are commonly associated with cold weather gear.
Product features commonly associated with cold weather compression gear often include brushed interiors or thermal linings, as well as additional fabric such as a mock neck or full length tight legs to minimize skin exposure.
To get a better sense of the difference between cold weather and warm weather compression garments, check out our helpful guide.
Benefits of Wearing Compression During Cold Weather Activity
Everyone knows that stiff and rigid feeling you get in your muscles when the cold takes over. And if you’re an athlete, this feeling can greatly hamper your overall performance.
For many, the natural inclination to combat this is by adding multiple insulating layers, but this often results in sacrificing mobility for warmth.
Compression garments offer a perfect solution by providing both warmth and mobility in a stretchy and snug baselayer. The compressive pressure of these garments also improves blood flow to keep your muscles warm and provides muscle stability for energy conservation.
One of the most overlooked factors of athletic performance in cold weather conditions is the prospect of overheating. This might even sound absurd at first: overheating in cold weather?
But the truth is that when we layer up to fight off the cold, many athletes don’t take into account their body’s natural heat production. So, as you start to move, increase your heart rate, and emit body heat, suddenly you can find yourself breathing heavy and drenched in sweat.
Fabrics and materials that keep you warm but lack breathability create a shell that blocks in all of the heat your body emits. Compression fabric, on the other hand, provides a great combination of breathability and warmth that won’t bog you down.
Additionally, the sweat-wicking capability of compression gear is a well-known benefit. While many people associate this benefit as an important one strictly in warmer conditions, it’s actually just as important in cooler conditions.
In cold weather, wicking sweat away from your body helps you maintain comfortable warmth by removing moisture to keep you dry, light, and mobile.