This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.


10 tips to get you prepared for winter trail running

Posted by Jason miller on

Whether you're jogging in the park or scrambling up a mountain, you'll need to be prepared for winter. Trail running expert Keri Wallace explains what to wear and carry on the trails this winter.

By Keri Wallace

You’ve got an ice-cream headache, your face hurts and you can’t feel your feet anymore. This is winter trail running – on a bad day. But on a good day, you’re five years old again, skipping through a white, sparkling playground, making crunchy footprints and grinning like an idiot. Luckily, you can turn your bad days into good days by wearing the right clothes for the weather, having the right kit for the terrain and taking the right equipment with you to stay safe. Here’s how.

1. Carry a headtorch

Night navigation

In winter, the hours are shorter and nightfall comes quickly. A headtorch that is 200-600 lumens and has plenty of battery life is ideal. You can’t rely on your mobile phone as a torch (phone batteries die really quickly in the cold), so carry a second, lightweight headtorch as a backup.
© Dean Leslie/Red Bull Content Pool

2. Wear a hat

Keep your head warm

A hat will help you to conserve heat, but if you find wearing a hat too stuffy, choose a headband that will protect your ears from harsh winds. A neck-gaiter or baselayer with a high neckline is also ‘nice-to-have’ in cold weather.

© Gustavo Cherro/Red Bull Content Pool


3. Layer up

Layers are the key to winter running

Layers are the best way to stay warm in winter and give you options on the trail. A good rule of thumb is to wear three layers, combining the following:

  • A full-length thermal baselayer for wicking moisture away from your body

  • A fleece or primaloft midlayer for insulation – ideally something which retains its warmth when damp

  • A windproof or waterproof barrier to keep off the wind-chill

© Adrian Pop for Wings for Life World Run


4. Opt for a heavier duty waterproof

Your summer rain jacket just won't stand up to winter storms, so opt for a jacket that's fully waterproof – not 'water resistant'. Full waterproofs have a waterproof membrane and fully taped seams, preventing any water from penetrating, while water resistant jackets are not fully taped seamed meaning there's more chance of leakage. Make sure it has a well-fitting and adjustable hood, too – a flapping or billowing hood will really test your sanity!

5. Wear gloves. And more gloves

There's nothing like a fresh winter run

Wear windproof gloves and carry a lightweight pair of warm mitts in your pack for emergencies. If the route you're taking involves hands-on scrambling – or if there is a lot of snowfall – take a couple more lightweight pairs for good measure, as wet gloves mean very cold hands. And hands are pretty important.

© Keri Wallace


6. Wear full-length leggings

Good gear will keep you running whatever the weather

Running in shorts or capris might feel tolerable on a nice day but, if you’re running through deep crusty-snow or long frozen grasses, then say goodbye to your shins (they will be shredded!). Puncturing through frozen puddles can also unexpectedly cut your ankles and shins if exposed, so keep them covered up!

© Inov8


7. Always wear fell or trail shoes suited to running on snow and ice

This means something with aggressive lugs and possibly metal spikes/tips for icy trails. Other options include strap-on winter traction devices. These so-called ‘running crampons’ fit over flexible-soled shoes and are useful on low-level trails (but should not be seen as a replacement for true crampons in the mountain environment). Trail running in snowshoes is commonplace in some countries and using poles can give additional grip and stability in all manner of winter conditions.

In addition to the right shoe choice, you might also consider ankle gaiters and waterproof socks. For shorter runs, you can wear thick woollen mountaineering socks and just let them get wet, but if you're planning on being out for a few hours, waterproof socks will help protect your feet from the cold. Either way, it's important to size-up your trail shoes to accommodate for the extra sock thickness.


8. Over prepare

Have everything you need with you

While you're packing your running bag, always try to think about how cold you would feel if you had to stop running and stay put for a while. The bare essentials should include a full waterproof body cover (in all but perfect forecasts), synthetic/insulation jacket, spare hat and gloves, plus map, compass, survival bag and plenty of food and drink.

© Mats Grimsæth/Salomon Xreid/Red Bull Content Pool


9. Respect the mountains

Mountains deserve the upmost respect

If you’re planning on running up mountains in winter, then be ready for a whole different ball-game. Under most winter conditions, normal mountaineering ‘best practice’ still applies to runners – think axe and crampons. You can buy some very ‘fast-and-light’ options but you must know how to use them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that poles are a suitable replacement for an ice-axe in full-winter. Also consider carrying a lightweight touring axe – and make sure you know how to use it for self-arrest. Equally, if you’re moving in an area with a risk of avalanches (and you’re with a running buddy), then wear a transceiver and pop a shovel and probe in your bags.

Running in the winter mountains is similar, in some respects, to running in a summer alpine environment and, in turn, to ‘fast-and-light’ style alpine mountaineering. The lines between these disciplines are certainly starting to blur, but one thing is for sure – all three require a high level of ability, knowledge and experience.

© Gustavo Cherro/Red Bull Content Pool


10. Tell someone where you’re going...

Let someone know your route

... and don’t be a hero. Navigating in winter is far more difficult than in summer, with many terrain features buried and poor visibility frequent. Make sure your map and compass skills are tip-top and carry a GPS device for back-up if possible.

Keri Wallace is an experienced fell runner and competitive skyrunner, as well as a keen climber and mountaineer. She is director and trail running guide at Girls on Hills Ltd, Scotland. Girls on Hills offer guided fell and trail running for women seeking to take their running away from the roads and into the mountains.

© Graeme Murray/Red Bull Content Pool

← Older Post Newer Post →