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.