It was supposed to be just a short hike into the mountains, a nice Sunday adventure, but then the snow started to fly. You thought about turning back, but you were so close to your destination you pushed through, even though you knew you should be heading back to the car. By the time you reached the summit, the lightly falling snow transformed into a full-on blizzard and you couldn’t tell left from right. Thankfully, you found an abandoned fire lookout for shelter, but that’s it.
Now, you must wait it out until the harsh winter weather lets up. So, you sit and wait. But, your feet are getting really cold. While this scenario may sound dramatic, you may find yourself in a situation where you can’t move and you need to keep your feet warm. Maybe your stuck on a chairlift or hunting from a blind where you can’t move. Keeping your feet warm is critical to maintaining a comfortable body temperature. So it is important to know how to keep your feet warm in winter while sitting still.
(Quick side note: If you are looking for boot inserts and other winter clothing that will keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures even if you get wet, see my article “Fortress Clothing – My Review!“)
It’s easy to keep your feet warm when your hiking, running, walking or trudging through four feet of snow. When you move your body, your blood circulates and produces body heat on a consistent basis. However, when you’re sitting still, it can be difficult to keep that blood moving and keep your feet cozy and warm. So, what are you supposed to do? The good news is that you have lots of options when it comes to keeping your feet warm while sitting still. From increasing your circulation with diet, to choosing the right socks and boots, you can keep your feet warm even when you’re not active!
If you’re prone to having cold feet-no matter how nice and cozy your boots and socks are, some medical experts believe you need to improve your circulation from the inside out! This starts with nutrition and hydration. According to outdoor survival experts, loading up on vitamin K is a great way to increase circulation in your feet and hands. Vitamin K helps blood flow move through the heart muscles and throughout your entire body, including your feet. When you increase your blood flow, you’re moving warm blood to your extremities.
This warm blood, is what keeps your body temperature at the perfect 98.6 degrees. Increase your blood flow and you are more likely to stay nice and toasty, even if you are sitting still. Vitamin K is most commonly found in kale, cucumbers, prunes, dairy, cabbage and broccoli. If you’re not down for making a salad on your next winter mountain adventure, opt for a vitamin K supplement. It will fit in your pocket and you can pop a vitamin before you go or on your trip. Please note you should always consult your doctor before starting a new supplement! Just had to throw that in there!
Another way to naturally increase your blood flow is to stay hydrated. To stay hydrated you should be drinking water all day. I know It’s tough to drink water when it’s cold outside but make the effort. Leave the flask at home, though. Alcohol can actually cause dehydration and that’s bad for your circulatory system.
According to medical experts, staying hydrated increases your blood flow and that keeps you warm. So, if you’re sitting around in a stand all day waiting for a whitetail to walk on by, don’t stop drinking water! Your feet will thank you for it!
Exercise is also a great way to keep your blood vessels open and moving warm blood to your feet. Clearly, for this scenario you are sitting still. But, regular exercise will keep your heart muscles strong and keeping that blood moving, even when you are sitting still for an extended period of time.
Before your next winter adventure, make a few changes to your diet and exercise routine and you’ll have a better chance at keeping your feet warm in the wilderness.
The Right Kind Of Socks
Once you have your blood moving through your body, you need to capture that warmth with a nice pair of cozy socks. Not all socks will do. When you’re sitting still for long periods of time in the winter wilderness, you need to have a pair of socks that will keep moisture away and insulate all at the same time.
Look for a pair of socks made out of merino wool or a synthetic blend. Merino wool works wonders to keep moisture away and keep your feet warm all at the same time. Wool is also durable! A nice pair of quality made wool socks will last you years.
A lot socks on the market today, use a merino wool, synthetic blend. This combination of fabrics makes the sock stay in place (thank you lyrca) and keeps you really warm and dry. When you’re sitting still while outside in the cold, you need to keep your feet dry at all costs. Keeping your feet dry means that your feet will be warm. Once your toes get wet, your body temperature can drop really quick. That’s why outdoor experts will tell you to never, ever, under any circumstances wear cotton in the cold.
Have you heard of the adage “cotton kills?” Cotton absorbs water and sweat- like sponge. When your socks get wet they can actually draw body heat from your feet and eventually your core. Once this happens, you start to shiver and you enter the initial stages of hypothermia. This is why the fabric of your socks is so important. Sure, they need to be nice and cozy, but they need to be made out of wool or a synthetic material.
Always check to see what your socks are made of before buying them! You don’t want to discover cotton in your socks when your sitting in the snow and trying to figure out why your feet are starting to resemble ice cubes!
If you plan on sitting for hours on end in the cold and not moving, you may want to opt for a sock liner. A sock liner is like a base layer for your feet. A liner is typically a really thin pair of socks that fit snug to your feet. The liner wicks away moisture and keeps a thin layer of warm air right up next to your skin. For optimal warmth, you should always pair a liner with a thicker to medium weight sock.
Sock thickness should be a key consideration when deciding the best pair of socks for keeping your feet warm while sitting still in the bitter cold. When you’re really active, you typically want a thin pair of socks to prevent your feet from getting too hot. But, for this article we’re talking about sitting still for long periods of time.
With that in mind, you may want to get a pair of thicker of socks with a higher wool content. Most socks will break down how much wool is in each sock. The higher the percentage of wool, the more insulation for your feet.
Make sure your socks will work with your boots! If your socks are too thick and your boots are too tight, you could lose some circulation to your feet. In this case, your thick socks could actually be working against you. So, try on all your gear before you leave the house! Also, look for socks rated for really cold temperatures. Some socks are designed for sub zero temperatures. A sock designed for cold temps will of course do a better job of keeping your feet warm, even when you are sitting still.
Heated Socks/Toe Warmers
If you know the weather is going to be fierce and you’ll be sitting for a while, you may want to make the investment in a pair of heated socks. Heated socks are on the pricier end, but they could save your feet from frostbite. Heated socks are made with special tiny wires, weaved throughout the fabric of the sock.
They’re typically battery operated and last up to 6 hours, depending on the setting. If it’s a really chilly day, you may want to turn your socks on high for a shot of heat to envelope your feet. If heated socks aren’t in your budget, pick up a couple toe warmers.
Like the hand warmers that you shake to activate the heat, these warmers are specifically for your toes. Toe warmers stick right to your socks and retain heat for a couple hours. According to the manufacturer, you should not attach toe warmers directly to your skin! If you want to warm your entire foot, the company also makes warmers for your entire foot! I love that these warmers are easy to pack and they’re light- so you can pack a whole box if you needed to!
Boots play a critical role in keeping your feet warm when you’re sitting still. The best pair of winter boots when idle should be well insulated, waterproof, breathable and a nice thick sole. In general, you should choose a boot to match your activity level. For this blog, we’re just looking at boots when you’re sitting still. Insulation is a key factor is keeping your feet protected from the harsh winter weather. When it comes to boot, insulation is measured in grams. Try to choose a boot between 800-1,000 grams insulation.
This range of insulation is designed to protect your feet from the sub-zero temperatures. Price range will vary. But, typically you can expect to spend well over $100 for a well-insulated pair of boots. Once you narrow down a boot with great insulation value, turn it over and take a look at the sole.
How thick is the sole? What’s it made out of? A nice thick rubber sole that wraps around the top of the boot, will perform very well when you’re sitting still in warm weather. That wrap around weather will repel moisture and any weather you may be sitting in. Also, look for boots treated with waterproof chemicals. Remember, keeping your feet dry is critical to keeping your feet warm!
If you’re hunting or ice fishing and plan on sitting still for a while, an insulated mat or cardboard may be the ticket to keeping your feet warm. One of the ways the body loses heat is through conduction. This refers to the transfer of heat from a warmer object or person, to a colder surface. So, if your boots are touching a cold icy surface all day, you could be losing heat to that chilly surface.
An insulated mat acts as a barrier between the cold surface and your feet. A cardboard box works just as well as an insulated met and it’s cheaper. Just raid the recycling bin before you leave town and you’ll have a nice surface to keep your feet warm while sitting all day.
Depending on what you’re doing in the woods, a campfire is another way to keep your feet warm while sitting still. Of course, if you’re hunting and trying to be discrete this might not be the best option for you. However, if you’re stuck in the snow or waiting for help, starting a campfire is a sure-fire way to keep you warm from head to toe.
If you’re traveling in the back-country, especially during the winter months, it’s always a great idea to keep an emergency kit in your pack. An emergency kit should contain basic first aid supplies and waterproof matches. You can pick up a set of waterproof matches at your local general store or mountain gear store.
One more tip: If you have to sit still in the cold and you start to feel cold or numb, try wiggly your toes or if you can swing your feet or legs back and forth. Generating circulation will help warm blood travel to your feet! How do you keep your feet warm when you have to sit still? I’d love to hear your ideas too!
Related Article: “How To Keep Feet Warm In Winter With Poor Circulation” and “How To Dress For Winter Survival“.