Tips to Stay Safe During Winter Runs

A runner training in the snow during winter

With the ice, snow, frigid temperatures and a short supply of daylight, it's easy to let your running routine—and your fitness—slide during winter months. But with the right gear, a few precautions and a mindful approach to winter running, you can run through the holidays and keep your training on track.

A man puts on warm clothes to go running in cold weather

How to Dress for Winter Running

It's important to pick the right materials for running during the winter. Fabric like cotton absorbs sweat but doesn't dry quickly, which can sap warmth from your body. So choose technical, moisture-wicking fabrics or clothes made with wool to stay dry and warm.

You should also dress in layers that you can shed as you warm up. Start with base layers like a T-shirt or tank top, and then throw on a long sleeve shirt and cover it all with a jacket.

As cold as you may feel when you head out, though, remember that you'll warm up and even start to sweat during your run. A general rule about what to wear for running in cold weather is to dress for temperatures that are 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the current outside temperature.

Your nose, fingers and ears are prone to freeze first, though, so be sure to keep them well protected. Try a balaclava—a knit face mask that covers the whole head, with holes for nose and eyes—or wear a hat with a Buff pulled up to help cover your face. Pick a pair of mittens with a nylon shell, or wear glove liners underneath. If your hands start to feel numb and turn pale, warm them as soon as possible, as these are early signs of frostbite. If it's really cold, consider inserting a pair of HotHands into your gloves or mittens, too.

During the short winter days, you're more likely to be running in the dark, so you need to run with visibility in mind. Wear reflective running clothes and gear (including a reflective vest), use a headlamp or carry a flashlight so that you can see where you are going, and oncoming cars, trucks and cyclists can see you.

Add blinking lights to your back so you're visible from behind, too. For extra visibility, add light or reflective pieces to your ankles and wrists. This helps cars see you even better because our eyes are trained to easily spot movement.

Watch the Weather

Before you head out, take note of the wind chill. The wind chill is how cold it actually feels when wind hits your skin. The National Weather Service says a 32-degree day with 15 mph winds will make it feel like 21 degrees outside.

In short, wind makes the cold feel even colder, and it can make running outside dangerous even if the thermometer isn't scaring you off.

And make sure you watch where you're going. Winter in cold-weather states is littered with snow and ice storms that can send you slipping down a sidewalk like a bowling ball down a lane, so it's important to check your footing.

Be careful right after a snow storm. Fresh powder can cover up slick spots on pavement, and melting snow can refreeze overnight, making you slide across the ground like your last gutterball.

For days when the temperature is too cold and the footing too icy to safely run outside—even if you have the right gear—it may be time to run on the "dreadmill."

A woman wearing a Mizuno jacket while she runs

Dangers of Running in the Cold

Frostbite and hypothermia are two of the biggest worries when you're running outside in cold weather. Running will keep your body warmer than if you were standing still, but there are still signs you should watch for when the mercury drops.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, signs of frostbite include:

  • Skin redness or pain
  • White or grayish-yellow skin
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

Hypothermia is also a worry when you're sweating in cold weather or soaked by rain. Your body cools as moisture evaporates from your skin, which can lead to hypothermia. Signs of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness