Cold Toes

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 frecro 27 Dec 2021

Hi all,

I'm after some advice on keeping my feet warm whilst out and about in the winter. Over the past couple of years, I've found that having cold, numb feet regularly for a two or three month period over the winter has led to semi permanent loss of feeling in the ends of my big toes. Feeling loss is not complete - more of a tingly feeling when touched and does return eventually - normally after a couple of weeks of cold free feet. (well, so far anyway).

I work outdoors in Scotland through the winter in mainly very wet forestry and bog habitat. I also enjoy road and mountain biking, and, obviously climbing. So being exposed to potentially cold feet is an almost everyday occurrence and not really avoidable.

I have the very plushest socks I can find (Thorlos Extreme Cold, Keela Primaloft, Smartwool Mountaineering etc etc etc) and a good selection of boots - Meindl Dovre Extreme for work, Scarpa Mont Blanc for climbing, I even wore my old Asolo AFS8000 double plastics for a couple of days climbing last year and still had cold feet. I have also experimented with waterproof socks as I inevitably end up with wet feet at work fairly often, but I find that they just don't last long enough at 3-4 days use each week to be viable.

I don't otherwise suffer very much from cold extremities - even feet - during the rest of the year. I think my troubles have come from using Inov8s etc as spring approach shoes earlier on in my climbing career and kicking steps up snow patches to crags in the Cairngorms. On one memorable occasion, I had such numb feet that I didn't notice that I was kicking rock instead of snow and ended up with a very sore broken toe. I think this damage has had a permanent effect on my toes. Could be wrong though...

Does anyone have any ideas or experience that may help me? I'm thinking warmer insoles, foot warmer pads, different socks, vapour barrier or other expedition specials... anything else? I had thought of trying my neoprene wet wading fishing socks next.

Thanks in advance,


 henwardian 27 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

> I think this damage has had a permanent effect on my toes. Could be wrong though...

tbh, this sounds like your problem. Getting more insulation is going to pay limited dividends if you just have severe circulation problems.

It sounds like you need to find ways to increase your circulation itself. Something like repeatedly cooling and heating your feet to put circulation in and out might be something that could help? Or doing targeted exercises on the limited muscles in your foot - the more you strengthen these muscles, the more blood vessels you will grow, that might help a bit. Obviously you can enhance surface circulation by drinking alcohol too!

Have you done any research to see if there are any therapies or medical treatments or drugs which can be used to boost circulation?

Obviously you run the risk of being more vulnerable to hypothermia if you drink alcohol or take some kind of drug which boosts surface circulation and you are out in the cold.

 Dave the Rave 27 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:


A thin and thick pair of socks should suffice.

If socks or boots are too tight fitting they will reduce circulation.

Make sure your feet and boots are warm before you put them on.

Better insoles are a good idea.

Think upwards from your feet too. Long johns under decent trousers so the blood isn’t already chilled before it gets to your feet.

Wear a hat or Balaclava with a neck gaiter

Adequate calorie intake and warm hydration..

Some people swear by garlic capsules to improve circulation. I’ve no eveidence however.

Post edited at 18:51
 frecro 27 Dec 2021
In reply to henwardian:

That's definitely an interesting place to explore - I've not actually sought medical help yet as it's such an on off problem. I'll look into circulation exercises for feet/toes

 frecro 27 Dec 2021
In reply to Dave the Rave:

All my boots are nice and spacious - especially the Meindl work boots which fit like comfy carpet slippers... A colleague mentioned thicker/more insulated insoles than the stock ones, seems an inexpensive thing to try. I'd be interested to know if anyone has any specific advice there - lots of insoles advertise feet cooling properties, but few except for the fluffy woollen ones (not appropriate unfortunately) seem to talk about warmth.

Certainly pre heating the boots has made a difference to the start of my day, but I find prolonged standing around (a la winter climbing or ecological surveying) cools them down, even after lengthy walk ins.

Garlic capsules sounds interesting, I'll look into it!

 elsewhere 27 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

Gaiters! Sweaty calves for warm feet.

In reply to frecro:

Consider Yeti gaiters if you are working in the wet - an extra layer of waterproofness and insulation.

Although the right boots are the key component. 

 Basemetal 27 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

Hi, do you smoke? I see from your profile your 30, how's your blood pressure? I'm asking because you get the problem when "hanging about", though you're obviously fit and active otherwise.

Do you know if your toes go white when they're affected? Raynaud's Syndrome can affect  other body parts then just fingers, though there's no 'cure' as I understand it, but avoiding cold exposure helps (d'uh!).

One option I don't think has been mentioned yet is electrically heated insoles, like for motorbikes. The battery units are getting better all the time and they are quiet viable now -though you don't need them on all the time they are a good recovery or prevent option when you need them. Cheaper in the long run than the 8hr consumable insoles. 

 frecro 27 Dec 2021
In reply to Dan Arkle and elsewhere:

I wear gaitors as standard at work underneath Keela salopettes on top of trousers. I really like the idea of yetis and have tried them twice before on very stiff mountaineering boots but can never get the buggers to stay put! I don't think the relatively floppy meindls would stand a chance...

 frecro 27 Dec 2021
In reply to Basemetal:

Non smoker, blood pressure all good despite the three extra years since my last UKC profile update...

Not sure if they go white or not - they certainly aren't white at the moment (inside next to the fire but still tingly numb). I'll try and have the presence of mind to check next time I've got cold feet!

I might look into the heated insoles, but I do worry about longevity. I would be looking to wear them for around 25-30hrs a week. My work boots generally last 12-18months before falling apart from use - even with diligent care. Acidic water from peatland restoration work and constant attack from brash etc in the forestry work means that our kit generally doesn't last too long!

 CurlyStevo 27 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

Could it be related to compressing nerves in the balls of your feet in very stiff winter boots? Do you get balls of your feet related pain from the boots? Perhaps stiff big toes after a day out?

Post edited at 21:03
 Dave the Rave 27 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

Have a look at the Lundhags Jota insole.

 John Kelly 27 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

Given the seasonal nature is it worth trying vitamin d?

 frecro 27 Dec 2021
In reply to Dave the Rave:

They look promising if I can find a UK vendor. Thanks

 frecro 27 Dec 2021
In reply to CurlyStevo:

Possibly - I have experienced 'burning' sensations in the balls of my feet when wearing stiff winter boots and occasionally when wearing my carbon soled road biking shoes on very long rides. Never with my work boots though, also never with ski boots, even on very long tours.

Seems like a gel based insole may be able to help me with that. Sorbothane or similar?

 SFM 27 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

It sounds like you’ve had some form of cold injury to your feet ie frost nip or immersion foot type thing. I have Raynauds so cold toes/fingers are common unwelcome friends but the desensitisation you describe does sound much more like frost nip though. 
Do your feet get regularly wet and cold? 
Could you wear some sort of insulated welly instead?

 Dave the Rave 27 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

I put yetis on my old Borneos a few years ago. Superglued the rand to the front of the boot. Stayed put all winter and my feet were never wet. 

 HeMa 28 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

I’m partly in the same ovat as you, ever since I got 2nd Segre frostbites on me toes, I’ve been prone on gettin’ cold toes. Be it winter hiking, xc-skiing, ski-touring, lift served skiing or ice/mixed climbing. Especially Now, that I spend a lot time moving slower than normally I would with the kids in tow (hiking, xc and downhil).

so if you are doing day trips (ie. Electricity available for the evenings), battery heated socks from therm ic, bootdoc or lenz might be an option. I will prolly get some like Now from the ongoing sales. Naturally heated insoles are also and option, but more fiddly to more form boot to boot… where as with socks it’s all the same.

N.B. Then heated things are not really an option if you need to stay out for the night… atleast if you use non-warm enough boots cause you have heated gear.

oh, and cold/ice water treatment might help with the circulation… I try to always go to the cold water pool in the swimming pools and that has seemed to help a bit.

Post edited at 09:37
In reply to frecro:

I work in the hills in winter in Scotland too and have quite poor circulation.  Theres some good suggestions in the comments.  I would agree that high end boots (I own four pairs of gaitered mountaineering boots) or decent gaiters might make a difference but the biggest thing I've found is giving up caffiene for the winter season.  I started doing this a few years ago and the difference is pretty big.  If I am using caffeine I really struggle with hot aches and generally keeping my hands moving on cold days and get really cold feet.  Once I have got the caffeine out my system (a week or so usually) I generally dont get hot aches or have issues. (as I understand it caffeine is a vaso constrictor and so limits the blood flow to your extremities)

The other big one with feet is really rewarming them once they have got a bit cold - thick slippers or down booties around the house as soon as you get in seems to work.  The other obvious thing is drying your boots effectively. I have a thermic boot dryer that pushes warm air into the boots and dries them from the inside.  Any damp in your boots will make it so much worse (sorry for stating the obvious!)

 Siward 30 Dec 2021
In reply to frecro:

Are wellies suitable for your line of work?

I have some of these

Which are very warm and ideal for mucking about in the snow with only thin socks underneath but not ideal for hill climbing, for example, too loose a fit.

 frecro 01 Jan 2022
In reply to arose:

> the biggest thing I've found is giving up caffiene for the winter season. 

Hmm. This is good advice, but bad news  

Thanks everyone for your replies, certainly some things to think about and experiment with there! 

I've started off by buying warmer replacement insoles for my work boots and some pretty hopeful looking Lorpen expedition Primaloft socks as I happened to be in Outside last week and they seem super cosy and, importantly, warm when wet (up to a point...). I'll try these out asap and imagine that they'll make a difference on dry footed days. Making use of spare dry boots and my super warm wellies when I can (not possible 90% of the time at work unfortunately) will hopefully go some way to making wet footed days more comfortable. I think basically I need to prioritise my feet and boots and stop being lazy about leaving wet boots to freeze in the back of the pickup, for example...

In reply to frecro:

Thin trainer liner socks + wetsuit socks (neoprene 5mm) + wellies

try the wellies on when wearing the socks combination, not in shop with normal socks.

Maybe safety toe wellies depending on your line of work

 Marek 01 Jan 2022
In reply to frecro:

> Hmm. This is good advice, but bad news  

On the other hand, dark chocolate is supposed to be a vasodilator. Swings and roundabouts.

 Jim Walton 11 Jan 2022
In reply to frecro:

My good lady wife suffered from cold feet, especially when skiing but also just generally.  A long visit to a podiatrist who also specialised in fitting ski boots revolutionised her.  16 years of Ballet and high arches meant that the top of her foot was constantly pushing hard against the underside of the tongue of her boots (which ever ones she wore) which reduced the circulation and hence the cold feet.

I've had custom foot beds made for ski boots before but the Podiatrist took this to a whole new level.  Lots of time spent getting her legs and hips into the correct position prior to the custom moulding of the footbed (As opposed to "Just stand on these hot pads" which I had and felt great at the time).  This meant that her arches were now supported properly when stood correctly and that should also sort out her hip problem.

The footbeds are thinner than normal ones meaning that her foot sits lower in the boot and her veins are not restricted.  Warmer feet.

Post edited at 15:30
 Tobes 11 Jan 2022
In reply to frecro:

Get some Pilates style spiky balls and work on increasing circulation in the feet/toes?

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