Running In The Snow and Ice: How To Run Safely In Winter Weather

Want to start running in the snow outside in winter but not sure where to start? We’re sharing our best winter running tips here, as well as advice for running on snow and running on ice – and our favorite cold weather running gear!

Winter running can be downright daunting if you have never done it before, especially if you live in a particularly cold area where snow, ice, and wind chills are the norm.

But when you have running goals – like following a marathon training plan – to meet and spring races to train for (and if you have a particular aversion to the treadmill), avoiding running outdoors in the winter is not always an option.

To help you navigate cold weather running, in this post we’re jumping into . . .

  • our 7 best tips for running in wintery cold weather
  • How to run in the snow (and the shoes needed for running in the snow)
  • Running on ice – what you need + technique advice
  • Who shouldn’t run in winter
  • Our gear recommendations for running in winter.

Ready?

Let’s jump in!

running in the snow and ice

Our 7 best tips for winter running

Tip #1: Layer up!

When it comes to cold weather running or running outside in fluctuating temperatures (like in fall and spring), layers are your lifeline.

With layers, it is easy to adjust to your temperature needs with relatively little interruption to while running in the snow. If you start with more layers at the beginning of your run, you can easily remove a layer or two as you warm up.

Multiple light layers that you can selectively remove and stash in your running vest as you need is better than a few heavy layers that will change your body temperature too much when they are removed.

Make sure that each of your layers is still breathable so when you remove layers you won’t get too cold too quickly by cold temps on sweat-dampened lower layers.

running in the snow and ice

Tip #2: Follow the 20 degree rule

One of my avid runner friends once gave me a piece of advice that has saved me a ton of headache over the years: dress for 20 degrees above the actual temperature when you run outside (some people recommend 10-20 degrees).

How this works is that for an outdoor run, you’d gear up like you’d normally dress for normal activity at 20 degrees over the current temperature. For example, if you’re running in 30 degree weather, you’ll dress like you would for a 40-50 degree walk.

Want to start running outside in the winter but not sure where to start? We're sharing our best winter running tips here, as well as our favorite cold weather running gear! | Marathon Handbook #runningtips #fitness #winter

This is just a general rule of thumb to help guide you in your choice of gear and clothing. Things will change this recommendation, such as precipitation, wind chill, if it’s sunny out or dark, etc.

This rule of thumb will also vary for each individual. I tend to get cold easily and warm up slowly, so I need to bundle up more than my husband would since he tends to get hot faster. He can wear shorts in 30 degree weather anyway, so he doesn’t always follow the 20 degree rule.

As you get familiar with running outdoors in the cold, you’ll begin to know exactly what items you need to layer with for each change in weather, and which pieces of clothing you’ll want for each temperature range you encounter.

Tip #3: Factor in wind chill

Winter weather is very often accompanied by wind of some kind, which can throw a bit of a wrench into your running in the snow. Wind can make the cold temperatures feel even colder, and it can quickly chill your body if you don’t have windproof gear.

Before heading out, check the wind in your area and look for any wind chill factors in weather reports. Keep in mind that some areas will have more wind chill than others (a flat field has little shelter vs. a neighborhood with houses and trees).

running in the snow and ice

If you can’t see the wind chills noted in your weather app, The National Weather Service has a wind chill calculator you can use to estimate wind chill yourself so you can gear up accordingly.

If you live in a particularly windy area or one that is prone to many windy days in the winter, invest in multiple windproof layers to help you stay warmer on those days when the wind chill dips.

Related article: Running With A Cold

Tip #4: Spend more time warming up

When the temperatures drop outside, you’ll need to either spend more time outside warming up, or spend time warming up inside before going out in and running in the snow.

Especially if it’s cold and windy, it will take longer for your muscles to warm up outside than it will in warmer temperatures, so make sure you set aside adequate time to get your body warmed up properly before doing intense running workouts.

Want to start running outside in the winter but not sure where to start? We're sharing our best winter running tips here, as well as our favorite cold weather running gear! | Marathon Handbook #runningtips #fitness #winter

Tip #5: Be flexible with your running distance and pace

When it gets very cold outside, you might need to adjust your pace a bit to accommodate colder temperatures and new hazards.

Learn to get comfortable varying your pace as needed if you encounter things like icy paths, blocked sidewalks, excessive wind, and muscles that are taking longer than normal to warm up.

If it is particularly cold and windy, you can split your runs between the outdoors and the treadmill or an indoor track if you find you can’t complete your entire run outside.

Tip #6: Cover your face during winter running

running in the snow and ice

When it is very cold and windy, consider covering your nose and mouth with a sport balaclava or tube scarf that can be pulled over your nose.

These face coverings don’t have to be very thick since you’re breathing heavier and exercising with them, so test out various thicknesses of fabric that will help keep your face warm without impeding your breathing. Many brands (like Buff) will make lightweight, mediumweight, and heavyweight fabrics for varying temperatures and activities.

Face coverings in the cold not only protect your nose and cheeks from excessive cold and wind burn, but they also help to moisten and warm the air entering your respiratory system, making breathing a bit easier.

Covering your nose and mouth in very cold weather is a great idea if you have asthma since cold air can be a trigger for asthma.

Want to start running outside in the winter but not sure where to start? We're sharing our best winter running tips here, as well as our favorite cold weather running gear! | Marathon Handbook #runningtips #fitness #winter

Tip #7: Protect your eyes

Protecting your face also applies to your eyes as well. Since the sun reflects strongly off of fresh snow and ice, it’s important to protect your eyes from UV rays bouncing off the landscape (this can lead to snow blindness or photokeratitis) when running in the snow.

Choose sunglasses that are polarized and pick wraparound style sunglasses for blocking wind. You can even choose clear wraparound glasses for cloudy days or if you’re running in the dark and it’s very windy.

How To Run In The Snow And Ice

running in the snow and ice

Here’s our tips for when it’s snowy out!

Running in the snow is actually perfectly fine, you’ve just got to be aware of a few new hazards and make sure you’ve got the right running shoes for the job!

Shoes For Running In The Snow

The footwear you need really depends on the conditions and type of snow you’re running in.

For nice and soft fresh snow, a good pair of trail running shoes are sufficient. They give you enough traction, just make sure they’re rugged and robust enough to keep the cold and any dampness from your feet.

If you’re running on packed snow, then it’s more likely to be slippery so you should really use a traction device like YakTrax Pro.

yaktrax running in the snow

They give you peace of mind so you can plow on regardless of the conditions.

And if you’re heading into real off-piste territory with deep snow and unknown conditions underfoot, it’s worth checking out a running snowshoe like the Atlas Run.

Types of Snow

In terms of snowy conditions, fresh, un-compacted snow should give the best traction, meaning there’s less chance of you slipping. Just be mindful that you don’t necessarily know what’s underneath that virgin snow, so tread carefully.

Typically, the longer snow has lain, the wetter and icier it is – which is less ideal for running.  Likewise, running on compacted snow – such as tyre tracks on a road – can be more slippery.

How Snow Affects Your Running

running in the snow and ice

Running in snow requires some adjustments to your style. First of all, you should slow down a little, so you can better control your movements and adapt to any unexpected slips or uneven surfaces.   

Secondly, you should shorten your stride in order to improve your stability and also help you to maintain control in case you hit a slippery or bumpy patch. 

Third, you’ll find that the snow – especially fresh snow – acts as a big cushion or dampener.  It absorbs the energy of each foot strike and may drain your power with each drive forward as the surface beneath you compresses. 

So it’s important to realize you lose running economy (your efficiency) when running in snow. Don’t try and maintain your regular pace when running in snow!

Finally, when running in deep snow you’ll find that with each stride you have to lift your foot clear of the layer of powder to minimise drag. This changes up your running gait, will slow you down, and uses muscles that you don’t normally use – so you may experience some discomfort and additional fatigue after running in the snow! 

Running On Ice

When it’s icy outside, you should seriously consider staying indoors – skip the run and do an at-home bodyweight routine, for example. You can even pick up a manual or non-motorized treadmill for a reasonable price.

However, some people life in areas where the ground is icy for long periods of time, and stopping running just isn’t practical.

running in the snow and ice

When running on ice, it’s important to either use cramp-on style spikes, or a specific winter running shoe.

Kahtoola Micro Spikes or the aforementioned YakTrax Pro can be added to your regular trail running shoes.

In terms of running shoes designed for running in ice, the following models are worth checking out:

Who shouldn’t exercise in the winter

Some people have health conditions that make it dangerous to run or exercise in the cold, and they should consider running indoors if it’s very cold out.

If you have any of these conditions, check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program in the cold (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Cold induced asthma
  • Raynaud’s Disease
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Arthritis
  • Cold urticaria (hives from cold exposure)
  • Multiple Sclerosis

This post is meant to be informational and information presented here is not meant to be taken as medical advice.

Want to start running outside in the winter but not sure where to start? We're sharing our best winter running tips here, as well as our favorite cold weather running gear! | Marathon Handbook #runningtips #fitness #winter

Bundle up! Our winter running gear recommendations

Cold Weather Running Gear

Cold weather running conditions require running gear designed to keep you protected.

At least two layers are necessary; the layer closest to your skin should be moisture-wicking, to keep sweat from accumulating and cooling you down.

Next, you want to wear an insulating layer to keep the heat in. In particularly cold or wintery environments, an outer shell is important to isolate you from the harsh elements.

Most heat is lost through your head, so don’t leave home without a hat – it will help maintain your body temperature.

Side note: when running in cold weather, you should be mindful of runner’s nipple – chafing that begins to irritate when running!

Cold Weather Gear – Gloves

Some cold-weather gloves are highly recommended – running with cold and numb hands can be painful, and easily lead to cracked skin if not protected.

Running In The Snow and Ice: How To Run Safely In Winter Weather 1Running In The Snow and Ice: How To Run Safely In Winter Weather 2

Anqier Winter Running Gloves

The Anquier Winter Gloves are perfect for runners looking for a lightweight, warming glove. They are soft inside and have a tactile outer surface, and are specifically designed for gripping and using devices such as smartphones.  

They are a great regular cold-weather running glove that will suit almost every condition!

Buy Now On Amazon

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Zansah Reflective Touchscreen Running Gloves

These ladies gloves from Zansah have reflective strips, making you more visible – crucial for those low-light wintery days!

They also have the touchscreen functionality, meaning you don’t have to remove them to operate your smartphone or watch.

Buy Now on Amazon! 

Cold Weather Gear – Base Layers

At least two layers are necessary for running in cold weather.

A base layer is the layer closest to your skin and should be moisture-wicking, to keep sweat from accumulating and cooling you down.

Next, you want to wear an insulating layer to keep the heat in. In particularly cold or wintery environments, an outer shell is important to isolate you from the harsh elements.

Running In The Snow and Ice: How To Run Safely In Winter Weather 5Running In The Snow and Ice: How To Run Safely In Winter Weather 6

MERIWOOL Men’s Merino Shirt Base Layer

The MERIWOOL base layer is a great choice for men looking for winter running gear.

It is made from 100% merino wool – which means it’s breathable and efficiently wicks away sweat before it becomes an issue.

Other runners have testified that Meriwool’s products are super comfortable and relatively affordable when compared to other merino base layers of similar quality.

Buy Now on Amazon! 

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MERIWOOL Women’s Merino Thermal Shirt Base Layer

The MERIWOOL base layer also comes in a women’s model, in three different colours.

They are made from 100% merino wool – which means it’s breathable and efficiently wicks away sweat before it becomes an issue.

The MERIWOOL range have a reputation for feeling so comfy, and being much softer than other base layers in their price range.

Buy Now on Amazon! 

Running In The Snow and Ice: How To Run Safely In Winter Weather 9Running In The Snow and Ice: How To Run Safely In Winter Weather 10

MERIWOOL Men’s Merino Thermal Pants Base Layer

Continuing the MERIWOOL range, their men’s pants are made from the same 100% merino wool as their shirts.

Their all-natural composition means they are super soft on your skin. 

They also adapt to your environment – they’ll keep you warm when you need it, and wick away sweat as you begin to heat up – all designed to keep you comfortable.

Buy Now on Amazon! 

Running In The Snow and Ice: How To Run Safely In Winter Weather 11Running In The Snow and Ice: How To Run Safely In Winter Weather 12

MERIWOOL Women’s Merino Thermal Pants Base Layer

MERIWOOL’s women’s base layers are all about comfort – the all-natural 100% merino wool means they are soft on your skin with no itch, while their sweat-wicking and odor-resistant properties keep you comfortable and smiling in the cold weather.

Don’t leave home without a proper base layer in cold conditions!

Buy Now on Amazon! 

Cold Weather Gear – Hats and Scarfs

Most heat is lost through your head, so don’t leave home without a hat – it will help maintain your body temperature.

Furthermore, we’ve already discussed how cold air can negatively affect your respiratory system – therefore we’ve picked out the best scarves and buffs to keep you well wrapped!

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Minus33 Merino Beanie

Keep your noggin warm with this 100% merino, lightweight beanie.

It’s all-natural properties help with wicking sweat away from your body, while not becoming smelly (odour resistant).

With a one-size-fits-all design and over a dozen colours to choose from, you’ve no excuse for letting your head get cold while running this winter.

Buy Now on Amazon! 

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BUFF Lightweight Scarf / Headwrap, 100% Merino Wool

Buffs are the ultimate scarf for runners – their thin, closed design means no trailing ends or excess weight being carried.

This model is – like most of our recommendations – made from 100% merino wool, our favourite material for cold weather running.

It keeps you warm and wicks away moisture, and will help protect your throat and respiratory system as you run – what more could you need.

Comes in a variety of colours.

Buy Now on Amazon! 

Sarah Jane Parker

Sarah Jane Parker

Sarah Jane Parker is a food and healthy living blogger at The Fit Cookie, an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, YogaFit Level 1 certified yoga instructor, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist.

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