Like every Spartan should, I take my gear seriously. I live and train in the Rocky Mountains near Vail, Colorado, and bury myself miles deep in backcountry wilderness on trail runs, backpacking trips, and epic hikes to get my heart pumping and body moving. I weather sleet, snow, river crossings, alpine thunderstorms, major vert and tough, technical single track on the regular. So it’s absolutely essential that my cold-weather apparel and kicks can hang. In fact, without the right mix of warm gear, proper planning and wisely calculated risk, it can mean the difference between safety and hypothermia, injury and even death.
There’s no gear like Spartan by CRAFT cold-weather gear, featuring the latest technology in moisture-wicking, vented fabrics, and precipitation-proof protection. So I took a few pieces out for a whirl — determined to put them through the wringer to see how they stood up. In short, I was far from disappointed.
As a fitness buff and writer with over a decade of experience charging hard while testing gear, my high standards and picky palate are primed to suss out the most durable, versatile essentials on the market. And as we push our limits to develop grit, determination and perseverance — no excuses — good gear goes a long way in supporting that.
Here’s how I put Spartan’s new cold-weather essentials to the test. Plus, my recommendations to suit up and blast through winter workouts with gear that’s got your back. (Note, we custom curated the pieces I tested from the women’s selection, but guys, you can find all of the men's versions of the product right in the Spartan shop, too.)
Cold-Weather Workout Gear: The Test Specs
TESTING GROUNDS: On an overcast, October day with bouts of snow-rain mix, I layered up with Spartan by CRAFT apparel, cinched my RD Pros tight, and headed to East Vail Falls trail — a difficult, three-mile out and back to East Vail Waterfall. Now, don’t let the short distance fool you. This trail, especially in October, is no joke. Tough, technical single track peaks with a 400 foot climb where hand holds are rope grabs, and your shoes must have bomb traction or you’re screwed.
The trail slithers up loose dirt next to cliffside drop offs, and features challenging mountainside scrambles and stream crossings along the way. Log obstacles, slippery sandstone and granite, and gushing water traverses layer between steep pitches of vert. Think: a sweaty, thigh-burner meets burly terrain where missteps can’t happen, and mental sharpness is essential for the ascent and descent.
My Testing Standards — The Kicks
In order to bag a workout like this, and any adventure or obstacle course race for that matter, my trail kicks must have all-terrain traction, lightweight flexibility and superior drainage. Compromises in these categories means wet socks, unnecessarily heavy foot-weight and slippery conditions which could cause injury. Risks I am not willing to take. Therefore, what I wear on my feet matters most and makes the difference between safe trailhead return and disaster. Enter: the RD Pros engineered by OCR athletes, for OCR athletes with major traction lugs, a vented side body, a caged lacing system and guaranteed durability and stamina, so I could put them through hell.
My Testing Standards — The Apparel
Because high-alpine weather in Colorado is so variable (think: sudden thunderstorms that give a beating to a blue-bird day, or dramatically changing winds which bring dumping snow and low visibility in seconds), you better be prepared with the right layers. Even in summer, I refuse to go for a trail run without a lightweight rain jacket stashed in my hydration pack. Layering up properly is a game changer when temps drop 20 degrees and precipitation rolls in. So when it comes to exercising outside in cold-weather conditions, breathability, ventilation, durable fabrics, moisture control, intelligent design and thermoregulation are crucial. Settle for less, and I might as well ask to get sick or injured. (NO thank you.) Enter: the cold-weather Spartan by CRAFT performance line, featuring jackets and outerwear to keep you protected from the elements, baselayers to stay warm and dry, and pants with compression technology to support tough workouts.
The Test: The Ultimate Tech Apparel for All-Things Outdoors
WHAT I’M WEARING: I’m rocking the RD Pro OCR Running Shoe to navigate tough terrain, Thermal Headband to protect my ears and prevent sweat drippage, Urban Run Fuseknit LS Tee baselayer for next-to-skin warmth, Pro Series Compression Tight to promote blood circulation in my legs, Polar Midlayer Vest to conserve heat around my core, and the Urban Run Hydro Jacket to shield me from the elements.
BACKCOUNTRY FIELD NOTES: My heart pounds in my chest. It’s about 2 p.m. and my breath creates a fog through wet, fat snowflakes that bead into water droplets and slip off the Hydro Jacket. After an uphill mile of single track from East Vail Waterfall’s trailhead, I’m sweating, warmed up and ready to tackle the trail’s obstacles ahead.
I glance up the mountainside to steep, uneven terrain — navigable only with the help of ropes anchored to the base of ponderosa pine trees, whipping in the wind. Then, I tighten my core and forge ahead to a 10-foot long, thick down tree over the East Vail River. To cross it, I breathe intentionally and avoid looking down at the low shelf to my right, several feet below me. Step after careful step, the RD Pros guide me confidently across slick, snow-covered pine bark.
I jump off the log and sink into a puddle of mud hidden under yellow and red leaves. Though my kicks are completely covered in cold, heavy sludge, I slosh through the pit, committed now, and don’t stop to kick off excess mud. Cold water seeps out as I lunge up wet, granite boulders, and snowy dirt-pack doesn’t phase their traction.
Hopscotching up the trail, I come to the next river crossing, this time, about six feet wide. Sans fallen trees, I pick the shortest line through icy water and charge through, stepping on submerged rocks to propel me forward. The Pro lacing system provides a snug fit, which puts my proprioception on point as I navigate the river bed.
By now, I’m sweating profusely, having just climbed several hundred vertical feet. The Fuseknit LS baselayer feels soft next to my skin and its seamless design prevents any underarm chafing I’d undoubtedly feel by now. It, in combination with the core-warming Polar Midlayer Vest, wicks moisture away from my body and out the back of the vented Hydro Jacket. I’m right where I want to be with my body temperature: warm (but not too warm), and definitely not soaking in my own sweat.
Cheeks flushed and stoked to be alive, I scramble up granite slabs trusting the lugs on the RD Pros to get me there.
I reach the rope series (the trail’s climax), which leads to the top of the waterfall, and test the integrity of rope. In the clear, I begin climbing, hand over hand, up steep, loose dirt.
My calves and thighs scream as I haul my 110-lb frame upward, and I feel the Compression Tights kick in to support me. Shin splints, which I typically struggle with, are a non-issue thanks to extra blood-circulation and fascial support from the compression technology. I make several high-step climbing moves to push myself upward over deep roots and between rope sections to top out at the waterfall.
Splashing water rolls right off the Hydro Jacket, mixing with snowflakes. A chilly wind whirls around me and I’m protected from its bite. I pause for a moment to breathe, let my heart rate settle, and take in the aspen-lush mountain backdrop across the valley. My shoes are covered in mud but still comfortable and performing, and tree branches I scraped along the accent haven’t torn the Hydro Jacket.
As I inventory the gear, I’m feeling accomplished, confident and thrilled to be the only person out here. Let them stay inside, I think to myself, more for me, and turn around to master the descent.
The Bottom Line: My Takeaways & Recommendations
Especially with gyms closed or limited during the pandemic, working out outdoors will be key to staying sane this winter. After using and abusing the Spartan by CRAFT Performance gear in the field, it proved itself in durability, breathability and flexibility through crap weather, in tough conditions. Bottom line: it was the first time I took the gear out, and it won’t be the last.
Superior drainage and traction in the RD PRO shoes makes for faster going across streams and in mud. Moisture control in the Fuseknit LS baselayer and Polar Midlayer vest kept me comfortably dry inside, and the Hydro Jacket’s ample hood and precipitation-proof outer shielded me from the elements. Plus, I wore the Compression Tights for about an hour after my workout and experienced no hip tightness or residual throbbing from shin splints and previous knee injuries the following day.
3 Winter-Workout Trail Essentials Every Spartan Needs
For the ideal winter getup to bust out trail runs and winter hikes, and stay fit for racing season 2021, start with these three things: gear I wouldn’t hit any winter trail without.
FOR EPIC, ALL-TERRAIN TREAD
The RD Pro is unparalleled in traction and drainage. Wet shoes that retain water and weigh you down are the last thing you want in racing or training. The RD Pro fixes that issue with plenty of midsole ventilation and a solid rubber outer to protect your feet over rocks, roots, rivers and other obstacles. Lugs and a tight lacing system make the shoe fit like second skin so you can charge ahead, worry free about where you’re stepping.
FOR UNPREDICTABLE-WEATHER RUNS
The Urban Run Hydro Jacket kept me warm and dry in the snow and rain, no problem. Snug wrist closures and a wide hood stops precipitation from creeping inward, and laser-cut ventilation at the armpits allow excess heat and moisture to move up and out. Waterproof, windproof polyester protects the core against ever-changing elements so you can adventure on without concern for the weather.
FOR COMPRESSION SUPPORT
Injury prevention is everything when it comes to longevity, and most runners struggle with shin splints, tight IT bands, knee injury and poor proprioception at some point in their career. Get ahead of discomfort with the Pro Series Compression Tight. Polyamide-elastane fabric moves with you as a flexible second skin, and its graduated compression design provides extra muscular support and stability in all of the important zones. Cinch them tight with the internal drawcord at the wide waistband and get to hacking it. No excuses.