Barefoot Running in Snow… Random Tips

It’s winter.  Snow is everywhere… at least for those of us living in the Great White North.  This is the time of year we reach for our favorite minimalist shoes.  Some of us may be tempted to try running barefoot in the white fluffy stuff.  After all, it is a ton of fun in warmer weather.

Through my own experimentation, here are some tips:

Disclaimer- Don’t run barefoot in the winter.  Doing so may result in injury.  The following is merely a documentation of the lessons I learned through my own stupidity.

  1. Go slow.  Just like beginning barefoot running, it is important to adapt to the cold.  You will encounter different sensations, or lack thereof.  Start at a moderate temperate, and slowly work your way to colder temperatures.  Same deal with distance… start slow.  A half mile is more than enough for a winter novice.  As far as speed, you should begin at ultra pace (think molasses).
  2. Remember- fluffy snow hides shit.  Like leaves on a wooded trail, snow can hide nasty surprises.  Know your route and avoid fluffy snow with a mysterious base.
  3. Stay moving.  As long as you are moving, the heat generated by muscular movement and circulation will keep your feet relatively warm.  I’ve been able to run up to 10 miles in about 20-24° weather as long as I keep moving.  The moment you stop, you will freeze.  Stay in motion.
  4. Earth is slightly warmer than asphalt or concrete… most of the time.  Concrete and asphalt that is suspended in the air (like a bridge) is even colder most of the time.  Keep this in mind.
  5. Salt lowers the temperature of road slush.  It’s possible for slush to be well below freezing if it has been mixed with salt. This dramatically increases the danger of frostbite and/or other forms of damage.
  6. Avoid wet asphalt like the plague, especially if you are trying to run fast.  Blisters form easily in this condition.
  7. If it hurts, stop.  If it goes numb, stop.  If it changes color significantly, stop.  Use common sense.
  8. Always carry some sort of emergency foot covering.  If you have to stop for any reason, you want some protection.  I carry a pair of heavy wool socks and two bread bags.  They are compact and make great emergency boots.
  9. Be aware of snow conditions.  Melted then hardened snow can cut the feet like glass.  I’ve gotten some nasty cuts from this condition.
  10. Realize you will likely have some sensory impairment.  You will eventually learn to adapt to this to some degree, but only if you exercise patience.
  11. Never travel far from safety.  Never be more than about a half mile from warmth.
  12. Know the early warning signs of frostnip and frostbite.  Also know how to treat both conditions.
  13. Dress warm.  If the rest of your body is adequately insulated, your feet will stay warmer… at least in theory.
  14. Develop a few good one-liners for the inevitable gasps when you encounter other runners.  One of my favorites- “It’s not too bad because it’s a dry cold.”

Again, I don’t advise you run barefoot in the winter.  If you decide to try it, be smart.

13 thoughts on “Barefoot Running in Snow… Random Tips

  1. I needed this today. I’m pretty bummed about the snowy ground and tried to power through yesterday. I learned my lesson and called myself a wuss. Thanks.


  2. I definitely won’t be running in in my Libres ( this season. I want to get some moccasins. Where can I get some? Anybody?


  3. Problem with moccasins are once they get wet, the stay wet. there is a company called manitoba mukluks that make a mukluk (boot) with a low vibram sole on them. Just google them. (normal moccasins are leather soled and have terrible traction. Warning they are pricy. I had a great run in the snow in my aquasocks the other day. Probably my answer to the question.


  4. I tried my treadmill tonight so I didn’t have to run outside. After 19 mins the treadmill died. Don’t know if it was the treadmill or the smell of my burning feet! So should have run outside.


  5. Great tips! I am very ok with my hybrid barefootedness! Its fun to run in the snow for a few minutes to feel invigorated and maybe snap a photo but after that I am good with my aqua socks and woolies!


  6. Good tips, if I were to try it. My feet froze running in VFFs and Injinji socks, so I don’t think I’m ready to place bare skin on frozen water! Maybe one day, but I’d probably have to move to a place where we actually get snow (not just encountering it on trips to the mountains).


  7. So far, I’ve found that most heat lost from the feet is through contact with the ground. I can run in fairly low temperature while wearing very thin sandals, and my feet will stay relatively warm.

    This has not been tested on snow, however, so your mileage may vary (literally).


  8. As much as I hate to put the old foot coffins on, I just cannot go barefoot in the snow/cold. If it’s not too windy or wet the Vibrams work pretty good. Unless of course it’s really slippery, then they slide all over. What I NEED to do is get out of Ohio and go someplace that doesn’t get a ton of snow every winter.


  9. Here is a thought for many who gravitated to be barefoot because it made more sense that bracing a foot, when encouraging atrophy would only lead to pathologies or injury.
    Keep to minimal footwear with some good tread. Traction will be important as slips can result in injury either when your butt hits the sidewalk, or when you realize that you can’t really do the splits. However, these minimal footwear will still act to some extent as a sensory insulator. So get some biofeedback type insoles that will interface with your foot’s arch apex region. This will continue to provide some proprioceptive stimuli until spring comes.


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