Winter running comes with an interesting range of unpleasant conditions. Icy mist. Drizzle. Rain, snow, ice, slush, and… if you’re really unlucky, freezing rain. Ideally, you’ll choose to stay indoors at that point.
However, the other obstacles to fitness can be overcome with good winter running shoes. And most of us want to keep moving when it’s cold. The endorphin surge is powerful, and it undermines that slight tendency towards hibernation which can create all kinds of waistline damage come spring.
When even flat surfaces turn into treacherous terrain, you need footwear which protects your ability to keep pace. Thankfully there’s a lot of choice for shoes which will help you keep your fitness intact during the months of adverse weather.
It’s easy to get carried away with the details of interior fit, however; the biomechanical developments in shoe design have created a range of dazzling and distracting refinements to the way the shoe feels in terms of loft, cushioning, and spring. It’s easy to lose track of the features which will keep you dry, upright and safe.
To make things a little easier, we’ve narrowed down the array of great options to our top five winter shoes. Following that, there’s a buyer’s guide with tips on what to keep in mind if you want to add a few choices back into the decision-making process.
In a hurry? Check out our top pick below.
Top 5 Best Winter Running Shoes
OUR TOP PICK
OUR TOP PICK
Salomon know their mountains. They’ve been leading ski and slope manufacturers since the 1940s, and you can’t move within 30 miles of the French Alps without seeing someone wearing their skis, snowboard, gloves, shoes, or accessories. Their gear is made with snow and rugged terrain in mind.
This has brought about the evolution of Salomon’s Speedcross line, all-weather trail shoes with aggressive traction. The rubber outsole features Contragrip™ technology. In plain English, there are deep channels between the lugs which not only provide a good grip on the surface when in a flexed state, but they’re also nicely spaced to keep balance and momentum on sharp gradients and uneven terrain.
The interior is molded to provide supportive cushioning in the midsole and solid impact protection. The comfort comes courtesy of the soft-feel OrthoLite sockliner. Most crucially, the SensiFit foothold keeps your heel from sliding side to side inside the shoe while the QuickLace system prevents a whole-foot lurch into the toe box if you find yourself stubbing a small but painful obstacle.
This shoe comes in 8 color combinations.
- Good for hills (up and down)
- Great traction on slippery and uneven surfaces
- Close fit around the whole foot to prevent heel slips
- These run small; you may need to order a whole size up from your usual shoe.
Water resistant rather than waterproof
It is harder running in the winter. Though exhilarating, it’s harder to breathe, harder to keep momentum, and sometimes harder to ignore muscles which take a while to get used to the cold, even after a good stretch. Running in the cold can make you feel so much heavier to begin with, and it’s hard to pick up a pace.
That’s where ASICS’ Gel-Venture 6 comes into its own. Its fabulous impact protection system—the Rearfoot Gel Technology—provides springy rebound with every footfall. This goes a long way to lessening the shock of heavy landings on cold, hard winter ground.
They’re great for traction, too. The sole features ASICS’ own high abrasion rubber at strategic points to achieve proper grip on uneven surfaces. This shoe is a high performer on both road and trail, which makes it an excellent investment.
The material of the upper is synthetic mesh, which makes it nicely breathable without compromising the inner warmth.
The distinguishing feature of ASICS lines of footwear is that they accommodate all manners of gait issues. The sockliner provided is comfortable and soft, but you can remove it entirely to replace it with a custom orthotic of your own.
These shoes will help you stay motivated to keep up your fitness campaign, even throughout the least inviting months of the year.
- Great traction on inclines and roads
- Good rebound and propulsion from the forefoot and heel
- A hugely broad range of styles and sizes
- Good value for money and inexpensive for the majority of size-color combinations
- Versatile for different gait patterns
- Very durable
- Not waterproof
- The sole copes well with uneven surfaces but can skid in the wet
- The fit is narrow compared to the average sneaker
As winter recommendations for barefoot runners go, this is a shoo-in for one of the top spots. It also performs nicely on the road. Perhaps not competitively so, but it’s still good for distance training by way of race rehearsal. Thankfully not every part of a trail run involves an intimidating incline.
Altra, like Merrell, are specialists in barefoot running. Their cushioning is shaped so that there is no difference in the heights between ground and heel, and the ground and forefoot. Hence the term “zero drop/differential.” The zero-drop construction allows for as much whole-sole connection with the ground as the protective underside will allow. These shoes are very protective indeed.
One of the key selling points is the traction. Slush and black ice will always pose hazards, but the MaxTrac soles on these Altras are aggressively grippy. If you turn them upside down, the shoe’s base resembles a neat pattern of multi-directional lugs with sufficient space between for the lower edges of the lugs to connect fully with the ground on an incline or uneven surface. The sandpaper-textured toe cap helps you apply that extra bit of non-slip pressure when picking your way through obstacles or bracing your weight downhill.
Internally, the StoneGuard (TX) has been shaped and designed to follow the shape of the foot’s skeletal structure for the most natural running style possible while protecting the sole from puncture or pressure injuries. A barefoot shoe does not mean that there is no cushioning: EVA foam supports the midsole, and their specialized A-bound cushioning provides responsive underfoot spring.
These shoes are breathable and water resistant rather than waterproofed. That said, they do dry out fast. They come in four attractive color combinations in contrast shades (gray and orange, for example).
- Gives that connected barefoot running sensation while providing robust protection
- Helps you to use your entire foot for balance and control on uneven terrain
- Consistent pricing across all sizes and color choices
- Strap overlays to alter the fit of the upper
- Fits true to size
We don’t want to sound in any way disparaging, but these shoes aren’t for the deadly serious athletes. They’re not distance or trail shoes. They won’t cope well with snow. They’re sleek-looking sneakers for everyday wear, which happen to be ideal for building up your stamina if you started a fitness campaign in the fall and have no intention of letting that slip over the holidays. They’re joy-running shoes which will handle 3-7m runs three times a week for a good long while. They can handle a few puddles.
Most significantly, they will keep your feet cozy and warm. Test runners have observed that they can become a little too warm if used energetically in the summer. The ventilation in the shoe divides opinion, somewhat; although this iteration of the shoe’s design wins extensive praise for comfort underfoot, one of the few criticisms is that the interior retains enough heat that the subsequent expansion of the feet have made them wish they’d chosen a larger size.
Tazon 6s are not mechanically complex. There is a snug midfoot saddle to stop your foot rolling within the shoe, and the synthetic mesh upper provides a gentle layer of close security over the top. Heel strike impact is dissipated with the help of EVA foam and the interior derives its plush softness from memory foam. The sole traction features shallow lugs, but they’re robust enough to handle cold, dry conditions.
Aesthetics are a winning feature with these shoes. Puma are known for leading fashion trends in athletic footwear, and the Tazon 6 sneakers maintain that reputation. For such a soft and cushioned pair, they have an incredibly slimline, lightweight appearance. They also come in ten different colorway combination designs.
- Light and springy
- Super-soft interior
- Good durability
- Exceptional comfort for runners with plantar fasciitis or those recovering from injury
- Not waterproof
- The traction is nothing special
- Only suitable for beginner or casual runners
If you like barefoot running, then hop straight to our buyer’s guide. The drop on this shoe is 12mm. But it is a beast of a shoe; it’s the big brother of the Brooks Ghost 12, which is as popular with the tender-soled sufferers of plantar fasciitis as it is with speed runners who want excellent rebound from both the heel and forefoot.
The Ghost 12 GTX has one added feature—Gore-Tex waterproofing. It’s a welcome addition to a shoe which is already a dream for adverse road conditions. It’s a point that needs to be made emphatically. As robust as this shoe is, it’s not for trail running.
That said, let’s look at the features which make this shoe so ideal for winter.
When the Ghost 12 GTX was released for road-testing and reviewing, the feedback indicated that the interior held onto heat a little better than some of the runners were comfortable with during the summer. This is clearly a bonus point between Halloween and the start of Spring. It’s a well-cushioned interior, making for a responsive and fleet-footed ride.
The plush tongue will keep you warm, and the soft heel collar and inner fit combine nicely to lower the risk of skidding around inside the shoe. The super-soft lining of the inner is both cozy and breathable at the same time, which has been achieved mysteriously. If you have trusted insoles of your own, you can remove the ones built in and insert your specialist foot gear.
Turning our attention to the upper, the entire section is 3D printed as one element to create a super-light, breathable fit which almost snugs against your foot so that the shoes feel like natural extensions. The only potential hassle is the traditional lace-up closure; wet weather and laces do not go. However, you could make this observation about any shoe that doesn’t come with Velcro straps.
The sole provides a beautiful blend of heel impact protection and whole-foot flexibility. When there is a significant amount of cushion engineering in the heel, it’s not uncommon for the entire sole to become rigid. However, the Brooks Ghost 12 GTX combines three features to keep the sole both grippy and flexible. The full-length Segmented Crash Pad (exclusive to Brooks) dissipates the impact of landing, while the Omega Flex grooves and soft blown rubber under the forefoot work together for a padded but natural roll with each foot strike.
Drizzle, rain and puddles need hold you back any longer.
- Flexible yet protective
- Breathable and waterproof
- Excellent traction in the sole
- Superior heel and mid-foot cushioning
- The fit tends to run a little narrow
- The shoes come in various combinations of dark blue and black, which don’t really help your visibility
Best Winter Running Shoes - Buyer's Guide
We hope that’s provided you with a good range of winter shoes to choose from. Because everyone has different needs, you might want to expand your search in a particular direction.
Because there is a lot to think about when weighing up the suitability of a new pair of shoes, we’ve summarized some questions you could ask yourself while deciding which pair comes closest to meeting your needs.
Is there a lot of standing water on my route?
To counteract the dangers of slipping on standing water (or slush) then your best bet is a sole with soft blown rubber, which has a very sticky quality to it. Soles with deep lugs or a waffle tread pattern are also very effective for gripping the road.
What other shoes are waterproof?
Check out shoes which have the “GTX” suffix (Gore-Tex), or look at Nike’s Shield collection, which includes their water-repellant coating.
Is there shale on my trail?
Multi-directional lugs will help you to keep your momentum and balance. It’s also a good idea to look out for shoes with strong internal heel supports and padded collars. They all work together to lessen the chance of you spraining an ankle or overextending a ligament.
Can I adjust the cushioning?
You can remove/replace the insole and sockliner in many shoe brands, putting your own orthotic in place. ASICS are particularly good in this respect.
Won’t synthetic materials make my feet hot?
They would, but the material is woven into a mesh for ventilation. If anything, synthetic materials have the versatility of use to keep your feet cool rather than let them overheat.
That said, if your feet are particularly prone to expanding in the heat, then make a point of buying a size up, or ordering your shoe in the wide fitting.
Won’t chunky heels make the shoes heavy?
You would think so, wouldn’t you? Actually, even shoes with a high heel loft (and I’m talking 30mm, here) are made of such light material that they weigh less than 10oz each. The heels may look chunky from the outside but look at the drop or differential in heel/forefoot height. If the drop is anywhere between 6-12mm, then you’ll find that your foot rolls easily from heel to toe.
What if my feet are different sizes?
As you usually would, go for the size of your bigger foot, and then take a consensus from customer feedback about whether the shoes are true to size. Adjust your ordering size accordingly. Even better, start your search with shoes that come with sizing charts. Google is your friend in this respect.
I don’t like any of the white or brightly colored shoes, but I need to stay safe.
Fair enough. You can always accessorize your clothing and the soles of your shoes with reflective tape, which is both temporary and hi-vis. There is more choice of shoes that come in dark or sober colors. However, a bright shade which you would never usually wear in company can be a nice lift to the spirits. Whatever you choose, it’s important to feel good in them, and to feel like you’re about to have fun.