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Embrace Winter Running With These Cold-Weather Tips

A runner warms his hands during an early morning run in the winter

Some runners use the darker, colder months of the year to trade in their trail shoes for skis, but for those preparing for a race early in the year, training through the frigid mornings and pitch-black evenings of winter are vital.

Knowing what to wear when you’re running in the cold and how to plan for cold weather trail running can be the difference between a successful training session and a miserable, or even dangerous, run.

Ellen Brenner, owner of Fleet Feet Rochester and Yellow Jacket Racing, does a lot of cold-weather running. For her, defining what cold means is important for distinguishing the kind of gear needed on a run. She classifies cold runs into three groups:

  • Cold = 45-55°F
  • Colder = 25-45°F
  • Coldest = 25°F and below

Add wind and rain, and it can feel even colder than the thermometer says. But unlike running in the rain, snow might seem enjoyable.

“Unlike rain, snow does not really make you wet or colder,” she says. “Actually, snow is way better to run in.”

What to Wear When Running in Cold Weather

A runner stands in the snow

While choosing your clothes for a cold run might seem easy, the material, number of layers and amount of time you plan on spending outside all matter significantly. Additionally, understanding your own temperature baselines—are you someone who tends to run cold?—will determine what you wear to start each run.

In cold weather (45-55 degrees), Brenner recommends people wear pants or tights and a long sleeve shirt. For some, this weather is still balmy enough to get away with capris or shorts. Gloves can be helpful, though not always necessary on shorter runs.

In colder weather (25-45 degrees), tights or pants, a long sleeve shirt and a warm vest or windproof jacket is a smart choice. Gloves or mittens work well for most here. For added warmth, opt for fleece-lined wool mittens.

In coldest weather, when temperatures drop below 25°F, wearing insulating base layers is vital. Windproof or fleece lined tights are great options, as are wool long sleeve shirts and jackets. Mittens are a must, and pairing them with glove liners can add extra protection against the chill.

The best running socks are often highly personal, so what works well for some runners might not work well for others. In general, though, avoid exposed ankles by wearing longer socks. If snow is a factor, try wearing snow-specific socks, commonly made from wool, to keep your entire lower leg warm.

Try to avoid cotton, and opt instead for wool or polyester to keep you comfortable.

Think About Your Feet

A runner pushes a stroller on a snow-covered sidewalk in winter

Traction is another important aspect to winter running. Brenner recommends a few options, depending on the conditions.

The first step is using trail running shoes, rather than road shoes, regardless of the terrain.

“Trail shoes act as extra traction and the upper is tauter to reduce wind and elements coming in and chilling the foot,” Brenner says.

If there’s snow or ice on the ground, you can add traction devices, like YakTrax. If you have extra shoes, studding the bottom with sheet metal screws can be a quick DIY fix for icy days. Additionally, Brenner says, “some shoes like the Saucony Peregrine 8 ICE+ have extra ice protection on the bottom.”

While some people may recommend running on the treadmill while it’s cold over being outside, Brenner is a firm believer in getting out there.

“I don’t decide to run on a treadmill,” she says. “Up here in New York, we tell people to get outside. Running in the cold can be quite enjoyable, especially when the snow is falling.”

For those tackling trails, even in frigid conditions, the general rules of backcountry running still apply: carry the ten essentials, alert someone of your planned route and finish times, and bring a buddy. In cold or rainy weather, being prepared is even more paramount.

Cold weather running doesn’t have to be miserable. Wear the right gear and enjoy the quieter, more reflective time of the year—whether through wind, rain or snow.


By Jade de la Rosa. Jade is a freelance writer and ultra runner based in Bellingham, Washington. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is working on her first historical fiction novel.

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