Why Do Runners and Trail Runners Wear Gloves and Arm Sleeves?

Road and trail runners all share a common enemy. No, it’s not the other racers; it’s not even you competing with yourself. The #1 enemy of runners worldwide is Mother Nature.

Trail runners especially have to deal with this nemesis during training and on the event day. Cold and rainy weather presents all sorts of hazards, but that’s not all. Running through the forest or up a mountain, you’re sure to encounter mud, fallen logs, thickets, brush, and thorns. 

So why do runners and trail runners wear gloves and arm sleeves? There are two main reasons. One is to protect their arms when they fall, bump, or get pushed into these obstacles. The second reason is to be sheltered from the elements: rain, wind, and cold.

Why Should Runners Wear Gloves?

There are three primary reasons why runners should wear gloves. For trail and obstacle course runners, people wear gloves to protect themselves from the elements and to provide a better grip. And for every runner, gloves are essential for keeping their hands warm, regardless of the temperature.

Let’s break this down a bit further:

  • Protection: During a trail run, you could encounter stray branches that you need to push out of the way. Sadly, falls happen, and that extra padding when your hands hit the hard ground will benefit you.
  • Grip: For extreme runners who love obstacle courses, the proper gloves will help you climb ropes, swing over monkey bars, and just about everything else that’s being thrown at you.

Check out the running glove we recommend (Amazon Link)

Do Running Gloves Keep You Warm?

Absolutely they do! Have you ever wondered why your hands feel cold when you’re running? Simple! Your blood is pumping so fast it’s heating up your core but not quite making it to your extremities. Gloves will ensure that your body gets warmth where it needs it.

While the rest of your body has been heated up by the fast blood pumping, your fingers are going to feel the cold.

This kind of discomfort can make you uncomfortable and distract you from your goal. So always be mindful of protecting every part of your body when running.

Are Mittens or Gloves Better for Running?

Running gloves have traditionally been more popular, but mittens are seeing a resurgence. Of course, every runner has different needs, and what’s suitable for one isn’t for another. At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice, but here are six factors to consider:

1. Warmth

As we just mentioned, your hands have to stay warm, so you need some form of covering. Where mittens may have the upper hand is that unlike your fingers being separated—like they are with gloves—they’re kept together, generating more heat.

2. Dexterity

Being able to use your fingers quickly is where gloves take the lead. Access to your pockets, money, and phone are necessities. While mittens can make your hands clumsy and feel awkward, the more advanced gloves come with touchscreen-capable fingers or thumb tips. (Source

3. Ease of Removal

Getting your hands free as quickly as possible is a primary requirement, especially in an emergency. Where a glove could get stuck to your fingers, especially when extremely sweaty, mittens are the clear winner here. They’re more likely to slide right off, no matter the conditions. 

The fingers of your gloves are prone to turning inside when they’re removed from your hand. This could easily become an added frustration when trying to put them back on.

4. Breathability

Sweaty hands can become cold hands if the moisture can’t evaporate. Many mittens are made with materials that don’t allow the water to escape fast enough. Also, hands don’t get wet as quickly in running gloves.

5. Irritations

Due to their design, gloves generally have more seams. This means the level of irritation for your hands is higher than with mittens, as your fingers are rubbing against them. 

Mittens generally come in a wider range of sizes than gloves, including palm width and finger lengths. This broader selection means a comfortable fit is more likely.

6. Style & Fashion

For some runners, how they appear on the road or course is just as important as how many miles they can achieve. Mittens can be perceived as childish or more for the elderly, while gloves have that “elite runner” look.

There’s a lot to consider, so to help make the best decision for you, here’s a quick summary:

DexterityBetter dexterity
Ease of removalEasier to remove
BreathabilityMore breathable
IrritationsFewer seams, less irritation
Style & FashionMore people prefer the look of gloves
Mittens and Running Gloves Comparision

If warmth, less irritation, and ease of removal are the most important, go with mittens. However, if the freedom of your fingers, more breathability, and being fashionable matter more, gloves are your best choice. (Source)

Why Do Runners Wear Arm Sleeves?

Arm sleeves are convenient, quickly put on or removed, and serve three purposes. They provide protection from the elements, work as a compression unit, and are versatile. 

1. Protection

As with your hands, your arms also need protection when you’re out running. Most of us train during the day, and sunburn can be serious and extremely uncomfortable. Sleeves are an added layer against the sun’s rays.

Trail runners may bump into rocks or trees, and having an arm sleeve can minimize scratches and bruises.

2. Compression

A common concern for long-distance and endurance runners is swelling brought on by tears and muscle vibrations. As a result, excess fluid can build in the arms, causing swelling. Arm sleeves make for great compression units, helping to relieve discomfort.

Arm sleeves also aid in recovery. After the run, wear them to help increase blood flow, removing the build-up of lactic acid. Muscle soreness depletes faster using this method.

3. Versatile

The longer the run, the more likely the conditions will change. This is especially true if you run in the early morning, as once the sun rises, the temperature dramatically increases. 

Wear arm sleeves at the start of your run to warm up, then slide them down to your wrists when they’re no longer needed. This action is a quick and easy way to maintain your body temp without reducing your pace.

Check out the “Running Arm Sleeve” we recommend

Should I Wear a Jacket While Running?

Jackets can come in very useful when running, depending on the conditions. They’re not for every runner, and wearing one has some drawbacks. For trail runners running in a potentially cold climate, they’re almost a no-brainer. They provide the best upper body coverage for the ultimate protection from the weather, rocks and trees, and slips and trips. 

Sprinters should consider the disadvantages of wearing a jacket.

They can add weight, quickly increase your body temperature, and easily keep sweat in. As for the cost, these are high-priced items, so factor that into your decision.

How Do You Run in the Cold?

There’s no reason to avoid running in cold weather. The difference is that extra preparation needs to take place. The proper gear is essential; this is where gloves and mittens, arm sleeves, and jackets all have their pace. Keeping the body warm, especially at the onset of the run, is the utmost priority.

The key to successfully running in the cold is being aware and staying safe.

The cold could also mean snow or ice, so be careful where you run. Always look around, especially the ground ahead of you, and perform at a slower pace than you would in clearer conditions. (Source)

Should You Run in the Rain?

For years mothers have been warning their children not to play outside in the rain, or they’ll get sick. It turns out they’re wrong—well, mostly. Sure, if a person is already ill, the cold and wet could exacerbate the symptoms. However, a perfectly healthy runner can actually benefit from this activity. (Source)

The Benefits of Running in the Rain

Some things many people don’t consider about running in the rain:

  • Your body temperature is cooler
  • The roads, paths, and trails are emptier as fewer people go out
  • Can make you a more resilient runner—for those non-rainy days

What to Consider When Running in the Rain

Of course, there are situations when running outside isn’t ideal. Thunderstorms are a health hazard, and yes, lightning can strike twice. Also, if it’s already freezing outside, the rain makes things worse, and hyperthermia could result. 

Be mindful that it’s easier to slip or trip, so reduce your pace to 70% of your regular comfortable one in these conditions. By wearing protective clothing, shoes with the proper grip, and of course, gloves and arm sleeves, running in the rain could be a joyful experience.


An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

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