How to keep your feet warm in the winter depends on where you are and the temperature around you.
Wet and Cold Climates
“Southern areas” where the temperature is warmer and the snow is more wet, cause people to go for waterproof winter footwear, even for work attire. Even though it can be a little warmer, when your feet get wet, it is easier for the feet to get cold and the risk of frostbite comes quicker. In the city, ankle or higher shoes with good traction to walk on the icy streets is a good option. Boots can also be waterproofed with silicone to keep the wet out and your feet warm. For activities such as snowshoeing or cross country skiing, rubber bottomed boots with more insulation are great to keep the feet warm in the deeper snow.
Dry and Cold Climates
“Northern areas” may have less of an issue with wet snow and the emphasis for boots in this area would be to have ones with more insulation inside because the temperature is lower. Another item that helps in colder climates are insulated insoles. Some of them have a metal foil layer to reflect the heat from the foot back onto it and keep it from leaving through the sole of the footwear. When the snow melts, rubber bottomed footwear is more important in spring. When a person is dressed right for the weather here, the chilling that comes with colder temperatures is slower to arrive than with wetter warmer conditions. It is possible to get chilled when the socks absorb sweat and that cools the foot off. Boots that would be comfortable in this region are too warm in the southern region and would cause the foot to sweat and thus the foot would get chilled a lot faster than if a person wore a boot with less insulation.
No matter where you are, socks are important to consider. In colder weather, some places sell “winter socks” and they work well to keep the feet warm. They are a thicker sock with a blend of acrylics, polyesters with some material for wicking moisture away from the foot. Thickness of the socks is important to consider when you put them in a boot. The aim is to have some room in the shoe or boot where air is trapped and not allowed to move too much. If the foot is tight, there is not enough room and the amount of air trapped in the sock and boot is minimized and the insulating qualities are minimized. Chilled feet result quicker in this instance.
In a work setting, steel toed shoes are a lot quicker to cool the foot off when it is cold outside. Composite toed safety footwear is warmer in the winter and warmer socks can make a big difference.
Conditions affecting cold feet
If a person has a disease that affects the foot, it is especially important to pay attention to shoes and socks to ensure that the foot is kept at a good temperature. Reynaud’s is a syndrome that affects women more commonly. In response to cold and stress, the blood vessels in the hands and feet constrict excessively. Buerger’s disease is something that affects more men when blood vessels constrict more than average in the ends of the fingers and toes when it is cold out. People with both conditions are painfully aware their feet are cold because of the pain they feel. Getting these people out of the situation where they are and getting their feet warmed up is a key treatment to provide relief from the pain they feel.
Conditions where there is a loss of sensation in extremities are a similar situation. Strokes that take away sensation in a foot for example and diabetic neuropathy are more prone to be chilled because the person is unaware that the chilling is taking place. With the previous conditions, the person is aware that the feet are cold and that is absent with the loss of sensation. These people will need to check how the feet are doing to avoid troubles.
Slips and Falls
A slightly different issue is keeping the foot comfortable in the winter. If there is ice formation for whatever reason, people turn to wearing spiked overshoe arrangements or simply spiked footwear. This is a good idea to have an option like this because it limits the chance of falling on ice. Spikes on the shoes are great at holding a person up, but if a person has weak ankles or is otherwise unstable, these can increase the instability of the heel plant and cause an increased risk of ankle sprains. There are styles where a bar of non-slip material goes over the entire width of the foot which can level the foot better.
Winter weather is a challenge for us in Canada, but with some preparation, we can remain comfortable and active in the area that we live in.
If you would like advice on your winter footwear, talk to your local Canadian Certified Pedorthist.
Written by Jim Pattison, C. Ped (C)