One of the beautiful qualities of snow is that it miraculously turns roads, paths, even tracks into trails. One of the not-so-beautiful aspects of snow is that it converts many surfaces into luge courses or mud baths. Winter conditions, be they snow, ice or mud, should trigger all runners to consider outfitting themselves with trail shoes.

Get a Grip

From the frozen ground up, trail shoes are better suited for winter running because they are designed and built with an emphasis on traction. Not only do trail running shoes have more substantial tread patterns and aggressive, deep lugs, but they are constructed with grippy materials for greater adhesion when trails or roads are wet or otherwise slick.

Many trail shoe brands, such as La Sportiva, Salomon, Merrell and The North Face, emanate from the outdoor industry and have always emphasize their mountain heritage, with long-standing ties to rubber advances that better enhance traction on rock, wet surfaces and ice and snow as well. Some, such as models from Salomon or Icebug, even come with carbide studs built into the soles. Similarly, select Saucony models deploy Vibram’s Arctic Grip to provide better purchase on wet ice for thawing conditions.

slippery surface winter running
photo: 101 Degrees West

Protection Aplenty

Another reason trail shoes make excellent winter shoes for both road and trail: their uppers are often burly and reinforced. Winter elements of cold, snow, slush, wet and mud go right through the woven mesh uppers of road shoes designed to vent on summer days.

The primary reason for building trail shoe uppers with more rugged materials and multiple overlays is to increase durability and protect the foot—creating armored vehicles, as it were. But there is also the benefit of shielding against the cold and providing a level of insulation. Even warmer are the trail shoes that come with Gore-Tex or other waterproof barriers built in for dryness. Many trail shoe uppers also feature gaiter attachments to keep snow or ice from penetrating the ankle collar.

When the Going Gets Tough

When the temps drop below freezing many midsoles, especially those made of EVA, the traditional midsole foam, have different impact absorbing and energy returning qualities than they do when the weather is warmer. Basically, the foam gets stiffer and that effects the elasticity, so the ride is less flexible, impact dampening or resilient. Studies have shown that when it is cold enough, a running shoe will perform as though it had been worn for hundreds of miles even though it is relatively new.

Many trails shoes take temperature into consideration and are built on midsole platforms with altered chemical qualities so that they retain their absorption and resilience in a much broader range of temperatures. For example, neither adidas Boost, which consists of hundreds of encapsulated thermoplastic polyurethane particles, nor Skechers Hyper Burst, which is like a risen dough that originated as a solid plastic exposed to CO2 gas when it is in its liquid state, are as negatively effected by cold as EVA. Their cushioning and bounce feel fresh, even if your muscles may aren’t as springy in sub-zero temps.

snow covered running shoe
photo: 101 Degrees West

Numb Digits

Trying to tie or untie your shoes while wearing mittens, gloves or with fingers numbed from the cold can be an impossible task. That’s where speed lacing, Velcro or BOA’s dial-in security systems really shine. They allow you to lock your foot in place and, when you return from your run, quickly release your feet, even when you lack dexterity.