Winter Barefooting – Tackling the cold months while keeping our feet happy

Barefoot Life

I’m probably the least qualified person to ask about going barefoot (at least completely barefooted) in the winter, as I am not very accomplished at this as I see other barefooters are. However, with my somewhat limited experience, and for what I understand from other more accomplished winter bare and “snowfooters”, I have come to understand that successful barefooting in winter really boils down to a few key aspects:

  • Personal and natural ability to withstand (and enjoy) lower temperatures
    Let’s face it, some of us like winter more than others and some of us feel the cold more drastically than others. Therefore some people will be naturally more accomplished at barefooting in the winter. We can’t forget the “enjoyment” part: While some of us might actually wait and hope for a cold snap or a snow fall to go out and experience it “first-foot”, others might not want anything to do with that.
  • Conditioning
    As they say, practice makes perfect! The more we go out and push our limits, the more accomplished we can become at staying barefoot through the winter.
  • Opportunity
    This has to do mostly with geographical and weather conditions, as well as our physical environment. We have to take into account that winter conditions vary from place to place. Here in Toronto, for instance, we tend to have much less snow that other areas in Canada but we have a fair amount of dampness. Another aspect that makes winter barefooting challenging in cities like Toronto or Ottawa is the amount of salt and other chemicals used on the roads and sidewalks to help keeping the ice and snow at bay – I find these much more irritating than the actual cold temperatures or the snow.

Taking into account all these factors, there are some general guidelines that can apply to anyone who wants to extend their barefooting experience into the winter. Here is a list of my personal tips, which I find useful when venturing out in the winter in my bare feet – in no particular order:

Start early in the season. Or better yet, don’t stop barefooting when the temperatures start dipping in early fall. Remember it’s easier to get used to gradual changes than tackle something suddenly.

  • Take it easy, it’s not a competition. Remember that your body is unique and therefore, you need to know your limits. Start with short periods and progressively extend them as you go.
  • Bundle up, especially your head and upper body. I find that if the rest of your body is comfortably warm, you will be able to prolong your periods of barefooting in the cold.
  • Breathe and relax! The first few times I went out barefooting in the cold, I got so focused on getting through with the experience that I found myself tensing up and even holding my breathe. Once I recognized this was happening, and I forced myself to take a few deep breaths and relax, I was able to make it into a much more enjoyable experience.
  • Watch your toes and listen to your body. Archie Scott, a proficient all-season barefooter from Northern New York State, recommends to watch the colour of our toes as we go barefoot in the cold for extended periods: pink and reddish is good, as it indicates a healthy blood flow into the toes; white or bluish is not good as it can be an indication of early stages of frostbite. If you notice your toes becoming discoloured, you need to put something on to protect them and warm them up right away. Once re-warmed, you can get back into barefooting till you need some re-warming again.
  • Keep on moving. Simple, the more you move, the more your blood circulation will increase and the better your feet will feel.
  • Bring along backup footwear. Think of footwear as the counterpart of gloves for your hands. Therefore, don’t underestimate the importance of bringing along something to protect your feet against the elements or the terrain when you go out barefooting in the cold.
  • Take care of your feet to keep them supple and strong. After a barefoot outing in the cold, it’s always good to warm your feet with a foot bath and warm water (not hot!). Also, keep your feet moisturized with lotion through the winter months – this will help your skin stay healthy and flexible – just like the finest of leathers!
  • Consider the alternatives. There are times and situations when barefooting in the winter is simply too challenging; so, we need to keep our mind open to alternatives like minimal footwear, to help us through the cold months. Remember again, footwear is the counterpart of gloves for your hands. If you need protection from the elements on your hands, you might need similar protection on your feet. As soon as you choose something sensible and foot-friendly, you should be fine.

Our fellow barefooter Michael Buttgen, also wrote a good article about barefooting in the cold last a couple of years back – check it out: Don’t Get Cold Feet About Bare Feet As Cooler Months Approach

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