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Five Running Shoe Hacks for Winter Running

By Brian Metzler

If you live in a climate where snow, ice and slush are routinely part of your daily runs, I feel for you. I grew up in Chicago and I’ve lived in Colorado for more than 25 years, so I’ve battled winter elements every single winter of my running life. (If you live in a sunny, warm-weather climate, enjoy the shorts and t-shirt weather and ignore this public service announcement!) I have to admit I love running in the winter, but I also have to admit that I definitely adjust my footwear once there is snow or ice on the ground.

Here are five running shoe hacks to keep you running outside this winter. 

1. Wear traction devices. 

If it’s especially snowy or icy outside, slipping on a pair of after-market traction devices can be a good solution. The best part about traction devices is that you can put them on or take them off where needed. If you show up at a trailhead and realize the trail is dry at the start, just tuck them in your waistband, jacket or pack and carry them until you need them. If you start on a snowy road that winds up being mostly dry, take them off and carry them until you need them again.

There are several models or traction devices available online or at your local running or outdoor shop in the $35-$100 range. If you’re running on roads and bike paths with hard-packed snow and sections of ice, I’d recommend Kahtoola NANOspikes ($50) or the slightly more aggressive Kahtoola EXOspikes ($63). Another good option for snowy roads is the Yaktrax Pro ($35), a device which serves up traction from a metal wire coiled around a stretchy elastomer frame that criss-crosses the bottom of the shoe. (However, those will feel a bit awkward on dry pavement.) Other options that are good for deeper snow or trails include Kahtoola MICROspikes ($75) and Black Diamond’s Distance Spike ($99).

2. Twist screws into the outsoles of your running shoes.

There are two options when it comes to making do-it-yourself winter shoes. In both cases, it makes sense to choose an older pair of road running shoes with a smooth/flat rubber outsole. (Trail running shoes with prominent outsole lugs typically don’t offer optimal placement for screws, while road shoes that have durable foam and not rubber aren’t ideal either.) 

First, you can buy a screw kit – I’d recommend either the Ice Spike kit ($25) or La Sportiva Hobnails kit ($59) – which include a set of very sharp and aggressive screw-in spikes and a small wrench tool to easily insert them into the outsole of your running shoes. Although somewhat pricey, these kits provide everything you need for winterizing your running shoes. (And yes, you can take them out and put them in another pair of shoes.)

Secondly, you can opt for a more “MacGyver” version (that’s a 1980s TV show where the main character does everything with innovative DIY hacks!) in which you buy a bunch of half-inch #6 hex head sheet metal screws and twist them into the outsoles of your running shoes. (Those screws have six edges that offer great traction in all directions while running over snowy and icy surfaces.) Get about 8-10 screws for each shoe (total cost: less than $5), then use a Sharpie felt pen to mark out where you’ll insert the screws around the outsole of the shoe. (It’s best to place them only in the perimeter, although maximally cushioned shoes generally have a thick enough midsole that would keep them from poking the bottom of your feet.) 

Use a skinny drill bit (1/16” is best) to drill starter holes for the screws. You might be able to start the process by pushing a nail or thick pin into the first layer of the outsole, but a drill works best. Once the holes are drilled, use your fingers to twist the tip of the screw into the outsole. After you get a screw started, use a screwdriver or powered drill with a driver bit to submerge the screw into the outsole so the flange is flush with the outsole. 

3. Wear plastic baggies around your feet.

This might sound silly, but it works. Those annoying and environmentally detrimental plastic bags you get at the grocery store can be put to good secondary use on particularly sloppy winter days. If you’re going out for a 30- to 60-minute run around your neighborhood, wearing plastic bags over your socks and inside your shoes is a simple trick to keep your feet warm and dry. I simply put my socks on, and then I slip each of my feet into one of those baggies. After that, I slide my feet into my running shoes and lace them up. When it’s really wet and slushy, I sometimes tape the bags around my lower leg above my ankles, but mostly I’ll just cut the excess plastic off above the ankle and let the excess plastic flap and flutter on the run.

4. Wear Gore-Tex running shoes.

While this might seem like an obvious move, I only wear Gore-Tex-lined running shoes when it’s very sloppy or very cold. But if you live in Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana or Manitoba – or any other place where it’s very cold and snowy most of the winter – you might want to buy the Gore-Tex version of your favorite road or trail running shoes. A couple good options include Nike’s InfinityRN 4 Gore-Tex ($180) and the Hoka Challenger 7 GTX ($160). The updated Gore-Tex Invisible Fit liner in those new weatherproof shoes is much more breathable than previous versions of Gore-Tex footwear products, so you can expect your feet to stay warm and dry during your winter runs. However, it’s important to realize that your feet might feel too warm while running longer runs in milder conditions. 

5. Buy running shoes with spikes.

OK, there’s an easier (but more expensive) way to maneuver through snowy terrain. Several brands make running shoes with carbide spikes embedded in outsole, and four of my favorites are the Salomon Spikecross 6 GTX ($190), Hoka Speedgoat 5 GTX Spike ($185), IceBug NewRun BUGrip GTX ($230) and Norda 001 G+ Spike ($355). Each of those are weatherproof trail running shoes with great traction from its rubber outsole and the enhanced grip from metal spikes. The positive side to wearing these shoes is that the spikes are integrated into the outsole and won’t fall out or inhibit your gait. The downside is that these shoes aren’t cheap and you’ll only want to wear them in snowy conditions (and never over dry sections of roads if you can avoid it). However, if you buy a pair this winter, they’ll last for several seasons. So if you amortize that upfront cost over five to seven years, it might seem much more of an economical investment.  

Happy winter running! Spring will be here before long, but I hope these hacks can enhance your running while it's cold, snowy, sloppy and icy out there.


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