The winter months bring colder, more inclement and often snowy weather making it harder for us to get out the door and go trail running. Your favorite trails might be muddy or icy so it helps to know what gear is suitable for staying warm, dry and safe while running. With the right preparation and mindset, you can overcome these challenges and make our winter training effective and enjoyable. In this article, I share my top winter running tips to help you get strong, stay fit and be ready for a great season of spring and summer trail running..
Choose the Right Apparel and Gear
Wearing the right clothing/gear for the temperature conditions outside is essential to keeping your body warm, while also not overheating. See our article for detailed suggestions on how to dress for specific winter temperatures. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines and other factors besides temperature (humidity, wind, sun, snow/rain, etc.) change what clothes you’ll need for each temperature range. Research what different products offer in terms of wind-resistant, waterproof, or insulating materials to see what best suits your needs.
For those in icy or snowy climates, wearing traction devices is a must to staying safe and running faster. Traction devices are accessories either built into your shoes, or removable, that can help you gain traction in icy or snowy conditions. Popular brands include, Icespike, Kahtoola, YakTrax, or Hillsound. Most brands offer a variety of styles that are specific to different types of snow and ice conditions. There are also shoes that have traction already embedded into the tread such as IceBug or the Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX and Snowpike CSWP.
Protect Yourself From the Sun
Protecting yourself from the sun in the winter is just as important as during summer. Sunlight can actually be more intense in winter, particularly if you live in snowy areas where snow on the ground reflects sunlight back onto you. Wear sunglasses and sunscreen on sunny days. Consider bringing sunscreen with you on longer runs and reapplying if you get sweaty. Recommended sunscreens for trail runners include Kineys Performance Sunscreen and Neutrogena.
For sunglasses, look for Category 2 or 3 lenses. These lenses offer good UV protection and reduce the glare from the sun, while Category 0 and 1 “sunglasses” are purely for fashion and don’t offer adequate protection for trail running outdoors in sunny environments. Consider Category 4 if you are running in high-altitude snowy/glacial areas that require extreme protection from UV rays. Julbo and Oakley Sport Sunglasses both offer high quality glasses in a variety of category lenses.
Consider the Windchill Factor
Plan your runs considering both temperature and wind. Wind-chill can lower your body temperature through the passing of lower-temperature air and makes temperatures feel considerably colder than they would without wind. For example, conditions of 32 degrees Fahrenheit would feel like 24 degrees with a 10 mph wind. Check out the National Weather Service Wind Chill Calculator to determine the wind chill factor on your runs. Another important consideration when running in cold, windy conditions is which direction you are running with regards to the wind. Running against the wind can lower your body temperature faster than running with the wind at your back, so it’s a good idea to start against the wind and dress appropriately with wind-resistant materials.
Plan Your Route
Planning your trail running route before going out is important to make sure you dress appropriately and aren’t out in the cold for longer than expected. Outside temperature can vary drastically based on geographic changes in your route such as running in shade, along rivers, in sunlight, etc. Plan your route with considerations of these factors to make sure you aren’t under or overdressed for the varying conditions of your run. It’s a good idea to bring extra jackets, hats, gloves, etc. with you if you are uncertain of the conditions on a particular route. Consider running with a running vest or belt to easily carry materials you may need.
Also, make sure you have a good idea of how long routes will take you to run. Winter conditions, such as cold, rain, mud and snow can all drastically slow average running pace and you should account for these added difficulties. Keep in mind that routes you may run in other seasons may be much slower during winter months. Be particularly cautious on remote long runs where you may find yourself miles away from your house or car.
Don’t Forget to Hydrate
In cold weather it’s easy to forget that we still need to be drinking to keep ourselves hydrated. Although we may not be as thirsty or hot as during long summer runs, we still sweat and lose electrolytes on cold winter runs. If you usually carry water on your runs during summer months, consider also doing so in the winter. After runs, rehydrating with cold liquids may not sound appealing, so consider adding hot beverages and water-rich foods into your post-run routine. Drink warm liquids such as tea or coffee and eat hot foods with plenty of water such as oatmeal, porridge, or grits.
Protect Your Head and Hands
Your head and hands have some of the highest concentrations of sweat glands in your body, which gives them tremendous ability to control body temperature and perception of how you feel in the cold. Be sure to keep warm with gloves/mittens and running caps, beanies or hoodies in colder weather. For longer efforts, consider bringing extra coverings for your head and hands to change into in case your first layer gets too sweaty. Wind and sweat-wicking materials are always a good idea with head and hand coverings.
How to Do an Up/Down Run
Many trail runners enjoy long climbs to the tops of hills and mountains, but it’s important to remember that running uphill and downhill have two very different effects on body temperature. Running uphill generates significant amounts of body heat and sweat. Downhill running produces much less heat and also increases the wind chill factor because you are likely running at higher speeds. Consider wearing less layers when running uphill and carrying with you extra layers to put on when you turn around and run downhill. This way you avoid overheating on the uphill, while also preparing yourself for colder downhill running.
Running in winter conditions may require purchasing more apparel than in summer months, which makes it especially important to be eco-conscious with your purchases. Choose recycled fabrics and support gear and apparel companies with sustainability initiatives. Look for apparel that is made from REPREVE, a brand of performance fiber made from recycled plastic bottles. Popular brands using REPREVE in their athletic wear include Headsweats, Patagonia, Quicksilver and Roxy. Major brands including Gap Inc.’s Athleta, Nike, Adidas, and Patagonia have all increased their involvement in sustainability initiatives and are committing to use recyclable materials.
Know When to Call It
Somedays winter weather might be too intense and it’s best not to run. Sub-zero temperatures, extreme winds, ice, or other conditions may require that we prioritize our safety and health by staying indoors. Frostbite, sickness, bronchitis, slipping on ice, other severe injuries or illnesses can result from trying to run in extreme conditions. Find ways to cross train indoors with treadmill running, stationary biking, core and strength routines, or take the day off of training to rest and come back ready to run another day.
PRO TIP: Water-resistant, waterproof or water-repellent. Are you confused by all the terms used describe winter gear? Check out our Guide to Winter Trail Running Gear and Apparel Terminology.