Is rain, snow or chilly temps your excuse to not get outdoors?
Somehow there are a few out there who would happily agree: “Yay it’s raining, time for a rest day!” Then there are some who switch up the outdoor activities and move things indoors, for the folks who have the access, there’s certainly nothing wrong with using a treadmill! Then there are the “others” who do not have access to a treadmill (I’m a cheapo and can’t see spending the money on a gym membership at the moment.. I have a school bus/tiny home to build don’tcha know!!) and will probably go completely nuts if they are forced to remain sedentary all winter, or each time mother nature decides to water the lawn.
I began my first run ever, like.. ever, ever – in the rain.
With an old pair of my fathers’ sneakers I went out the door not knowing what I was in for, I only knew that my body had to move. Turns out the rain drops made for an addicting sensation, cooling the beads of sweat that I developed after the first warm up mile that early summer morning (it was in the 60s that morning). Before long, I grew to know rainy weather as a time when I could almost guarantee that I would have the trails to myself, while some may not like the idea of this from a safety standpoint – realistically I was only, at most, 3 miles from the trail head in either direction and had my phone on me (cell service, like most places in a forest, was spotty..a risk that seemed worth my time in nature!)
I’m just really a very stubborn individual, I don’t like being told that I can’t do something once I set my mind to it; if I decide that I want to run (or hike!) then learn that the weather is not cooperating, I still have to still go for it – I may not make it as far as intended, but at least I can say I didn’t just give up and stay home, which will put my mood in a terrible funk for possibly the remainder of the day (unfortunately, I think my friends and family will agree..!). As I recall, my very first snowday run went a little something like this, but back then I did not think to wear spikes – just went for it, sliding down hills more than actually running them!
These days, I like to think I am much more prepared for any inclement weather situations than I was back then, in past years I would just throw my hands up, run out the door and hope for the best!
Over the years, I have amassed what I like to call: “things that work”,
because that’s what they are – not the hottest, priciest or newest styles or colors, not this years’ trendiest hipster jackets or gloves – just my stuff that “works”, and it works well, otherwise it would not have made the cut into the pile of threads that makes up my gear.
In the early days of running and hiking, admittedly I could be found in cotton shirts (thank the heavens my parents taught me against jeans while hiking!!), but these days I always have a plethora of ‘moisture wicking’ short or longsleeve depending on outdoor temps, I have found through trial and error that my arms prefer longsleeves anytime I wear a jacket – sleeves can always be rolled up mid-run/hike if needed right? Also as a side note and disclaimer – if the rain is coming down, and the air is chilly – the GoreTex outer layers will make an appearance to retain all the warmth my body can muster up – unzipping as needed of course!
Better to have some and not need it – that’s the way I try to look at my gear no matter what I find myself doing outside!
I used to be one of those middle schoolers who would be seen wearing shorts mid-January while waiting at the bus stop – yeah, no thanks.. I don’t remember how I pulled that one off – over the years of running my leg attire has lengthened with my age, gone are the days when I run 5 degree miles in shorts! Once I warm up the cold may be completely tolerable – but once that wind hits: Game Over! So as with my sleeves, I just come prepared in the winter or colder days with a pair of running leggings, which I recently began wearing under my waterproof hiking pants and will never go back!
Headgear is always up in the air until about 5 seconds before I jam out the front door – opting for a Buff if that is first thing I find lying around; running gets my head wicked toasty and I’ve found that once I warm up that the coolness of a sweaty Buff, being breathable, is actually quite refreshing! Hiking is a different story however, beanie all the way, with a Buff as a back up because any time I stop/break/rest (perhaps due to my old age? Ha!) –
I get chilled super fast – as I discovered hiking the Flume Slide Trail in 2017 mid-winter,
it was very slow going hacking and chipping my way up the slope of the 55 degree slide, I was staying warm in my Buff, but once I reached the summit my headgear was covered in so much frost that I literally could not pack it away when I had finally made the call to switch into beanie-mode (I had to actually snap the Buff to fold it into my pack – and I was coooold!! – a “learning experience” not to be repeated!).
Turtle Fur also makes incredible neck warmer “fleece buffs” also, which came at the recommendation of a friend who always ‘runs’ cold (haha…get it?). I have yet to need one of these on a run, but if you find that you are constantly getting snow dumped down the back of your jacket – these are a most perfecto remedy!
Like I said at the start of this – I don’t often fix something that isn’t completely torn or broken to the point of frustration; which has become the case with my gloves – they are retired hiking gear now demoted to winter running only, an activity where I can keep my body warmth up so they “just work”. I prefer mittens over gloves (these were a combination of glove in a mitten, too many fingers went through the liner fabric before they got recycled somewhere and I am left with the outer shell) so I can keep my fingers together, this even goes just the same for hand warmers – I don’t use hand warmers as often as toe warmers, but when I have – they seem to disperse the heat more evenly in open mittens where I can ball up my hands and hug those heaters!
I would like to assume that on my feet is where the best technology falls; okay, this is somewhat debatable and basically on par with the rest of my gear!
Winter running includes what originally were “trail running” only shoes: Salomon Speed Cross with a wider than normal toe box (somehow I have never even felt the beginning of a hot spot or blister anywhere on my feets with these shoes – so I have a back up pair that will be broken out this coming Spring!) On another bit of a side note ramble: I have always heard the hype about black toe nails, how this means that you’re a “real” distance runner only if you have lost a toe nail – I recently read that black toe nails that eventually fall off generally do so from shoes that are too tight-fitting – perhaps why this has never happened, or perhaps it comes down to the fact that I may or may not be a “real runner”.
When I started running in the winter, despite having a Subaru that tackles these Northeast winter roads quite decently, I’ve had more than my share of days when my two feet are more reliable than four wheels when trying to get to a trail head in snowy/icy conditions. I found some unpaved roads and trails that I can run right out my front door and get to – but that also requires a brief run on blacktop roads – roads where cars are trying to maintain 55mph or so, which is quite honestly often hair-raising. I have Hillsound spikes for hiking in the mountains due to their longer teeth (also made of carbide steel as opposed to the stainless steel that Kahtoola MicroSpikes offer), once my MicroSpikes became dull from several years of abuse and rock hopping in the mountains, they became my go-to winter running accessory! Being a bit on the dull side, I don’t cringe if I hit a patch or two of blacktop, and being that (most times) steel is harder than ice – they still grip very well on the snowy and icy trails that I have stomped them through!
Another thought that may not be as obvious and probably will not keep you warm –
but will always keep you safer in the winter months while doing anything outside, and that you may not think of: music. So many folks prefer to run with some bumpin’ tunes jamming in their ear drums (yeah.. I am certainly one of these crazy fist pumpers anytime a sweet track comes on!), music and ear buds have their place, and running with traffic in the winter is NOT one of those! While we (should) all know by now to run against traffic while on the road – we may think this alone will keep us out of harms way, glance down for a few seconds to dodge a puddle and you may not hear a plow coming until you have to suddenly jump into the snowbank to avoid a collision, and if it is slick out there – your chances of slipping are way too high. So the best way to run roads in winter is to just go without music, run safe, be alert and it can actually be a form of meditation – running through the sound dampening fresh snow fall!! Drivers may look at you strange – like you lost your mind, but have fun with it – you’re out doing something that they only wish they had the balls to do!
Flash back to 2015 in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State
my father, our pal Wendy and I were on a mission that snowy March day. The skies were beyond fabulous and blue from the second the sun began to rise, of course we were super pumped to spend the day miles away from any road and ascend Basin Mountain for all of our first time (on a quest for all 46, naturally). About 5 miles in, past Johns Brook Lodge and luckily not the only folks out on the trails that day). My father and I crossed the swollen brook over a snow bridge, Wendy tried for the same – went through – into a knee-deep, churning ice bath.
We all began to freak, luckily another fellow hiker saw our predicament and came to the rescue – he had done the exact same thing earlier in the morning and from his experience in wintertime – always came prepared with regular plastic grocery bags. He handed us all several to get us through the rest of the day, should another emergency occur. Wendy removed her drippy boot, wrung out her sock and replaced it with a fresh, dry wool sock and used the plastic trash bag as a barrier between her soaked boot and dry sock. After the fact, she will admit that this trash bag is the only way that she was able to knock out the remaining 14 miles that day. So needless to say – now I pack all my gear in trash bags, I ball up several and put them as emergency in the bottom of my pack – I have them year round since they take up next to no space in my Gregory Baltoro 75L pack (in use full time – best fitting pack I have ever owned!).
A day hike may take you longer than you expect,
a wrong turn will happen someday no matter how experienced you think you are, no matter how many maps you study, being on a trail is a completely different perspective from standing over a topographic map! It happens to me often enough, usually I can catch the feeling of traveling the wrong direction from the sun and correct my travel, but you just have to adapt and learn from your experiences and recognize what to do and what not to do. Freaking out and being ill-equiped is not an option when you are alone in the wilderness in winter! Know the telephone numbers of local forest rangers (they are usually posted at trail heads!), don’t ever rely on your cell phone map (Alltrails, Gaia, etc) as a sole source of direction, tell folks where you are going (but don’t write a note in the window of your car telling how long you’ll be gone, unless you are trying to get your car broken into..).
So while this is only a brief breakdown of what works for me, experiment with some options and find out what works for you – that’s what its all about, that’s what will make winter running and hiking more enjoyable for you! Stay safe, stay warm, always bring extra dry layers no matter how short you think your day is going to be!!
Please feel free to reach out on Instagram (ehamilton9481), or leave me a comment below and I’ll always respond and try my best to help! Or even leave a comment with advice for me if you have better ideas of how to do anything I mentioned!
Have an epic winter out on the trails, and of course – stay warm and eat lots of plants (they help your muscles recover faster!) 🙂