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Based on over 1000 reviews from trail and fell runners worldwide. Courtesy of RunRepeat.com
Based on over 1000 reviews from trail and fell runners worldwide. Courtesy of RunRepeat.com
Short days, darkness, bad weather, snow and ice; all these could dissuade you from getting out onto your favourite summertime trails but with the right kit and a bit of preparation you can still enjoy off road running right through the winter months. Here are my 10 essential bits of winter kit that allow me to carry on fell running all year round.
It’s Britain, it’s winter and therefore it’s going to be wet and windy at some point. These conditions, more so than dry cold, are the ones that can lead to hypothermia and so it is worth investing in a jacket that will protect you from the driving rain. There are plenty of decent jackets on the market from the very small and lightweight Montane Minimus and Inov-8 150 Stormshell which I use for short runs to the slightly more robust OMM Kamleika and Raidlight Stretch Shell which I choose for longer, slower runs.
Fell Running Shoes
Those lovely, dry, summer trails can turn into mud baths in the depths of winter and steep, wet, grass requires a shoe with a decent amount of grip. My winter shoe of choice is the Inov-8 Mudclaw as its aggressive sole lets me run confidently on even the boggiest ground.
Just because it goes dark before you get home from work doesn’t mean that you can’t get out and enjoy an evening run on the trails and fells. Of course you’ll need to see where you’re going and so a head torch is vital. You don’t need to break the bank, Alpkit’s Gamma, Viper and Arc or Unilite’s HV H4 are cheap and adequate for short runs on non technical terrain. If you want to hit the high fells or mountains you’ll need something a bit brighter with a longer battery life. Torches such as the Petzl Nao, Suprabeam V4 or Hope R1 LED are more expensive, good quality torches for more serious nocturnal running adventures.
You can stay warm even when running in the worst weather because your body produces heat as you exercise, but if you need to stop or slow down for any reason you can become cold very quickly. Carrying an extra, warm layer gives you that added bit of comfort and safety. I use the OMM Rotor Smock which is incredibly light yet offers a high warmth to weight ratio and is effective even when damp.
Not only are cold hands uncomfortable they also make it hard and sometimes impossible to do simple tasks such as tying a lace, undoing a zip or opening food. Dry, toasty hands are good for morale! I like to layer my gloves starting with a cheap pair from Decathlon and adding a pair of Powerstretch wind proof gloves on top. In wet weather I use Goretex Tuff Bag Mitts over the top, these are very light and pack away to a small size.
Debris Socks / Gaiters
Don’t you hate that feeling when you run through deep snow and it gets into the gap between the top of your shoe and your foot? It then tends to compact into a lump of ice which you try to hook out with your finger, inevitably pushing it deeper into your shoe! I’ve found that wearing Inov-8 debris socks prevents this happening, they are a comfortable sock with an extra piece of fabric that folds down and attaches to the shoe to stop anything getting inside.
I still like to run in more remote areas even in winter in which case I’ll take a bit more emergency kit with me just in case I or anyone I’m with is forced to stop. In addition to the usual map, compass, whistle and mobile phone I carry a survival bag such as a Blizzard Bag, a torch and some spare food.
This extra, winter kit is obviously going to take up more room and so in winter I opt for a running rucksack rather than a bumbag. There are loads to choose from, I use the Montane Jaws 10 which is a very comfortable vest type pack made from water resistant material that helps keep the contents dry.
I love getting out running on the trails in really cold conditions, even when the ground is icy. I use Snowline SnowSpikes; stainless steel spikes attached to a rubber cradle which simply slips over your running shoe. They can be fitted in seconds and really do work, allowing you to run on hard packed snow and ice.
If you’ve ever been hit in the eye by a hailstone you’ll know it hurts. Even a soft, fluffy snowflake in the eye is a painful experience! If you’re running into the wind whilst it’s snowing you’ll find it almost impossible to keep your eyes open and you’ll probably end up trying to run with a hand in front of your face in an attempt to shield your eyes. I carry ski goggles if I am expecting to it to snow and these mean that I can keep running even in a heavy snow storm.
A wide network of paths link woodland trails, gritstone edges and more remote, wild, moorland terrain and offers something for everyone regardless of fitness level or experience. But what if you want to run in this beautiful landscape yet don’t have access to a car? Well the good news is that the Sheffield to Manchester rail line runs through the heart of the Peak District and trains call at several village stations along the way. You can hop off the train and be running off road within seconds!
Here are four chosen routes on the Sheffield side of the Peak District.
Grindleford Station Run
Distance 14km, Height Gain 450m
The route shown is for a clockwise run starting up Padley Gorge, along White Edge and finishing along Froggatt Edge.
Hathersage Station Run
Distance 16km, Height Gain 600m
The route shown is an anticlockwise loop taking in Padley Gorge, the Burbage valley, Stanage Edge and North Lees.
Hope Station Run
Distance 13km, Height Gain 600m
The route shown is anticlockwise ascending Win Hill before descending to then tackle Lose Hill.
Edale Station Run
Distance 17km, Height Gain 740m
The route shown is clockwise starting steeply up towards Mam Tor then tackling the boggy, pathless section over Brown Knoll (tricky navigation in bad weather). It then follows the southern edge of Kinder to Grindslow Knoll before a steep, technical descent off Ringing Roger back to Edale.
This is the question I get asked more than any other by trail and fell runners seeking to improve their running technique.
“I overtake people on the uphill only to have them fly past me again on the downhill”, “I feel out of control”, “I’m scared I’m going to fall”. Do any of those statements sound familiar? You’re certainly not alone if you feel that your descending skills are something that need to be worked on in order to make you a better fell or trail runner. So what can you do in order to improve?
Some people will tell you that it’s simply a matter of disengaging the brain and letting go. Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as that; if you haven’t got the core or leg strength to cope with the added impact forces or don’t have the neuromuscular development that allows rapid reactions and quick movements, then no amount of bravado is going to get you to the bottom of a steep, technical descent still upright and in one piece!
So is there any way of improving your descending skills? Just like getting faster on the flat or stronger on the uphills, descending at pace and in control is something that needs to be trained. And like most aspects of running, whilst a few people seem naturally gifted, the majority get better by hard work and regular practice. Lots of runners make the mistake of only trying to run fast descents in races, to make improvements you should work on it in training too. Developing an efficient technique is important so try to focus on the following:
There are also other types of training that you can do to supplement the downhill run training. Doing drills such as fast feet or ladder exercises will help develop your balance and coordination and activate those fast twitch muscles needed for a rapid stride rate. Good descenders rely on a strong core so work on this too. Exercises such as planks, bridges, and lunges will all help, it’s not just about running.
The key to improvement is practice; you didn’t learn to ride a bike in one go and likewise it takes time to develop the various skills to improve your downhill running. Try to incorporate downhill training into your regular runs. This video shows how you might practise running down a short, steep hill:
So, work on your technique and you never know, it might be you flying down past others as they tentatively make their way downhill.
No longer is there a need to don my windproof or carry a waterproof, hat and gloves are left behind and I relish the chance to run unencumbered by rucksack or bumbag.
The ground is dryer now, the wet, peaty trails turning dusty and it’s good to finish a run with dry feet for a change. Skipping across the dry, gritstone boulders the dry rock gives excellent traction.
But the thing that gives me most pleasure is running with the sights and sounds of nature. Running below Burbage rocks I hear the high pitched cheep of the Ring Ouzel whilst on open moorland I am often circled by Curlews, distinctive with their long curved bill and mournful, whistling cry. Of all the little, brown, ground nesting birds I am fascinated by the Skylark. I hear it long before I see it, singing away melodiously. Today I noticed its song was particularly loud, yet it was a tiny speck, high in the sky.
So the joy of summer running; dry trails, blue skies and the sound of the Skylark, singing away high on the wing.
A common mistake that people make is that they don’t understand what the symbols on their map actually mean. Take the map above for example on which there are several symbols that might confuse the unwary navigator.
The black dots show near Crowden Head
These are actually a Civil Parish boundary; an imaginary line separating two Parishes that has nothing to do with paths on the ground!
The black dashes at the top right and close to the Pennine Way
This is the symbol for a path that exists on the ground. But be careful with this as there are also lots of paths on the ground made by sheep or deer for example that aren’t shown on the map!
The green dashed line running NW – SE through the centre of the map
This is a Public Right of Way (footpath). And this is where a lot of people slip up as the symbol is a political designation (i.e. by law you have a legal right to be there) but it does not mean that there will always be a path on the ground. Anyone who has tried to run or walk across Kinder Scout following the public footpath symbol will know that the “path” doesn’t exist.
The green diamonds signify a National Trail
In this case the Pennine Way. As these tend to be more popular walking routes there is more likelihood that there will be a path on the ground, however if you look closely on the map to the north east of Red Brook you’ll see that the Pennine Way runs through steep ground whereas to the east of it, the black path symbol keeps to the higher ground. Ask yourself “Are there really two paths there or is the Pennine Way symbol an arbitrary line on the map?”
So with all these things to confuse you how do you make sure that the path you’re on is the one you want to be on?
Look at the contour lines
Whilst paths may come and go due to animal and human feet, the shape of the landscape will remain. A hill will always be a hill, a valley likewise. So if your intended path is supposed to take you downhill and you find yourself running on the flat, stop – something isn’t right.
Check the compass
Look at the direction that you want to be going and check that you are actually going that way. It is all too easy to run along a path that gradually changes direction. If you should be going north and you’re not, then again something is wrong! Too many runners stick their compass in their bumbag only to get it out when they are lost.. too late! Keep it handy and check that the direction you’re running is the right one!
If you are on Access Land then you have a legal right to roam anywhere – you don’t have to stick to public rights of way. This is shown by the thick beige line on the map and the symbol on gates or stiles.
So the moral of the story: Just because you’re on a path doesn’t mean it goes where you want to go!
Most of my running is done on terrain that requires a good grip, especially in winter when even some of the less arduous paths and trails are still muddy. That means wearing a full on fell running shoe but with spring, and hopefully some warm, sunnier days on the horizon, some of the trails will dry up enough to warrant wearing a trail shoe.
Mammut isn’t the first brand that springs to mind when thinking of trail running but they are becoming more recognised by trail runners, as testified by their sponsorship of the Dig Deep Peak District races including the Ultra Tour of the Peak District. So I was keen to see how their MTR 201 Tech Low shoes coped with some fast running on the Peak District trails.
Fell running shoes tend to be pretty lightweight so I was expecting the 201’s to be heavier than I am used to and indeed they are, although at 540 grams for a pair of size 7’s they aren’t too heavy and certainly didn’t have me thinking I was wearing lead boots!
Straight out of the box they felt comfortable and not too “clunky”, something I’ve found with trail shoes in the past. Mammut haven’t gone down the “barefoot” road and the 9 mm heel drop is slightly more than the 6 mm of my fell shoes but to be honest wasn’t too noticeable on undulating ground. I’m usually size 6.5 but needed a half size up, the 7’s fitting fine. The upper is a mesh construction which should breathe well and hints at being good for summer training. A rubber toe cap gives some protection from stones and stubbed toes.
The Gripex™ sole has a much shallower tread than all my fell shoes and whilst it coped well on short, dry grass and hard packed trail it did have me sliding around on the odd muddy patch that I encountered so I would only want to use it for dry conditions.
My first run in the 201’s was a fast paced 20 minute effort on hard packed trail and I was pleased with the level of comfort and response. In particular I liked the fact that I didn’t feel any pressure on my Achilles tendon as I find some shoes are too high in the heel cup.
One thing I don’t like is the Speed Lace system. This is a small plastic toggle designed to allow you to pull the laces tight and stow the excess away without tying a conventional knot. I found that once you’d pulled the laces tight you couldn’t then tuck them away and needed to tie the usual bow (which was made more difficult by the plastic toggle!) On top of that the toggle is fiddly to release, even indoors with brand new shoes let alone with a bit of grit on the laces or with cold hands. It’s not a major issue, you can just take the toggle off the laces and tie them normally.
The RRP for the 2o1’s is £120, roughly in line with the likes of Salomon and Inov-8 and although not the most commonly seen trail shoe, Mammut are stocked by Outside in Hathersage.
A comfy, breathable shoe with a moderate heel to toe drop. Ideal for trail running or racing in dry conditions.
Some types of trail and fell running only require a modestly bright head torch giving a couple of hours battery life. For more serious ventures you need a torch with a bit more power and one that gives you several hours of battery life on a bright setting. For example an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon requires runners to spend upward of 8 hours in the dark during which they must navigate across the notoriously difficult Bleaklow, whilst 24 hour rounds such as the Bob Graham require route finding in the high mountains during the hours of darkness. In these situations, having a powerful head torch to see the route and not having to stop to change batteries saves both time and hassle. So is there a head torch that is up to the task? Step forward the new Petzl Nao 575 lumen.
The first version of the Nao got good reviews for its brightness and Reactive Lighting feature but fell short of expectations on battery life. The 2014 model not only has an upgrade in brightness from 315 to 575 lumens it also gives a much better battery life. I tested Petzl’s claim of 8 hours on constant lighting at 120 lumens and the battery lasted 7 hrs 50 mins before the torch flashed a warning and dropped to Reserve Mode (a dim light of about 20 lumens which should last for an hour)
Reactive Lighting – is it a gimmick?
When I heard about this my first thoughts were yes. However I then found myself navigating on a night run and being dazzled by the glare from my laminated map and having to manually adjust my torch’s brightness. When I tested the Reactive setting on the Nao I didn’t think it was working – the change in brightness was instant as I looked down to open my bum bag and then looked up again to continue running. I also realised the other benefit of the Reactive Lighting function; improved battery life. As you look at close objects such as the ground immediately in front of you the torch dims, thus saving battery life. Only when you point your head to the distance does the torch illuminate on full power. If you don’t want the feature you can simply twist the switch to turn it on to constant lighting with a choice of two brightness settings (the default settings are 480 lumens or 120 lumens but can be altered using the OS software)
I’ve heard stories that the reactive lighting gets confused in foggy conditions or by your condensing breath in cold, damp conditions. I haven’t really found this to be a problem although the torch was affected by the glare from the reflective trim on someone’s rucksack when I was following them and it kept flaring from bright to dim. I don’t feel this is a major problem because if it annoys you then you can simply switch to constant lighting mode.
A clever feature of the new Nao is that you can customise the brightness using Petzl’s OS software. You simply plug the torch into a computer with the supplied USB lead and you can change the torch’s settings. For example if you know that you are going to need the torch for five hours you can tweak the settings to allow this. The software allows you to set up different profiles for different activities. To be honest, unless you are going to be in darkness for over 5 hours you probably won’t need this feature. However for an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon it is really useful to know how long your battery is going to last! Many people won’t use this software but the techie minded may love it!
How easy is it to use?
Some torches can be quite confusing to operate requiring a sequence of press, double press, press and hold etc to select the desired light but not the Nao. One big button needs a single twist to turn on (from the locked off position which prevents accidental turning on) and another twist to change between brightnesses. A long twist changes from constant to reactive mode. One thing I really like is that the big button is easy to find and twist even when wearing bulky gloves. This is a huge advantage that the Nao has over Petzl’s other Reactive torch the RXP which is terribly fiddly to use.
A feature that is missing is a flashing / strobe. It’s probably the least used function on your torch but considering that the Nao is the type of torch that you are most likely to take on remote runs I’m surprised that it is missing.
The Lithium Ion battery pack is easy to disconnect and recharge, it simply plugs in to a USB charger (so can be recharged via 12v socket in a car). A full recharge takes around 5 hours and three green LED’s indicate battery level. These also illuminate briefly when the torch is turned off so you know how much battery is left. In an emergency the battery can be replaced by two AAA’s but this gives reduced brightness and no Reactive Lighting functionality.
The Nao is comfortable to wear and well balanced. The whole unit weighs 185g with the head and battery units being connected by a simple elastic and cord system. An additional over the head strap is supplied but I didn’t feel the need to use it.
I’ve been using the Nao over the winter for both guided running and training. I was particularly impressed when on a trip to an unfamiliar forest I was able to run on wet, technical, narrow trails at full pace; it was leg speed rather than illumination that was the limiting factor! As much as the brightness it is the wide pool of light that the Nao gives off that is impressive. Some torches give a narrow beam but the Nao allows you to use peripheral vision rather than you having to turn your head to see objects at the side.
I chose the Petzl Nao for my Charlie Ramsay Round. I needed a torch with enough power to illuminate the rough steep terrain (especially the descent off Chno Dearg) and yet enough battery power to last through the night with no faffing with battery changes. The reactive function also really came into its own, dimming every time I looked at the map then seamlessly brightening as I looked back at the terrain. I also pre-programmed the torch to give me 5 hours of battery life so I knew that it would last until dawn.
The power and spread of the Nao’s light is really noticeable when you compare it with other torches. When running in a group one thing you need to consider is that if you run behind someone with a dimmer torch you will put them in their own shadow!
Is it worth it?
Over £100 is a lot to pay for a head torch especially as there are some decent torches around for less than half the price. But having used the Nao and got used to how comfortable and easy to operate it is and how it literally outshines the opposition I’d say it is definitely worth it. For serious winter fell running or for anyone considering night runs where both brightness and long battery life are important factors, the Petzl Nao is a great choice.
Pros: Great battery life, easy to use whilst wearing gloves, simple sequence functions, reactive feature is excellent when map reading.
Cons: Expensive, no strobe function.
It’s just as important to stay properly hydrated whatever the weather but in winter when it’s cold we don’t have the same psychological and physiological triggers telling us to drink. In cold, dry weather sweat evaporates quickly and so we might not notice how much we are sweating and because we don’t feel hot there is less urge to drink. Some scientific studies have also shown that in cold weather as the body shuts the blood supply to its periphery, the urge to drink is reduced. There’s also a phenomena known as cold diuresis where the body increases the production of urine as it gets cold which in turn can increase the risk of dehydration.
In cold, dry conditions the air that is breathed in gets warmed and humidified during respiration so every breath out robs the body of a tiny bit of water. This all adds up on long runs, especially when you’re breathing hard.
It doesn’t need to be hot to make you sweat; if you’ve ever run in the rain wearing a waterproof jacket and complained that it’s leaking, that’s actually sweat that hasn’t been able to evaporate. Likewise when you take your backpack off you’ve probably noticed a “sweaty back” even on a cold, winter day. Again this is a sign of how much fluid we lose even in lower temperatures. Extreme dehydration is dangerous but even in the early stages it has a detrimental effect on performance, causing you to slow down and increasing the feeling of fatigue.
So it is apparent that drinking during your longer winter runs is just as important as it is in summer. I like to use Nuun electrolyte replacement tablets for both summer and winter hydration. The tablets dissolve quickly and are easy to break in two to fit into narrower necked hydration bladders. They come in a range of flavours that aren’t too overpowering and unlike high sugar carbohydrate drinks aren’t sickly sweet. The added electrolytes are important, especially for very long runs and are another reason why I prefer them to carbohydrate only drinks.
There are several ways to carry your drink, each has advantages and disadvantages and different people have different preferences. I like to use a bladder in a backpack so that I can keep sipping with minimal disruption and because there is no air in the bladder the contents don’t slosh around as it empties.
However the downside of this is if you plan to refill the bladder during your run (as in an Ultra distance event) it can be a tricky and time consuming process, particularly with a narrow necked bladder. In this case a wide necked plastic bottle might be better as it will be much easier to access and quicker to refill. Some rucksacks are designed to carry bottles on the front shoulder straps which are easy to use, but for me, annoying when they start to slosh around when half full. I also find them a bit heavy and uncomfortable when full.
Alternatively you could use a bumbag designed to hold a water bottle. You need to either reach behind you or more realistically spin the bag round to remove and replace the water bottle. I don’t really like this method if I’m likely to be running fast as I find that it makes the bumbag more prone to bouncing up and down.
For some shorter runs or races when I only want to take a small amount of drink I will reuse a baby food sachet, cleaned and then filled with my Nuun drink. Carried in my bumbag this gives a few mouthfuls of liquid, just enough to get me round.
You could even run carrying a water bottle in your hand. There are bottles designed specifically for this but for me it is a big No No for a number of reasons: It disrupts your running style, it is uncomfortable, it hinders you from using your hands to do anything else (e.g. check your map, open a gel etc). I think that if your run is short enough that carrying a bottle won’t annoy you then it is short enough not to need a drink. If it’s long enough that you will need a drink then find a more efficient way of carrying it and let your hands swing freely in an efficient running style!
I always ensure that I am fully hydrated before a long run or race in order to delay the onset of dehydration and then sip frequently during the run. I find that little and often is better than glugging loads down at once.
So whatever your chosen method of carrying a drink, remember that rehydrating on your longer runs is important even in winter. Using electrolyte replacement tablets such as Nuun in your drink is an effective way of preventing dehydration and the associated decrease in performance.
Cloudless, blue sky days with lying snow make running a joy. But what about when the snow gets compacted and icy or melts and then refreezes over night; aren’t these conditions dangerous for running? If just wearing your normal fell shoes then you will definitely need to slow down and alter your running style to avoid slipping. There is also a higher chance of picking up an injury due to slipping, even if it isn’t due to a full on fall.
So in conditions like this I use a type of running crampon or micro-spike. Snowline Snowspikes are Stainless Steel spikes which are attached by chains to an elastomer cradle which simply fits over your normal running shoe.
Snowline Snowspikes Light (there is a heavier version) weigh only 235 grams a pair (UK shoe size 4 – 7) and come with their own small travel pouch which means there’s no risk of the spikes piercing your bum bag whilst carrying them.
They can be put on in seconds simply by stepping into them and pulling the stretchy elastomer over your shoe. 8 one centimetre spikes on the forefoot and 4 on the rear give a reassuring grip on icy ground and if you find that conditions underfoot improve they can be taken off in seconds. They’re not just for trail and fell running either, they’re fantastic when the streets and pavements are covered in frozen snow.
This video shows how easy they are to put on:
We’ve been blessed by some fantastic winter running conditions in the Peak District over the last few days. If we get any more icy weather this winter, don’t stop running because of the conditions underfoot, get a pair of Snowspikes and enjoy the snow!