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Six tips for safe trail running during winter

Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series about winter trail running. (Last year, I also did a four-part series on the basics of trail running (here’s part four, which links back to the previous three in that series).

In the first post in the winter trail running series, I covered the “why.” This post highlights six of the “hows” – a half-dozen tips for before and while you are running on the trail.

1. Layer up: No need to copy Randy in “A Christmas Story,” but you will want to protect yourself from the elements. Start with a moisture-wicking shirt and tights, even better if they are waterproof and/or wind resistant. From there, choose your layers based on the real-feel temperature and add about 20 degrees. Your body will generate plenty of heat during the run so that is why you won’t dress as warmly as if you were running errands, not running trails. A good rule of thumb is to feel cool when you start and warm up in the first mile or two.

2. Protect your extremities: You will need to assemble a collection of reliable and warm socks, gloves and hats for winter running. Your toes, hands and head will be the first body parts to lose heat on a run. I’ve had the most difficulty keeping my hands warm and often need to resort to making fists inside my gloves to keep the fingers warm. I’d recommend trying multiple pairs of gloves and getting an idea on which ones work better the colder it gets. When it’s windy, a neck gaiter or mask will protect you from wind burn — and, during the pandemic, will allow you easy access to cover your mouth and nose when encountering others on the trail. When it comes to socks, look for warm ones that are also water resistant and/or moisture wicking. My favorite is Drymax socks.

3. Use proper footwear: While you may be able to get away with road shoes on basic trails in good conditions, it is not advisable to wear them during winter. A major difference between road and trail shoes is the grip, represented by the lugs that are found on most trail shoes. These help stabilize the runner through mud, slippery rocks, icy patches and more. It’s best to have a local running shoe store expert analyze your gait and make recommendations, based on your individual traits and goals. It’s also a good idea to research unbiased shoe reviews by runners like me on the RunningShoesGuru team. 4. Look out below: Whether I am running in winter or summer or somewhere in between, I try to look about six to 10 feet ahead of me on the trail. That gives me enough time to sidestep a gnarly root, hop over a fallen log, adjust to a protruding rock or otherwise avoid a potential downfall. It’s even more important in winter, when ice becomes more challenging and leftover leaves mask obstacles on the trail.

5. Get lit: Winter means fewer hours of daylight. Most of my runs the past few months have been before sunrise so I am regularly running with a headlamp. As you progress to longer trail runs, especially in new areas, it is a good idea to bring one in your pack anyway. Just in case you get lost, it’s better to have a headlamp than wish you did. I have several headlamps in my rotation, which helps ensure I will have at least one with enough battery juice to get me through the morning run. My favorite is the UltrAspire Lumen 650 Oculus headlamp. (For full disclosure, I am an ambassador for UltrAspire, which I agreed to after trying their products and preferred them over others.)

6. Be sure to hydrate: Even though it feels cold, you will sweat more than you think and need more water than you realize. Hydrate before your run and afterward. If you plan on running for more than an hour, either bring water with you, stash some on the way or find another method to ensure you can rehydrate. If you choose to bring a bottle with you, the water may freeze. To avoid that use an insulated bottle and/or start with warm water.

I appreciate you reading this and welcome your feedback, comments and questions. Look for the next installment in this series coming soon to


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