Cold Weather Trail Running Tips

Written by Andrew Simmons and originally published in the Winter 2017/18 edition of our Trail Times newsletter.

Cold weather can provide its own set of unique challenges for runners. As temperatures drop, staying warm is critical. Making sure you’re taking the right steps to benefit yourself and your surroundings is key. What follows are a few tips to keep you running through the short days and cold temps of winter.

Traction: Our parents always reminded us how important tires were for a car in the winter, your running shoes are no different. Give yourself the advantage of traction and use something underfoot to prevent slips and falls. Black ice and slick spots can take the fun out of a run very quickly. There are a lot of options to choose from, if you’re on the shoulders of the season, it’s great to carry traction in your pack just in case. If you’re working through the middle of winter, retrofitting a moderately used pair of shoes with some studs can be a great go-to option if winter has really settled in.

Layers: Go to your closet, how many cotton layers do you have ready to go for winter? Hopefully, none! A good base layer is the difference a good run and a great run in the winter – especially if you like to go on longer outings. Layering is key to pulling moisture away from the body, holding in your body heat, all while allowing your body to efficiently thermoregulate.

A good choice is a tight fitting base layer that sits close to the skin and pulls sweat away. Transporting sweat away from the body allows your skin to not only be protected from the elements but also prevents sweat from concentrating on a garment and really cooling you down. Layer over that base layer another technical fabric for the days when things dip below 30, ultimately adjusting the thickness of fabrics and shells to get the desired warmth you’re looking for.

A few standards rules for comfort in layering:

  • Wear the fewest number of layers you can to stay warm. Warmth is good; bulk is restricting!
  • Dress for 15 degrees warmer than the temperature (include wind-chill factors). This will ensure that once you heat up – you’re not wearing three layers on your waist or constantly stopping to zip and unzip.
  • Extremities are the first to get cold so good socks, warm shoes, and top shelf gloves are worth the expense when the mercury dips

Motivation: It definitely gets cold and dark – keeping yourself motivated to get out and run can be hard. Grab a friend or two and get together for a run at a set time and place every week to keep you motivated. It can be hard getting out of bed but knowing that you’ve got friends waiting for you, might be all you need. There is something about bracing the wind and the cold together that makes the winter more bearable and more enjoyable. The bonds made by headlamps in a snowstorm are hard to break!

Adjusting your training for winter:

Winter brings it’s own set of training challenges; the first is usually getting out the door. The second is quantifying a run and making sure you’re meeting your training goals. You don’t have to give up on training in the winter, you just need to change your perspective and consider your options. Treadmills can be used for specific needs but getting outside is where adventure lives.

Run for time vs. distance. Average pace is going to suffer in the winter, use your summer training to gauge your winter training. If you ran 6 miles in 54 minutes in the summer, run for 60-65 minutes in the winter to achieve a similar aerobic benefit. Adjusting by 10% can be a good rule for keeping your fitness in the winter.

Consider other options for intensity and speed. If you’re lucky enough to have hills, mountains, or dedicated trails consider other forms of transportation. Snowshoes and skis can be a great way to get your lungs and legs burning, all while enjoying the outdoors. It’s a great way to see new places, work different muscles, and get in a great workout

Use the winter to relax and enjoy the downtime. Bringing your training back to basics can be a great way to re-focus on goals and recharge your batteries. This can also be a great time to work on a weakness through strength training or cross training.

Andrew Simmons is the head coach at Peak Performance Running. He is a USATF LII Endurance Coach, and a TrainingPeaks – LII Coach. Contact Andrew by email: or at

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