When the sun takes a sabbatical on the south side and winter’s cold bite starts to sink deep, you don’t need to hang your head over the treadmill. Chin up, we’ve found the best winter-worthy shoes to keep you running outside all year long.
Any trail-running shoe worth its lugs has enough traction to keep you upright in sloppy conditions. But a good pair of winter running shoes takes it up a notch.
With shoulder seasons pushing runners out into the dark, winter running shoes often shimmer with reflective strips for increased visibility.
And while summer conditions have a bias for lighter, airy kicks, winter specialists will sacrifice breathability for waterproof membranes, shells, and gaiters that shed the icy snow and mud.
You pay a little more for the bells and whistles, but the goal is to keep feet warm, dry, and safe as you run through winter.
Best Winter Running Shoes of 2020
After logging long winter miles in dozens of shoes this year, we found these winter-worthy kicks for 2020. And because winter in Minnesota is heaps different than Portland or Boston, we’ve identified a gamut of shoes that meet multiple definitions of “winter.”
Here are our best picks as you run into 2020.
If cushion and max wetness protection — with a sense of flair — are your key needs, HOKA’s Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX offers up all of it in spades. Reminiscent of the retired Tor model, these “moonboot” runners epitomize HOKA’s trademark cushion and plush feel. The brand also expanded the toebox here, which those with wide feet or who experience cramped toes on longer runs will appreciate.
On the sole, 5mm lugs make for decent traction on winter trails or light, untracked snow. You’ll notice plenty of bounce in these, so it’s not for anyone who prefers to feel the ground as they run. As a mid option, these aren’t the lightest, but at 13.2 ounces per shoe, they’re not nearly as heavy as they look. Best of all, you can score a pair right now for 40% off.
Bottom line: They’re unlike anything else on this list, great for traversing some standing snow, and offer up great moisture protection with HOKA’s renewed GORE-TEX partnership. If you like running with maximum cushion, these are for you.
Fit: True to size
Weight: 13.2 ounces
Drop: 4 mm (32-28 mm)
Like Ferraris for the feet, Salomon’s Speedcross has always been a ferociously sexy trail runner. Firm, grippy, and with GORE-TEX weather protection, the Speedcross 5 GTX falls in step with the rest of the Speedcross lineup, shedding mud like a champ.
That’s in large part due to the wide-spaced lugs that run from tip to heel. The lugs are a work of art, and debris simply falls away. Those lugs run right up the toe, making the Speedcross a superior climber when the trail takes a turn towards the vertical.
The Speedcross also shed its prom dress-tight fit from earlier models. This extra girth allows the toes some room to spread, giving a supportive and stable ride with unrivaled confidence on irregular terrain.
Bottom line: For runners who prefer a firm shoe to keep the speed on steep, muddy trails
Fit: Runs narrow; otherwise, true to size
Weight: 11.9 ounces
Drop: 10 mm
How do you make one of our favorite winter running shoes even better? Carefully!
Last year, Altra released its fourth version of the ever-popular Lone Peak, keeping the shoe relatively true to the original — minus one key component. Altra swapped out Polartec’s NeoShell outer with a welded eVent shell. The highly breathable fabric is overlaid with TPU bands laminated to the shoe’s vamp, giving it more protection without the weight.
Like a waterproof shell, the material doesn’t wet out and is reputably more breathable than GORE-TEX. After logging 100 miles in wet, sloppy winter conditions, we’d have to agree. Our feet didn’t wet out from sweat, and our toes remained warm during an off-trail marathon slog across the snowy Owyhee desert last December.
This year, Altra added a few new trims with the release of the 4.5: a pruned-down upper for more flexibility, thinner laces, and a new midsole foam for better rebound underfoot.
The 4.5 is a low-top. And because the Lone Peak’s low profile puts you closer to the snow, we recommend you batten down on powder days. Snow troopers will want to invest in a gaiter; Altra offers one that locks snug over the laces and around the shoe.
Bottom line: Zero drop can be rough on the calves, but for those that have worked up to it, the Lone Peak 4.5 is one of the most comfortable shoes on the list. The addition of eVent makes the Lone Peak 4.5 the most storm-worthy and breathable shoe in the review.
Fit: Runs wide; otherwise, true to size
Weight: 10.9 ounces
Drop: Zero (25mm stack height)
The Neutron 2 GTX is SCARPA’s winter version of its top-shelf mountain runner. The shoe’s sleek profile runs over aggressive lugs that bite through the slop, giving runners confidence on questionable terrain. Its laces cinch up in a narrow gap over the tongue and tuck cleanly away in a neat lace garage. Lace ’em up and go.
We loved these shoes right out of the box and found them ideal for those rainy days when the trails start to puddle and the conditions soften up. Because it’s a low-top, with no gaiter or “gasket” ankle cuff, the shoes find their limits when the trail disappears under snow.
Our tester generally sizes up running shoes a half size from his street shoe and found the fit slightly narrower than most shoes on the list. Running them right out of the box, we noticed a pressure point over the lateral toes (where the laces wrap). This pressure disappeared after a few miles in the shoe.
Bottom line: At $170, the Neutron is at the top of the price list. Fortunately, SCARPA backs it up with great traction and weather protection. We’d recommend this shoe for sketchy trails below the snow line.
Weight: 12.3 ounces
Drop: 6 mm
Snow Monster: La Sportiva Blizzard GTX ($199)
Winter, meet your match. The La Sportiva Blizzard is a reasonably lightweight GORE-TEX shoe wrapped in a full gaiter, running over aggressive 7mm lugs pegged with nine carbide spikes.
The Blizzard is deceptively light given its monster silhouette. Its fat-tire look is attributed to the sock-like gaiter that wraps the shoe, giving it a boot-like presence. It requires some footwork to finagle it over the dogs. Fortunately, the Blizzard has huge pull tabs to make that job a little easier.
Once the shoe is laced up, the single-cord lace tucks out of the way of the snow and ice (and hobnob spikes) in a tidy pocket. A few ounces of prevention (and bulk) pay dividends on the trail — nobody likes to run with snowballs in their shoes.
Runners scratching tracks over icy trails will appreciate the carbide spikes. We found there were just enough (nine) for traction, but it sort of leaves you wanting more, which you can buy for another $49 through La Sportiva (they come with a tool).
Do-it-yourself runners will probably find it easier to go to the hardware store and sink a handful of extra sheet metal screws into the lugs for a couple of bucks.
Bottom line: At $199, the sticker price will likely put your credit card on ice. But if your winter training requires pushing out into the tundra, the Blizzard is a sure bet to stay on your training plan for winters to come.
Fit: La Sportiva shoes are known to run aggressively narrow. If the shoe fits, this narrowness translates into a pure extension of the foot to the ground and a speedy winter trail trainer. Go up a half size from street.
Weight: 13.3 ounces
Drop: 6 mm (18-12 mm)
Snug, grippy, and surprisingly breathable for a waterproof option, the Brooks Ghost 12 provides an excellent option for middle-of-the-road runners. You won’t find the cushion or splay-friendly toebox that some of the competitors here offer. But in its place, you get a stable, reliable, waterproof running shoe with plenty of traction on the occasional ice patch.
It’s not the lightest on this list, but it’s still acceptably svelte — my size 13 weighed 13.4 ounces each (11.4 ounces for size 9/9.5). A road-running option, the lugs aren’t too aggressive, which allows predictable, even foot strike and solid grip.
Bottom line: Brooks’ 3D Fit Print upper with GORE-TEX membrane hugs the foot and provides terrific protection from snow and rain while still venting adequately.
Fit: Snug but true to size
Weight: 11.4 ounces
Drop: 12 mm
The Best of the Rest
While these aren’t the most recently released running shoes, they’re still some of our favorites from past winter running reviews and worthy of a mention.
Because the perfect shoe varies widely from person to person and depends on your preferences and winter weather conditions, we want to give you the complete rundown.
Our editors and testers have put countless miles on these runners. From icy Minnesota road running to wintry Colorado trail runs, these shoes have held up.
The Snow Machine: Salomon Snowcross 2 ($140 on Sale)
Draped in a waterproof-breathable gaiter and enhanced with nine carbide studs, Salomon’s Snowcross is a racy snow machine. In testing, the Snowcross provided superior traction over technical ground, where the aggressive studs chewed through the slop and the gaiters shed the snow.
Not for tame conditions, the spiked 12-ouncer felt clunky and clattered over the hard rock and pavement, limiting the Snowcross to winter’s worst days. But if you’re fighting for space with your local snowplow, these are the shoes for you. For more info, read our full review of the Snowcross CS.
Bottom line: Runners who prefer to shove in some miles before shoveling the front stoop
Fit: Size up if wearing a thicker winter sock
Weight: 12.7 ounces
Drop: 10 mm
La Sportiva’s cleat-like tread takes a bite out of terra firma, propelling you across the trail. The stretchy upper and overlapping tongue hug the feet snugly and are ridiculously comfortable — for the right foot (read: narrow).
The shoe’s slightly askew lacing system ties each shoe off to the side, over the metatarsals, rather than squarely over the top. The lace ends intelligently tuck into a mesh pocket on the tongue.
Bottom line: The Mutant is a high-performing, versatile trail runner that excels navigating gnarly, middle-distance trails for those with narrow feet.
Fit: Go up a half size
Weight: 11 ounces
Drop: 10 mm
Primarily known for ball sports in the U.S., adidas has made a steady splash in the outdoor world and offers some of our favorite adventure-worthy gear. Its GORE-TEX Terrex Agravic XT is no exception.
Wider than past adidas trail runners we’ve tested, the Agravic is a midvolume, low-profile runner that feels light on the feet, promoting rapid turnover in sloppy conditions.
And all that slop stays outside the shoe with a full GORE-TEX booty that wraps the entire shoe, including the sock-like gasket and tongue.
The EVA Boost midsole yields a cushy ride and will bring a spring to the step and smiles to runners seeking speed play on rough terrain.
Like mountain bike tires strapped to the feet, a fleet of widely spaced chevron lugs patterns back to back across the Continental rubber sole to provide equal parts traction, braking power, and mud-shedding ability
Going long? Runners will probably want a stiffer midsole to buffer the repetitive bashing against roots and rocks.
Bottom line: This shoe offers foul-weather traction in a supremely comfortable package. This was one of our favorite shoes for messy half-marathon trail runs.
Fit: Runs small; go up a half size from street
Weight: 12 ounces
Drop: 8.9 mm
Snow Shoe: Columbia/Montrail Mountain Masochist IV OutDry Extreme — Men’s ($153 on Sale)
Back when trail running was a fringe sport, Montrail was forging a path for a burgeoning industry. Portland-based Columbia purchased Montrail in 2006 and eventually marched toward fully folding it under Columbia, which it did in 2016.
The Montrail name is faint today, but Columbia has found a way to mesh its best technology with Montrail’s successful runner. The marriage is exemplified in the Mountain Masochist.
The venerable Montrail trail shoe is wrapped in Columbia’s proprietary OutDry gaiter. The OutDry gaiter zips over the toggled speed laces, sealing snow and water from creeping into the shoe. The material sheds water like a rubberized surface but breathes as well as GORE-TEX and never wets out.
A soft-shell ankle sock is sewn to the top of the OutDry gaiter, which helps seal in warmth and keeps snow from spilling into the shoe.
The ankle sock is oversized to fit over thick socks and tights without compressing the leg. This also means it fits looser around slim ankles.
Columbia doesn’t make the OutDry Extreme for women, but a gaiter-less Mountain Masochist women’s shoe is available.
Bottom line: For those who run before they shovel the walk
Fit: Runs large
Weight: 11 ounces
Drop: 8 mm
Have a favorite winter running shoe we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.