9 tips for safe winter walking

An elderly couple walking on a snow covered path with ski poles.

Cold and snow can make even the most dedicated walkers think twice about exercising outdoors over the winter. But cold weather doesn’t have to spell doom for your walking routine, thanks to these tips for safer winter walking: 

  1. Check the weather—Sometimes, walking outdoors isn’t worth the risk. Take snowstorms, ice storms and sleet: Once you’re soaked from rain or wet snow, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature at a safe level. And high winds plus cold temperatures can result in frostbite. Health challenges can also determine your optimal walking weather. See these tips for walkers with special health needs.

  2. Apply sunscreen—Yes, you can get sunburned on a cold, cloudy day. If you’ll be out more than 30 minutes, cover exposed skin (ears count) with sunscreen to protect yourself from skin-harming UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget your sunglasses; they’ll reduce snow glare and help keep your eyes from drying out.

  3. Layer—Multiple, thinner, moisture-wicking layers are easier to remove and adjust to changing temperatures than a warm jacket with just a t-shirt underneath. Choose wool or winter running socks, which will wick away moisture to help keep your feet warm and dry, and don’t forget the hat, mittens and scarf. Here are some tips for layering in cold weather.

  4. Wear reflective gear—It gets lighter later and darker earlier this time of year. If you have to walk in the dark, bring a flashlight or headlamp along and put reflective strips on your clothing so you can be visible to drivers along your route.

  5. Warm up—Don’t step from a cozy house straight into icy air. Do a quick warm-up to help avoid painful muscle cramps. Five minutes of marching in place, 20-ish lunges or squats, and two to three minutes of jumping jacks should do it.

  6. Gain some traction—Make sure the soles of your boots or hiking shoes have large, grippy treads and are made of materials that are winter-rated for traction. Another option for keeping your footing in icy conditions? Slip ice cleats over your shoes, boots or running shoes. Or consider adding Nordic walking poles to your treks for both stability and a good workout.

  7. Stay hydrated—You won’t sweat as much in the winter, but once you get moving, you’ll still perspire and lose water inside all those layers. Plus, winter air is drying so drink before, during (from a lightweight bottle) and after your walk.

  8. Stay alert—Pay attention; keep your eyes on the landscape ahead. Listen to music or a podcast while you walk, but hold more distracting activities (e.g., texting or reading) for later. Keep an eye out for black ice and try to skirt especially icy areas. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of snow drifts.

  9. Walk like a penguin—If you don’t have safety equipment (e.g., ice cleats) and encounter unavoidable ice, spread your feet a foot or more apart to help stay stabilized as you walk. Bend your knees a bit to keep your center of gravity closer to the ground. Then take short steps or shuffle, keeping your feet flat on the ice. If you do lose your footing, don’t use your outstretched arms to stop a fall, and bend your back and head forward so you don’t hit your head on the ground.

As you can see, walking in the winter takes a little more preparation, but the rewards can be even greater than walking in other seasons. Not only can you burn more calories in the winter, but the silence and the invigorating cold air can help clear your mind and reduce stress. There’s also a whole other world of fun winter activities you’ll be in shape to take on. We hope you’ll get out there and fall in love with winter walking!