10 Things To Know Part 9: Keep Your Feet Warm

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 10, 2007      

We’re going for some collective “blogodacous” wisdom on this one, but I’ll mention the main trick first. When it comes to keeping your feet toasty in backcountry ski boots, fit is key. All too many times I’ve had friends and guiding clients with cold feet who had their randonnee boots fit like a performance alpine boot, with little room in front of the toes, and a toebox that immobilized their forefoot to the extent where their feet were getting numb or even damaged after a few hours of walking. In other words, their blood circulation was being impaired, and blood is the only thing bringing warmth to your toes unless you’ve got an external heat source.

Field modification of backcountry ski boots
Fit your boots correctly, and you won’t have to resort to this, or have toes that look like this!

Assuming we’re using thermo-form liners, here is how we get the hot fit at WildSnow HQ. We start with a bare foot, then build up tape over pressure points that have bothered us in the past. We then fold up wads of tape to a thickness of about 3/16 inch and stick those on the ends of our longer toes, and secure with a longer piece of tape. After that, we add folded tape between our outer toes to spread them a bit, but not too much. After topping all that off with a toe-cap made from the tip of a thicker sock, we mold the liner. The goal is a fit that’s snug from heel to mid-foot, then a bit more open down around the toes — and long enough for your toes to not touch the end of the liner. Test is with boot buckled you should be able to scrunch and wriggle your toes a bit, but not too much.

More boot molding stuff here, and here, and here — or heck, just use this sitewide googlesearch

Beyond fit, here is a list of ideas we’re hoping to hear some comments about. Esteemed blog readers, let ‘er rip:

– Do the chemical foot warmers work, and do you need to mold them into the liner to prevent discomfort?

– How about the cayenne pepper applications? Psychological?

– Vasodilators such as niacin or medicinal alcohol? Blog readers, your take?

– Electric foot warmers on backcountry skiing boots, workable solution?

– Type of socks, wool make a difference?

– Vapor barrier to prevent wetting of socks and liners, effective? What’s your system?

– And yep, any other exotic tricks you blog readers know of? Yogic meditation on blood flow, stuff like that?


The list — 10 things to know:

10. Jump start a car without blinding yourself.

9. First-aid a serious laceration.

8. Rip skins in the wind without giving your scalp a bikini wax.

7. Fix a broken ski pole with duct tape and pocket knife.

6. Do a jump turn in the face of danger.

5. Start a fire in the snow — while you’re shivering.

4. Read a topo map quickly.

3. Quickly dig a person out of an avalanche.

2. Keep your feet warm.

1. Practice a humble mindset so caution rules the day.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


24 Responses to “10 Things To Know Part 9: Keep Your Feet Warm”

  1. Jeremy October 10th, 2007 10:30 am

    My wife has tried the foot warmers and did not like them She loves the handwarmers in her gloves, but when she tried the foot warmers she found they made her boots too tight and moved around too much. I suppose the idea of fitting the boot with a foot warmer inplace during the fitting process might work along with taping the foot warmer in place to keep it from moving around might work. May have to try that. Wonder if you would notice the fit difference when not using the foot warmer?

  2. Ron E October 10th, 2007 10:48 am

    The big problem that I have is feet getting too warm (living on the West Coast it really isn’t capable of getting cold here). But even when the temps do dip a bit, I find that thermomoldable liners are really warm, so I wear the thinnest merino wool liners socks that I can find as they dry really fast. It would be great if someone could come up thermomoldables that “breathe.” At least thermomoldables do dry pretty quickly.

  3. Jesse M October 10th, 2007 12:15 pm

    For me, my feet sweat a lot, especially when skinning or hiking long distance. After reaching the top and taking some time to relax, eat, or whatever, I often find my sweaty socks make my feet cold. For those who aren’t afraid to make a quick change at high altitude, it’s not a bad idea to keep a dry pair of socks in your bag. If weather and conditions allow, fresh socks make happy skier!

  4. Matus October 10th, 2007 1:24 pm

    My tips regarding the boots, liners and fitting: 1. if nothing else helps, put a piece of duct tape directly on the skin of the foot (on problematic spots), 2. wool makes a difference – much better comfort and smells less then artificial materials, 3. wash the liners regularly in a very mild solution of chlorine and water – it completely destroys bacteria and smell without destroying the liners, 4. I use Freesole glue to repair the outer part of the shell (no problems so far, baking friendly)

  5. Charlie October 10th, 2007 2:07 pm

    I find that swinging my feet like a pendulum for a few minutes can really force blood from my torso out to my feet. This also works really well with hands by doing fast windmills with your arms.

  6. Ron E October 10th, 2007 5:20 pm

    To add to Charlie’s comment, I have found that shortening your poles (if they are adjustable, of course) while touring is an effective way to warm up your hands (I know this is supposed to be about feet, but I don’t see “keep your hands warm” on the list of 10 things to know).

  7. Mar' October 10th, 2007 5:22 pm

    Warm feet in the mountains? Fit the shell to your foot allowing 5/8′ to 3/4″ between your heel and the shell’s heel with your toes just touching w/o socks. Imagine the minimum sock combination you would risk being stuck with on an unplanned overnighter. For skiing I’ve been wearing a slippery synthetic liner under an impermeable 1.5mm neoprene sock from Gator. Finally, I slip a lightweight (THIN) wool sock over that. As the boot packs out, just switch to a slightly thicker outer sock (or recook the boot liners).

    Use any of the natural crystal deoderant products you rub on with water on your foot before the socks go on. Your feet will not smell! If you do epic overnite, change into your spare set of socks that you always pack. Put your dry socks into your DRY boot liners and enjoy your epic elegantly. Don’t wear the neoprene sox overnight. Any alpinist would wear at least a liner w/a medium sock in the mountains. These three socks are hardly any thicker than that.

    The whole point for me is to avoid getting my boot liners soaked. I have never had to bother with drying my boot liners, ever. The neoprene VBL will last a season or two. None of the coated fabric VBL socks have ever survived more than a day or two on my feet. Your feet will not sweat. I have never had to “wring out” the liner. It’s saturated, but not dripping wet.

    For ice climbing I substitute the synthetic liner with a Smartwool liner, because I want MORE friction when hanging out on crampons.

  8. newton logan October 10th, 2007 9:51 pm

    My wife loves the chemical heater packs- the trick is to put them on top of the toes. that way they don’t bulk up and get hard under your toes. Just open the plastic pack, peel of the paper, stick them to the top of your toes and insert foot in boot. Full disclosure: she has a very small foot- smaller than the smallest Garmont available so she has plenty of toe room.

    I do the same thing when it is cold- it works for me too.

    You can buy them by the dozen at STP. $1 each.

  9. Geof October 10th, 2007 11:42 pm

    Another thing to use is a 2×2 gauze square folded between the toes when molding the liner. I also molded mine with the insole in the liner as well as suggested by a friend. It allows the toe box plenty of room, but not too much, and makes the insole an integral part of the liner system. Seems to work so far… Just need to get the heel dialed…

  10. Ryan October 11th, 2007 12:21 am

    I hear you Jesse. The problem I have isn’t cold feet but blisters on the inside part of my heels. This after having my liners molded twice, various combinations of socks, moleskin, etc.

    I’m desperate for a fix. Only happens after about 4 miles of skinning but then it’s treat the hotspots time. I think I just have skinny heels.

    Know it’s a tangent from the original post, but am desperate.

  11. Lou October 11th, 2007 6:38 am

    Ryan, do you pre-tape your feet? Do you do many days of ski touring or is this a situation where you’re not in your boots for weeks, any callouses you had go away, then you’re out for a long day?

  12. Moritz October 11th, 2007 8:28 am

    Taping the blood vessels on your feet before molding works like magic. The guy who made my foam injection liners placed a strip of adhesive foam rummer about 1/4 thick on top of each of the exposed blood vessels on top of the foot and on the ankles. As you mold the boot, you create a small channel that prevents the liner from squeezing off those blood vessels.
    This really works great, I never had cold feet once even though the boot is of the nasty, tight alpine kind. And yes, I do wear those for backcountry touring, without ever getting any blisters.

  13. Matt Kinney October 11th, 2007 11:05 am

    I am obsessed with dry feet prior to day trippin. Ritualistic. Before I slip my socks on, I dry my feet with a dry towel and really work the moisture out from between the toes. I then use paper tissue between the toes because it is most absorbant. I can tell the difference if I don’t do this little process. Any moisture is the big enemy at colder temps. Dry feet to start with, will allow you longer ski time in the colder weather.

    Shorter poles work for hands as long as you drop your hands below your elbows to allow gravity to free flow warm blood to your hands more effeciently….. and you continue skiing/poling. That means adjusting to pretty short poles. It works way better than the windmill thing. The windmill thing waste energy and is tiring.

  14. Ryan October 14th, 2007 10:37 pm

    Hey Lou,

    Sometimes I pre-tape, other times I didn’t. After I upgraded to my Silvretta Pures and K2 Shuksans, I was in the backcountry around once a week. I don’t know if this helps, but I found it was more on the level, less uphill sections where I would get the rubbing as opposed to uphill skinning. So my feet loved climbing – and the spirit did as well – the lungs, not so much. =)

  15. Lou October 15th, 2007 7:31 am

    Ryan, yeah, the level walking can really eat up your feet. Pre-tape. If you always get the blisters in the exact same spot, build up a couple layers of tape on that spot when you mold the liners, so the pressure is eased a bit. Remember that pressure combined with rubbing is what causes blisters, not just rubbing.

    Tips for foot toughening: Ray Jardine recommends using anti fungal compound on your feet to keep them tough, because all feet have a fungus that gradually consumes your callouses. Using foot powder and changing socks several times a day also helps, as dryer feet are tougher feet.

  16. Melissa January 25th, 2008 4:18 pm

    I’m just wondering if anyone had any more tips in response to Ryan’s post above (or if Ryan has found a solution) about getting blisters on the insides of heels when skinning on not-so-steep snow. I had the same experience last week and was miserable (steep uphills no problems, but on slight inclines I had tons of rubbing and heel slipping and ended up with huge blisters).

  17. Lou January 26th, 2008 9:42 am

    Melissa, try buckling your boots tighter as soon as you feel any rubbing while touring the flats. That’s what I do. The boots don’t tour quite as well but that’s better than blisters. I’ve also found that this type of blistering seems to be very dependent on boot brand/shape, so if the problem persists through the years you might want to try a different boot brand. Beyond that, pre-tape and experiment with socks. And don’t forget that sometimes your feet need a few short trips in the boots before you can be totally blister free during a longer trip.

  18. Magnus June 4th, 2008 9:03 pm

    Limiting heel blisters: I’ve had lots of issues with sore heels while skinning, mostly because my tele-boots (garmonts wiht G-fit liner) were a tad to big.

    Taping the hotspots helps a great deal but if the heel is rubbing a lot against the liner, use sports- or duct tape to tape a band around the outside of the liner, right above the ankle, after you put your foot in it. That way you can secure the heel without tightening the buckles too much, and still maintain a flexible walk. Tele boots and bindings (without the new touring mode) is more prone to heel lift cause of the resistance in the binding but I think this could work with AT boots too.

  19. William February 2nd, 2009 6:44 pm

    To Ryan, Melissa and all,

    In general, too small/short a shoe/ boot liner, you get blackened nails and/or blisters on your toes. Too big/long and you get heel movement and blisters at the back of the foot. A rigid sole boot and loose bucks, ie touring mode, compounds the heel issues. As the fore foot flexes, the heel moves up and down in the heel pocket with each stride. In addition to taping hot spots with duct tape or mole skin, trying a smaller shell size, thicker boot liner (switch from a 9 mm to a 12 mm thick intuition liner for example), placing a shim under the boot liner or under the insole inside the liner boot may help the situation.

  20. tob November 13th, 2009 3:38 pm

    as someone who has to deal with chronically cold feet in the winter, and works outside all year round, i’ve found that using pure wool socks and liners if you use them helps. i’ve been told this has to do with synthetics depending on your body heat helping with the wicking process, while wool will wick moisture even if your feet are cold.

  21. Lou November 13th, 2009 6:59 pm

    Wool next to the skin on the feet makes a HUGE difference. It doesn’t have to be 100% wool, the Smartwool socks work great, for example, and are what we’re taking on Denali. From what I understand, wool works better because it keeps insulating while it’s damp, while once synthetics are damp, they just sit there and conduct heat away from your feet. This has been my experience in years of testing.

    But above all, fit is what’s important. Too tight, and you can damage your feet if it’s cold.

  22. canwilf December 19th, 2009 1:12 am

    I used to get badly blackened big-toe nails – which would then fall off after a while, from a mild toe impact to the front of my touring boots.

    Fixed this by taping each big-toe to the toe beside it. For some reason this stabilizes the big toe and also protects the nail.

    No more blackened toe nails when doing this.

  23. Dave November 2nd, 2012 11:24 am

    Simplest solution I found was, like a lot of solutions, fairly easy and obvious. Back in the day, and sometimes you still see it today, we would use duct tape at the toe of the boot to create a seal between the elements and your toes. Well, Body Glove took this technique several steps further…a bootie for the outside of your ski boot. Honestly, I am surprised it has taken off more, I rarely see these self proclaimed “bitch booties” even on the coldest and deepest days. I love them and they are “non-invasive” effectiveness. I use them snowmobiling on really cold days too. Sold at bigger retailer stores or I am sure on the web. Don’t judge em…try em. DH.

  24. Dave November 2nd, 2012 11:25 am

    minus 5 for some mispellings/wording: “surprised it has NOT taken off more….

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