Go for the Cold: Staying Active Outdoors in Winter

With the return of winter comes the chance to experience the joy that can come with taking on all the season has to offer. Outdoor exercise can be challenging in any season, but winter can make it especially difficult to take that first step out the door. With determination, proper planning, and the right gear, you can keep Mother Nature from stopping you cold.

Heading Out

Indoor exercise can make the winter seem a lot longer, so a little outdoor exercise can improve your attitude toward winter. Here are some tips to help ensure a safe winter workout.

Dress in Layers

Layering helps maintain body heat and helps prevent sweat from staying on your skin.

A thin layer of synthetic microfibers, such as polypropylene or Capilene should be close to the skin to help wick sweat away from the body. The second layer provides insulation. It should assist in wicking moisture as well.

Your outer shell should be waterproof and windproof. Layering helps maintain body heat and helps prevent sweat from staying on your skin.

Carry extra dry clothing to change into in case you stop for a break and you have been sweating. Putting on dry clothes before you resume exercising will reduce the risk of hypothermia.

Do Not Dry Out

Though there is not the heat and humidity associated with summer exercise, the cold air is often very dry and robs the body of moisture. Frigid winds increase the dehydration factor. Carry a water bottle and drink plenty of fluids. Drinking during the hour or 2 before exercising is also a good idea.

Eat for Heat

It is always important to get enough calories during prolonged exercise. It is especially critical in winter when the stress of cold increases how quickly calories are used. Consider energy bars or gels.

Calling for Help

Those who take their sport into the backcountry might want to carry a mobile phone in the event of an emergency. It is also important to let someone at home know the details of your adventure in advance, especially useful if there is no mobile phone reception. If you have the opportunity at the trailhead, it is important to sign in and out so others will know you are out there.

Trail Running/Snowshoeing

Most of the single-track trails frequented by trail runners are obscured by snow or covered in packed snow and ice. This can sometimes be overcome by attaching traction devices to your trail shoes.

Tracks made by snowmobiles are great, but many trail runners prefer to chart their own course. That is why snowshoeing, a low-impact sport which can burn calories equal to running or cross-country skiing, is becoming popular with trail runners. Snowshoe sales are skyrocketing. And snowshoe races are becoming routine in many areas.

Mountain Biking

Many bicyclists enjoy riding well into the winter by following a few precautions. In addition to proper layering, you should wear a head band over your ears or a neck gaiter on especially cold days to hold in the heat. A balaclava under the helmet is also a good idea. Neoprene boot covers help on windy days.

Riders should also make sure that they have reflective material on their clothes or bike so they can be seen by cars on dark winter nights. Studded snow tires or chains are also a good option in icy conditions.


Bad weather need not stop hikers, although it can limit how far you go. As long as you are dressed properly, and don't sit around wet in an open area, hiking can be an enjoyable winter activity.

However, snow-covered ice can be treacherous, so you'll want to use poles or stabilizers on your shoes for traction. Travel in a group of 3 or more persons to ensure safety in the event of an emergency. That allows for someone to go for help while the other remains with an injured person.

Common Sense

While today's advanced gear has helped tame winter, there are times when it might be best to stay indoors, especially when the wind chill is dangerously low. However, with the proper gear, caution, and determination, most of us can successfully take our favorite sports into winter's arena.


American Council on Exercise


British Columbia's Travel Guide
University of Calgary Outdoor Centre


Staying active in the winter months. US Department of Veterans Affairs website. Available at: https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/ss20161121-staying-active-in-the-winter-months. Updated November 21, 2016. Accessed July 24, 2017.
Winter hiking. Dartmouth University website. Available at:
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Accessed July 24, 2017.
Winter safety tips. Washington Trails Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed July 24, 2017.
Last reviewed July 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 10/17/2013

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