How & Why to Keep Running in Winter

Two runners outside running in the winter, with snow falling around them

As the temperature drops and snowflakes start to fall, many runners retreat indoors and switch to treadmill workouts for the colder months. However, with the right knowledge and preparation, winter running can be an exciting experience with unique benefits that keeps your fitness routine thriving.

In this blog post, we'll explore the differences between running in winter and summer, the additional gear you'll need, the advantages of winter running, and essential cold weather running tips for those new to this activity.

What's different about running in winter vs. summer? What additional gear do you need?

The main differences between running in winter versus summer are environmental. These may vary depending on where you live, but typically you'll face cold temperatures, short days, and increased road and trail hazards, like snow and ice.

1. Dress the Part

Closeup of person running while wearing the element micro crew socks in black

Layering is key when it comes to running in colder temperatures. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer (we like Merino Wool) to keep sweat away from your skin. Then, add an insulating layer for warmth. Finish with a windproof and waterproof outer layer to protect against wind chill and the elements.

Don't forget a hat, gloves, neck gaiter and Merino Wool socks (especially cushioned socks for running). Preferences vary, but we think our best winter running socks are the Men’s Element Micro Crew and the Women’s Element Micro Crew socks.

2. Have Proper Traction

Runner putting micro spikes on over their running sneakers for traction on the ice

In icy or snowy conditions, invest in running shoes with better traction. Depending on where you're running, you may need traction aids like crampons or spikes to prevent slipping and falling. Pay attention to the conditions you're running in on a given day.

3. Visibility and Safety

With shorter daylight hours, it's essential your running gear makes you visible to others to stay safe. Wear reflective clothing and accessories, bring a headlamp if you're running in the dark, and opt for well-lit routes whenever possible.

Why should you run in winter? Is it better to just switch to a treadmill?

How you answer these questions may be different than how someone else answers them. For example, there's no hard and fast rule for when it's too cold to run, but if it's below zero, the treadmill could be a good idea. That said, there are definite benefits to continuing regular run outdoors, despite the cold air.

Woman running on a snowy street in proper cold weather gear

1. Mental Refreshment

Running outdoors in winter offers a refreshing change of scenery and can break the monotony of indoor workouts. The crisp air and winter landscapes can rejuvenate your mind and invigorate your senses.

2. Mental Toughness

Running in less-than-ideal conditions builds mental fortitude and discipline. Conquering winter challenges can boost your confidence and improve your overall running performance.

3. Vitamin D Exposure

While winter days are shorter, running outside can still provide some exposure to natural light, allowing your body to produce essential vitamin D.

4. Strengthen Muscles

Winter running on uneven and potentially slippery surfaces engages stabilizing muscles, promoting strength and balance gains. Just remember to wear proper traction for the conditions you're running in.

Person at their car pulling on gloves

What's great about winter running?

Turns out, cold weather running has some solid pros.

1. Less Heat Stress

Running in colder weather reduces the risk of overheating, making it easier to maintain your pace and enjoy longer runs.

2. Increased Calorie Burn

Cold weather can stimulate your body to burn more calories as it works to regulate your core body temperature.

3. Solitude and Serenity

Many outdoor runners shy away from the cold, leaving winter trails and paths relatively empty, providing you with a tranquil and peaceful running experience.

4. Achieving Goals

Staying active throughout the winter can help you maintain your fitness level and keep you on track to achieve your workout goals.

What are some tips for people just starting out?

If you're just getting into winter running (or just starting running in general), here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Start Slow and Warm Up

Begin with shorter distances and a slower pace to let your body adapt to the colder conditions. Always start with a dynamic warm-up indoors to get your blood flowing and avoid shocking your muscles with the cold.

Two people running across a bridge surrounded by snow on a winter day

2. Choose the Right Footwear

Invest in winter-specific running shoes or traction aids to ensure a safer and more enjoyable running experience. Choose temperature-regulating running socks with arch support; we prefer a mid-crew height for the extra calf warmth. More thoughts on choosing the right running socks here

3. Hydrate and Protect Your Skin

Even in colder weather, it's essential to stay hydrated and protect your skin from windburn and chapping.

4. Listen to Your Body

Be mindful of any signs of frostbite or hypothermia. If conditions are extreme, consider a shorter run or moving your workout indoors.

5. Run with a Buddy

Running with a friend can make the experience more enjoyable and provide safety and support during winter runs.

Two people running down a snowy street together

Embrace the Chill

Winter running may seem intimidating at first, but with the right preparation and mindset, it can be a fantastic addition to your fitness routine. Embrace the chill, dress appropriately, and follow these tips to have a rewarding winter running experience. By doing so, you'll maintain your fitness goals, experience a fresh perspective on your surroundings, and develop mental toughness that will benefit you throughout the year.

So, lace up your shoes, head outside, and enjoy the crisp air as you conquer the winter roads and trails. Happy running!