Keeping hands and feet warm on winter runs

There is an interesting new piece just out on the Canadian Running website about “training” your hands and feet to withstand cold better.


There is an interesting new piece just out on the Canadian Running website about “training” your hands and feet to withstand cold better. It covers a study just published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology that I think could be an example of bored scientists saying, “Hey, this could be a neat idea.”

I personally don’t get it. Here why: The researchers did a bunch of tests to see if you can adapt to cold, specifically in the hands and feet, so that the more you do it the less it affects you. Through some convoluted tests they basically came up with “No.” Thanks for that, guys.

I’ve been running in brutally frigid temperatures for years, and my gloves and socks aren’t getting thinner, they’re getting thicker. Basically, I’m discovering that there are good products out there that can effectively decrease my level of cold-running misery.

I have a pair of North Face gloves that are good down to about -15C. A couple of years ago I was about to go out in -20 and was complaining about how my hands were going to freeze when I remembered that we had some of those “Hot Shot” hand warmers that had been delivered as a free gift amidst a pile of junk mail. I shook them up and started to ram them into my gloves when my friend said, “They need to go across the back of your hand, not the palm.”

“Huh? Really?”

“Look at your hand,” he said. “All the veins run across the back.” Duh.

I should mention he is a paramedic and keenly aware of human biology. So, I put them across the backs of my hands and they were nice and toasty for the 12K run.

That winter just kept getting worse, and I ran out of free Hot Shots, so I decided it was time to actually spend some money. Fortunately, Running Room had a sale on the nuclear winter “Wind Stopper” gloves and I bought a pair. They are gloves that have a cover the can be folded out of the way in less frigid temps, or used to cover the hands when it feels like you’re exploring one of the earth’s polar regions. These gloves are awesome. Hot Shots are no longer needed, even in -30.

I’ve never had too many issues with my feet, and I don’t think this means I have great circulation. My wife has complained of cold feet many times. It may be that because my legs are doing so much work that it does ensure good blood flow to my toes, even during the coldest runs. Nevertheless, I did buy one pair of extra-warm socks for the days it dips below -20. If I fall and break something, those socks could come in handy.
Speaking of which, when I run in brutal cold I have a few rules to stay safe:

  • Stay in populated areas
  • Bring a cell phone
  • Tell people where you’re going and when you’ll return
  • Bring food
  • Bring an emergency mylar space blanket

I had to use the cell phone once. I wanted to take a picture of myself running in -25 so I could upload it to Facebook.

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