Tips and Best Gear for Running in Cold Weather and Winter

Running in Cold Weather and Winter

Sound off if you’ve been in a situation like this before. You decide to go for a nice, impromptu run. You put on some loose-fitting clothes, do your warm-up, and drink an ice-cold bottle of water. Then the moment finally arrives for you to begin, only to open the door and realize the weather outside is frightful. Yep, we’ve all been there before. That’s why it’s imperative to know all the tips and have all the gear needed for running in cold weather and winter.

Some may find that the summer is the ideal time for running, but that doesn’t mean you should hibernate during the winter. After all, running in cold weather is so much fun. Not only is there a lot less sweat involved thanks to the lack of sun and accessible wind. The cold weather also gives you an excuse to change up your normal running wardrobe, switching those basketball shorts and tank-tops for sweatpants and long-sleeve shirts.

Plus, with winter comes the added benefit of snowfall in some areas. This is a game changer for two reasons: 1) it provides an exciting change of scenery as you run down your normal route; 2) running in snow provides better traction and requires a different kind of muscle movement than traditional roads.

Any way you slice it, winter is a great time for running. But before you embark on your reindeer games, there’s a few things you should know.

Tips for Running in Cold Weather and Winter

Before you start running in cold weather and winter, make sure to review these tips. Doing so will not only make your run more enjoyable, but keep you safe.

Tip 1: Hit the Ground Running

The key to running in cold weather is (ironically enough) spending as little time outside as possible. No, that does not mean staying home and hitting the treadmill by the fireplace instead. It means try to make sure that once you’re outside you waste no time beginning your run.

Conversely, once you’re done running, get inside as soon as humanly possible. Do not pass go, and do not collect hypothermia. Part of that includes relegating your warm-ups, breaks, and cool-downs to somewhere indoors.

Tip 2: Dress For Success

On paper, this may seem like a pretty straightforward tip. It’s cold outside, so bundle up, wear layers, and avoid loose-fitting clothes, right? Wrong! We will get to some recommended cold weather workout gear in a bit, but there’s a general rule of thumb worth learning before running to Burlington Coat Factory.

On the one hand, it is very important to protect yourself whenever you run out in the cold. That means wearing layers and protecting the extremities you normally don’t cover during warm weather. This includes your head, face, hands, calves, groin, and feet. Don’t automatically assume that means wear a coat, scarf, sweatshirt, or jeans, as these are counterproductive to running.

On the other hand, you don’t want to overdo it. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as being too warm when you’re running in the winter. Remember, winter running is just like any other run, and running causes sweat. The difference is that being too warm in hot weather causes you to tire out faster. Being too warm in cold weather increases your odds of freezing. You don’t want to know the excruciating feeling of wearing a shirt drenched in sweat out in the cold.

Don’t Forget Wind Chill

The best way to prevent either of these extremes is to pay close attention to the weather and wind chill. Place due emphasis on the wind chill as this is what you’ll be feeling when outside. A good rule of thumb when it comes to striking that happy medium would be dressing as if it’s ten degrees hotter than the wind chill. That way, you’ll start off a bit cold and get warmer as time goes on during your winter run.

Your mileage may vary, though. So, try using this as a general guideline. Pay close attention to your body to see how you can tweak it to your liking.

Tip 3: Don’t Forget to Hydrate

It’s easy to assume that with the cold air and blustering wind hitting your face that you may not really need to hydrate. However, just as mentioned earlier, a run in the cold is the same as any other run. In fact, your body may be working harder, given your likelihood of running on snow. Your body will become hot after a while and you can dehydrate because of it. Take it from any runner or athlete that came before you. Dehydrating is as awful of a feeling as it is dangerous. So, please, don’t leave the water bottles at home.

Also, because a few of you are no doubt thinking it, hot cocoa and coffee are NOT worthy substitutes for water. You’re welcome in advance.

Footprints in the Snow
Footprints in the Snow

Tip 4: Mind Your Step

Whether you’re a novice, recreational, or professional runner, odds are that everyone can agree with the following statement: The quality of a good run is directly determined by our ability to do so while not slipping and falling. There’s just something about slipping on some unseen ice that’s kind of a mood-killer (and a bone-breaker). Needless to say, if you don’t want your next winter run to be your last for a while, best pay close attention to where you’re stepping.

True, that’s much easier said than done. After all, black ice isn’t all that easy to spot on a whim. That’s why a good way to get around the risk is to avoid the road as much as possible. Preferably, try to run on the snow or grass, since ice doesn’t build on those places easily. However, if you must run on the sidewalk or road, just keep your eyes peeled for any questionable surface. If you see something suspicious, walk around it as best you can. Remember, it only takes one slip up to… slip up.

Tip 5: Know Your Limits

There’s nothing like the exhilarating feeling of a runner’s high. When you’re in the heat of the moment and feel like nothing short of your feet falling off could get in the way of your stride. Those are moments that runners live for, though all good things must come to an end sometimes. This is especially true when it comes to extreme weather — whether hot or cold. Running in cold weather is no exception, and you must take a conservative view to be safe.

Every athlete knows the importance of admitting their limitations. It’s a hard lesson to learn, especially for those who are goal-driven or routine-oriented. Plus, since everyone is different it may be easy to assume you can handle going just another mile longer just because your cold-blooded friends can. However, sometimes there are things you shouldn’t do on a 10-degree day that you normally would on a 60 degree day. Don’t be afraid to alter the length of your run depending on the temperature (like the aforementioned clothing tip above). At the end of the day it’s for the greater good.

Don’t think this means you shouldn’t push yourself. Just always know when to walk away. Speaking of which…

Tip 6: Cool-Down By Warming Up

Cooling-down takes on a whole new meaning during the winter than it does the summer. As backwards as it may sound, the goal of cooling-down is warming-up.

The first thing you should do during your post-run is head straight indoors. As soon as the door closes, get out of those workout clothes immediately. Your post-run rituals can wait long enough for you to warm your body up. (I’m talking hot showers, sweaters, fuzzy slippers, the works). Perform your cool-down right next to the nearest fireplace or heater and wrap up your successful winter run with a refreshing hot beverage.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Go Solo

This one is totally optional but also highly recommended. Like most things in life, running is an activity that’s best enjoyed among good company. So, whenever possible, try and grab a close friend, relative, romantic partner, or pet to come along with you. Alternatively, check your area for any local running groups or events happening around you. Not only does company make your running experience more engaging. It also works as an effective motivator to get you out the door.

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I have been a lifelong fitness student and enthusiast ever since winning the gold at conference in the 100 butterfly and 200 IM back in my “glory days.” I am also a writer and the marketing wizard here at My Top Fitness. I have an ever-growing list of interests, including swimming, running, golf, bowling, speedcubing, speed running (old Nintendo games), locksport, cooking, chess, tournament poker, fishing, hiking, camping, and sleight of hand, just to name a few. On some platforms, you can find me as the self-appointed “Jack of all Hobbies” I am a proud husband and father of 2 children, a.k.a. gremlins, and I am super excited to help as many people as possible on their individual fitness journeys.