A few years ago when I started to trail run more, I thought when the snow and ice came, it meant we’d abandon the trails for the roads till the spring thaw came along. The trails would only be a place to snowshoe or hike. We can’t run in that stuff.
But then a friend set me straight. Oh no, no, no. We run on trails ALL year ’round. With her help, I picked up the gear I needed to do just that.
I’ve had a few friends get the trail running bug in the past month. It seems like an odd time to try out trail running when the dirt ribbons are now snow ribbons but it inspired me to share my winter trail running tips. I’m by no means an expert. This is what I’ve found works best for me. Everyone’s comfort level is different so you may need to tweak things to see what works for you.
Dressing for a winter trail run isn’t too different than what you would wear for winter running if you live in a cold climate. Layers are key. It’s very tempting to put on ALL the layers before your run but you want to be chilly at the beginning of your run. I like to think of the old adage about jewelry – take one piece off before you leave the house. Do the same with your layers!
Here’s what you should be wearing from head to toe on your next winter trail run.
If the temps are in the upper 20s to the 30s, I’ll wear a headband. It keeps my ears warm but lets the heat out too. If it’s any colder, I’ll wear a tech material hat. Skida (affiliate link) is my fave brand for both headbands and hats. They are made for sweat induced cold weather activity so you won’t end up with soaked frozen material.
My hands are always cold so I opt for mittens over gloves once the temps are below 30 degrees. If the wind is really blowing, I’ll double up with a pair of thin gloves under the mittens. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Popping hand warmers (affiliate link) in my mittens is something that always works. However, if the temps are in the 30s, I’ll pick a lightweight pair of gloves.
Upper and Lower Body
I’ve really fallen in love with Buffs (affiliate link) this year. If my neck is covered, I can get by with wearing less on my upper body. It also is handy to have for covering your mouth and nose to warm the air on the really cold days. Or you can pull the Buff over your head and turn it into a Balaclava. FYI – it took my forever to spell that correctly. HAHA!
Most days I’ll run with a base layer of a wicking material long sleeve shirt with a water resistant or water proof shell over if it’s actively snowing or raining. Long tights are a must. I am not a fan of fleece lined tights so I’ll stick with thicker material tights. Some of my go-tos are from Saucony and Athleta. If it’s really cold (single digits with windchill), I’ll throw a running skirt over the tights to keep my buns toasty.
I feel like having the right footwear is the biggest winter trail running tip. I will run with exposed ankles in the 20s BUT if it’s actively snowing and/or I’m wearing MICROspikes or running snowshoes, mid length wool socks. Merino wool is a must. Even though your feet will be soaked from the snow, the merino wool will keep you comfortable and surprisingly warm. Plus, taller socks will protect your ankles from the gnarly kicks you’ll receive from your MICROspikes (see below). 😉 My current merino wool faves are from Farm to Feet (affiliate link) and Darn Tough (affiliate link). Pro tip: pack another pair for after your run. You’ll want to get out of wet clothing ASAP post run.
Shoes and Traction
Water resistant or Gore-tex trail running shoes are nice if you are going to be logging lots of snow covered miles. However, it’s not completely necessary to buy a separate pair of trail shoes than what you’d wear any other time of the year. I will wear my Saucony Peregrine ICE+ (affiliate link) fresh snow that requires breaking trail. Trail shoes are a good idea thanks to the extra lugs for better traction.
Speaking of traction, Kahtoola MICROspikes are a life-saver. I’ve run across shear ice with zero fears of wiping out. Even when there’s fresh snow, MICROspikes will give you traction. Coil-type traction doesn’t give you enough grip. Trust me, spikes are the way to go. I’ve had a pair of Kahtoola (affiliate link) for years with zero rust issues. Just make sure you dry them off thoroughly before storing in between usage.
Other options for added traction are screw shoes (you can easily make your own with an old pair of shoes) or running snowshoes. You can check out my winter running footwear guide HERE.
One thing I’ve learned from winter running that goes for the roads and trails is adjusting your attitude. You can’t control the weather but you can control your attitude towards it. If you switch it to a positive rather than a negative, it won’t seem so bad.
What would you add to the list?
Do you like winter trail running?