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Running in Winter: How to Keep Hands and Feet Warm When It’s Cold

Posted on January 10 2014

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how to keep man-parts warm on runs in the winter. The response to that post was incredible (now nearing 15,000 hits!), so clearly it was a topic of interest to runners, especially considering how cold this winter has been in many parts of the world (one of the coldest I can remember).

Earlier today I got a message from a fellow New Englander asking about how I keep my hands warm on winter runs, so I thought another post on the topic of keeping warm on winter runs might be helpful. Here goes!

Keeping Hands Warm

I used to have a lot of problems with my hands freezing on cold winter runs. Then I discovered running mittens. Problem solved.

For the longest time I had only ever used gloves, and when it got really cold out they just weren’t cutting it. My fingers would get frigid to the point of hurting, and this discomfort added to the list of reasons my brain would confront me with in an attempt to keep me from running outside in sub-freezing temperatures. My brain never won though since my hatred of the treadmill is greater than my fear of cold fingers.

Saucony Run MittsI don’t recall if it was last winter or two winters ago, but I was in the Fleet Feet store in West Hartford, CT (my hometown) and I saw a pair of Saucony Run Mitts on the wall. I’d never tried running with mittens, so I figured what the heck – they weren’t terribly expensive, why not give them a try?

There’s nothing particularly fancy about the Saucony Mitts – just a layer of windbreaker type material on the outside and a softer layer of knit material on the inside. They aren’t particularly thick either, and other brands seem to have comparable options (if you have a favorite, leave a comment). But man do they work!

If you’ve never used mittens for cold-weather running, I highly recommend that you try them. I ran seven miles earlier today, it was about 20 degrees F outside and breezy (downright balmy compared to the past few days!), and with the mittens my hands were sweating within a few miles into the run. By keeping your fingers in contact within a single, enclosed compartment, the body heat generated keeps things nice and toasty. And if your thumb starts to get cold, you can just pull it into the mitten and make a fist to warm everything right up. Mittens are so effective for me that I typically only wear them when it’s below freezing out, otherwise my hands get way too hot. If it’s above 30 degrees F or so I opt for thin gloves.

I would like to make one distinction – I also have a pair of mittens where the fingers stick out and a mitten flap can be wrapped over them when desired. I don’t find this design to be nearly as effective as a standard mitten where everything is fully enclosed in one big space. Keeping skin-skin contact between the fingers seems to be the key.

Keeping Feet Warm

I personally have never had a problem with cold feet on runs. My feet might be chilled for the first 5 minutes or so after leaving the house, but once I’m a half mile to a mile into the run they warm right up. It’s all about blood flow I think – once I start moving and blood starts circulating faster, my feet are fine. I actually don’t tend to wear thick socks on runs in the winter for this reason. I find that thick socks make for a tighter fit inside my shoes, and I think this impedes blood flow to my feet. My tactic instead is to wear thin socks and to make sure my shoes are not laced too tight. Let the blood flow as easily down through the skin of my feet as possible. This approach has never failed me.

Target C9 Champion SocksA quick note on socks. I do like to wear thicker socks around the house and with casual shoes. I love the thicker Injinji  trail socks (all Injinji socks really), but they don’t work well for me in extreme cold for the same reason gloves don’t work for my fingers – skin to skin contact is key for warmth. I also like double-layered Wrightsocks for blister protection, and I was recently sent several pairs of DeFeet Merino wool socks that are nice. But, and I’m somewhat ashamed to admit this, the majority of the time when I run (year round) I wear Champion C9 socks from Target. They come in packs of three pairs for just over $9.00, and I have yet to wear a pair out. They’re really thin, but they seem to last forever. Wore them today for seven miles in the cold and had no issues at all.

That about covers my thoughts on keeping hands a feet warm on the run – if you have any additional tips and/or suggestions please leave a comment!

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