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How to exercise outdoors in snow, ice and other winter hazards

Take your fitness routine outside, even during the winter.

Amanda Capritto
5 min read
Blonde-haired woman in a neon jacket running outdoors in snowy weather.

With the right gear, exercising in cold weather can be safe and even enjoyable.

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If you regularly exercise outdoors, the cold winter weather can seriously cramp your style. Common problems, other than just being cold, include getting wet from sweat or snow; getting too hot under a bunch of layers; slipping around on icy surfaces; not drinking enough water because of the cold; and facing severe wind chill. 

Despite all that, exercising outdoors in the winter can still be enjoyable -- getting into nature is good for you, after all, and even stiff, cold fingers beat an overcrowded gym. Before you take your next workout outside, consider these nine winter workout tips for safely exercising in the cold. 

Read more: 4 tips from fitness trainers for sticking to an exercise routine

Problem: Losing body heat


Moisture-wicking fabric wins the winter months.

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Solution: Dress dry (not just warm).

Water is one of the most effective heat conductors, meaning it moves heat from the area of highest concentration to the area of lowest concentration. So if you get wet or sweaty while exercising outdoors during the winter, you have a higher risk of losing body heat as water conducts it from your skin to the air. 

To prevent soggy clothing and loss of body heat, wear moisture-wicking performance gear: polyester and nylon are good choices. Always stay far, far away from cotton during outdoor winter workouts, because cotton tends to soak up moisture and can add to the chill factor. 

Problem: Getting too hot underneath layers


Finding the right outerwear is important for winter workouts. This quarter-zip pullover from Oros Apparel uses Aerogel insulation to keep you warm without added bulk.

Oros Apparel

Solution: Choose outerwear you can easily shed.

Although you'll need multiple layers for your warmup and the early stages of your workout, you'll likely feel the need to shed at least one layer at some point. Winter outerwear can be bulky and restrictive, not to mention too warm. So plan ahead by wearing outer layers you can easily shed and store, whether that means wrapping a jacket around your waist or tying a pullover to your hydration backpack. 

Problem: Poor visibility due to darkness and precipitation


Wear bright colors when exercising outdoors in the winter, and even better yet, consider a reflective vest for extra safety.


Solution: Wear bright colors.

Not only is it colder in the winter, but it's also often darker, even during the day. Most places, winter brings dark clouds, gray skies and precipitation that can make it difficult for vehicles and pedestrians to see you. 

Everywhere, it gets dark earlier -- sometimes as early as 4:30 p.m. If you plan to workout outdoors during the winter, especially in the late afternoon or evening, wear bright colors to stand out. You can also opt to wear a headlamp, vest or other body light to make yourself more visible. 

Problem: Can't feel your hands and feet


Keep your extremities warm.

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Solution: Protect your extremities with proper gear.

Keeping your extremities warm is essential to keeping the rest of your body warm. I don't know about you, but when my feet are wet and cold, it's much more difficult for my whole body to get and stay warm. Good winter workout shoes are water-wicking, if not entirely waterproof. If you don't want to buy new shoes, check a local winter gear outlet for waterproof shoe covers. 

You'll want to minimize any mesh on your shoes and go for high-tops or a pair that's tight around the ankles so as to keep snow and ice out. Choosing the right socks for exercising in the cold usually means choosing a blend of warm fabric (like wool) and moisture-wicking fabric (like nylon). A personal favorite is the Pursuit line from Swiftwick, which blends merino wool, nylon and spandex. 

Depending on the weather conditions where you live, you may also need hand protection. If it's cold, but not snowy or icy, you can get away with cotton, wool or other knit gloves. If there's any precipitation at all, go for waterproof gloves, like this pair of Nike Shield Running Gloves.

Problem: Slipping on wet or icy surfaces


It's like having tire chains for your feet.


Solution: Make sure you have good traction.

As well as keeping your feet warm, you'll also want to make sure they don't slip and slide everywhere, especially if you're going for a run -- falling on cold, hard ground is certainly not fun. Before you head out, check the bottom of your shoes to make sure the outer sole isn't too worn down. Just like tire tread, you want shoe soles that have grippy surfaces to keep you stable. If it's super slippery where you plan to exercise, you can also buy shoe covers for rain and snow, as well as ice and snow grips that fit over the sole of your shoe to prevent slips. 

Problem: Cold head, ears, nose and mouth


Wearing a hat can work wonders when it's cold out.

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Solution: Cover them up. 

When it's cold outside, your body's efforts turn toward keeping your vital organs warm. This means that it sends less blood to your extremities and to your skin, keeping circulation mostly to your torso. That's why our fingers and face get the coldest when outside. 

You can try a variety of things to protect your face. Wear earmuffs or a warm, thick headband to cover your ears. For your nose and mouth, you can wrap a headscarf around the lower half of your face. A hat can keep your head warm and sunglasses can keep precipitation out of your eyes (and reduce glare from the sun if it's snowy).

Problem: Don't feel like drinking water


As much as you might not feel like drinking water, staying hydrated in the cold is still important.

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Solution: Hydrate, even when you don't feel like it -- and make it tastier.

During the cold winter months, you may not feel like drinking water -- a warm beverage usually sounds much more appealing. Winter is the one time of year when I don't follow the "drink when you're thirsty, don't when you're not" rule, because I almost never feel thirsty when it's cold out. 

To combat this, try drinking room-temperature water or even heating up your water before you head outdoors -- it'll quickly cool down to a more palatable temperature. Flavoring your water or drinking flavored sports beverages may also help you consume more fluids.

If you really can't bring yourself to drink water during your workout, as long as you drink enough before and after, you should be fine (as long as your workout isn't longer than 90 minutes). Drink about 20 ounces (0.6 liters) before and after to stay hydrated. 

Problem: Battling wind chill


Run upwind first to beat the shivers.

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Solution: Go upwind first.

The sweatier you are, the greater risk you have of losing body heat. That's because the fluid on your skin is an unfortunate conductor of heat and may cause your core temperature to drop. If you're doing a travel-based workout such as running or cycling, go against the wind first. This way, near the end of your workout -- when you're sweatiest -- the wind will be at your back and you'll fight less wind chill. 

Problem: Body feels stiff and tired


Don't forget to stretch!

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Solution: Don't skip your warmup or cool-down.

Your body needs time to adjust to the cold and then to adjust back to a resting state. Before your workout, spend at least five to 10 minutes performing a dynamic warmup, which can include light cardio exercise as well as joint mobilization exercises. Here's an example warmup: 

Three rounds: 

  • One minute high knees
  • 20 alternating side lunges
  • 20 jumping jacks 

Once you complete your workout, take an additional few minutes to cool down. A good cool-down includes static stretching and a recovery technique such as foam rolling. As soon as you finish cooling down, change out of damp clothes. If you were doing resistance exercises, you can also benefit from five to 10 minutes of low-intensity cardio exercise, such as walking. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.