Cold Weather Running Safety Tips

How to Keep Running Outside in the Winter

By Christine Luff , Guide

Updated November 29, 2010

Falling temperatures and fewer daylight hours don’t mean that your outdoor running routine has to go

into hibernation for the winter. Running through the cold weather can help shake those winter blues,

improve your energy level, and guarantee that you’ll be in better shape once bathing suit season rolls

around. Follow these tips for cold weather running:

Dress in Layers

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.

Protect Your Hands and Feet

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.

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. A good rule of thumb: Dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer outside than it really is.

Don’t Forget Your Head

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.

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.

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.

Get Some Shades

The glare from snow can cause snow blindness, so wear sunglasses (polarized lenses are best) to

avoid this problem.

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.

Stay Hydrated

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.