Whether you are a senior, know a senior, or have a loved one who fits that description, here are some thoughts and tips for winter footwear. Now is the time to think about appropriate footwear to keep us, or them, not just comfortable and warm but safe.

There are several things to think about when choosing the correct winter footwear.

Generally, a waterproof boot will keep us warmer and safer from frostbite because it prevents the foot from getting wet which can increase the chances of frostbite if you are outside for a long time. Boots with “Gortex©” or a similar product, of which there are many, help make the footwear waterproof. One thing to keep in mind is that a wet foot is a cold foot.

Each foot has about 125,000 sweat glands. The soles of the feet contain more sweat glands than any other part of the body and produce about a quarter liter of perspiration a day. Point here is not all the wetness in your shoes is from the environment. The weave of the various water proofing membranes is designed to prevent water in liquid form getting in, but will allow water molecules to escape, thus keeping the foot dryer.

In this light, consider a good wool sock. If you find that wool is too itchy, then look for merino wool socks. They help wick moisture away from the skin, and they are much softer on the skin. Cotton tends to be thinner with less surface area for evaporation, so the moisture stays longer on your feet making them colder.

Support is as always important. Even if you are not in the boot for a long time, having your feet supported will prevent pain in the future. When purchasing a new boot, remember to check for a removable insole and bring your orthotics with you to ensure they work in the new boots.

Velcro, laces, or zippers? A good compromise is a lace boot with zippers. This combination gives you the security of being able to adjust the boot as necessary if you’re wearing a heaver sock, or if you’re prone to swelling. It also gives you the convenience for a quick zip to fasten them up.

Think safety. Boots use different methods to give better traction on slippery surfaces. None are perfect, but here are a few options to consider:

  • “Vibram©” soling contains a larger portion of natural rubber, which stays flexible in low temperatures, unlike the artificial rubber which gets stiff and brittle. This means they can conform to the little imperfections in the ice better, improving traction.
  • Then there are the additives they put in the rubber such as walnut shells or sometimes finely ground glass.
  • There are the boots with built in retractable steel cleats. Such as some models of Pajar.
  • Then removable cleats like “Yak tracks”.

Care must be taken with all cleats as they can make some surfaces very slippery, such as tile flooring. They can also ruin hardwood floors if walking across them.

When considering seniors, it is also wise to keep in mind the abilities of the wearer. If they cannot easily handle getting the cleats off and on, it may not be worth the extra expense, give a false sense of security and possibly pose a risk in certain circumstances.

We also have to remember that to prevent slipping we have to concentrate a little more on “how’’ we walk. Remember to keep your weight directly over your base of support (your feet). Bend slightly forward from the waist. Seniors tend to walk bent too far forward and in doing so risk having their weight fall too far forward, risking a fall. Walk flat footed and take smaller steps. Consider using walking sticks or a cane with good ice picks on the ends.

All in all, the ideal outdoor footwear for the winter will be comfortable, warm, and safe.

Written by Jaimie McVean C. Ped. (C)