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Winter Footwear and Traction Devices

For winter running, there is no such thing as poor footing, just poor footwear choices!

I get a lot of questions about winter running, footwear and traction devices. Being someone who runs trails all winter, I’d like to share with you my go-to footwear winter choices.

Trail Running Shoes:

Be sure to wear shoes that have an aggressive outsole for winter running. Regular road running shoes and even many trail shoes just don’t give you the traction that you need to keep you upright. A deep lug design that gives you good grip in a wide variety of conditions is best.

The next thing to look for in a winter trail running shoe is a Goretex upper to offer waterproofness to keep your feet dry. With Goretex it can sometimes be a tradeoff however since they are waterproof, and keeping your feet warmer will sometimes cause them to sweat a little more.

Wearing gaiters in the winter over your trail running shoes is also helpful to keep your feet dryer and warmer as well. Kahtoola makes a couple of great gaiters that I highly recommend.

Regardless of the type of trail running shoe you wear, a merino wool sock is best for winter running as they will keep your feet warmer, even if they do end up getting a little wet.

Icy Conditions:

On days when there is a lot of ice on the trail, or if you like running on frozen lakes like I do, I highly recommend Kahtoola NanoSpikes or ExoSpikes. I have used screw-in pins in the past, but I really like the versatility of having a slip-on spike that can be taken on or off quickly as conditions require. The NanoSpike performs best on icy roads and sidewalks, while the ExoSpike has slightly longer pins with a lug design and a great option for hard packed snow and ice on road and trails.

Grip studs are another option as they can be screwed directly into your running shoes to offer similar traction, but once in your shoes, you’ll want to keep them there for the remainder of the winter. (Note: Adding grip studs to your running shoes means that you won’t be able to use your shoes with snowshoes, since they would damage the decking).

A cheap and easy DIY option is to make your own screw shoes. I have used sheet metal screws in the past (#8 with 1/2 inch hex head) and screwed them into my outsole, but the grip that you get from Kahtoola Spikes is far superior…especially on icy ascents/descents, and again, it’s nice to have the versatility of being able to remove quickly when not needed.

Snow and Ice:

When more snow has fallen or there is a combination of snow and ice on the trail (especially ice under a thin layer of snow), I’ll reach for my Kahtoola Microspikes. Microspikes are a running crampon and give fantastic traction when you are running in conditions where there might not be quite enough snow for snowshoe running, but still slippery conditions. Microspikes are great for running on hardpacked packed snowmobile trails too. The aggressive crampon gives you very surefooted traction on even the gnarliest of icy hills.

Running Snowshoes:

After a good base of snow, it’s time to go with Dion Running Snowshoes so that I can still enjoy the trails, even in deeper snow. The great thing about Dion Snowshoes is that there are 3 different cleat options, so depending on the snow conditions, you can choose the type of cleat that you need on your snowshoes that day (cleats can be changed easily within seconds). Standard Cleats are lightweight and best for packed snow, Deep Cleats are more suited for deeper snow or off trail, and Ice Cleats are the most versatile and most durable, plus ideal for icy conditions or if there are some exposed rocks.

So, don’t let winter conditions keep you off the trails. You can still enjoy the same great trails that you run on during the summer as long as you choose the proper footwear and traction devices.

(revised Nov 18, 2023)


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