How to Run on Snow and Ice

February 5, 2020
how to run on snow and ice
Dawn - PinkChick via Creative Commons on FlickrStay on the trails all winter with these tips for how to run on snow and ice.

I’ve come to welcome the arrival of winter. Sure, winter means slightly fewer races (though there are some good ones!) and a few additional layers when you go out, but don’t believe anyone who says you need to hang up your trail shoes when the temperature drops. I now relish the opportunity to go for a trail run on snow and ice, and you can, too, with these tips.


Get a grip

A few inches of snowpack can actually ease the difficulty of running on more technical trails, softening the foot path and covering up trippy roots and slippy gravel. A bit of few-days-old snow tends to brighten your way and showcase beaten path when you’re moving quickly along a wooded trail in the pre-dawn darkness. Enjoying a snowy run requires staying on your feet, however, which requires solid traction. We’ve covered traction options extensively here, but thankfully, Yaktrax or Microspikes will suffice for most snowy runs. For flatter, perhaps icier trails, try Yaktrax—webs of rubber and stainless steel coils you pull over each shoe—will probably suffice. For slightly more “bite” into ice on hillier terrain, consider breaking out a pair of Microspikes, which are tiny, chain-connected steel spikes that provide ample grip. For snow deeper than 6 inches, snowshoes are actually quite runnable and can serve as an additional tool to keep trail runners in snowier climates active all winter.


Swap shoes

Every runner knows that to truly enjoy an outing, we must take care of our feet. We do it for blister prevention, arch support, and accommodating peculiar gait cycles, but what about dryness and warmth? Nothing dampens one’s perspective on winter running like, well, cold, damp feet. May I suggest having on hand a pair of warm, waterproof (or at least water-resistant) trail runners, perhaps containing Gore-Tex technology, for your winter runs. Some of the better models out there—the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 Gore-Tex or Salomon’s GTX series, for instance—contain a sticky outsoles with enough lug depth to sufficiently grip ice and snow, sans external traction devices. Because nobody has time for cold, wet feet.


Gaiter up

Protect your ankles and keep the bottoms of your pants/tights dry with waterproof gaiters. Some models are pulled over the foot, while other models are wrapped around the ankle and shoe. Find a pair that works for you.


Carry poles

Maybe you’re not a user of trekking poles on runs in warmer, dryer weather. That’s fine. Poles can really come in handy on runs over snowpack on hilly or mountainous terrain, perhaps even saving you from a hard fall. Several companies, including Black Diamond Equipment, offer lightweight poles that fold up into nothing, making stashing them away in your pack easy, should you not need them.


Slow your roll

Winter is generally not the time to set land speed records. Do yourself a favor: ratchet your pace back several notches. Even while wearing the best traction money can buy, new snow on top of solid ice can put a runner on their rear or down a ravine. Take it slow. Even more than usual, concentrate on every foot placement.


Captain crunch

Aim for the crunchy snow. On well-worn trails with a bit of snow, aim to run on the crunchy snow along the edges of the footpath. Even winter runners in cities know this is where we find the grippiest snow.


Leave the trail…with caution

Leave No Trace principles frown on trail widening and bushwacking, with good reason: especially in alpine environments, leaving the trail risks harming fragile plants and animal habitats. Running on snow allows, perhaps, a bit more latitude for exploring a winter wood, off-trail, because you can more easily find your way back to the trail and because of the presence of fewer fragile plants. If you do break trail, AMC recommends checking local trail conditions beforehand and never venturing off on your own.


Soak it all in

Most importantly, enjoy yourself. While most people are working on their wintertube, you’re out in nature, trotting along in the silent crispness like a deer. When dressed appropriately, with the right traction on your feet, a snowy run can be just the right medicine for those mid-winter blues.



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Steve Holt

Steve Holt is the associate editor of AMC Outdoors and edits AMC's Running Wild blog.