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December 6, 2021
To make the most of your winter running outings this year, you need to make sure you’re properly equipped. Running specialist Paméla Boucher shares her top tips and helps us select the perfect clothing and accessories for braving the snow and cold. Paméla has always been passionate about running. Even though she has enjoyed running outdoors since a very young age, she does admit that her first “serious” outings weren’t easy ones! Running is a sport that takes some getting used to, and sometimes, it’s a little while before you really fall in love with it. This is even truer in winter, so it’s important to choose equipment that will allow you to get the best possible experience right from the start.Running shoes, clothing, must-have accessories… Let’s have a closer look at the equipment you will need when you’re out running on the fresh snow – even on those days when temperatures make you want to stay home!
In this article, you will discover Paméla Boucher's best tips for running in winter:
The biomechanics of running isn’t the same in winter as in the warmer seasons. There is snow, and sometimes even sheets of ice on the ground, which increase the risk of falling.
Running in winter means increasing your stride rate (the number of steps per minute) and taking smaller steps. You want your feet to “bite” into the snow and get maximum traction. Ideally, get your hands on a good pair of trail running shoes with lugs on the outsole. Road running shoes, with their smooth outsole, are better suited for dry conditions.
If you’re looking for winter running footwear, check out specialty brands like Salomon, which has truly mastered the art of creating running shoes for men and women. The French brand continuously innovates to offer grippy, sturdy and highly comfortable models that equip some of the world’s best trail athletes.
For the harshest conditions and thickest layers of snow, go with a pair of waterproof shoes with a Gore-Tex membrane. Salomon’s famous Speedcross model, for instance, has and continues to set the standard for the snowy trail adventures of runners, both women and men.
Another benefit of switching to trail running shoes in winter is the presence of a stone guard at the front, which prevents you from hurting yourself on rocks and roots hidden beneath the snow cover.
Protecting your extremities is essential when running in winter. Whether or not you have waterproof winter running shoes, you should always wear a good pair of socks.
Socks made from merino wool (or a blend of merino and synthetic fibres) are by far the best option. Thicker and breathable, they sit high on the calf and stay comfortable even when you sweat – perfect for running in the cold!
Running outdoors when the mercury drops below zero involves more than simply putting on a winter running jacket. It may seem unlikely, but it is possible to overheat (and overdress) when running in winter. If you feel slightly cold in the first few minutes of your outing, that’s a good sign: your body will warm up quickly, and you will soon be at the “right” temperature. If you cover up too much, there’s a high chance your clothes will get wet as you sweat, and you definitely don’t want that.
The best approach for staying warm and comfortable is the multi-layer system. Create a combination of three: a base layer, a mid-layer and an outer layer. Helpful tip: Dress as if it were 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature.
By layering several pieces of clothing for your winter running outings, your body temperature will easily adjust to your level of exertion. If you get too hot, you can simply remove a layer.
When it comes to underwear, choose comfortable, moisture-wicking pieces, preferably designed for active pursuits (e.g., sports bras).
For your base layer, you could, for example, put on a fitted long-sleeved merino wool sweater. This material ensures warmth, breathability and comfort. Steer clear of cotton, which becomes uncomfortable when damp. If merino wool is not an option, choose synthetic materials that wick sweat away from the skin.
On top of your base layer, add a thicker, warmer mid-layer. This is a must-have winter running piece of clothing for both men and women.
The idea here is to stay protected from the cold while allowing sweat to escape outwards. Therefore, this layer must be insulated and breathable.
Make sure the mid-layer you choose offers good ease of movement and is not too thick. This way, you will feel comfortable under the “top” layer, i.e., the shell or jacket.
A good winter running jacket is essential to protect you from the cold, wind and snow. Different options are available here: soft shell, windproof jacket, insulated jacket, cross-country ski jacket (for men or women)…
The most important thing is that the outer layer remains comfortable while having plenty of breathability, windproof and waterproof properties. Salomon’s Gore-Tex models offer the perfect balance between ease of movement and body heat conservation.
This is the layer that will act as a barrier against the elements, so choose it carefully. You can also remove it if you start to feel hot during an outing.
Consider a running jacket or vest that is both functional (in terms of pockets, notably) and safe, with a good number of reflective strips. It’s no secret that winter is a season of low light and obscurity. Stay visible!
Just because your legs are active throughout your outing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep them protected from the cold. Nobody likes to come home from a run with their legs all red due to exposure to sub-zero temperatures.
Most winter running bottoms, like tops, are designed specifically for men or women, taking into account morphological differences. However, both men and women have similar alternatives: winter running leggings or insulated pants.
If you opt for leggings, whether under shorts or on their own, you should ideally go with a warm, lined model (not made of cotton). If it’s really cold, you can add a pair of windproof pants to your outfit.
Another option is running or cross-country ski pants – possibly Gore-Tex in case of harsh weather conditions. Just make sure they are windproof.
Check out Salomon’s Cross Warm soft shell pants, for example, available in men’s and women’s models.
You have your winter running shoes? Your three layers of clothing? You’re almost there! Now all you have to do is think of protecting your extremities, as a significant amount of your body heat is lost through your head, hands and feet.
Covering your head with a tuque suitable for winter running is a must. Choose a thin merino wool tuque that covers your ears completely. Perfect in every season, merino wool wicks moisture and naturally regulates body temperature, as well as preventing odours. Cotton should be avoided, because it absorbs moisture and rapidly cools the skin. Synthetic-fibre tuques, often thin and lightweight, can also be a great option, depending on the temperature.
Skip the pom-poms and focus on functionality, perhaps choosing a tuque with an opening at the back if you like your hair in a ponytail or bun, for instance. Ideally, your tuque should also have reflective strips. Salomon’s Winter unisex training tuque, among others, is an excellent ally for cold (or very cold!) weather.
If the weather is mild, you can also go out for a run wearing a running headband adapted to winter conditions.
To keep your hands warm, look for men’s or women’s winter accessories. Gloves offer better dexterity, but they tend to retain heat less effectively unless they’re very thick. Although less practical, mittens provide good protection from the cold, because the fingers “share” the heat they emit.
Some runners combine the two, using a pair of thin, close-fitting gloves underneath a pair of thick mittens. This solution is optimal when the mercury drops below -10 degrees. If you get hot while running, you can always remove the mittens and carry them in your hands.
In all cases, opt for waterproof and windproof gloves, two essential qualities to prevent frostbite.
Wear a neck warmer to complement your tuque and maximize your chances of staying warm as you burn off energy. If you realize you left it behind, go back and get it! Running with a cold neck is no fun at all.
Depending on your preferences, you can also replace the tuque and neck warmer combo with a quality merino wool balaclava.
Running in winter means constantly adapting – to the temperature, the terrain, the level of snow, the time of day, the type of outing… It also means adjusting the accessories you wear.
If you haven’t purchased trail running shoes (yet) or prefer to keep wearing your regular running shoes, you may want to consider special winter running cleats that you can install under the soles. This option can be interesting in some cases, like if you mainly run on very snowy or icy trails. However, cleats quickly get uncomfortable on paved surfaces.
If you’re a fan of early-morning or evening after-work runs, bring along a headlamp – to see, of course, but also to be seen. This handy little device will certainly save you a few falls during the season: in winter as in summer, you want to see where you put your feet. You can’t go wrong with brands like Petzl or Black Diamond.
Hydration is just as important in winter as it is in summer. To run without restricting your movements, carry a waist pack with water bottles or a lightweight hydration pack, for example. Salomon is a safe bet in this area, too.
Finally, to keep track of your training, it’s recommended to use a tracking tool, such as a watch with an activity monitor, to collect all the data you need (heart rate, distance covered, etc.).
If you want to run well when it’s white outside, you need more than a nice jacket and some winter-ready running shoes. Here are Paméla Boucher’s top tips.
During the cold season, forget about your “personal best” goals and focus on safety with shoes adapted to your needs. Work on your endurance with long, fun-focused runs rather than trying to improve your maximum aerobic speed or specific half-marathon pace. In winter, you’ll want to focus on increasing your running volume to improve your overall endurance. There will be plenty of time to resume pace work and interval sessions in the spring.
Another equally important tip is to warm up before you go off on your run, either outside or at home. Avoid starting off “cold,” and take it easy for the first few kilometres, just long enough to get the machine going. Running in winter is more demanding on our bodies, tendons and ligaments, and more likely to lead to musculoskeletal injuries.
Stay dynamic during your outing. If necessary, slow down to a walk instead of stopping completely to prevent getting cold. Bear in mind that you will cool down very quickly if you stop. Once again, try adding 10 degrees to the outside temperature to determine what you should wear. Works every time!
Finally, make sure you’re visible at all times. Remember to wear reflective clothing in winter, as the sun rises late and sets early.
So, you’ve got your winter running leggings, your headband, your new mittens… Now all you have to do is apply these tips for optimal running on snow and ice! Running enthusiasts across Canada continue to run in the winter. Consistency is the key to making progress.
Whether you’re running in parks, in the street or on the trails, you will need to adjust your stride. Increase your cadence, i.e., the number of steps per minute, and reduce the length of each stride. You’ll benefit from increased stability and minimize the risk of falling. You can also spread your arms a little wider to improve your balance, especially when approaching ice patches. Each stride is more challenging in the snow, but you’ll make real gains in proprioception and strength.
Always stay focused, even if your pace is slow. Falls often occur when you’re chatting with your training partner or are a bit too absorbed in the podcast you’re listening to.
Lastly, adapt your runs and avoid long interval sessions when temperatures are low. The body already uses up a lot of energy to fight the cold. Focus on fundamental endurance sessions at a pace you can maintain without tiring yourself out too much. Take care not only to eat well but also to stay hydrated.
Running in winter allows you to stay in shape, take on new challenges and surpass yourself. Exercising outdoors in winter is also ideal for boosting your mood, especially if you run during sunny hours. And just because you’re running a little slower doesn’t mean you’re not making progress – on the contrary!
So find some comfortable, high-performance running shoes and clothing for winter, head outside and enjoy the sound of your footsteps in the snow!