Keeping Your Feet Warm and Dry in Winter Weather

Pick the right boots and socks for the snow

When you’re out and exposed to the ele­ments, keep­ing your feet warm and dry can have a huge impact on how well you main­tain your over­all body tem­per­a­ture.

Choos­ing the right socks and shoes, know­ing what to wear while you sleep, and choos­ing the right mate­ri­als might not seem like major choic­es when you’re get­ting ready to head out­doors, but they can actu­al­ly make or break your trip.

Pick the Right Shoe Cuff Height
While your stan­dard hik­ing shoes might be super com­fort­able, once you’re deal­ing with a lot of snow, they prob­a­bly won’t do. In fact, high top boots are often the only appro­pri­ate footwear for win­ter adven­tures. “I feel that cuff height is cru­cial for not only help­ing to keep out snow, but also to pro­vide ankle pro­tec­tion from snow­shoe straps,” says Whit­ney LaRuf­fa, sales and mar­ket­ing direc­tor for Six Moon Designs and an avid hik­er and back­pack­er. “I always pair my high tops with a pair of gaiters. This is cru­cial, as no boot can keep out snow on its own. If you wear gaiters, it’s pret­ty rare for snow to work its way in the top.”

Choose the Best Socks
Regard­less of where you’re going, car­ry­ing extra socks is key so you can always change them if they get wet or you sud­den­ly need to lay­er up. You can also change them when your feet get sweaty. Sweat can make feet cold just as much as the actu­al cold does, accord­ing to LaRuf­fa, so hav­ing enough pairs to keep chang­ing as need­ed is key to stay warm and com­fort­able.

Meri­no wool socks—gen­er­al­ly about 80%+ meri­no with some span­dex for stretch—are often the best choice for very low tem­per­a­tures. What­ev­er you do, avoid cot­ton at all costs: it gets wet eas­i­ly and quick­ly (just a lit­tle bit of sweat or snow get­ting in will do it), and it doesn’t dry quick­ly, so it’s the worst pos­si­ble choice for win­ter hik­ing.

“I gen­er­al­ly look for a tall meri­no wool sock that has heavy cush­ion­ing for win­ter and a high loft to help trap heat,” says LaRuf­fa. Go for the heavy ones: “Skimp­ing on sock weight is not an area I sug­gest try­ing to save weight on a win­ter trip.”

If you’re going to be doing a lot of walk­ing (thus, sweat­ing much), start­ing with a dou­ble lay­er of socks might be a good option. Look for a thin, sweat-wick­ing polypropy­lene sock (or lin­er) and a wool sock you can wear on top. Try the com­bi­na­tion on at home with the shoes you’ll be wear­ing while out hik­ing. You don’t want a com­bi­na­tion that’s too thick for your boot and ends up hurt­ing your feet.

Keep Sleep­ing Feet Warm
If you have a good sleep­ing bag with you, chances are you won’t need any­thing more than a clean set of meri­no wool socks for the night. If you’ve been out for sev­er­al hours, you might want to change to a new pair before you get into the sleep­ing bag.