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Winter Traction for Runners

The right gear to guide your footing on snow and ice.

When winter rolls around, roads and trails become coated with slick and snowy layers, leaving runners with three options: Stop running; head inside to a treadmill; or gear up and charge through challenging conditions. A hint: The latter option is the most rewarding.

Running on snow and ice can be done safely, and it can be extremely enjoyable. But you need to gear up to avoid injury. In some situations, like running roads or trails covered in fresh snow, you might get by in trail running shoes with deep lugs. Likely, you’ll need something more, such as a pair of over-shoe traction devices, running shoes with integrated carbide studs, or outsoles built specifically for sure-footing on ice. Here’s how to decide what’s best for you.

Pull-On Traction Devices

First off, there are a lot of traction devices on the market. These toothy contraptions, made specifically for running, are meant to be pulled on over regular shoes. They’re built to be lightweight and to stay put under the rigors of repetitive running strides. (Devices made for hiking or walking can be heavy and can have more minimal attachment straps than those made for running.)

Conditions will determine which type is best for you.

For deep snow on trails, you’ll want devices with toothy metal spikes that can provide grip on the icy layer underneath a couple inches of snow.

For hard-packed snow on trails or roads, devices with shorter spikes, metal coils, or small carbide (very hard metal) spikes work well. Some devices have a combination of metal coils and carbide spikes.

For hard-packed snow off trails, a traction device won’t cut it, but certain more narrow snowshoe designs, purpose-built with running in mind, will get the job done.

Pull-on traction devices stay on your shoes by way of Velcro straps over the top of your foot, and/or stretchy rubber that pulls over the toe and heel of your shoe. Some devices stay on better than others.

If you run mixed terrain where you want to take your devices on and off, depending on conditions, get a lightweight, compact pair that can stash away in a running pack.

Photo: ZinaidaSopina/Shutterstock

Shoes with Carbide Spikes

Some running shoes have carbide spikes built into the outsole. These spikes do a great job gripping ice. The downside is if you run sections of pavement or rocky trail that aren’t covered in snow or ice that could dull or damage the spikes and shoes—or if you forget they’re on when you walk across a nice wooden porch or home interior. (Oops.)

Shoes with carbide spikes that retract when walking on hard surfaces, like pavement and rocks, do exist. (Keep in mind the spikes don’t retract on wood floors.)

Shoes with Vibram Arctic Grip Outsoles

Some running shoes intended for winter use are built with rubber company Vibram’s special compound called “Arctic Grip.” The unique compound is meant to grip ice, and specifically, wet ice. It’s sometimes placed under the forefoot and heel amidst regular rubber that makes up the majority of the outsole.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.