This is the time of year when many people are beginning to wonder what they will do as winter approaches. Some of these are folks who have recently come to barefoot running, and that has led to their going barefoot much more in their lives, not just in running. Many are asking, what should I wear now?
I don’t want to address barefoot running in cooler temperatures, just what to do if you want to go barefoot while out and about.
My words of advice are . . .
If you don’t need gloves, you don’t need shoes.
Think about it. Hands and feet are physiologically (and genetically) quite similar. Why would one set need to be covered when the other isn’t?
Here’s the thing. During the winter I’m usually not going long distances outdoors. Usually, all I do is go from my car across a parking lot into some store or another. I don’t put on gloves for that, and I doubt you do either. And I also don’t put on any sort of footwear for that short of a period, regardless of any temperature I’ve encountered. This has been down to about 0°F (-18°C). You’re simply not going to get all that cold for that short period of time.
Yes, your hands are only exposed to air, while your feet are touching the cold ground. However, I (and probably even you) have thicker skin on the bottoms of your feet just from walking barefoot. So that provides additional insulation for such a short walk.
I’d also add that, at least this time of year, the ground is still pretty warm. It’s certainly warmer than the air temperature.
But what about the cold? I liken what is going on to eating ice cream. When you eat ice cream, you feel the cold, but your aren’t cold. Same thing walking barefoot for a short distance: you can feel the cold, but overall you aren’t cold. You can even walk through snow for such a short distance (and you can amaze and astonish any onlookers!).
So, I rarely put on footwear for the winter and you probably don’t need to either. Unless you are going to be out there for an extended time.
Along those lines, I have to say that for the winter I do keep emergency footwear in my car, just as I put in an emergency shovel (or even a non-emergency snow brush and ice scraper). It would be silly not to. You never know when you might be stranded, and in that case you want to make sure that you can keep every part of your body warm.
But what if I am going to be out for an extended time, like a long hike when temperatures are below freezing or there is snow?
My preferred footwear is moccasins. Minnetonka makes some nice ones. I go for the soft-soled ones:
While these have an inner cushion, it is easy enough to turn it inside out and remove that cushion. That way, my foot can flex and touch down naturally.
For deeper snow, they also make a knee-high boot:
Again, the inner cushion can be removed. Mink oil on the soles helps with water resistance.
The only problem with these is that you really can’t use your toes very well for grabbing the terrain you are walking on, so you have to be careful with slipperiness.
I find I can go barefoot for extended periods with a bit of snow on the ground, but what really causes problems is snow on top of my foot. In that situation, I really need the moccasins. Again, for safety, I will carry my moccasins with me in such conditions even if I am not wearing them.
There was one time that came in really handy. Every winter there is the Hocking Hills Midwinter Hike, which takes place in late January. If the temperature is warm enough (above freezing), I’ll do the hike. I’ve done it three times, including last winter, when there was snow on the ground.
I didn’t have a problem doing it barefoot until I reached an uphill portion that they had salted (to help everybody else with traction). That made a cold, well-below-freezing slush that was just horribly cold. For that, I stopped and put on the moccasins. After I passed that portion, I was fine returning to my barefooted condition.
Anyways, use common sense and pay attention to your feet. But also keep in mind that, for short periods, you really don’t need footwear even in cold conditions.
If you don’t need gloves, you probably don’t need footwear.