When I am out and about barefoot in colder weather it naturally attracts comment. Folks want to stop and talk. “Aren’t your feet cold?” After a while, I pull on one of my stock phrases:
I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.
No, I don’t think they will believe me when I say I may be crazy, but you know that that is what they are thinking before they have a chance to talk to me. But when they do talk to me I can tell them about Cold-Induced Vasodilation. I can tell them about how leaving the foot unconstrained allows the actions of the muscles to help draw in warm blood.
When I finish talking to them, they understand that what they might have thought was crazy really isn’t so crazy after all, just different.
But I am also not stupid. When the weather is on the edge, I also let them know that I carry protection. In Freaking People Out, when I was at Cedar Falls last winter, I had a pair of moccasins in my backpack.
I didn’t need them, but they were there anyways.
When I did The Hocking Hills Mid-Winter Hike, I had a pair of moccasins and wool socks in my fanny pack.
The fanny pack is that bulge you see near the base of the back of my jacket. The wool socks were there because it was a colder day (slightly below freezing) than the day the picture was taken at Cedar Falls (mid-40s).
It’s a good thing I had the moccasins with me, too. I was fine walking on the snow. No problem at all (and all of the other hikers had tromped it down pretty well, so I wasn’t getting snow on top of my toes, which chills them faster than anything). However, because of the large crowds, they had salted one of the steeper parts of the trail, and that was really frigid. When salt melts ice it’s an endothermic reaction, so the slushy mess was at a (much) colder temperature than the surrounding snow. At that point I put on the moccasins.
When winter comes, I put footwear in my car. Admittedly, I bury it deep in the trunk. However, if my car breaks down and I have to do any walking, I want to be prepared.
The thing is, I like going barefoot too much to risk being able to do that by freezing my feet. If I did that, severely, going barefoot would probably have to be crossed off my list of things I enjoy. So if the situation warrants it, I’ll carry some sort of warm footwear with me. (That still doesn’t mean that I can’t test my limits, though.)
I got thinking about this on Friday, when I was hiking at Hocking Hills. The temperature hovered between 43° and 45° during the hike. It was also wet, having rained the day before, so the ground and leaves were all soaking (and if you read yesterday’s entry you saw my muddy foot).
For that hike I didn’t bring anything extra. Even with wet chilly ground I knew it was well within my capabilities.
However, that doesn’t mean things were toasty right from the start. It takes the feet a bit to get warmed up (see CIVD, above). So, when I started they actually got rather chilly feeling (and even though this has happened a zillion times before, I’m still wondering to myself, “Have my feet lost their conditioning, and they’ll be cold the whole hike?). But within 5 minutes the CIVD kicked in and they were completely comfortable.
Here is a picture I took of my foot (this is below Turkey Point) to show what a perfectly adapted foot looks like under those mid-40s conditions.
It has a nice warm color. If you look closely around the edges of the toes, they have a slight pinkness. That’s not bad; you’re seeing all the extra blood being sent to them to keep them warm.
In colder weather, they might be even redder, but that’s OK. Again, that is warm blood you are seeing. Even if they feel a bit cold that’s also OK (as long as you don’t mind—if you don’t like it, don’t be stubborn; put on some footwear).
How might you tell if you are starting to get into trouble? For me, I use the pick-up test. First, I’ll look for a twig, close my eyes, and then see if I can feel that twig with my toes. If I can’t then they’ve gone numb (you often cannot tell just how numb things are). I’ll also check to see if I can pick up the stick with my toes. If I can, then I’m good to continue. Otherwise, it’s time to take action.
Finally, if your feet lose their color, going more or less white, then you have gone way too far. That means either your body is too cold and isn’t sending blood to your extremities any more, or the blood vessels in your feet are so close to frozen that blood cannot get through any more. In that case you need to warm them up fast.
So, while it might look crazy to be barefooted out in various sorts of cooler weather, if you know what you are doing and are aware of what to look for, you can do it intelligently.
I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.