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What to Look for When Choosing Winter Running Shoes

Product Guide

Running in the winter requires proper footwear that protects and supports you, while keeping your feet warm and boosting performance.

Last updated: September 29, 2021
9 min read
What to Look for When Choosing Winter Running Shoes

Training doesn't stop just because the weather decides to rain (or snow) on your parade.While other people are cooped up indoors, you'll cut through the wind and pound your feet into the snow to reach your goals.

That said, you need to exercise caution when running in the winter.Not only are you more likely to slip and fall on slippery roads and trails, but cold weather also increases your risk for musculoskeletal injuries.Proper footwear that protects and supports you is of the utmost importance in the winter.That's why runners in cold-weather climates should opt for a pair of winter running shoes.

What Are the Best Winter Running Shoes for You?

Choosing a winter running shoe can be a challenge.You'll need to find a pair that keeps you warm and protects you from the elements, but it's just as important to find a pair that fits comfortably and offers the right level of stability.

The best winter running shoe for you will depend on your climate, running surface and foot anatomy.Here's what you need to know to choose the best cold-weather running shoe for your needs.

Must-Have Winter Shoe Features

Insulation

Thermal insulation refers to a shoe's ability to trap your body heat while providing wind protection.Most waterproof shoes, combined with a pair of winter running socks, provide enough insulation to keep your feet toasty in mild winters.But if you're going to be running in extremely cold temperatures, you may need a shoe with an upper designed to prevent wind from getting in.

Waterproofing

Whether you're running in rain or snow, you'll need a pair of shoes that can keep your feet dry.They should have a durable and water-repellent or waterproof upper.For extremely cold weather conditions, you may want to choose a shoe with a GORE-TEX membrane, which has pores small enough that water cannot get in but large enough to be breathable and sweat-wicking.

Visibility

The winter months mean time in the sun is limited, and you're more likely to run in low-light conditions.And cars need more time to come to a stop in wet conditions, so it's important that you can be seen from far away.If you're investing in a pair of winter-ready shoes, it's best to opt for a pair with reflective design features that make you easy to spot.

Coverage

If you're running in snow, especially on unpaved trails, a low-top shoe may not provide enough protection from the cold or prevent rain and snow from soaking your socks.You may require a high-top silhouette that works in conjunction with your winter apparel to keep you warm and dry.

Traction

You should choose a shoe with an outsole made from a rubber compound designed to grip the road or trail more easily in wet or icy conditions.Avoid foam outsoles if you plan to run in mud or slush.You'll also want to look for small, deep lugs on the bottom of the shoe that provide good traction.

What to Look for When Choosing Winter Running Shoes

For cold winter weather, look for a shoe made with GORE-TEX.

The Effect of Cold Weather on Running Shoe Properties

Most running shoes have midsoles and insoles made from EVA foam, which is a synthetic material that delivers both cushioning and bounce.This foam gets stiffer in the cold, which means the shoe has less give when your foot impacts the ground.

This increase in pressure is somewhat similar to running on a harder surface.It hasn't been correlated with a higher rate of injury, but it's something to be aware of when running in the cold, especially if you tend to need a shoe with a lot of cushioning.Since EVA foam also gets stiffer with age, make sure that you are replacing your running shoes frequently enough.

The Effect of Cold Weather on Athletes

Cold conditions not only impact the properties of your footwear, but also your muscle tissues.Exposure to the cold can diminish your proprioceptive capabilities, strength and agility.These decreased measures of performance can increase an athlete's risk of musculoskeletal injury, so it follows that athletes are more likely to sustain an injury when running in the cold.

Since proper footwear has been shown to decrease your risk of injury, your best line of defence is to make sure you get a pair of shoes that fit comfortably and provide enough cushioning and support.

Matching Your Shoes to Weather Conditions

If You Run in Cold, Wet Conditions

If your area only experiences mild winters with rain and temperatures above freezing, all you need is a pair of water-repellent running shoes that keep your feet warm enough when paired with waterproof winter running socks.You may even be able to just add a winter running shoe cover or waterproof gaiter over your summer running shoes to keep moisture out and heat in.

If you're running on trails that can get muddy in wet conditions, however, make sure you opt for a pair of trail running shoes.These are constructed with stickier rubber and deeper lugs on the outsole.They're going to be stiffer than everyday running shoes, but they'll also provide better protection from the elements and rough terrain.

If You Run on Snowy Pavements or Roads

Waterproof trail shoes have the added traction you need to run in the snow on roads, pavements or flat trails.While these surfaces can wear away the rubber on a pair of trail running shoes in the summer, the addition of snow necessitates shoes with better traction, thermal insulation and waterproofing.

Look for a durable shoe with varied tread patterns or sticky rubber outsoles that resemble winter tyres.If you're running along the road, you should also opt for a pair with plenty of reflective design elements to keep you safe.

If You Run on Snowy Outdoor Trails

Snow removal services don't typically make it onto off-road mountain trails, so you may be running in deeper snow or mud than if you ran in an urban environment.You'll need a water-repellent, high-top upper capable of keeping snow and debris out of your shoes.A GORE-TEX lining will be the most effective at keeping you dry.You should also pay attention to the shoe's outsole and choose something that has great grip.

If You Run on Ice

If you're fearless enough to run on icy roads and trails, you need the maximum in durability and traction.You'll need a shoe with a spiked outsole to keep you from slipping.If you'll also be running in deep snow, opt for a pair with deep lugs as well.Make sure the shoes you choose provide enough insulation, and add an aftermarket gaiter if you need more protection from the weather.

What to Look for When Choosing Winter Running Shoes

Choosing a Winter Running Shoe for Your Body

Fit and Comfort

While some shoe stores may offer to analyse your gait when selecting a shoe, it's more important to pick a winter running shoe that feels just right.A shoe that fits properly is going to feel the most comfortable and reduce your risk of injury.Follow these tips to ensure a good fit:

  • Shop during the evening.Your feet tend to swell as the day goes on, so you should visit the shoe store after 5pm to get the most accurate fit.
  • Check your size.As a starting point, use brand size charts to get an idea of what size you would be based on your measurements.But you should still rely on how the shoe feels when making your selection.
  • When in doubt, go up a half size.If you're unsure or are ordering shoes online, it's best to get a half size up.Shoes with a little extra room are more likely to fit comfortably than shoes that are too tight.
  • Check the space around your toes.Press your thumb between your foot and the edge of the shoe.There should be at least half a thumbprint of space around your toes.Make sure you can wiggle and flex freely as well.
  • Try them on with running socks.Make sure to bring your winter running socks when you try on your shoes.These warm, waterproof socks will likely be thicker than your everyday socks, so it's important to wear them when looking for a perfect fit.
  • Run around.Walking in a pair of running shoes isn't the best test of how comfortable they'll be once you pick up speed.Take your potential shoes for a test run on a treadmill or around the store.

When assessing a shoe's comfort, you should look for the following:

  • An upper that doesn't rub or pull and matches the shape of your foot
  • A toe box that allows you to flex comfortably and doesn't cause any irritation
  • A saddle that supports your foot without feeling too tight across your arch
  • A midsole that is lightweight but still provides enough cushioning to feel comfortable
  • An outsole that looks like the shape of your foot and provides enough traction
  • A heel drop that doesn't put pressure on a particular spot when you run
  • A sockliner that feels soft and comfortable when you run
  • An ankle collar that doesn't slip off your foot or rub

Opt for Stability and Cushioning

Neutral running shoes allow for a natural stride and provide plenty of cushioning.These are best at reducing pain for people with flat feet.They don't use stabilising materials like varying foam densities or medial posts, but most people don't need to control the direction of their feet because they don't roll their feet to a degree that causes them discomfort or increases their risk of injury.

If you do have issues with pain from pronation or supination, then you may want to opt for a stability or motion control running shoe.Stability shoes offer some extra support, but are still flexible and responsive.Motion control running shoes are more rigid and heavy, and won't be the right choice for most runners.If you've seen a podiatrist for pain and they recommend a shoe with extra arch support, you may want to try one of these shoe types or get custom orthotics for pain reduction.Otherwise, you'll be perfectly safe with a pair of neutral running shoes.

Frequently Asked Questions About Winter Running Shoes

Do You Need Different Running Shoes for Winter?
That depends on your climate and running surface.If it only gets a little chilly and rainy in the winter, you may not need a separate pair of winter running shoes.A winter running shoe cover or gaiter can help keep your feet dry, and a pair of waterproof running socks will help you stay warm.However, if you're running through slush, you'll need a shoe with better traction, enhanced waterproofing and plenty of insulation.And if you may encounter icy conditions, you'll definitely need a pair of shoes equipped to handle the winter.
How Often Should You Replace Your Winter Running Shoes?
Running shoes typically last 300–500 miles, or three to six months.But it can be a good idea to replace your running shoes every season.That's because the cushioning tends to stiffen with age, and cold weather makes EVA foam even stiffer.Furthermore, shoes can wear out quicker when exposed to the elements, even though winter running shoes tend to be more durable.If you wait to see outward signs of wear before replacing your winter running shoes, you'll have run for miles without adequate cushioning.
Is It Safe to Run in the Winter?
Running in winter increases your risk of both falls and musculoskeletal injuries.To mitigate these risks, you need to wear proper footwear and make sure that you warm up your muscles before you head out into the cold.Cover exposed skin and change out of damp clothing immediately after your run to avoid cold-related injuries.You may also need to take two shorter runs if you find yourself getting too cold after putting in long miles.

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