5 Cold-Weather Trail Running Tips
Don’t let a little weather keep you from the trails this winter.
Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Winter’s coming, and with it, all sorts of weather. But, you’re a trail runner — when the going gets tough, you get out there and get going. Running in the rain, snow, sleet, wind, or just plain cold can be invigorating and make you feel like you can do anything…and these days, we could all use a little extra, adventure-inspired boost. Let’s not let a little weather keep us from those healing trees and that calming dirt.
Here are five tips for winter trail running that will help you get out doing your thing no matter the conditions.
Winter Trail Running Rules
1. Choose your trails wisely.
Trail conditions vary greatly in the winter months, with moisture, wind, and sun affecting the surface and environment. On intensely windy days (especially with sideways-blowing snow), choose trails surrounded by dense trees for protection. If you’re looking for a dry trail versus a snowy or icy trail and live at elevations that have both, depending on the day, seek out a south-facing trail versus a north-facing trail — the south-facing trail will dry out sooner while the north-facing trail will hold snow and ice. Likewise, if you’re looking for a dry trail over a wet trail, head to an exposed area — like trails through grasslands and meadows that receive lots of sun, instead of tree-covered routes.
2. Be strategic with your timing.
If temperatures dip below freezing at night where you live, and then warm up during the day, keep in mind that trails will likely be hard, frozen dirt in the mornings and evenings — a much preferable surface to mid-day mud. Following a snowstorm, morning runs on fresh snow can be more enjoyable than midday runs on slightly melted slop; both morning and midday will be better than end-of-day trail runs on surfaces that may have iced over after melting throughout the day.
3. Choose white over clear.
When running on mixed snow and icy routes, seek out footing on white, crunchy snow instead of clear, slick ice. This may seem obvious, but training your eyes — and subsequently, your feet — to gravitate toward white instead of clear can save you from a nasty slip.
4. Sock up, and other gear.
Layering apparel in winter weather is a given, as is keeping extremities warm with beanies and gloves. But there’s a body part that often gets overlooked with winter running: ankles. Choose long socks that bridge the gap between your trail shoes and your tights to keep that cold—and snow, especially — at bay. And if running on snow or slick surfaces, wear or at least bring traction devices to get a grip. (Review of traction devices coming later this month!)
5. Train into it.
If running on snowy trails, consider easing into longer runs as if you’re running in deep sand… meaning, run for a shorter amount of time the first couple of runs than you would on hard trails. On notably soft surfaces like snow and slush (and sand), your body is working extra hard to stabilize you for forward momentum. Easing toward longer runs on soft surfaces can help mitigate injury and keep you running and enjoying trails through winter.
Lisa Jhung is the author of Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running and Running That Doesn’t Suck: How to Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It).