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7 Cold Weather Running Tips To Survive Winter Runs

Cold weather shouldn't stop you from running - but you'll want to make some changes to your approach.

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Aside from seven years in New York City, I have lived in New England for my whole life, so I am no stranger to cold weather running.

Training year-round certainly has its challenges in terms of dressing for the different seasons to help regulate your body temperature.

While some runners struggle with summer running with the heat and humidity, I have always dreaded getting through the winter running season as my body seems to detest cold temperatures.

However, in my 25 years of running and coaching, I have learned to embrace the challenges of cold weather running and winter precipitation so that I can train outdoors year-round no matter what winter weather we experience here in western Massachusetts.

What I have learned is that with the proper winter weather running gear, a little bit of flexibility, and determination, winter running can be a season that actually makes you a mentally tough and physically fit runner for a great spring season.

In this winter running guide, we will discuss the best cold-weather running gear and tips to help you stay safe, warm, and relatively dry when braving these low temps and less-than-ideal conditions.

A person runing in the cold.

How Cold Is Too Cold For Running?

Before we discuss the best winter running tips and the best winter running clothes and running gear, I want to present a disclaimer.

Even though I am a certified running coach and would love to say that you can run year-round in any cold weather conditions, windchill, and winter precipitation, there will be certain winter running weather where it is unsafe to run.

As runners, we love to be consistent and take pride in mental toughness, but it is important to not let your ego or desire to get in your workout allow you to run where you might end up getting frostbite, hypothermia, or slipping and falling because there is sleet, ice, or some other untenable winter running conditions.

It is always better to either swap your outdoor run for an indoor treadmill workout or some other form of cross training rather than risk frostbite or injury.

This is especially important if you do not have the proper running gear to regulate your body temperature or the wind chill is so severe that you won’t be able to protect your skin and maintain blood flow to your extremities.

That said, while I certainly haven’t run in some of the extreme winter weather conditions that runners might experience in some of the coldest places on the planet, I have run in temperatures as low as -22°F with the wind chill with the proper winter running clothes and best winter running gear.

Safely running in cold weather conditions is all about having the proper winter running clothing and running gear to regulate your body temperature and prevent slipping and falling.

A person running through snow.

How Do I Dress For Cold Weather Running?

Here are some of the essentials for dressing for cold weather running:

The Best Winter Running Shoes For Snow And Ice

When there is winter precipitation on the ground such as snow, slush, or patches of ice, or there is sleet or snow coming down, it is essential that you have running shoes with traction for road running.

As a running coach, I work with trail runners and road runners, but the majority of my athletes train for road races like half marathons and marathons. 

As such, even though these runners might do some trail runs sprinkled into their normal running routes, many recreational runners only have road running shoes. 

However, for winter running, I often recommend buying a pair of winter trail running shoes.

Trail running shoes have more aggressive lugs on the bottom, which aids traction on uneven ground.

Even if you are going to be only road running in the winter, if there is any snow pack on the ground or slush, having a little bit of added traction from trail running shoes can help with stability.

Winter trail running shoes are great because they usually have a waterproof Gore-Tex coating on them and may even have a gator around the ankle that can help keep your feet dry if you are going through deeper snow or if it is actively snowing or sleeting out.

I recommend the Brooks Cascadia 17 GTX or the HOKA Speedgoat 5 GTX.

For more slippery precipitation or running in snow that is deeper, wearing special winter running traction devices such as ice spikes, cleats, or YakTrax is essential. I find Icebug are some of the best running shoes for icy roads and trails.

People running in the cold.

Wear Layers

The key to dressing for winter running is to wear multiple layers.

Layers not only help keep you warm enough and shield you from a windchill, but your body heat actually gets trapped in between each layer, adding weightless insulation to help regulate your body temperature.

The best base layers for running are made from moisture-wicking materials because you do not want sweat to soak through the base layer and sit against your skin.

This will cause you to feel chilled and will reduce the insulation effects of wearing layers for running in cold weather.

I love Smartwool and Seirus for base layers in my winter running outfits.  

A mid-layer long-sleeve shirt provides more insulation to help manage your core body temperature in cold weather.

I like Merino wool for cold days because it is sweat-wicking yet breathable to prevent overheating. My favorite is the IBEX Paradox Long Sleeve Shirt.

The outer layer should be windproof and water-resistant or waterproof.

An insulated running jacket or running vest is a good outer layer once temperatures are below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

I love the Brooks Run Visible Thermal Hoodie or Nathan Hybrid Navigator Vest when it’s not super cold weather so that I stay warm enough without overheating.

Winter running tights often are fleece-lined for enhanced thermal insulation, and may have water-resistant or even waterproof paneling on the thighs and the backs of the calves to provide some waterproof protection.

You can also wear regular running tights with a second layer of running pants on top. I like wearing lightweight waterproof running pants like the Brooks High Point Waterproof Pants over regular running leggings or even insulated running tights for really cold days.

People running in the cold.

Wear the Right Winter Running Gear Accessories

Accessorizing with running gloves or mittens to keep your fingers warm, a running headband or full running beanie or hat, and even a neck gaiter or face mask can be essential when running in cold temperatures below freezing.

I love the Turtle Fur winter running hats, beanies, and headbands.

What Are The Best Winter Running Tips?

Here are some additional cold weather running tips that can help you get through the winter running season:

#1: Warm Up Indoors

On the coldest days, I recommend doing a warm up inside. 

Brisk walking, running up and down the stairs, jumping jacks, or dynamic exercises like lunges can help increase your heart rate before you head outside. 

You don’t want to warm up so long or so vigorously that you start sweating, because then you will have damp clothes against your skin, which will actually make you feel colder once you are outside. 

However, if you can get your heart rate up before going outside, you don’t have to spend the first couple of minutes of your run outside doing the warm-up

When you can head out your door and start running at your training pace right away rather than having to do a brisk walk or easy run pace to loosen up, you will be more comfortable in the cold temperatures as vigorous exercise will increase your body temperature more than an easy warm up pace.

A person running in the snow.

#2: Stay Close to Home

A good winter running tip is to do smaller loops that are close to home rather than one long loop.

Being mindful of your running route can give you a bail-out plan if you find that you are getting frostbite or losing feeling in your fingers or toes. 

If you are too far away from home, you can put yourself at risk for hypothermia, windburn, or loss of blood flow in your fingers and toes because you will either need to wait for someone to come get you or run all the way home even though you are at risk.

#3: Run Inside

As mentioned, when the wind chill is severe or you don’t have the proper winter running gear, it is better to swap your outdoor run for a treadmill workout, indoor cross-training, or even take a rest day.

#4: Use Vaseline

Vaseline on exposed skin (nose, cheeks, etc.) provides an insulating, windproof layer to protect your skin from frostbite.

Two mugs of chicken broth.

#5: Pack Hot Fluids

Using a water bottle or hydration pack that can handle warm fluids or even hot tea can be a great way to keep warm while doing longer winter running workouts.

Plus, it can be really tough to stay on top of your hydration for winter long runs if you are trying to sip icy sports drinks or cold water.

I even recommend soup broth as a hydration option for marathon runners who are doing winter running long runs in cold weather.

You get your electrolytes and your fluids while enjoying something that will warm up your body from the inside.

Hot chocolate is great, too! Your body uses more carbohydrates and glycogen for cold winter running than in comfortable ambient conditions, so be sure to be on top of your nutrition.1Gatterer, H., Dünnwald, T., Turner, R., Csapo, R., Schobersberger, W., Burtscher, M., Faulhaber, M., & Kennedy, M. D. (2021). Practicing Sport in Cold Environments: Practical Recommendations to Improve Sport Performance and Reduce Negative Health Outcomes. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health18(18), 9700. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189700

#6: Train By Feel

Studies have found that performance declines in extreme cold weather, and certainly running into a winter wind or when visibility and footing are poor due to precipitation can make your average running pace slower for winter running workouts.

Consider running by effort and time instead of pace.

A person running in the cold.

#7: Pick a Spring Race

If you struggle with motivation for winter running workouts, putting an exciting spring race on the calendar can be a great way to keep you motivated to lace up your running shoes and brave the cold.

Although cold weather running is certainly as enjoyable as running in the spring sunshine, keep in mind that this too shall pass, and you will be all the heartier and happier if you get in your miles.

Stay safe! 

For some treadmill workouts for those days you need to stay in, check out this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Gatterer, H., Dünnwald, T., Turner, R., Csapo, R., Schobersberger, W., Burtscher, M., Faulhaber, M., & Kennedy, M. D. (2021). Practicing Sport in Cold Environments: Practical Recommendations to Improve Sport Performance and Reduce Negative Health Outcomes. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health18(18), 9700. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189700
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

6 thoughts on “7 Cold Weather Running Tips To Survive Winter Runs”

  1. I would like to add one more thing on the increased performance in cold weather. You can run better and even faster in colder temps because per cubic inch of air inhaled there is more oxygen. Cold air is more dense than warm air, therefore the molecules are closer together and you get more oxygen in the same volume of air as you do when you run in warm climates. This is a very well known factor in drag racing cars. One will often see drag racers icing down their intake manifolds in order increase the density of the air entering the engine and therefore bringing in a higher volume of oxygen to improve combustion. The same goes for breathing colder air while running – more oxygen creates more power.

    Reply
  2. Great and timely article as the cold weather here is starting to get bad. Any chance you might have some additional recommendations for cold weather running jackets? Thanks for all your terrific newsletters, I always look forward to your Monday email.

    Reply

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