Keeping Feet Warm in the Winter

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Submitted by damien on
Note: I recently launched a new minimalist community site called Toe Salad. It includes a comprehensive directory of minimalist footwear products, as well as user reviews and forums. I encourage you to check-it-out, it includes a lot of great information that can't be found anywhere else.

My friend Spring sent me this message the other day, and I thought it would be a good topic for a blog post.

Cold Feet

So, as we set our goal to make this our most active/outdoor winter ever, I am worried about my poor circulation and cold feet. Any suggestions, for warm feet especially? Or under-layers, etc? I don't want our goal to fail because I was too cold to do it!

My Response

That's a great question. And no doubt cold feet will thwart winter outdoor activity. I have several suggestions for you that can help to keep your feet warm.

For your feet:

  • Get a really good pair of warm socks. Something like Smartwool heavy/expedition weight, or Darn Tough Vermont boot socks. Make sure they come up to just below the knee, completely covering the calf. They may be somewhat pricey, but they will be really comfy and warm. Make sure they are not too tight as to restrict circulation.
  • Underneath those warm socks, wear a thin polyester or polypro liner sock. This will help wick away moisture, keep your feet dry, and eliminate any itch you might feel from the thick wool sock. Again, make sure the liner is not tight.
  • Make sure that whatever footwear you have on (shoes, skates, etc.), it is not tight or restrictive. This will cut circulation and contribute to your feet getting cold. You may have to size-up if you are wearing thick socks.

For your legs:

  • Keep your legs nice and warm. By keeping your legs warm, the blood circulating to your feet will be warm too.
  • Don't wear cotton, especially against your skin, it will make you cold as soon as it gets damp. If you are wearing long underwear make sure it is polyester or wool. A couple of my favorite places to get deals on long underwear is the Sierra Trading Post, the Patagonia Freeport Outlet, or the Patagonia online store (check the web specials section).
  • Whatever insulation you wear on your legs, make sure it isn't baggy. The looser fitting it is, the harder it will be for your body to heat up the space.


  • Make sure you are hydrated. Dehydration easily leads to getting cold.
  • Make sure you aren't hungry. Insufficient calories can also lead to you getting cold.

Anything else?

I just covered the basics, there are many more things that could be discussed depending on the activity and temperatures encountered (i.e. thermal insoles, overboots, etc.). Does anyone else have anything that they would like to add? Please let me know in the comments!



My daughter has Raynaud's

My daughter has Raynaud's syndrome so sometimes she has to come in after just 5 mins in the water or on the ice (depending on the season). Not fun. She uses liners and smartwool socks but they don't cut it. This year we're buying those little "shake & warm" packets from the sporting goods store. She tucks them right into her skates and actually gets to enjoy exercise. The biggest downside is ongoing cost but it is worth it if it allows her to be active.

Thank you for your idea. I

Thank you for your idea. I did search online and only found adult sizes (my daughter is just 9y0) but perhaps other readers know of a good source to check out?! We have always run into the same issue with sock and glove liners in the past. Why don't companies produce more of these goods for children?

I am struggling to find

I am struggling to find adequate footwear for my two year old. I find when it gets below -20C, I have trouble finding anything that she can stay outside in but still walk around in.
I am thinking that I may have to build or modify some boots to suit.
Also, felted dog hair from northern breeds like huskies make much warmer boot liners than wool.

What a coincidence. I

What a coincidence. I currently live in Calgary.
Felted dog hair is obtained by combing it out of your (or your neighbour's dog and felting it. I have only done insoles for boots so far but it works well and retains some insulation value when wet.
I have also heard that the Russians have some type of (minimalist?) felted boots that are light and warm. I have never tried them though.

Thanks for the tips

Thanks for the tips Damien!

It doesn't get too cold here in Southern California so it's easy to avoid snow but as I've been hiking at higher altitudes lately so I'm exploring more minimalist foot gear options.

My Feelmax Niesa's have been holding up pretty well even with six inches of fresh powder on rocky and sometimes icy terrain but they're not ideal. I'm curious to know if you've tested out your 40 Below Overboots yet.


[...] At the same time, rich built a little ice rink in the back yard, and after skating for 2 hours yesterday, I can barely move today! LOL!  SO thrilled at the fun our family is having together, being OUTDOORS, and being active! And my feet were warm! [...]

Check out Steger Mukluks! I

Check out Steger Mukluks! I can't express how they revolutionized my outdoor activity in the winter. I bought my first pair almost 20 years ago and with the proper care they are still good. I bought them when I used to do winter camping. After one miserable dogsled trip with my sorrels in the boundary waters of Minnesota I went and splurged and bought myself a pair. I have not had cold feet in winter since. These are the boots that went to the South Pole. They are made by hand in Ely, Minnesota and are modeled after Native footwear. They are lightweight (they're made of moosehide and have a felt liner, optional wool felt liner for extra warmth and their special bottom that keeps the cold from your foot and gives traction) which make them oh so comfortable. They have many designs -I originally bought the tall boot as I was often in deep snow and just bought myself a shorter pair for everyday wear. They also have a kid's style also. Can you tell I am passionate about my winter footwear? Seriously check them out if you have cold winters and want minimalist footwear.