Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Joy of Warm Feet

Smartwool Winter 2013 Collection:  Outdoor, Running and Skiing Socks.  Wynter Scarf  by Carve Designs
Ahnu Monte Vista Hiking Boots
No matter what outdoor activity you choose, during the winter months, expect it to be ruined by cold feet.  Ugh!  That is if you didn't take the time to prepare a bit.  First of all, you need to plan what activity you are going to be engaged in as well the weather conditions that will be present.  After that, choose the right socks as the foundation of your warm footwear strategy.  You can also look for footwear with built in Gore-Tex TM and Thinsulate TM

A good example of this technology at work are Ahnu's Monte Vista Hiking Boots.  Made of both finished leather and suede, they are waterproof and contain over 200 grams of insulation but do not feel bulky.  Speed laces allow for a custom fit as a boot that is too tight will limit circulation to your feet and cause them to get colder sooner. This is the sort of technical boot to look for because during the course of the hike, your feet may tend to swell. You may need to adjust the fit at the end of the day to prevent your toes from going cold and numb.

These newer high tech materials are not only lightweight but encourage sweat to evaporate while offering a water-proof barrier to rain, snow and mud. You can also add an additional layer of water protection by using Sno-Seal or NikWax to winterize your boots.  The time to do this is now before you even hit the first snow drift. Once unprotected leather is gets wet,  waterproofing products may not take as well.
Suede is especially notorious for absorbing water and staining so you will need a special suede spray like one in this Sheepskin Care Kit from The Walking Company.
Sheepskin Care Kit from The Walking Co.

Do Your Feet Too!
Similarly you can seal moisture & warmth in your feet by coating them with a thick layer of petroleum jelly, cocoa butter, lanolin or a combination of all three. Moisturized skin holds in warmth much better than dry, cracked and flaky skin. Put your socks on over the salve and your feet will get conditioned while you walk.  Do this about twice a week or more often if you have very dry feet.

Another way to insure warm feet is to make sure your footwear is completely dry between wearings. A wet leather boot is just that and the moisture trapped within will quickly freeze once you go out. We used to just place our boots in front of the fireplace but sometimes you can't always regulate heat coming off a log so consider getting a boot dryer.

Dry Guy above here, can be set via a timer for a variety of temperatures, up to 180 degrees and is a lot safer for your boots than exposing them to uncontrolled heat. It really completely drys your boots, down to the toes in a very short amount of time.

In addition to choosing breathable yet waterproof  footwear, you might want to consider exploring the joy of wearing merino wool socks.  Gone are the days of itchy wool, these take comfort to a whole new level!
What is especially great is just as I mentioned at the start, you can choose the right sock for the specific activity you have in mind. By doing so, you can choose where the added thickness and padding will best serve the sport.  For example, when running, look for extra cushioning at the heel and ball of the foot. 

I especially like merino wool because it is very warm and soft while being able to be knitted into a very thin sock that does not bunch up in your ski boot.  Some of the best merino wool is from Australia and New Zealand.  Bluey of Australia can even tell you what flock their woolen products hail from! I used to keep sheep and know that is no easy task.

Why Wool?
Wool is a natural polymer that believe it or not stays warm even when wet.  However, its natural moisture dispersion abilities keeps excess water buildup from being a problem.

Fine Cushion Sole Socks by Bluey of Aus.
Just to be sure, pack an extra "dry" pair when you go skiing or hiking.  Sometimes the simple act of changing into fresh, dry socks can save your outdoor excursion big time.  I've gone hiking and fell off a log into a bog.  My sock was wet and since I didn't have an extra pair, I had to take it off.  Now if had been really cold, that could have pretty much made the trip a total misery instead of the partial one it turned out to be.  So consider keeping a pair of warm wool socks in your first aid kit, car or bicycle as they can also be placed on your hands to help combat hypothermia.  

Both Smartwool and Bluey Aus. offer beautifully made merino wool socks for just about every outdoor activity imaginable.  Check them out as they are going to be your best friend this winter when the temperatures drop out there. 

Gore-Tex Paclite Snowboarding Pants are perfect for Alpine Skiing too.

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