Running in a Winter Wonderland

By Patrick Drew, updated November, 2013

runningSo there is snow on the ground, tightly packed, fresh and hard. Blue skies and a bright sun gazing down from the skies with no breeze. OK ok… I know… this does not often happen. Sometimes you want to go running and it has been dark for 4 hours already and a horrible wet sleet is pouring down. We can't always be lucky enough to have the perfect winter running conditions — but what we can do is be as prepared for the environment as possible.

One of the most important things to remember when running in the freezing cold is to try to stay as dry as possible. Interestingly enough — most people think of some form of outer rainproof shell… but the first place you should start is at the core — where you sweat!

Core: It is important to wear some form of clothing close to your body that will wick away the moisture as soon as possible — leaving your body as dry as possible. Cotton and wool are actually not your friends in this situation as they just do not disperse the moisture fast enough, and will leave you cold and wet — a perfect recipe for hypothermia.

… but the first place you should start is at the core — where you sweat!

At the base we recommend a top and eventually "long-johns" (running-tights) made of Merino wool. This material wicks away moisture at a very fast pace and keeps you warm. Silk blended with synthetics also works very well. At most good sports retailers the staff should be able to give you plenty of assistance with the exact materials.


Upper body: Once you have taken care of your core with a Merino wool / synthetic blended outfit you need an outer shell. This jacket should be wind and waterproof. Preferably get one that is breathable — and they let the moisture from your body evaporate out.

Depending on exactly how cold it is where you are planning on running you can consider a middle layer of fleece. Fleece is a perfect material for insulation and warmth but does not stop wind or rain — so it is a layering piece.

Lower body: Running tights. Massive leaps in technology have resulted in running tights — a fantastic, ultimately versatile piece of athletics gear. By compressing the legs and muscles they assist in delivering more blood flow to the legs, which in turn means more heat.

If you are in an area of extreme cold you can consider an outer layer of wind-resistant trousers to block wind and rain.

Hat: This might sound obvious — but as you are out running you need to protect your head. There is a lot of scientific debate as to exactly how much body heat we lose through our head, but suffice it to say that if you do not want to become extremely uncomfortable, get a good hat that is long enough to cover your ears.

Along with this you might consider a neck warmer to protect against wind and cold, both on the front and back of your neck. Again, the considerations of materials as described above are important.

By compressing the legs and muscles they assist in delivering more blood flow to the legs, which in turn means more heat.

Gloves: These might be the least important item on this list since you do not sweat a huge amount through your hands and thus do not need to spend too much time considering what material gloves to use — but also as you run and if you get too warm — you can always remove them and just hold them in your hand. The same with the hat and neck warmer.

Shoes: Here we come to probably the most important piece of equipment that you can invest in when running in the winter. Depending on the exact location and environmental conditions of the area that you are running in, you might encounter ice and snow. These are very different from water and slush. With water and slush you can normally use pretty much any of the normal (good quality) running shoes that you might already have purchased. These normally have channels in the bottom that help the water to be driven away and to the sides of the foot — thus helping you to maintain good contact with the ground (just like tires do on a car). When running in wet conditions (including autumn with lots of leaves on the ground) you have to be very careful for slippery conditions.

running shoes

When running in the snow and ice you can be guaranteed to find slippery conditions. This is where spiked running shoes come in! There are two different types of spiked soled running shoe, there are cross-country spiked shoes, and track spiked shoe. They get their name, not surprisingly, because their soles are fitted with small spikes, designed to give the wearer maximum levels of grip and traction, either on grass or cross-country, or on an athletic running track. The spikes can be removed, and replaced if they become worn out, and are perfect for people who run in slippery conditions, or on slippery surfaces.

When running in the snow and ice you can be guaranteed to find slippery conditions. This is where spiked running shoes come in!

The spiked shoes for track tend to use smaller spikes (given the very neat and well maintained surface area of a track) and also are a bit quicker than the others — but we would not recommend them for running in snow and ice. Here you are better off getting shoes with the larger spikes, which will effectively nail you into the snow and ice and give you a much better footing.

Please note you can also buy "strap-on" spikes that should fit your existing shoes.

Warm-up in the warmth: This is not quite that easy to do — given space considerations — but it is a very good idea to warm up inside before you go out into the cold. Do some exercises (see some of our other articles on the specifics) and make sure you are warmed up before you get into the cold. Also remember to stretch out afterwards.

Reflect: One critical aspect of running in the long, dark and wet months of the winters is to be able to be seen! Given the general lack of visibility in the dark and then combined with an eventual downpour — it is so important that you give everyone the maximum chance to see and avoid you. Obviously, if you are running in the forests / trails there will be less traffic, but still it is a good idea to wear clothes with reflective bands, both on the top and bottom and of course on the front and back. Make sure the reflective bands are clean and can shine.

Lastly — one comment about winter running — experiment! You are the only person who is able to decide exactly how much clothing or what kind of clothing feels most comfortable for you. However a good tip is to start off uncomfortably cold… As you will typically warm up very fast and might end up removing your hat, gloves and neck warmer.

Enjoy the snow… happy trails…

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