Tips for Trail Running in Freezing Temps


I don’t know about you, but I love being able to throw on shorts and a t-shirt and run out the door for nice long sunny run. BUT, living in central Pennsylvania that is not an option all year round. We are blessed with living through all four seasons and must adjust our attire for each season. Saturday temps were in the 20s but with the extremely cold winds, it felt like 10 degrees. Heading to the mountains in 10 degrees with cold winds is not always something that makes me jump for joy. Lucky for me the sun was shining and that is rare these days, so I had to go get myself some vitamin D. Below are some tips I use when running in freezing temperatures.

1: Cover your noggin. It is important to make sure you have a hat that covers your ears in extreme cold. Some people go so far as to wear a baklava, but for me, I found it gets wet from my breathing and bothers me more than wearing a nice wool hat that covers my ears and forehead. You will lose heat from your head and find it difficult to stay warm if you don’t have some type of hat.

2: Layer your tops. I always start with an under layer made of a wicking material. I then wear a long sleeve, half zip shirt and in extreme cold, I add a windproof / waterproof jacket. For longer runs, I follow the 20 degree warmer rule where you dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer than the actual temp. Long runs would be defined as anything longer than an hour. Your body warms up quick, and you don’t want to be over dressed or too wet from sweat if the temps are below 20 degrees.

3: Winter running tights / layer legs too. I have a pair of warm winter running pants that are made of fleece on the inside. It has to be COLD outside for me to get these babies out because they are WARM and feel bulky. Saturday I was going out for a quick 5 miles, and given the low temp, I opted to wear them. On Sunday the weather shifted to almost 30 degrees with snow showers, but heavy winds remained. In that case, I wore my under layer made of wicking material and a thin pair of windproof running pants on top.

4: Take care of your feet. I have favorite running socks and trail shoes. Be sure your shoes are made for the terrain you are planning to run. Trails are often snow and/or ice covered this time of year. I always wear micro-spikes over my trail shoes for added grip and safety. For me, it is normal to find stream crossings flooded too; wet feet in freezing temps happen often. For shorter runs (under an hour) it’s not as much of a problem as longer runs. When planning to be out longer than an hour, it is smart to carry a pair of dry socks in your pack just in case you need to switch them out.

5: Don’t forget the gloves. Again, another important area to keep covered in freezing temps is your hands. It makes a huge difference in how you feel when you are wear gloves versus not. You can always take them off if you need; better safe than sorry.

6: Hydrate and fuel. What you need to carry with you depends on how long you plan to be out. Saturday, I headed out for a quick 5 miles. I chose not to carry water or gels. BUT, I know the trails well and I went out and back 2.5 miles. I did not venture too far from the car nor did I get off the main trail. You should always carry food and water on any trail run when you are not familiar with the trails or are venturing off main trails where you could find yourself alone or lost. (This is more for safety than need in this case.) If I don’t carry water with me, I always make sure to have a full bottle in the car. For a run longer than an hour, I carry a pack with water, gels, granola bars, and ginger chews.

7: Take a friend. We always have more fun when we share a trail run with someone. I am blessed that my handsome husband also enjoys trail running, so we make a date of it. I have a sister who loves to take advantage of trail therapy. When they can’t join me, I am lucky enough to have two dogs (one pup in training) and they absolutely love the trails. This tip is more for motivation than it is for weather.

I hope this list helps you get up and get on those trails regardless of the temps. Please share any of your tips below in the comments.