Winter (Barefoot) Running

Winter Barefoot Running

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I live in Florida. The extent of ‘winter’ here is… well, there isn’t. While living in Calgary, Canada however (see pic above) I had the pleasure of running through many winter seasons. For those not familiar with Alberta winters, they’re known to last a good 7 months with. Running barefoot for many runners coast-to-coast is next to impossible. There are some that run that have trained to run in sub zero conditions, but for the most of us, this kid including, no way!

So what to wear when the streets or trails are snow, ice or slush covered?

I’ve personally tried:

  • Aqua shoes with warm socks
  • Racing flats
  • Thinnest trail runners with insoles removed
  • Teva’s with socks (sprayed with ’3M Scotchgard’)

None of these options really worked all that well.

What have you tried? What worked? What failed? Share your winter running tips!

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Author:David

An instigator and barefoot runner since 2002.

44 Responses to “Winter (Barefoot) Running”

  1. December 11, 2008 at 9:36 am #

    A pair of homemade huaraches with hunting socks underneath them. I went running in single digits and my feet were warm the whole time. Closest thing to running barefoot I’ve ever found!

  2. Leha Carpenter
    December 18, 2008 at 9:20 am #

    Hi:

    When I was a kid I refused to wear shoes ever, and as a result, never needed them. But now I’ve been socialized and haven’t gone barefoot in years. Now I can’t imagine subjecting my tenderized feet to the cold, hard pavement. But I never really “got over” wanting freedom for my feet–especially freedom of movement. So when I fit for running shoes the salespeople never understand what I’m asking for, no matter how I explain it. I won’t buy any shoe that doesn’t allow my foot to bend, or feels like a big wedge when I land on it. There aren’t any perfect solutions, but it’s important to try. To make it easier for them to understand, I tell them I’m in training for dance, and must be able to land on my toes. They seem to get that.

    And this is the point I was leading to: if you want to get as close as possible to barefoot, try dance shoes. But don’t just wear them while running. They are great all the time. Dance sneakers do have a bit of a thick sole, BUT they have no sole at all around the arch (just cloth or synthetic leather), which means you can totally move your foot around in them–much better than any other type of sneaker!

  3. jr
    January 22, 2009 at 6:09 pm #

    i have been training for the london marathon at the moment in the uk in some really cold frosty weather and also some wet weather. I’ve been training in Vibram fiver fingers KSO with a pair of iniji socks. I dont normally run barefoot and so my feet have had no sort of aclimatising over the years to this sort of thing but these have been brilliant to go out in all sorts of weather.

  4. J
    February 21, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    Consider using moccasins or mukluks. You may have to epoxy some strips of leather on the bottom for more grip.

  5. March 7, 2009 at 1:48 pm #

    We saw a clip about the barefoot runner who is earning money to buy wheelchairs for $53.00 each. We are brothers, ages 12 and 13, who are running here in Las Vegas, Nevada to earn money to send for wheelchairs.
    What is his name and how do we find the information about his project?

    ~Zach and Josh Slaughter (with Mom*s permission–Thelma E. Slaughter)

  6. Discordianist
    March 28, 2009 at 1:31 pm #

    I’ve been using Feelmax Panka:s with Feelmax toe socks all winter, coldest weather I decided to run in was -22C. I simply can’t run below that temperature becouse it takes quit a heavy toll on my breathing. But combination of Feelmax Panka:s and Feelmax toe socks (silk) was very pleasurable even in that climate. Althou when it gets that cold my longest runs are about 45min so I wouldn’t know how my feet would have worked for hours. I was also suprised how well Feelmax sole works on snow, since this was my first winter with them.

  7. Ikaros
    June 27, 2009 at 7:38 pm #

    I think for winter the Vibram Flows are a good option also Vivo BareFoot

  8. September 10, 2009 at 2:56 pm #

    Has anyone tried running in a wrestling shoe? They are reasonably priced and should have a good grip.

  9. Ruben
    October 5, 2009 at 8:17 am #

    @Andrew

    Tell you what, I have an old pair at home. I’ll give them a shot and let you know.

  10. Joe
    October 14, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    How about treadmill running barefoot in the winter months?

  11. Lyle
    October 24, 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    to Zack and Josh Slaughter
    The man’s name is Rick Roeber, and here is his website: http://www.barefootrunner.org

    I live in Minnesota and have only been doing barefoot running for a few weeks. I have a pair of huaraches from Barefoot Ted ( http://www.barefootted.com ). I also have some wool Iniji socks. I wish I could find some wool split toe socks. I will likely switch to the sandals and socks once winter comes in full force. I will go barefoot as long as I can though.

  12. Adam
    November 12, 2009 at 1:11 pm #

    I saw something interesting in a discussion on the barefoot running Facebook group site. Take a sock, cheaper is better, like a military surplus for winter combat…buy a sheet of leather from the fabric store, cheaper is better and big enough for two feet.

    Cut out soles from the leather, but make sure there is excess on the edges to fold up as a rand. Make cuts appropriately on the rand so it folds up neat and clean. Use hot glue, shoe goo or other goo to attach. Run!

    I’m definitely going to try this for the winter.

    That said, I live in Colorado where sure, it gets cold, but it’s never really all that cold and it’s usually warm within days of being cold. So, my KSOs should work pretty well.

  13. Adam
    November 12, 2009 at 1:18 pm #

    @Andrew

    forgot to put this: I wrestled my way through my youth and young adulthood and honestly did very little running before the end of college not in wrestling shoes. They work just fine for running. Since I didn’t have my barefoot awakening until far afterwards I can’t say how close they are to the real thing, but they’re certainly minimal. I have 4E wide feet and was never comfy in any pair of shoes except wrestling shoes, if that says anything about their flexibility. They hold up well, too.

  14. Todd
    December 15, 2009 at 8:26 am #

    great blog because the winter is what deters many from running in general and more so running correctly barefoot style. I have very cold sensitive toes. I have been doing pre-dawn runs this winter in my Vibram Flows with ‘NuWool’ Injinji socks, coldest 11deg F not counting heavy wind. I put two of those hand warmers (the things marketed to skiers that give off heat for 6+ hrs when exposed to air) under my shoe just behind the toes. I think these are the only thing that saved my toes. I know of many road bikers that use this type of product to allow them to road bike in arctic weather. Consider adding them to your winter arsenal. The packs were hot when I can back from a 16mile run in 14-20F weather last weekend also, and my toes felt ok. I’m still looking for an alternative to the 5Fingers for real cold days, and may try some of the above suggestions.

  15. BareBowener
    December 16, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    When I lived in Boston 2001/02 I ran barefoot through the winter. I found that my temperature cutoff was about -5 degrees celsius. I would also run in the snow, which is actually not all that cold, and found I was good for about 1/2 hour, after which I’d finish my run on a treadmill at the gym. In the following year I did a New Year’s Day 5k race on slushy, snowy, icy trails in Vancouver. Alas my feet went numb and I cut them up badly on the sharp gravel that lurked beneath the slush. I couldn’t feel it, but when I finished I realized I had some substantial chunks of flesh hanging in flaps behind my toes.

    Nevertheless I would encourage people to try running in the cold for limited periods, and build up some capability for it. There is nothing like the crunch of fresh snow between the toes.

  16. December 18, 2009 at 6:10 am #

    @BareBowener : Thanks for sharing. I can personally handle ‘cold’ temperatures but not sure about running on snow. Having lived in Florida for 7 years has spoiled me. However, with my move to Vancouver BC next year I’ll have to toughen up again. Cheers!

  17. December 24, 2009 at 11:39 am #

    To tell you the truth, I have had quite a bit of trepidation regarding running in my VFF KSOs…beyond the fact that there is ZERO insulation in the upper of the shoe…but I recently purchase VFF KSO Flows with neoprene. I have hiked without socks in 12″ snow…not sure what the temp was, definitely below 32 F, because it was snowing. The only time my feet got cold was when I stopped moving. Then, things could get very sketchy. Wet, cold feet in freezing temps. Not good for the little piggly wigglies. Alas, notihng bad happened. I did finally start wearing Injinji nu-wool outdoor series socks. If the temp is below freezing…things are very good. I have run in -15 C/5 F weather in Germany without any problems. It is very cool to run across virgin snow in your VFF…one can really see foot placement–you look like Bigfoot! Pretty cool…anyway, the only real problems has been above freezing…maybe 2 C/35 F…because the slush is obviously wet and it seeps into the shoes…making ones toes quite cold. I haven’t found a work-a-roound for this, but keeping feet dry is probably a good method of staving off the effects of bad stuff–like frost bite/trench foot and such. Anyone have any ideas?

  18. Brandi
    January 28, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    @ David

    Vancouver is a great city for running – snow’s not really a consideration in town, but wet sure is! I’m still working on adapting to a fore-foot running style and will hopefully go barefoot in the spring. Will you be here in time for the Sun Run in May?

  19. January 28, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    @Brandi – go easy and listen to your body. Moving in early March so look forward to the local race scene. Besides the Sun Run, what are some others one should not miss?

  20. Becky
    January 31, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    I live in upstate NY and it has been a very cold winter here. My husband and I have just used our Five Fingers with Injini socks. At first it’s a little cool but as your body warms up, so do your feet and your ok. Although, we both wear sandles all year and I almost never wear socks (have hated them since I was a kid. Something about that seam stiched right next to your toes just drives me nuts). I would say just getting your feet used to cold is a big help then give running a shot. The snow can feel good on your feet after a long run, just avoid slush puddles.

  21. gari mcdade
    February 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    vibram 5 fingers are not too bad in snow but have poor grip.ive just done 7miles on ice and snow and have done serious damage to my feet,a serious shedding of skin akin to frostbite,which was agony on defrosting.
    however my feet had softened after an injury lay off.my point is ,it feels great but has inherant risks…..just be carefull friends

  22. gari mcdade
    February 9, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    i have just read my recent input and feel i should clarify…..when i damaged my feet,i ran purely barefooted on snowcovered ice,having discarded my beloved 5 fingers.injuries incurred were as a result of stupidity and not attributed to footwear if any description…………..on the up side i have learned a valuable lesson!!!!!

  23. bodypuncher
    April 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    I’ve been jumping rope barefoot, daily, on my concrete floor garage for the past 10 years. I figured it would have prepared me for barefoot running, but when I tried running (only 1 mile) barefoot this past weekend on my local high school track my right foot blistered on the ball right in the middle. Strange that the left foot was fine– I must not realize it but perhaps I shuffle the right foot? I haven’t done much running in years but I ran four 20k and many 10k during teen and early 20s wearing SHOES (and have been doing karate for 36 years in barefeet). Anyway, aside from the little blister the barefoot run felt great— ankles, feet and legs had a really nice toned feel the next day. I’m lookining into Tarahumara sandals and considering wrestling shoes or Chuck Taylors. Might still try barefoot if I can slowly develop callouses or fix my right shuffle. My kids are old enough now (6 and 8) and have run with me for short distance a few times. I am very determined to expose them to the sport and get back to 10ks with them running along side!

  24. bodypuncher
    April 15, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    http://www.martialartssupermarket.com/index.cfm?action=moreinfo&itemid=16419 This link shows a $29 potential solution.

  25. bodypuncher
    April 15, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    never mind….they look too cheap. I’ll try wrestlilng shoes or Chucks.

  26. sean
    April 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm #

    I started running barefoot this winter actually, i layered socks with plastic bags, i wore a very thick sock on the bottom, then 2 bags, then another sock over top. Sounds funny but really felt natural and light. It keeps you feet very warm to.

  27. Lisa Modica
    May 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    Try buying some sheepskin (or buy an old jacket in a thrift store) and making yourself a foot covering. Warm wool …but will not interfere with the foot movement. What do we imagine our native American ancestors wore in the winter? I make my own winter foot coverings buy getting wool sweaters and leather jackets or pants really cheap in thrift stores and then I boil and felt the wool… cut some out to fit my feet and then cover it with leather or sometimes just make a leather sole. Works amazing and my feet stay toasty warm. Never tried running with these though.

    I am a foot therapist and work with people to restore function to their feet. First thing I always tell everyone is to be barefoot….luckily for me I can be barefoot all the time… well except going out in public but I just got my first pair of Vibram 5 fingers and I don’t want to wear anything else on my feet. Biggest thing you will always notice being barefoot is having better balance. I had to wear thick soled rubber boots recently and I could hardly keep my balance. VFF are also great for rock climbing. I found them to have much more grip than climbing shoes.

  28. June 20, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    i love the feel of leather dance shoes compared to synthetic fabrics.“;

  29. Jino
    July 22, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    1) Run at slightly faster tempo, for shorter distance. Do this more frequently to achieve same mileage in warm weather.

    2) Relatively warm socks (thermals, *something* to keep your feet warm…) beneath martial arts training shoes. They’ve got a thin thin sole of (usually) rubber to keep the trail/road grit/grime away from your toes, but thin enough that it’s damn close to barefoot. Uppers are normally a non-breathing synthetic, great for keeping feet-heat in, but potentially dangerous to your digits on prolonged runs due to moisture retention and re-freezing in cold weather.

  30. Heather
    October 14, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    I’m going to try moccasins+socks and then lined with that thin “emergency blanket” stuff (or maybe VFF Flows, if I can figure out the toes) . I used to wrap it around my feet when I went snowboarding, and it worked great. Even when the feet get wet, they stay warm.

  31. December 12, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    dance shoes that are shiny are the most cool stuff that you could possibly wear .-”

  32. Aelipca
    January 23, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    I’m from Montana, and the winters here can be absolutely freezing. When running in the winter, I wear Vibram FiveFingers Flow with Injinji socks. They are quite warm for me in temperatures above 30 degrees F, and the coldest that I run in them is 25 or so. The only problem is that they have no gripping, so I can’t run on the beautiful Montana trails, which are covered in snow and ice. Does anyone have any solutions for this?

  33. MrMoonbeam
    May 3, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    I’ve found a number of artisans on Etsy selling wool blend Tabi socks.
    They look like mittens for your feet (almost like lobster claws)
    Seems to me these would work well with Tarahumara sandals.

  34. JonathanW
    May 25, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    I have found that using injinji socks while wearing vibram five fingers like my treksports which are great

  35. JonathanW
    May 25, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    @Aelipca

    the treksports like I said in my last post are the grippiest vibram five fingers out there so they work great for running when it’s cold

  36. Kristin
    January 5, 2012 at 6:17 am #

    I got a pair of Merrel lithe gloves for this winter – so far the coldest I have tried them in is -12 C, and they were perfectly warm enough. I use thin wool socks in them. I also had the chance to test them on sheer ice yesterday, as I could not find my spikes and the pavement was positively glaced. Of course the grip was not perfect in these conditions, but I was certainly able to run and on any areas where the ice had some sand or ice on it I was fine. A very good buy for me.

  37. January 10, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    I have the Vibram Bikilas, and as long as there is no snow on the ground everything is peachy, even a little snow I can take, and this is without any socks. Its when snow falls, and your feet start to sink that I revert back to my old, old Nikes.They really do suck! Not only do I run slower, but feel more awkward not to mention that I usually end up with knee pain. I’m in Utah so we get some snow and my trail is about 6-7K up. I’ll try the socks in the Vibrams. Has anybody tried the Brook’s TrueGrit? Is that too shoey for this blog?

  38. January 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    update. i got the Injinji socks, stuck them into my Bikilas, did 7 miles on snow in 26F and the only thing that got cold was my buttcheecks at the end ;) i even did a short hike in the middle of the run in search of my dog who ran off after some deer. merino wool is amazing. i then did a long run when the snow melted and i was running through slush puddles and even though my feet were wet they still felt warm. burn nikes burn! woo hoo!

    Vibrams + Injinji = Warm Toes + Happy Knees

  39. April 27, 2013 at 4:13 am #

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    up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back down the road. Many thanks

  40. June 28, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

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  41. July 2, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Great article. I am dealing with a few of these issues
    as well..

  42. Norwegian
    December 21, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    I live in northern Norway, and have ben running with my FiveFingers Bikila, with Injini socks. One thing is sure, when it’s -4 °F, this is not a good solution. I now run in Newton Gravity, whih have a much thicker sole, but still allows me to run with the same technique. To Get better grip, i also use Yaktrax Pro. Inside the shoes i use a medium thick woolsock.

  43. December 29, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    The LEGOLAND Florida amusement park looks really fun for my wife and I, we really enjoy LEGOS so we can’t wait to ride the roller coasters and see all the detailed LEGO Models.

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