Subject: Re: Barefoot in winter (advice for cold weather)
[J.M. wrote this reply to a new SBL member in the Netherlands who asked for advice about cold weather barefooting.]
For winter barefooting, or “snowfooting” as many of us call it, there are a few things you can do.
First, don’t change your routine as far as how much you go outside, or what you wear on your feet. A gradual adaptation as the season changes will allow your feet to grow more capillaries over time, and be much safer than a sudden attempt to walk through snow after staying indoors all the time, or wearing shoes for the first part of the winter.
Second, keep the blood entering your feet as hot as you can, for as long as you can. This means wearing plenty of layers to keep your core good and warm, and at least two layers on your legs, to keep from losing too much blood temperature on the way down. An ankle band of fleece or other fuzzy material (a sock with the toe cut off and folded in half works great for this) can help as well, as it’ll keep air from getting up into the cuff of your pants. The difference between that kind of preparation and just normal clothing is, in my experience, the difference between shoveling snow or snow-blowing comfortably for an hour or more in bare feet at -5° or even -10° (mid-upper 20’s in Farenheit), and being at risk of frostbite in 10 or 15 minutes.
You don’t need that level of preparation though just to walk out to the car, or go in and out of a store. I’ve done those things in as low as -40° in fresh, deep snow, without injury, though it was far from comfortable until the car’s heater warmed up, heh… But if you’ll be out in cold and/or snow for more than a few minutes, that kind of preparation helps a ton. Incidentally, the same preparation helps hands as well. And heads (what else is a scarf but exactly what I described, only for your neck?)
Third, listen to your body and pay attention to your feet. If your core gets cold, go inside immediately. If your toes sting, and are pink, that’s okay, but keep an eye on them. If your feet ache from the cold, again that’s okay but a little more troubling. But if anything goes numb and white, then it’s definitely time to seek shelter.
For that reason, if you are going out in your car, it’s a good idea to keep some warm footwear handy in the car (I use Crocs Mammoths for this, basically fur-lined rubber clogs), but a couple of pairs of thick wool socks could work, anything to let the heat start to build up in your feet in case of emergency. Plus you don’t want to be stranded on the highway in case of a breakdown or accident, with no foot protection at all, as there are legitimately conditions on planet Earth in which bare feet do need a little help.
Fourth, though your body will teach you this in -very- short order, avoid liquid water if it’s below freezing. That usually means it’s salt-water and itself well below freezing, and that’ll get you in trouble in a big hurry. The same goes for slush. Rock salt left over from road or sidewalk salting is extremely uncomfortable to walk on, but as far as I’ve seen, not actively harmful. It’s a good idea to wash your feet when you go inside though, even if it’s just a light coating of salt dust on the pavement, because salt is hydroscopic and will suck the moisture out of your soles, causing deep cracks if you don’t clean them off regularly. If you’re working or something, it’s not hard to rinse your feet off in a bathroom sink, and feels really good if you do so with warm water, and a little soap, though you will probably get some odd looks!
Follow those four pieces of advice, and you’ll safely expand your horizon of barefoot winter activity over time, and learn what your body can and can’t do, while giving it a chance to adapt by expanding your circulatory system.
J.M., Wisconsin, U.S. (similar climate to mid-latitude Sweden/Norway and/or sub-permafrost Siberia, so I definitely get plenty of cold and snow. 😉 )