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Winter Trail Running Guide

Running Tips for Technique, Gear, and Safety in a Winter Wonderland

It’s almost magic—the blanket of snow enveloping a wintry trail brings a unique quiet to the world. But trail runners know that the most beautiful aspects of winter trail running also add to the challenge. Our winter trail running tips will help you stay safe and comfortable as you enjoy trail running in the snow.

General Tips for Trail Running in the Winter

Trail running in cold weather requires a different mindset than summertime jogs.

  1. Start cold. If you’re comfortably warm at the start of your run, you’ll quickly become uncomfortably hot. Dress like it’s 15-20 degrees warmer than it actually is. Once your blood gets moving, you’ll be warm through the rest of the run.
  2. Stay hydrated. Winter trail running can trick you into thinking you’re not working as hard, which can lead to dehydration. Hydrate before and after you run, and carry water with you on longer runs.
  3. Shorten your stride. Running with a shorter stride than normal is a great trick to stay steady and upright, especially when the trails get icy. By keeping your feet under your center of gravity, you can maintain more control of your body and avoid painful falls.

Winter Running Safety

Winter trail running is exciting and beautiful, but also comes with hazards like slippery grades and shorter windows of light and warmth. Follow these tips to stay safe while trail running in the winter:

  1. Use traction. Even if your winter trail running shoes have the gnarliest tread you can find, those smooth rubber lugs can only do so much on slippery, icy trails. Brands like MICROspikes and Yaktrax make high-quality traction devices that are easy to pack, put on, and take off.
  2. Run when you have the best light. Saving your run for midday means you’ll benefit from the most sunlight and natural warmth. If you must run early in the morning or late in the evening, be sure to carry an extra layer, an extra set of gloves, and a headlamp. Since trails will likely be icier at these hours, also bring traction. 
  3. Grab a buddy. Even if you prefer to run solo, winter trails can get lonely. Trail running in the snow with a friend (even one that’s four-legged) keeps your mind off the cold, and is safer, to boot. If you can’t convince anyone else to hit the trail, make sure you let a family member or friend know where you’re headed and when you plan to return.

Winter Trail Running Gear

Proper gear makes trail running in the winter safe and more fun. Your winter trail running clothes should include a layer system composed of:

  • Running jacket
  • Pants
  • Shoes
  • Socks
  • Gloves 
  • Hat or headband 

Aside from your outfit and footwear, other gear you may need for winter trail running includes traction devices such as YAXTRAX, a headlamp for night runs, gaiters for running in deep snow, and a hydration system. 

Here are some quick toe-to-head tips for hitting the trail in winter:

Put Your Best (and Warmest) Foot Forward

Proper footwear may be the most important component of your winter running wardrobe. Light or midweight merino wool socks paired with fully waterproof trail running shoes will protect your feet through ice and slush. In addition to keeping snow and water from soaking through your shoes, a waterproof GORE-TEX membrane helps your feet stay warm. 

Pro Tip: Most trail running shoes will suffice, especially those with aggressive tread, ut if you’re logging serious miles on snowy, icy trails, consider a dedicated winter trail running shoe like the Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX.

Layer, Layer, Layer

Depending on the day’s forecast, wear between two and four layers. Here’s a go-to system fit for the coldest New England days: 

  • Compression base layer 
  • Long-sleeve or short-sleeve shirt (synthetic or wool, never cotton) 
  • Winter running jacket 

If it’s only moderately cold, skip the shirt and swap out the jacket for a running vest. Just a little chilly out? A long-sleeve shirt and running vest should do the trick.

For winter running pants, consider leggings or running tights with a soft fleece lining and a little bit of compression. If it’s a particularly blustery day, choose pants with windproof paneling.

Don’t Forget to Accessorize

A chilly trail run is far more enjoyable if your ears, hands, and feet stay warm. Here’s how to accessorize properly for low temperatures and biting wind:

  • Warm your ears. A fleece headband or a running hat will keep your ears from freezing.
  • Protect your neck. A neck gaiter or a Buff (like the Polar Reversible Buff) offer excellent, versatile protection for your neck and face.
  • Avoid frostbitten fingers. If it’s above freezing, a pair of liner gloves is usually enough to keep hands happy. But once the temperature dips below 32°F, it’s time to break out actual running gloves.
  • Keep your feet dry. Running gaiters keep the white stuff from getting inside your shoes and turning into wet stuff.

With the right running gear, a little extra planning, and a few additional layers, a wintry trail can be one of the best ways to stay fit and pass the time during the cold winter months.

When it comes to winter trail running, Ashley Peck is more a “do as she says, not as she does” type of gal. But despite the number of times she’s shown up with two different sized MICROspikes or only one glove, Ashley’s snowy scampers are often her favorites.