How to Run Safely in Snow or on Ice

Learn tips for running in snow and on ice by reading the full article!

Similar to summer running, the weather conditions of winter running pose unique logistical challenges. While summer running demands that you think more about hydration and controlling core temperature, winter running often means running on ice and snow (plus running in cold weather). Snow running can feel very intimidating – and running on ice can be downright dangerous. This article will provide you with tips for running in the snow and ice, so that you can feel more confident during your winter training. 

Importantly, there is no shame in opting for the treadmill if it is snowy or icy outside. Running on ice and snow is not always safe and not always fun! The treadmill running is still running. You are no less of a runner if you choose to run indoors instead of running on ice. 

The pros and cons of running in snow or ice

Generally speaking, running in the snow is safer than running on ice. Running on ice has only disadvantages to it (such as fall risk) – and no real benefits. However, running in snow has its pros and cons. 

The type of snow does matter! Firm, compact snow is often easier to run in – you just run a bit slower. Soft, powdery snow can be challenging to run in. Either way, snow may make you feel quite sore and tired afterwards, since your muscles work more to stabilize. 

Pros of running in snow:

  •  Running in snow increases your mental toughness. 
  • Running in the snow can be fun! 
  • Running in the snow is harder than running on pavement – so you will work different muscles than you usually do.

Cons of running in snow:

  • Any ice can increase your risk of falling – which could lead to an injury. 
  • Running in the snow is slow and not ideal for any type of hard workout such as an interval run. 
  • Running in the snow can be uncomfortable, especially with a large amount of snow. 

It is important to remember that running in snow is not inherently superior to running on the treadmill. You are not a better runner if you choose to run outside all winter long. Finding a way to make winter running safe and enjoyable is the priority – whether that is indoors or outdoors.

Related: Your Guide to Running in Cold Weather

Tips for Running in Snow and Ice

Assuming relatively safe conditions – no large sheets of ice  – a few adjustments can make running in snow safer and more enjoyable. Most importantly, you want to be flexible with your training schedule – including where you run, the time of day, and what type of run you do. 

Run Mid-Day

Black ice is more prevalent in the early morning and late evening hours. Anything that melted the previous day will freeze overnight, creating potentially dangerous icy conditions during the very early morning hours.  If your schedule offers the flexibility, shift your run to between mid-morning and mid-afternoon. During this time, the sun typically melts black ice – making conditions a bit safer for running.

Additionally, sunlight will also provide more visibility. You will be able to see the ice on the ground, unlike if you are running in the dark. The combination of visibility and melting ice/snow creates better conditions for running during the mid-day. 

Related: How Cold is too Cold to Run?

Take Short Strides

Counterintuitively, shorter strides are safer when running in snow. Shorter strides create more of a base of support underneath you, while longer strides increase the risk of your feet slipping out from your center of mass. This approach will also help you maintain your normal running form when running in the snow. 

Run on Trails, Not Roads

Surface affects how ice freezes and snow compacts. Hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt retain heat differently than dirt, making it more likely for dangerously slick ice to form. While dirt roads and trails may not be entirely ice-free, they are often safer for running on during the winter months. 

You do not need to use very technical trails even (although winter can be a good time to venture into trail running). A grassy park, gravel path, or dirt road are all safer alternatives to asphalt in winter. You do not need special gear to run on these compared to more technical trails. That said, trail shoes can help in slick conditions (see more below). 

Be Flexible on Workout Days

Even if you are training for a marathon, you want to be flexible on your exact workout days. If a snowstorm just happened, you likely do not want to do a challenging interval or tempo run the next day. If there is ice on the road, you probably want to skip your strides. An easy run is much safer when you are running in the snow. 

Move around your days based on the weather in winter. You can do this in advance based on the forecast and based on the weather of each day. Even if you miss a hard workout due to a week of bad weather, your overall training will still be okay. It’s better to miss a long run than to slip on ice and get injured! 

Cross-train Instead

No treadmill on an icy morning? You can still get in an aerobic workout! If it is very snowy and icy, cross-training may be a safer (and more enjoyable) option. The indoor bike (stationary or an outdoor bike on an indoor trainer), the elliptical, or even pool running are all effective ways to cross-train when you are unable to run. 

If you have the equipment, you can lean into winter sports as cross-training. Nordic skiing and snowshoe running both provide an aerobic workout that is similar to running. If you do this option, aim for the same time on your feet (or slightly longer) than you would run, instead of trying to hit the same mileage. 

Increase Your Footwear’s Traction

Most road running shoes do not provide sufficient traction for snow or ice – which can make you slide around more. Ice cleats and other traction devices designed specifically for running shoes add just enough traction to help you stay upright when running in snow or ice. These traction devices can slip over your normal shoes. You do want to choose ice cleats designed for running (such as the Kahtoola Exospikes), as the large spikes for other winter sports will be too uncomfortable to run in.

Shoes for running on ice

Alternatively, you can wear trail running shoes or shoes specially designed for running on ice. Traction devices do not always feel comfortable on pavement. Plus, pavement can wear down the ice cleats. Trail running shoes or winter running shoes can all transition comfortably from snow to clear pavement. 

Saucony Peregrine Ice

Features such as grippy tread on the outsole and a water-resistant upper make these shoes comfortable for running in snow. The tread increases traction on both snow and ice, and the upper keeps your feet dry. These shoes can be worn on both roads and trails. 

These shoes do run slightly smaller than other Saucony shoes, especially if you plan on wearing thick socks. (Available in women’s /men’s sizes.)

Your Favorite Trail Running Shoe

Trail running shoes are ideal winter running shoes. Most trail running shoes feature lugs, which provide traction in snow and ice. Trail running shoes often have water-resistant materials used on the uppers to keep your feet dry. Some trail shoes even have a higher rise on the ankle, which can help keep snow out.

Don’t already have a favorite pair of trail running shoes? This article will guide you through how to pick the best trail running shoes for you.  

Running on snow or ice, recapped

When it comes to running on snow and ice, flexibility is essential. If you adapt your workouts following the tips above, winter running will feel less frustrating. After flexibility, the next most important thing is traction on your footwear, whether shoes or cleats, to keep you from slipping and sliding all over. 

If you ever feel like you cannot keep safe footing and are slipping too much, it is best to shorten or skip your run. Falling on ice can cause injuries that keep you out of running (from muscle strains to a concussion), so it is always best to be cautious. 

Want more running tips? Listen to the Tread Lightly podcast on Apple, Spotify, and other podcast apps!

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