Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Footwear Options for Winter Running

Winter is officially here. Oh yes, it is! When I say "officially" I'm obviously not looking at my calendar; I'm looking at the scene out my window right now. Wow!

Switching to winter mode means more than just putting your snow tires on the car, tuning up your skis and searching out your tights and gloves from the depths of your closet. For runners, it sometimes means cross-training in sports like skate-skiing, snowshoeing, or that Truckee favorite, snow shoveling. Even when heading out for a run, it sometimes holds different footwear needs than summertime.

Following, are some thoughts about what to put on your feet this winter.

Trail Shoes

Pretty obvious, right? 'Tis the season when trail shoes become road shoes! This isn't much of a change for me, since I run almost completely on trails during the summer season. In winter though, I find myself more frequently on roads simply out of necessity. And this time of year, trail shoes are your best bet on snowy, icy roads.

I also use them on well-packed, snowy trails. If it's not fresh, deep snow, there's usually no need for anything more! If it's icy trail, then I add my Yaktrax for awesome traction, and I feel totally confident flying. As a side note on the Yaktrax, I don't advise wearing them on the road, no matter how icy it is. The inevitable spots of bare (or nearly bare) pavement are basically unrunnable with Yaktrax on your shoes.

GoreTex Trail Shoes

For those days when Old Man Winter is especially nasty. These GTX Wildcats are bomber! I typically only use them on really wet, slushy days, or with my snowshoes (see below).

And if it's bad enough for GoreTex, then you're probably going to want a pair of gaiters.

You can use ankle gaiters most of the time, but if you're snowshoeing through deep powder you may want full-length knee gaiters. Either way, be sure they're waterproof. Spandex gaiters are great for keeping the rocks out in the summer, but pretty worthless when it comes to snow and water.


Snowshoes come in all shapes and sizes these days, from tiny racing snowshoes, to big, backcountry beasts. A good rule of thumb is that the bigger the shoe, the more snow it can handle. I like my Atlas Elektra 11 Series (pictured) because they are so versatile. I can use them to hike in fresh snow, but they're small and light enough to run with on packed trails. As previously mentioned, these are accompanied by my Wildcats and a pair of gaiters.


Mukluks are the traditional winter footwear of the Inuit. These people know something about cold and snow. Mine, made by Steger Mukluks in Ely, Minnesota, are warm, comfortable and durable. I absolutely LOVE these things!

I bought my mukluks 12 years ago to use for a winter of dogsledding in northern Minnesota, and they're still treating me right. Because they're a moccasin-style shoe, they're soft soled, and that is their secret to warmth. They don't restrict the motion of your foot, which allows for good circulation, and thus, toasty tootsies! Buy them a size up so you have plenty of room to wear an extra pair of socks for those truly frigid northern days.

Mukluks are great in deep snow because they're so tall, and they get good traction on the soft stuff. Running in them is particularly fun because you can actually feel the snow compacting beneath your feet. When it's super snowy out like it is now, I use them for walking the dogs, snowshoeing, digging out my car, having snowball fights or snowblower wars with the neighbors, and pretty much anything else that happens outside. My husband wears his to work up on the mountain every day.

And if your play-time activities include skiing (as they should), then I'm right there with you. Those footwear choices, however, are well beyond the scope of this blog post!

A sampling from my winter gear locker

What are your favorite shoes for playing in the winter?


  1. Great overview. For roads covered in ice or compact snow, I really love my IceBugs. A little heavy, but they keep you upright, and the carbide spikes never seem to wear out. Folks love their La Sportiva hobnail kits, too. Cheers.

  2. I'm looking forward to trying snowshoes this winter!

  3. I'll second the trail shoes idea! I have an old pair of Cascadias that I installed sheet metal screws in last winter and they're great for icy runs. Otherwise, I love my regular ol' Wildcats with windproof/waterproof socks (the wind cuts right through those suckers...guess I should consider the GTX version!) on wetter snow days. Great post!

  4. Wow. Nice post, but when we get snow in Memphis (and never until january), it is gone within 24 hours, so there isn't much need to consider footwear options just for snow. If I get my way in the future and I end up moving where there is much much more snow, then I know where to go before getting any new shoes! Thanks

  5. Great post...not much difference between Summer and Winter round here, but when I do hit the white stuff it's always with my Snowboarding Boots...yes I am one of them!

  6. Hank - I had never heard of the IceBugs before. They look pretty cool. Thanks for the tip! And yes, the hobnail/metal screws route is popular. I still haven't tried either one.

    Kovas - Awesome! I like them because they provide "right out the door" running in bad weather. Hope you have fun!

    Paige - I know a few locals who put the screws in their shoes and swear by it. And you definitely live in a cold enough location to benefit from GTX. Get on it!

    Dude - Thanks. Yeah, in places like that snow is exciting. Not usually a barrier to running though. Good luck with pushing the relocation! ;)

    Stuart - Oh, one of thoooose! ;) Definitely good for making turns and riding the steep and deep though!

  7. There's winter and then there's WINTER. Seems like you have it dialed all the way in! Love the photos, love the info.

  8. I would love to try cross-training in snowshoes. Seems like that would be a lot of fun. However, we don't get a lot of snow down here in Texas. Will have to try it next time I get up north. Enjoy the winter!