Keeping your feet warm while hiking in frigid temperatures can be crucial to enjoying your trip. I can still vividly remember setting off on a small day hike right after fresh snow had fallen. Without thinking it through, as tends to be my problem when it comes to hiking, I went out in a nice pair of trail shoes. As you can imagine, within minutes my feet were completely soaked. Quickly thereafter my toes felt all but frozen to the touch and were losing all feeling. Take it from me, the only thing worse than numb toes is the painfully cold temperatures they endure before they get there. Fortunately, all is not lost. There are plenty of ways to take special care of your little piggies and keep them warm and toasty.
Tip #1: Wear properly fitting boots
No matter how well you've insulated your feet, if your boots are too tight, you'll suffer from cold feet. Circulation is vital to warming your feet, but tight footwear and circulation do not get along. If you feel coldness in one part of your foot but not the rest, or if you don't have enough room to wiggle your toes, you are likely wearing your boots a bit too snug. Loosen the laces to make room so that your toes no longer feel cramped or pinched and make sure that they do not rub against the front of your boots as you walk. However, be sure to keep your boots tight enough that you can roll onto your toes and back on your heels without your feet sliding as this will help prevent blisters and ensure a proper fit.
Tip #2: Eat something and stay hydrated
A well hydrated body circulates blood and body heat much better than one that is dehydrated. Although you sweat less in the cold, more water is lost through urination in winter weather as opposed to the summer, so dehydration can still sneak up on you quickly. Less water intake means less blood flow, which can lead to a rapid loss of body heat and quicker onset of hypothermia and/or frostbite. Eating food also helps to keep you warm as you are supplying your body with the energy needed to create heat. Ginger, cinnamon, and whole grains are all foods that help to feed the body and fuel your inner furnace. Remember, clothes don't provide heat but simply retain the heat of your body.
Tip #3: Wear less breathable shoes
Mesh top trail shoes can be great for warm weather wear. They allow for constant air flow and help to keep your feet cool while you work up a sweat. But when frigid temperatures come around, its time to trade out those Merrell Ventilators for a pair of Polarands. It's more important to trap your warmth during cold hikes making it very important to wear shoes that prevent the escape of your body heat. Even if there isn't snow on the ground, breathable shoes should be left in the closet and replaced with a pair of heavier winter hiking boots when hiking in frigid temperatures.
Tip #4: Keep your feet dry
Boots with leather uppers that are combined with rubber shells are great at keeping feet dry and warm. Its always important to wear waterproof boots when snow is on the ground or might soon fall. Although snow might be packed in the morning when first embarking on your hike, don't forget that by mid-afternoon that nicely laid snow can become a slushy mesh. When it comes to foot heat, you can take it from me, moisture is your worst enemy. Allowing your feet to get wet can accelerate the speed at which your body heat escapes through your feet. This can then lead to numb toes and less blood flow. It's also important to wear a nice pair of moisture wicking socks. Although you can try your best to keep water out of your shoes and away from your feet, you will likely start to sweat as the hike continues on. A nice pair of moisture wicking socks can pull sweat from your feet and keep you warm.
And Finally, Tip #5: Don't overlook the socks
Wearing a nice pair of $200 hiking shoes will be all but completely in vain without a nice pair of thermal socks to go with them. It's very important to wear a pair of thick and moisture wicking socks to help keep your feet dry while providing sufficient insulation. Merino wool is a common choice among hikers because of it's insulating and moisture wicking properties, however, a pair of brushed acrylic socks can work even better when dealing with water and ultra-low temperatures. Brushed acrylic is great at sucking up moisture and also dries very quickly which is why it was the fiber chosen for our Blue Flame thermals. It really comes down to insulation, warmth, and fit when choosing the right socks. Its important to make sure that they keep you dry, insulate your feet, and don't have too much stretch because that can lead to rubbing and blisters. Brushed acrylic and merino wool can both be great options for ultra-low temperatures.
Combating cold feet can often feel like a losing battle, but it doesn't have to be. Make sure you are wearing properly fitting boots, are properly hydrated, and wearing a nice pair of socks and you should be good to go! Have had an experience similar to mine where you suffered from cold feet on a walk or hike? Do you have any other tricks to keep yourself warm? Please share by commenting below!