Winter Running Guide: What to Wear, Where to Go & Cold Weather Tips

By: Rachel McCullough

Winter running is better than summer running. Yep, I said it. Now, I just have to convince you of why this is true. While winter running might conjure up memories of cold fingers and frosty eyelashes, it can also mean the quiet (and sometimes dark) solitude of a peaceful snowy morning and nothing but you in your own personal snow globe. But, it can only be enjoyed like this if you’re prepared.Lake Tahoe views from the Tahoe East Shore Trail, near Sand Harbor.

Gorgeous views from the Tahoe East Shore Trail, a paved path near Sand Harbor.

Winter Running Gear

While some of my winter activity choices might indicate otherwise, I really don’t like being cold. Cold hands are a big no in my book and cold feet are a close second.

I typically run before 6 am all year round. In the winter, that means it’s dark out and generally in the teens. But you never know. We had a 7-degree morning and a 35-degree morning all within the span of a few weeks.

The weather is the first thing I check when I get up.

I generally use 20-25 degrees as the dividing line and change up my gear above or below that. I aim to start out a little cold, so that that I can avoid sweating too much as I get warmed up.

The author bundled up for a cold winter run with temps below 25 degrees.
Cold weather running is fun and comfortable with the right gear.

What to Wear for Cold Weather Running Below 25 Degrees

A close up view of the authors winter running gear for running when temps are above 25 degrees.The essential winter running kit.

What to Wear for Cold Weather Running Above 25 Degrees

  • buff to cover ears
  • visor hat
  • t-shirt
  • light fleece
  • windbreaker
  • fleece-lined running tights
  • waterproof trail running shoes (Altra Lone Peak RSM)
  • gloves or mittens

Other Gear Depending on the Conditions

Early winter, you may be running on dirt! But as soon as the snow starts to fly, you’ll be happier, more comfortable and safer with these in your kit:

The author wearing a running vest on a snowy trail, essential for winter running.
All smiles on a crisp, clear winter day in Truckee-Tahoe!

What’s in My Winter Running Vest

Since running on the snow can be challenging and a lot slower than summer running, it might be tempting to go without a vest or some kind of pack. It’s tiring enough, right?

However, if you’re running out in the woods and need to stop, you’ll be cold in an instant. And just like you would bring hiking or backcountry skiing, a few essentials will help keep you safer in a worst-case scenario situation. And, always tell a friend where you’re off to!

I carry everything in my Ultimate Direction running vest.

  • emergency blanket
  • ultra-light down alternative with hood
  • snacks
  • water, although be prepared for it to freeze if you’re out for a while. Drink early!
  • chapstick
  • electrolytes
  • cell phone with map app like Gaia GPS or CalTopo.
  • Garmin inReach Mini
Early morning sunrise views from a snowy winter running trail in Truckee-Tahoe.
Sunset views of Downtown Truckee from a nicely packed trail.

Where to Run in the Winter

Now that you have everything you need, the fun part is deciding where to go.

Your Neighborhood Trails

My neighborhood trails are my go-to for winter running. I know them well, so it’s easy for me to run them in the dark. Since they are right by my house, it’s easy for me to break trail right after it snows to maintain a path. And, it’s even better if you have neighbors who can help with the effort. While I did spend an hour breaking trail with snowshoes after our last 4 foot dump, I didn’t make that much headway. But with all of my neighbors out too, it got done!

A Paved Trail

Many of Truckee’s paved trails are plowed all winter long. It’s easy to find out when the plow last hit your favorite trail:

  • The Legacy Trail. start from town or Glenshire and you’ll have miles of pavement to pound. Note that even with the plowing there are sections that ice up and are safer to walk.
  • The East Shore Trail. It’s worth the drive before the snow flies or in a low snow year
  • Trout Creek Trail. If hills are your thing!

Truckee Classics

  • Martis Valley Loop. Parking is limited in the winter, so get there early
  • Martis Dam Road. Another low-snow favorite
  • Donner Lake State Park. Follow the campground road, it makes a nice loop out to the lake and back.
Breaking trail on a run through deep snow during a winter storm.
Even during a deep winter storm, you can find trails for running.

Why Winter Running Is So Good

Once you have your gear all set and know where you’re going, it’s time to enjoy.

Some of the many reasons I like winter running best:

  • The solitude of the mornings. I rarely see anyone out early in the morning in the winter, so I can talk to myself, sing, and run slowly without feeling judged ;)
  • The moon. I’d have to get up a whole lot earlier to enjoy running in the moonlight during the summer. While I am an early bird, there is such a thing as too early, even for me!
  • It’s not actually cold. If I’m dressed properly, I don’t actually feel cold. But in the summer it is definitely way too hot most of the time!
  • It’s refreshing. There is something about the crisp air, the bright snow, and the clear air that is rejuvenating.
  • I don’t need gallons of water. If I’m properly dressed and not sweating too much, I don’t have to carry much water. Which is a good thing, since it will freeze on the colder days! No need for a water filter or iodine in my pack!

Get out there and give it a go!

Need some motivation? I have some for you.

Author: Rachel McCullough

Rachel never turns down an adventure, whether it’s a dawn patrol or polar swim (without a wetsuit!). Rain or shine, she’s motivated to get outside. Besides playing in the mountains, you’ll find her at the helm of McCullough Web Services, the company she founded to help clients improve their online presence with impeccably-designed and easy-to-use websites. 

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