FAQ – Q6

Q6: What about winter – how cold is too cold to be barefoot?

There’s no absolute temperature threshold to don some kind of footwear when the weather is cold. It all depends on many other factors – ground temperature vs. air temperature, wind chill, wet vs. dry, snow on the ground or not, ice on the ground or not, just to name a few that affect how our feet can handle the cold and for how long.

And whether we even need shoes at all in cold weather depends a lot on what our normal daily activities are – that is, how much time we actually must be outside, and to a certain extent, how much coldness we are personally comfortable with. It’s no different from a decision to wear a coat or not. If it’s winter and cold outside, but we’re inside where it’s warm, there’s no point in wearing a coat. If we’re in a warm place – like a home, a vehicle, or a store – there’s no point in wearing shoes inside of those places even if it’s freezing outside.

When temperatures are cold but well above freezing, going barefoot outside for extended periods of time is quite possible with no risk of injury – and the choice to do that depends only on our own personal comfort levels. However, with some very rare exceptions that have been reported, human feet were not designed for and cannot tolerate temperatures below freezing (32°F, 0°C). So anyone who is out barefoot in such temperatures will risk serious damage to their bare feet (frostbite) after a period of time. How much time? There’s no definitive answer for that, as there are so many factors involved – as mentioned above – including of course how low the temperature actually is.

Many experienced barefooters enjoy going barefoot all winter, including walking in snow and sub-freezing temperatures sometimes for short periods of time. However, dangers of frostbite and serious damage to bare feet, especially toes, are very real, and we advise no one should ever 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.

For barefooters who choose to go barefoot in very cold or sub-freezing conditions, familiarity with the symptoms of impending frostbite is essential. Generally, when the toes start getting numb, that’s a warning sign that possible frostbite is approaching. But as long as the toes are a healthy looking pink color, it means there’s adequate blood flow, and in fact, it usually means that CIVD (scroll to “Cold-induced vasodilation”) has taken place, the body’s natural process of warming up extremities in the cold. But if the toes change from a healthy looking pink color to white, that’s when we need to get them warmed up, immediately.