Transform your running shoes into winter-ready treads with these tips

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Winter is here in full force and for many trail runners, that means stomping through snow and slippery ice. If you’d rather chase Old Man Winter down a frosty trail than log miles on the dreadmill, now’s the time to start thinking about outfitting your feet for winter running.

The two major things to consider when it comes to winter running shoes are traction and waterproofing. Enhanced traction will help prevent slipping on ice and potential injuries resulting from that, and waterproofing gear designed to keep your feet warm and dry is crucial to avoiding frostbite and hypothermia.

Oregon-based professional ultrarunner and 2014 100 km World Champion Max King offered some tips and tricks on the best shoe winterization methods to keep you on your feet this season.

Winter-specific running shoes

Before we dive into how to winterize your existing fair weather shoes, the easiest — but most costly — solution to running in the cold, wet, and possibly slick months is to buy a shoe designed by the manufacturer for such conditions.

“Buying a winterized version of a shoe has its advantages because usually they have a waterproof or water-resistant upper that doesn’t allow snow and water to get in,” said King.

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Many companies are releasing winter versions of their trail running classics that look more like a bootie, such as the Salomon Snowcross CS, or the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Mid.

The Snowcross offers weather protection through a waterproof bootie with a zip gaiter, and enhanced traction courtesy of nine carbide-tipped spikes.

The Lone Peak NeoShell Mid is Altra’s new winter shoe that takes the NeoShell low to new heights, using Polartec waterproof breathable uppers to keep feet warm and dry. These bad boys don’t come with spikes, but utilize Maxtrac rubber traction technology with TrailClaw lugs for a solid grip. All Altra running shoes also come with a built-in gaiter trap to attach an extra layer of weatherproofing.

A couple of winter shoe options that don’t incorporate a bootie, but do use waterproof materials and traction technology designed to prevent slipping include the Saucony Peregrine ICE+ and Inov8 Arcticclaw 300.

The new Saucony Peregrine ICE+ uses the same PWRTRAC outsole that provide the aggressive traction three-season Peregrines are famous for, but the ICE+ integrates Vibram’s cutting-edge Arctic Grip technology in high impact foot zones. Arctic Grip is specifically engineered to provide traction on wet ice and is so remarkable that it took home the Digital Trends Outdoors Best Product of 2016 award.

The Arcticclaw 300 comes in both regular and Thermo, which adds a Primaloft insulation liner to keep your feet extra warm. Both models feature 16 tungsten carbide spikes spread throughout the forefoot and heel of the nobby outsole. Inov8’s 4-finger polymer PROTEC-SHANK technology runs along the traction spikes to shield your metatarsals from additional impact.

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Although the weather-specific technologies used in designing winterized running shoes can drive up their retail price, keep in mind that you probably won’t be using them nearly as much as your regular running shoes, so one pair might last more than one season. The decision to purchase a new pair of running shoes made to handle ice and cold weather or modify the pair you’ve been running in all year is based on personal preference, and may vary depending on regional climates and runner’s lifestyles.

DIY Traction

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If you don’t want to buy a separate pair of winterized trail shoes for snowy adventures, there are plenty of DIY options to modify the same shoes you’ve been wearing all year. Tricks for improving traction range from simple screws from your local hardware store to ergonomically-designed over sole devices.

“Definitely, on icy days, one of the things people do up here is put sheet metal screws in their shoes,” King said. This is likely the cheapest and most simple traction option. However, steel screw wear down quickly, especially if you leave the trail to hit bare pavement.

A much stronger option is to look for screws made of tungsten carbide, the same material used to make cutting tools and armor-piercing ammunition. You may recognize it from your studded snow tires or the tips of your trekking poles.

“The carbide just holds up a lot better than the galvanized steel screw you get at the hardware store,” King said. “Those just wear down quickly, especially if you’re running on any kind of pavement. The carbide screws are a lot harder.”

Ice Spikes and La Sportiva Hobnails are two examples of carbide screws you can twist into your favorite pair of running shoes. Step-by-step instructions on how to screw your own shoes can be found here.

Carbide studs can also be found on over sole options, such as the Yaktrax Run and Kahtoola Nanospikes.

The Yaktrax Run flaunts the same steel coil-wrapped rubber web as the Walk model, but with a flat rubber platform in the forefoot embedded with removable carbide spikes. The ergonomically designed Yaktrax Run’s also feature adjustable straps to provide a custom fit, as well as reflective accents for increased visibility during short winter days.

Waterproofing

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Ice isn’t the only threat to winter running safety. Gently falling snow, or a layer of fresh powder can slowly seep into shoes both around the ankle and through a mesh upper, leading to cold, wet feet. Avoid this by adding a water-resistant gaiter to your mandatory winter running gear.

“If you’re running in the snow, a gaiter is pretty mandatory just to keep snow from getting in there and building up.” King said. “It can really soak the inside of your shoe.”

Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters are a water-resistant, breathable option made with rugged Cordura.

If you already own a pair of water-resistant gaiters, it doesn’t hurt to apply a fresh coat of Scotchgard to maintain their water repellency.

If you do find yourself with flooded footwear at the end of a snowy run, don’t worry, DryGuy makes several products designed to accelerate the drying time of wet winter gear.

Find the solution that works best for you

In addition to being the more affordable option, customizing your own pair of running shoes with winter features allows you to run in the shoes you’re already comfortable with and frees up space in your running shoe closet, but you’ll miss out on some of the latest rubber compound technology that could make the difference between a stride and slip on wet ice.

The key is to know how to stay safe out there and find a solution that works the best for you. Let your shoes help protect your body from winter hazards by upping your traction and adding an extra layer of water protection before you hit the trails!

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