How To Keep Your Feet Warm On Winter Runs


Running in winter can be difficult.

Often, getting out of bed can be the first obstacle! But generally, once your muscles are warm, it’s easier to begin your workout.

But if your circulation isn’t the best, you may find that your feet get cold even while you’re running.

Learning some ways to keep your feet warm on winter runs can make the experience happier and more comfortable.

Here are some of the ways we recommend warming up your cold toes when you’re running in winter.

1. Wear Less Breathable Shoes

Most running shoes are designed with a breathable mesh or single-piece knit upper, which is perfect for spring and summer. Unfortunately, this can work against you in cold and wet conditions, as the mesh upper allows cold air and water to seep into the shoe.

Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to keep your feet warm and dry while running in the cold.

Switch to a shoe that has a leather or Gore-Tex upper. You can choose to get a trail running shoe that has a durable, water-repellent, or waterproof upper. Alternatively, you can choose running shoes that use Gore-Tex technology in the upper.

You’ll find that the uppers are slightly more rigid, but conform to your foot’s shape while keeping the elements from getting into the shoe.

Even though the uppers feature Gore-Tex technology, there are smaller perforations that allow for breathability but aren’t big enough for water to enter the shoe. This keeps your feet dry and warm while you run.

2. Insulate With Paper Towels

You can try a survival tactic by using a paper towel or napkin to help insulate your feet. Paper is a great insulator, as it has low thermal conductivity.

Wrap the paper towel or napkin over the top and around your socks. Then put your shoes on. This will prevent the cold air from reaching your feet and you don’t have to worry about sweat being trapped in the bottom of your shoe.

Make sure that the paper is thin enough so that your running shoes don’t feel too tight and that you don’t have to worry about changing your socks.

You would need to avoid running through puddles or very wet conditions, as the paper toweling won’t prevent water from seeping into the shoe.

3. Cold Weather Shoes

As the temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, wearing shoes that are designed for cold weather can make a world of difference.

Aside from keeping the cold out, running shoes that are designed for cold weather will remain supportive, cushioned, and responsive. The outsoles are also designed to be durable, and either have lugs or traction patterns to provide excellent grip.

If you do need extra traction for running on ice or snow, then you can use YakTrax Run removable cleats.

These are specifically designed to be worn with running shoes. They have a combination of removable spikes and steel coils for you to choose from, ensuring that you have great traction on any ground.

While you could run in your regular running shoes, the cold may cause the midsole cushioning to stiffen.

This will increase the pressure that’s placed on the feet and legs, making every footstrike feel as though you’re running on a harder surface.

This can increase your risk of a running injury, as the shoe has less give as your foot makes contact with the ground.

4. Wear Wool Socks

You may be tempted to double-up on your socks, but this could leave your shoe feeling a bit too snug.

The best winter running socks to use will be made from wool, more specifically Merino wool, and will have light to medium cushioning.

As you run, the Merino wool wicks the moisture away from the skin while insulating your body heat. Even if you happen to run through a puddle, Merino wool will retain heat without irritating your skin or causing blisters.

Lightly to medium-cushioned socks will help trap more warmth in the shoe. The cushioning on the socks will add an extra layer of protection for your feet.

If you’re going to double-layer your socks, make sure the base layer is wool or synthetic material, and then use socks that are made from synthetic fibers—like nylon—on top of the wool.

Avoid cotton socks, as they retain moisture which will make your feet cold and can lead to blisters. The combined layers of the socks shouldn’t be so thick that it makes your shoes feel tight.

5. Wearing Layers of Warm Clothes Also Helps to Keep Your Feet Warm

Layering up around your core will help to maintain blood flow to your feet, regulate your body temperature, and insulate your body heat.

When layering up, it’s best to dress for temperatures that are 10 to 20 degrees warmer than what your thermometer shows. Before you start your run, you should feel a slight chill that goes away as you warm up and goes away while you’re running.

Your base layer should be next to your skin, made of light and moisture-wicking material. The mid-layer should insulate your body heat; often, fleece is used in milder temperatures.

The outer layer, which can be a lightweight running jacket, should be windproof, waterproof, or water-resistant. There should be venting ports under the arms and on the back to allow for air circulation to help you regulate your body temperature.

Most running jackets are lightweight and dry quickly, but more importantly, don’t restrict your range of movement. Some jackets have synthetic insulation to help keep you warm and you may find that you don’t need a mid-layer on your run.

Winter tights are thicker and slightly heavier than regular tights, as they have to protect you from the elements. Wear thermal or fleece-lined running tights, as this will insulate your body heat, keeping you warm on the run.

The tights will draw moisture away from your skin and are often wind and water-resistant. The more you run in the cold, the more you’ll learn about what works for you and what your preferences are.

6. Make Sure Your Shoes Fit

Make sure that the running shoes that you wear during fall or winter fit you properly.

If you’re buying a new pair of running shoes specifically to run in the cold, then take a pair of the socks you will wear with you. This will help to ensure that you get the correct fit, as your feet may not swell in cold weather like they do in the spring and summer.

You also want to make sure that you can cinch down on the laces for a secure fit without restricting your blood circulation. If the blood flow is restricted to your feet, then you’ll find it harder to warm them up.

7. Avoid Wet Roads and Trails

While it may not be easy to avoid puddles that have developed from rain and snow, you can avoid cross-streams or runoffs on your run.

If you do happen to be running on a road with puddles, do your best to go around them and not through them. This will prevent water from splashing up over your shoe and into the top of it.

You can switch your running route and find a route that’s drier where you won’t have to run through water.

If you want to add an extra layer of protection to keep your feet warm, use a low-cut ankle gaiter. This will help prevent water from entering the shoe from the top, especially if you can’t avoid puddles or running through snow on your run.

8. Toe Warmers

You can try using adhesive toe warmers to help keep your feet warm on cold runs.

Toe warmers like Hothands Toe warmers are air-activated heat packs that can provide warmth for up to 8 hours. They have a rounded shape and are ultra-thin so that they can fit comfortably in your shoe.

It is important to note that you shouldn’t use these types of toe warmers in shoes that have a mesh upper. The more air the toe warmer insert gets, the warmer it gets.

There is an alternative that you can try and that is Meister Neoprene Toe Warmer Booties.

The toe warmer booties are made from 2.5 mm thick neoprene, which contours to the shape of your feet. These are thin enough for you to wear under your sock without adding bulk to your shoes.

The insulating properties of the neoprene will help to keep your toes warm, without causing any skin irritation or blisters.

9. Insoles

Winter-specific insoles like SuperFeet Merino Wool insoles or SuperFeet’s Custom Carbon Winter insole may be what you need to keep your feet warm on your run.

Winter insoles are designed to keep your feet warm while providing support to your feet. They usually have wool or felt top layer and thermal insulating layers. This helps to seal the warm air in, allowing it to circulate, while the top cloth draws moisture away from your skin.

You may find that winter-specific insoles are thicker—have a higher profile—than regular insoles. The thicker the insole is, the warmer it will keep your feet.

10. Keep On Moving

When you’re on your run, don’t stop moving until you’re either back at home or in a warm place again. If you need to take a bit of a break, try running on the spot or doing ankle exercises to maintain blood circulation and prevent any heat loss.

Just standing in one spot where your feet are in contact with the cold ground can cause you to lose heat.

You can also keep your runs shorter but do them at a higher intensity. This will make it easier for you to maintain your body’s temperature in your extremities.

11. Dry Running Shoes Between Wears/ Runs

After your run, remove the insoles from your shoes, leave them somewhere safe to dry, and place scrunched-up newspaper into your shoes.

The newspaper will absorb the moisture inside the shoe, allowing them to dry quicker. You’ll also find that once the shoe is completely dry, it will be easier to keep your feet warm on your next run.

12. Get Warm With a Hot Bath

When you’re home, the only thing that’s left for you to do is to run a hot bath. New research suggests that it may accelerate healing.

You can add some epsom salts or essential oils to the water and soak yourself in it for about 15 minutes. The sooner you get into a warm bath after your run, the quicker your cold feet will warm up.

Photo of author


Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.