December is here and all across the fruited plain Old Man Winter has tightened his grip, which has sent many runners indoors for the comforts of stinky gyms and treadmills. Running outside in the winter can be every bit as enjoyable as the summer if you have the right clothing and gear. However, getting the right gear can be very expensive! Those new to winter trail running might use cheaper gear to get by, but there are some essentials worth spending a little extra to make sure you’re more safe and comfortable in the elements. Staying warm, dry and comfortable are the keys to enjoying the trails in the winter. Some of our more seasoned trail runners at TAUR have come up with five items that are worth spending a little extra on.
Think wind and water. Keeping your core warm is one of the more essential aspects of winter running. The challenge has always been finding the balance between being warm without getting overheated and sweaty (which then freezes). To keep you comfortable and warm all winter your running jacket should be wind proof, water resistant, provide wicking and be breathable. It also helps if the jacket is light and can be easily stowed away in a running pack. Fortunately, several companies have made terrific strides in fabric that will not only keep the wind and elements from freezing you, but also breathe and wick moisture from the body, allowing for a comfortable ride. Going with cheaper models might give you some of the needed properties, but in order to have it all you’re going to want to spend a little extra.
Conditions on your favorite trails will change dramatically in the winter months adding snow, ice and slush, making winter travel much more precarious. An excellent shoe for winter will be water resistant, breathable, warm, have excellent traction and preferably a built in gaiter. The longer you can keep your feet warm and dry the better off you’ll be, especially on longer days. Your standard trail shoe can typically get you by for an hour or two, but eventually they’ll become wet and your feet will get cold. Having a water resistant shoe can increase your comfort level for several more hours and allow you to stay out longer and be more comfortable. Don’t underestimate the effects of getting cold and wet feet in the winter, as it can be miserable. Having a built in gaiter can change your life. Not to be overdramatic, but gaiters take extra time getting ready and often become a pain in your rear, requiring frequent adjustments on the trail. Having proper winter shoes will allow you to run faster with confidence while reducing falls and potential injury.
Nothing can sour a winter run quicker than having cold hands. Your winter gloves for running should keep your hands warm even when it gets cold, windy or wet. You’ll also want them to have a wicking interior and be breathable to help with overheating. Fast drying materials also help a lot in wet winter conditions. While not essential, some might prefer a glove that has a grip and will allow you to operate a touch screen. Finding the right gloves can be tricky due to a delicate balance between keeping the hands warm, but not overheating. A lot of insulating materials do not wick moisture and don’t breathe, so looking for these materials can help significantly. Typically, the waterproofing, wicking and breathable materials will make the gloves cost more, but having your hands overheat can be very irritating on a run. Gloves with a pull over mitten can be invaluable. There are a lot of cheaper gloves on the market that will keep your hands warm, but if you don’t want them to overheat and stay dry you’ll have to pay a little more.
When encountering ice on the trail, having good traction devices is essential. There are a lot of cheap options in the marketplace, but this is one area where you just need to spend the extra money and get what works well and is comfortable. While doing extensive product testing for TAUR, our testers noticed that cheap (cost) usually means cheap (product). A lot of the cheaper models are uncomfortable, hard to get on and more importantly, don’t work well on ice. Several cheaper models we tested just didn’t grip on solid ice. A few years ago one of my friends purchased one of the cheaper models and after using them once decided to go buy some that actually worked. The running store wouldn’t take back the used spikes so they ended up spending more in the end after they purchased a quality set. Aside from the cost factor it just comes down to your safety. Don’t risk having a serious injury to save a few dollars. Purchase quality the first time.
At times snowy trails can necessitate the use of snowshoes. There is a wide range of snowshoe types and quality on the market. If you intend on your snowshoes lasting, or are going to be in steeper technical terrain, you’ll want to steer clear of bargain shoes. Our testers have tested several brands over the years and some of the cheaper variety have only lasted one or two trips before buckles snap or rivets pop out. One of our testers was caught in a blizzard and had to spend several minutes exposed to the elements on a steep snowy slope trying to negotiate a buckle. Another one of our testers was on a group trip up a winter peak and had to turn around because the plastic on the snowshoe snapped his first time using the product. If you’re going to spend any money, pay a little more and get a quality snowshoe.
Increased quality typically means a higher price, but for some items it is just well worth the extra cost to help your winter trail running be as enjoyable, fun, and safe as it can be.