Subject: Re: Barefoot in winter (advice for cold weather)
[K.S. wrote this reply to a new SBL member in the Netherlands who asked for advice about cold weather barefooting.]
I was curious as to what you would call cold, so looked up some info on the Netherlands and read that the average low in the winter was somewhere between -1°C to 3°C (30°F to 37°F). That’s not all that cold in comparison with many places in the U.S. Where I live, temperatures in the 20s (F, -7°C to -2°C) are fairly common for many days.
I manage to remain barefoot all winter, even when the temperatures outside are sub-freezing, which is much of the time here in the high elevations where I live, and we have quite a bit of snow. If I leave the house to take care of chores near the house, I usually am able to do it barefoot, but don’t stay out very long – all depending on the temperature and the snow level, if any. If I leave the house to go shopping or to a doctor appointment or something, I still remain barefoot. That’s because I go from a warm house to a warm car, then to a warm store or other business, then back to the warm car. A few minutes walking across a parking lot barefoot in freezing weather is usually no big deal.
Just this morning, for example, it was the coldest we’ve had so far this season, 26°F, (-3°C). I walked the 120 feet down to my chicken house, barefoot as usual, and my feet felt just fine, as I would have expected. However, after spending about 15 or 20 minutes there and walking back up, my hands and fingers began to feel like they were freezing. And that’s always been the case with me and cold weather. My feet handle it fine, my hands don’t. If I’d had to stay out longer, I would have had to get some gloves. But my feet would have been fine.
In the unusual circumstance of my having to actually walk a long distance in deep snow, in those cases I will put on my rubber boots with wool socks for whatever amount of time I have to be out in it. And I always carry the boots and socks in my car or truck in the winter, in case of an emergency situation where I had to get out and walk a long way in the snow and/or sub-freezing temperatures. That has happened, but it’s very rare.
I would never take any chances of being outside barefoot in sub-freezing temperatures without either a warm house very close by, a warm vehicle very close by, or warm boots and socks very close by. I did get minor frostbite in several toes a few years back; it wasn’t pleasant and took a long, long time for my toes to heal. So I know the dangers, but also know where my limitations are and at what point I need to get my feet warm.
Of course I’m not suggesting that you do as I do, but just kind of giving you some guidelines you can think about, and then decide for yourself. I’ve been doing this a long time, including through a lot of very cold and snowy winters.
Some other guidelines you might consider, based on my own experiences.
Be aware of what the air temperature is or is expected to be before you go out for any length of time barefoot. You should be OK in temperatures above 0° C (32° F). When it reaches that temperature or below, there is a good possibility of frostbite. But that still depends on lots of other factors, such as the ground temperature (may be very different from the air temperature), wind chill, wetness, etc. Even well below those temperatures, you could be out barefoot – but only for limited amounts of time. When your toes start getting numb, that’s a warning sign that possible frostbite is approaching. When they change from a healthy looking pink color to white, that’s when you need to get them warmed up, immediately.
If you expect temperatures to be below freezing, but expect to only be outside of your home, your car, or a store for only a few minutes, you should be able to remain barefoot the whole time. But NEVER go anywhere in a car or other vehicle expecting your feet to always remain warm and therefore have no need for footwear. An emergency breakdown in sub-freezing temperatures or being stranded in a snowstorm is no place not to have something warm to cover your feet.