If you are hoping to hit the trails this winter, you will need to know how to keep your feet warm while hiking. With treacherous temperatures and feet of snowfall not uncommon in the area, warm boots and warm socks are essential pieces of hiking gear here in Colorado.
We’ve got some of the best fall hikes near Colorado Springs, so let’s dive into the proper gear for your feet and tips for keeping warm so you can get out there and enjoy.
Gear Necessities for Staying Warm on a Hike
Sock Strategy for Cold-Weather Hiking
In order to keep your feet happy and warm on a hike, you need to wear multiple layers and consider all factors. The first and most important way to keep your feet warm is to keep them dry. Therefore, a moisture-wicking base layer needs to be the first thing you put on your feet. These thin moisture-wicking socks will keep your feet dry no matter how sweaty they get.
The second layer is insulation. You can wear thick wool socks, which come in different weights (lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight) depending on how cold you are anticipating temperatures will go. If you own insulated hiking boots, these can be worn with just a thinner lightweight wool sock.
When you are purchasing insulating socks for hiking, there are a few things to keep in mind. In terms of comfort, you want to find socks that fit a little looser. This will help them fit well over your moisture-wicking layer and make sure that your feet are not being squeezed at all. In terms of value, investing in quality socks will definitely make your life easier in the long run. Wool socks tend to be expensive, but they are the best option here as cotton holds moisture and does not insulate as well for the same thickness.
The Best Boots for Cold-Weather Hiking
The final layer is the boot, and its main job is protection. A good hiking boot protects you from all sorts of injuries, rolling an ankle, stepping on something sharp, and hopefully, preventing frostbite. As noted, insulated hiking boots are a great option for folks who often hike in colder weather or find themselves standing around a lot while on a hike.
Another must for Colorado hikers is waterproof hiking boots. Many people do not like their boots to be waterproof because it limits breathability. However, if you are hiking in winter or changing elevation substantially, there is a good chance you will come across snow. There is nothing worse than getting your boots wet, from rainy weather or a water crossing, when you are on a hike. If your feet do not have time to dry, you will be risking frostbite, blisters, and surely general discomfort. Even having snow land on your boot can be dangerous, as your body heat will melt it and allow the water to seep in through the tongue. On a very cold day, you could watch your boots freeze up, thus ending your hike.
You may wonder how to fit multiple pairs of thick socks in your hiking boots. When hiking in cold weather, you need to size up on boots. This will allow room for the socks without compressing your feet. You should aim to be able to wiggle your toes in the boots. If you do go for insulated hiking boots, the sizing will understandably vary as well, so it is helpful to go to a physical store to figure out what size will work for you.
Tips and Tricks for Keeping Your Feet Warm While Hiking
Be Prepared: Watch the Weather
Before you head out on your cold-weather hike, be sure to check the weather and trail conditions. It is easy to learn how to check trail conditions for hiking safety, and it will save you a disappointing and potentially dangerous hike.
What to Pack to Keep Your Feet Warm
In addition to the warm socks and warm hiking boots already discussed, there are a few specific items that should go in your daypack for your feet. It is always a good practice to have a first aid kit, a blister kit, and in winter weather, chemical warmers for your hands and feet. These will allow you to warm back up in an emergency. You could also consider getting thermal insoles to redirect your body heat back up if you do not have insulated boots. Finally, you should always pack an extra pair of socks: you never know when you will need them, and at the very least, putting on clean socks at the end of the day will be a great reward for your hard work.
Don’t Put Your Boots On Too Early
It is always good to have a second pair of shoes, in case of emergency and for comfort in the car or at the campsite. When you are getting ready for your hike, changing into your boots should be one of the last things you do. This way, your feet will not get sweaty in those waterproof boots before you even get going.
Don’t Lace Your Hiking Boots Too Tight
The reason that it is so important to have enough wiggle room in your shoes, literally, is because compressing your feet can lead to frostbite. When you are cold, the blood vessels closest to the skin and out in your limbs constrict in order to keep your core at the proper temperature. If you were to tie your shoes too tight, you are only further cutting off blood flow. This will make your feet feel colder sooner, and it can worsen symptoms of frostbite.
Keep Your Core Warm
This feels obvious, but because your body prioritizes core temperature, your feet will be the first to get cold if you aren’t dressed warmly enough. Therefore, one of the best ways to ensure your feet stay warm while hiking is to make sure the rest of you stays warm, too.
Get Your Feet off the Ground
The cold, hard ground is going to be one of the coldest places you can step. Even in the snow, the reflection of the sun’s rays makes the ground slightly warmer. When you take a water break or rest on your hike, try to stand on a rock or a tree trunk instead of the ground below. You will find the ground saps the heat from your idle feet faster than anything else.
Always Be Willing to Turn Around
One of the best winter hiking tips (that I believe is applicable year-round) is to always be willing to turn around. If you feel yourself getting too cold, if the trail conditions have changed, or if the weather is taking a turn for the worse, you should head back. The risk of frostbite or other injuries is not worth it.
How to Warm Your Feet Back Up After Hiking
As keeping your feet dry is one of the most important tips for staying warm, it should be obvious that drying your feet off would be the first step for warming back up if your feet do get cold while hiking. Let your feet air dry for twenty minutes before putting warm socks on. This will make sure your skin is thoroughly dry to prevent blisters. This is especially true if you got your feet wet from something more than sweat, say wading through a river or hiking in a rainstorm.
It can be hard to let your feet dry out properly if it is cold outside. You can dry them off with a towel and then cover them loosely in a blanket or sit inside your tent. This will give them a little space to dry off without getting too cold in the process.
One thing people often do is try to warm up too quickly. It is tempting to jump in a hot bath when you are cold, but if your toes are cold to the bone, it is not a good idea to try to warm up too quickly. If you’ve done it before, you know it is very painful. The transition from very cold to even tepid can be painful and actually harmful to your vascular system, sending cold blood to the heart.
Rather than shock your system with a quick transition, you can reacclimate to the warmth slowly. If you are camping and building a fire, take a seat far away and get closer as you warm up. Let your feet tell you if you get too close too fast. If you want to warm up with water, make sure you start with colder water and warm it up slowly with your feet.
The best way to warm up cold feet is with skin-to-skin contact. Use your hands or thighs (sitting cross-legged) to warm your ankles and feet. If your skin is truly frozen, you should not massage or rub it as you can break the skin, but just hold it there to let heat transfer. Or, even better, if there is someone with you who can help, warm breath and skin-to-skin contact with someone else’s warmer body areas like the torso, thighs, and armpits are quick ways to safely warm skin.
If you are looking for some fun and rewarding hiking destinations this season, check out our Guided Hikes near Colorado Springs. You will get expert advice from a certified guide and plenty more real-world experience hiking in the great outdoors in colder weather.