14 Cold Weather Running Safety Tips

How to Keep Running Outside in the Winter

Falling temperatures and fewer daylight hours don't mean that your outdoor running routine has to go into hibernation for the winter. Running in cold weather can help shake those winter blues, boost your energy level, and guarantee that you'll be in better shape once bathing suit season rolls around. Follow these safety tips for cold weather running:

Dress in thin, wicking layers.

Young woman jogging in winter landscape
Marcus Bernhard/Taxi/Getty Images

Start with a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene, which wicks sweat from your body. Stay away from cotton because it holds the moisture and will keep you wet. An outer, breathable layer of nylon or Gore-Tex will help protect you against wind and precipitation, while still letting out heat and moisture to prevent overheating and chilling. If it's really cold out, you'll need a middle layer, such as polar fleece, for added insulation.

More: Tips on Dressing for Winter Running

Protect your hands and feet.

nike lightweight running gloves
Photo courtesy of PriceGrabber

As much as 30% of your body heat escapes through your hands and feet. On mild days, wear running gloves that wick moisture away. Mittens are a better choice on colder days because your fingers will share their body heat. You can also tuck disposable heat packets into your mittens. Add a wicking sock liner under a warm polar fleece or wool sock, but make sure you have enough room in your running shoes to accommodate these thicker socks.

More: How to Keep Your Feet Warm on Cold Runs
Cold Weather Running Socks
Running Gear for Winter Running

Pay attention to temperature and wind chill.

If the wind is strong, it penetrates your clothes and removes the insulating layer of warm air around you. Your movement also creates wind chill because it increases air movement past your body. If the temperature dips below zero or the wind chill is below minus 20, hit the treadmill instead.

Avoid overdressing.

You're going to warm up once you get moving, so you should feel a little bit chilly when you start your run. If you're warm and comfortable when you first start, you're going to start sweating very early in your run. A good rule of thumb: Dress as if it's 20 degrees warmer outside than it really is.

More: Tips for Cold Weather Racing
What Not to Wear Running

Don't forget to cover your head.

Snow running
Photo by David J. Spurdens

About 40% of your body heat is lost through your head. Wearing a hat will help prevent heat loss, so your circulatory system will have more heat to distribute to the rest of the body. When it's really cold, wear a face mask or a scarf over your mouth to warm the air you breathe and protect your face.
More: Men's Winter Running Hats
Women's Winter Running Hats

Watch for frostbite.

On really cold days, make sure you monitor your fingers, toes, ears, and nose. They may feel numb at first, but they should warm up a few minutes into your run. If you notice a patch of hard, pale, cold skin, you may have frostbite. Get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area. If numbness continues, seek emergency care.

Run into the wind.

Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty

If you head out into the wind, it will be at your back at the end of your workout. That's preferable to running into the wind during the second half of your run,  when you're sweaty and could catch a chill.
More:  Tips for Running in the Wind

Check with your MD.

Cold air can trigger chest pain or asthma attacks in some people. Before braving the elements, talk to your doctor if you have any medical conditions or concerns about exercising outdoors.

Stay hydrated.

Fuel Belt Sprint Bottle

Despite the cold weather, you'll still heat up and lose fluids through sweat. Cold air also has a drying effect, which can increase the risk of dehydration. Make sure you drink water or a sports drink before, during, and after your run. Most public drinking fountains are turned off in the winter, so you'll have to carry your own fluids using a hand-held or belt water bottle.
More: How to Stay Hydrated Before, During, and After Runs

Don't stay in wet clothes.

If you get wet from rain, snow, or sweat in cold temperatures, you're at an increased risk for hypothermia, a lowering of your body temperature. If you're wet, change your clothes and get to warm shelter as quickly as possible. If you suspect hypothermia -- characterized by intense shivering, loss of coordination, slurred speech, and fatigue -- get emergency treatment immediately.

Wear running sunglasses.

Oakley Half Jacket Sunglasses

The glare from snow can cause snow blindness, so wear sunglasses (polarized lenses are best) to avoid this problem.
More: Top Running Sunglasses

Be visible.

night running
Photo by Scott Markewitz

It's best to avoid running in the dark but, if you have to run at night, wear reflective gear and light-colored clothing. Dress in bright colors if you're running in the snow.
More: Reflective Gear for Runners
Safety Tips for Running Outside

Take it easy when it's frigid.

Treadmill running
Photo by Andersen Ross

You're at greater risk for a pulled muscle when running in the cold, so warm up slowly and run easy on very cold days. Save your tough workouts for milder days or run them indoors on a treadmill.

Remember sunscreen.

Coppertone Sunscreen Stick

Sunburn is still possible in the winter because the snow reflects the sun's rays. Protect your lips with lip balm, too, to keep them from getting burned and chapped.

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