Running outside safely during the cold winter months

Posted by Karla Marley, P.T.A.
January 12, 2015

Karla Marley

Exercise enthusiasts who love to run outdoors may be challenged during the cold months of winter. Facing wind chills, bitter temperatures and snow can cause the most experienced runner to think twice before hitting the pavement for that run.

Here’s some important advice to anyone exercising or running in winter elements:

  •  Dress appropriately, dress in layers. The rule of thumb is to dress like it’s 20 degrees warmer than the current temperature. You should feel slightly chilled, but as you warm up, you will be comfortable.
  • Watch out for road conditions like ice, slush and snow. Make sure you have the traction you need on your feet — like Yak Trax or a trail running shoe.
  • Stay visible. There are less hours of light in which to run during winter months. If running in the early morning or evening, make sure you have reflective gear on — wear light- or bright-colored clothing. Bright yellows and oranges are a lot easier for drivers to see. It’s a good idea to wear a headlamp and tail light to increase your visibility.
  • Try to warm up before heading out the door. Walking lunges, running the stairs, jump rope or some yoga poses will help you stay injury free.
  • Remember to stay hydrated. It’s essential to replace fluids. Even though it doesn’t seem like it, you’ll still sweat.

Although the risk of frostbite is less than 5 percent when the air temperature is above 5 F (-15 C), the risk increases as the wind chill falls. At wind chill levels below -18 F (-27 C), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less.

If the temperature dips below 0 F (-17.8 C) or the wind chill is extreme, it might be a better idea to try some indoor cross training. Moisture and cold temperatures put you at risk for frostbite, as well as a drop in body core temperature.

Here are some apparel recommendations for running under winter conditions. Don’t forget to take in account the wind chill when using the following guidelines.

  • 30 degrees F: Two tops, one bottom
  • 10-20 degrees F: Two tops, two bottoms (jacket over your base layer and wind pants over your tights)
  • 0-10 degrees F: Three tops, two bottoms (jacket and possibly wind pants over the two pairs of bottoms)
  • -10 to 0 degrees F:  Three tops, two bottoms, an extra pair of mittens and a scarf wrapped around your face
  • Colder than -10 degrees F: It’s a good idea to hit the treadmill instead


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