How to run on ice and snow

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How do you run when the ground is covered in ice or snow? It’s tricky, but not impossible with a cautious approach and a couple of gear tweaks.

The difference between ice and snow

No, we’re not going to explain the obvious. We know you know the difference between ice and snow. But are you familiar with the differences as a running surface? It’s worth thinking about the different levels of traction they offer.

Snow – grippy when fresh

If you’ve not run on snow before, you might be surprised to learn that it can sometimes be quite a nice surface to run on. The trick is to get out on it when it is still fresh and resembles light, fluffy powder. At this point, it’s not too dissimilar to running on sand. Slightly crunchy, occasionally squeaky. It obviously won’t ever be as grippy as running on a hard road surface, but it’s not bad.

To make the most of it, try and get out when the snow is still fresh (or still falling) and before other people have started to turn it into slush or compact it into ice. To achieve this you may have to choose a different route to usual. For example, the paths in your local park may be well trodden on and already slippery. But if you head across open spaces or into the woods you’re more likely to find fresh snow to run on.

What to wear

Trail shoes are your best bet, as the lugged soles will help with extra grip. Waterproof shoes, socks or gaiters may keep your feet warm and dry, too.

If the snow is of the icier, sleety, slushy kind, then it will be much more like running on ice. Scroll down a bit to read our tips on running on ice.

Rollin’ in the deep

The advice about snow being nice to run on only really applies when it’s in a fairly thin layer. It’s quite easy to run on if your feet only sink in a couple of centimetres. When it’s deeper, though, you’re going to spend a lot of energy lifting your feet out of a hole with every step you take.

If this is the case, we reckon you’ve got three options:

  • Wear snowshoes
  • Run indoors on a treadmill
  • Go skiing instead

Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll have to accept that deep snow is going to severely disrupt your running plans.

Ice – fiendishly slippery

Ice, or even a heavy frost, can make almost any surface impossible to run on. Frozen puddles are especially slippery, and black ice has the added hazard of being very, very hard to spot.

If you can, try and avoid it. Go for trail routes where the uneven ground offers patches of traction, like islands poking through a frozen sea. If you’re in an urban environment, look for grass verges. Or stay indoors and run on a treadmill if you have one available to you.

If you do go out, accept that you will not be able to run fast and take it easy on the corners!

Spikes and studs

If you can’t avoid ice, consider your footwear choices. Trail shoes are a minimum, but still aren’t perfect as ice will be slippery regardless of how knobbly the soles are. Ice spikes or studs are what you need.

If you live in a place where running on ice is a regular occurrence, specialist ice shoes are worth investing in. Brands to consider are:

  • Icebug – various models
  • Inov-8 – Oroc range
  • Salomon – Snowspike range
  • VJ – various models

These aren’t endorsements, but suggestions of where you might be able to start your search.

Inov-8 Oroc 270 shoes
Inov-8 Oroc 270 (photo from inov-8.com

Off or on

If you don’t want to splash out on shoes you might only wear a handful of times a year, then removable ice spikes are an option. These are also handy if you’re likely to run routes that change from icy to non-icy.

You can slip them on over your shoes when you need them and put them in a pocket when you don’t. Again, this isn’t an endorsement, but Yaktrax seem a popular brand.

Yaktrax Pro
Yaktrax® Pro (photo from yaktrax.co.uk)

DIY options

We’ve not tried it, but have heard stories of people making their own spiked shoes. Take out the insole and poke screws through the midsole and out of the bottom of the shoe. Pop the insole back in, over the tops of the screws for comfort.

Alternatively, screw some short hex-head screws into the outsole, making sure not to poke all the way through to your feet. The hex-head is more built up and angular than other screws so offers the potential for grip on the ice.

No doubt there are other ingenious (or bonkers) ideas out there, so do let us know if you try any of them!

Adapt and thrive

Frozen temperatures and a massive dump of snow need not necessarily stop you from running. You’ll probably have to slow it down, and find you need to move differently to maintain your balance, but it is possible.

Think about what you put on your feet, and where you put your feet, and you may be able to run on snow and ice without any significant problems.

Use the power of the Herd

One of the great things about the wonderful Lonely Goat Running Club community is that no matter what your question, the chances are somebody knows the answer.

If you have more questions on running on snow or ice, or are looking for product opinions or advice, head to our social media channels: The Facebook Chat Group, Instagram, or Strava.