How to Run in Snow: 10 Safety Tips

With winter around the corner, you may be wondering how to run in snow. If you’re an avid runner and want to continue running outdoors even in the cooler winter months, then running in the snow can be a fun and exhilarating experience. However, it’s important to take precautions to stay safe.

In this blog post, we will discuss some tips on how to run in the snow safely, stay warm, and enjoy winter running to the fullest. Let’s get started.

10 Tips for Running in the Snow

Here are the top tips for running in the snow this winter season.

Choose a Time of Day Where Ice is Least Likely to Form

Firstly, it’s important to understand the conditions that lead to ice formation. Ice is more likely to form in the evenings and overnight when the temperatures are colder. This means that running too late in the day or early in the morning (before the ground has time to warm up) is not ideal. Instead, consider running midday when possible.

Note: This rule will vary depending on what the temperature highs are for the day, whether there is fresh snow falling, humidity levels, and wind. Use your best judgement to stay warm and safe.

Run When Visibility is Best

The risk of black ice is also increased during times of day when the sun is not out. Black ice forms when water on the ground freezes and creates a thin layer of ice. This layer of ice can be difficult to see and can be very slippery.

To avoid black ice, it is best to run during times of day when the sun is out and the ground has time to warm up (and you can see the ground better too). This will help to prevent any water on the ground from freezing and creating black ice.

Protect Your Eyes and Increase Your Visibility

Sunglasses are a must when running in the snow. The sun reflects off of the snow and can cause glare, which makes it difficult to see. Wearing sunglasses will help to protect your eyes from the sun and potentially harmful UV rays. Plus, a high-quality pair of sunglasses will help you spot patches of ice more easily to help keep you safe and on your feet.

Plan a Route with Fresh Snow

Fresh snow has a lot more traction for your running shoes than older snow that has begun to melt or been partially shoveled. If you are running on sidewalks or roads, try to find a route where there is fresh snow.

If you live in an area with lots of snow, consider running on trails that are less likely to be shoveled. These routes will often have more fresh snow and provide more traction for your shoes. However, be mindful of any areas that may have ice hiding beneath the fresh snow that could pose a slipping hazard.

Choose Trails Over the Road

When running in the snow, it is often best to stick to trails. This is because trails are less likely to be shoveled and plowed than roads are.

If you do choose to run on the road, be sure to wear reflective gear so that drivers can see you. It’s also important to watch for ice, puddles, and other obstacles that might be hidden by the snow.

Avoid Deep Snow

While some snow can help with traction, too much can be problematic. When running in the snow, avoid deep snow if possible. This is because deep snow can affect your gait and make it more difficult to run. If you must run in deep snow, be sure to take it slow and use a shorter stride.

It’s also important to note that if you are running in deep snow, you may want to consider wearing waterproof shoes. This will help to prevent your feet from getting wet and cold.

Choose the Right Shoes

The type of shoes you wear when running in the snow is important. You will want to choose shoes that are waterproof and provide good traction. For a lot of runners, their outdoor trail running shoes might do the trick for winter. However, you may need specialized shoes if you plan to do more technical running in the winter months.

For example, if you are at a higher risk of encountering ice, you may want to choose shoes with metal spikes or studs. These will provide better traction on slippery surfaces. Additionally, you can purchase covers for your shoes that provide additional traction.

To review, here are running shoe options that you might consider for increasing your traction and warmth:

  • Trail running shoes with more stiffness and aggressive lug pattern
  • Waterproof trail running shoes or Gore-Tex shoes
  • Shoe covers with spikes or studs (e.g. Yaktrax, STABILicers)
  • Covers for your shoes that provide additional traction
  • Having studs added to a pair of running shoes you already own

Wear Warm Clothes and Accessories

To stay warm while running in the snow, it is important to dress in layers. This will allow you to adjust your clothing as needed to regulate your body temperature.

You will want to start with a base layer that wicks away sweat. This can be followed by a mid-layer of insulation. For the outermost layer, choose something that is waterproof and windproof. Additionally, be sure to wear warm socks, a hat, and gloves. Additionally, a buff can be helpful in providing a moisturizing barrier for the cold air that is entering your lungs.

Overall, each of your layers should be lightweight, moisture-wicking, and easy to remove or add as you’re running. Keep factors in mind like sunshine and wind chill to dress appropriately and stay warm and comfortable.

To review, here are all the clothing items you need for winter running:

  • Base layer: A long-sleeved shirt that wicks away sweat
  • Mid-layer: A lightweight sweater or jacket for insulation
  • Outer layer: A waterproof and windproof jacket or vest (depending on outdoor temperatures)
  • Socks: Warm, moisture-wicking socks
  • Hat: A lightweight hat or headband to keep your head and ears warm
  • Gloves or mittens: Lightweight moisture-wicking gloves or mittens to keep your hands warm without making them sweat
  • Buff: A buff to protect your face from the cold and keep your neck warm
  • A mouth cover: Use your buff or a separate mouth cover to reduce the amount of dry cold air in your lungs
  • Sunglasses: Sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun and wind

Adjust Your Running Pace and Form

When running in the snow, it is important to adjust your pace and form. This is because running in the snow is more difficult than running on dry ground.

To start, you will want to run at a slower pace. This will help you to avoid slipping and falling on icy or snowy surfaces. Additionally, shortening your stride can help you to stay balanced and make it less likely that you’ll lose your balance.

Finally, be sure to run in a controlled and relaxed form. This will help you to conserve energy and avoid getting tired too quickly. Running in the snow and ice is not a time to do speed work and practice lengthening your stride. Save that for the spring or indoors on a treadmill.

Know Your Limits and Run Safely

Even if you are an experienced runner, it is important to know your limits when running in the snow. This is because of the inherent risks that come with exercising in cooler weather and potentially slippery conditions.

If the road or trail conditions are icy, the best thing you can do for your safety is to skip your outdoor workout. Instead, opt for an indoor workout or take the day off altogether.

Additionally, if it is extremely cold outside or there is a high wind chill, you should also consider skipping your run. This is because the extreme cold can be dangerous and put your health at risk.

Finally, if you do decide to run in the snow- because some runners think the risk is worth it or live in a location where winters are long- be sure to take extra precautions. This includes wearing bright clothing so that you are visible to others, wearing spiked shoes, running in well-lit areas, and carrying a phone with you in case of an emergency. Some runners even recommend wearing padded shorts.

Why Run in the Winter?

Even with all of the precautions that need to be taken, some runners still choose to run in the winter. For some, it is a matter of necessity. They live in locations where winters are long or they don’t have a place to train indoors, or they simply don’t feel they have the time in their training schedule to skip days.

For others, they enjoy the challenge that winter running provides. They like the feeling of being out in nature and embracing the elements- which can especially help anyone dealing with seasonal depression (aka winter blues). Additionally, winter running can help to build mental toughness and make you a better runner overall if it’s embraced as a challenge.

If you do choose to run in the snow, be sure to follow the safety tips outlined above. This will help you to stay safe and avoid injury while still enjoying the challenge.

The Benefits of Running Outside in the Winter

Running outside in the winter has a number of benefits.

  • It can help to improve your mental health. This is because being outdoors in nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood.
  • Running in the winter can help you to burn more calories. This is because your body has to work harder to keep you warm in the cold weather.
  • You’ll be working all kinds of stabilizing muscles in your core and legs that can improve your overall endurance and technique for warmer months.
  • Whether you run inside or outside, getting in regular moderate intensity exercise is good for you immune system- essential during cold and flu season!

So, if you are looking for a way to improve your mental and physical health this winter, consider getting out for a run.

Contraindications to Winter Running

There are some health conditions that can make it more dangerous to run in the snow. Let’s review:

  • If you have asthma or other respiratory conditions, the cold air can trigger an attack.
  • If you have Raynaud’s syndrome, a condition that affects blood circulation, the cold weather can make your fingers and toes go numb- causing a lot of discomfort.
  • If you are pregnant, it is best to avoid running in the cold as your body is already working hard to keep you and your baby warm. Plus, the fall risk is just not worth it.
  • If you have arthritis, the cold weather can make your joints ache and swell.
  • If you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, icy conditions and the fall risk that comes with it are now worth it if you have weak bones. A fall could easily result in a major fracture that’ll prevent you from running for at least several months.
  • If you are diabetic, changes in sensation in the hands and feet increase your risk of frostbite. Pay attention to the temperatures and avoid extreme cold.

If you have any of these conditions, it is best to avoid running in the snow.

How To Run in Snow – Alternatives to Winter Running

If you don’t want to run in the snow but still want to stay active during the winter months and keep your endurance for running as best you can, there are plenty of alternatives. Here are a few ideas:

  • Hiking or walking: You can still get outside, but at a slower pace that reduces your risk of falling.
  • Other winters sports: If the snow is too deep or you want to diversify your winter workouts, try snowshoeing, downhill skiing, or cross-country skiing
  • Indoor workouts: Whether at a home gym or your local gym, you have tons of options for cross-training in the winter, these include swimming, yoga, cycling, lifting, HIIT, etc. There are so many options to choose from.
  • Indoor running: If you really don’t want to miss a day of running, try finding a local track or treadmill.

Should I Run in the Snow or Not?

Overall, winter running can be safe if you take the necessary precautions. But, it is important to know your limits and listen to your body. If you have any health conditions that put you at risk or don’t feel comfortable in the snow, it is best to find an alternative winter workout. And finally, always put safety first.

Happy winter running!

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JayDee Vykoukal

JayDee is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and ex-collegiate Division 1 athlete. Through her own online platform, Health Means Wealth, she is dedicated to helping her clients live their best lives through the power of healthy habits.

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