Cold Feet 

Charlene Barach
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Cold Feet

Winter Cycling
Winter Cycling

I have spent several years riding right through Canadian winters, in temperatures as low as -40C/F and my feet have, for the most part, been fine.

Here's what works for me as the temperatures begin to drop ... discovered through a lot of experimentation, reading, research, etc.:

Lake Mountain Bike Shoe
Lake Mountain Bike Shoe

1. Loose shoes. I used to wear fairly tight cycling shoes and my feet would feel like they were freezing at temperatures well above freezing (like around +10C/50F). I loosened the shoes, and my feet were much warmer. The reason for this is that loose shoes allow a pocket of air to be created around your foot, which is warmed by your foot. Tight shoes don't allow for any pockets of air. I have since bought a pair of Lake mtn bike shoes in a size too big for me so that they are slightly loose.

Kodiak Socks
Kodiak Socks

2. Wool socks. There is a huge selection of wool socks available in just about every department store or "work wearhouse" type of store. Personally, I prefer Kodiak wool socks, but I have seen some others similar to them which would probably work just as well. They are thick, and come right up to my knees, which means my calves will be warm too.

Warm calves means that the blood flowing into your feet is warm (or warmer than it might otherwise be), which contributes to having warm feet. Ducks can stand in very cold water because the hot blood from their hearts flows to their feet through arteries which are very close to the veins transporting cold/cool blood back to their hearts. The hot blood warms the cold/cool blood, so that heat is not lost. Our leg structure is not the same as the duck, but we can make use of that concept to help warm our feet.

Because the socks are thick, if I were still wearing my original small, tight shoes, I'd never be able to get these socks in, but the loose shoes allow me to do just that, while allowing the socks to remain somewhat "fluffy".

Battery socks are also available. These appear to be wool socks with a small battery pack attached. I have not had a chance to experiment with these, but I am very tempted to pick up a pair and give them a try. The packaging indicates that the batteries should last anywhere from 3-5 hours.

3. Sock layers. When the temperatures dip below freezing, I wear a light, thin sock underneath my warm wool socks. That layering effect seems to add a few degrees of warmth. I purchased thin polypro socks last winter to see if they will work, and they do. You can get polypro socks from places such as Sierra Trading Post, Mark's Work Wearhouse, and sometimes even Walmart, I believe.

Neoprene Ankle Wraps
Neoprene Ankle Wraps

4. Neoprene ankle wrap. I badly injured my achilles tendons in 2002, and started wearing neoprene ankle bands which I bought for about $7 in my local grocery store. These are great ... they are a neoprene "sleeve", with the heel and toes cut out, and then with wide elastic stuff that wraps around, as tight or loose as you want. The photo on the left shows them unwrapped and wrapped.

MEC Nylon Booties
MEC Nylon Booties

According to outdoor survival people, the way to keep your feet warm is to keep the pulse point in your ankle warm. With my sock layers, and then my neoprene ankle wrap over them, that pulse point is well protected from the elements, and my feet are toasty warm down below freezing. One point though ... just like with the shoes, the ankle wrap works best if it is as loose as possible.

(Oh, incidentally, the way to keep your hands warm is to make sure the pulse point in your wrist, at the base of your thumb, is warm. Therefore if you wear wrist bands (like the tennis players do), your hands will be much warmer ... it really works!!)

MEC Neoprene Booties
MEC Neoprene Booties

5. Booties. I've got a light nylon pair of booties for warmer temperatures, or wet conditions, and heavy neoprene booties for colder temperatures and/or really wet conditions. These go over the shoes. If you get them, get them slightly big. Neither type fits well if they are on the smallish side, and the neoprene ones are incredibly difficult to get on and take off. The neoprene ones will also wear out faster if they are too small and you have to do a lot of tugging and pulling to get them over your shoes.

Chemical Warmers
Chemical Warmers

6. Chemical warmers. When the temperatures really drop (I'm talking down around the -20C range), or if I'm going to be out there in sub-freezing temperatures for several hours, that's when I break out the chemical warmers. Get the ones for hands, not feet. The ones for hands are smaller and won't crowd your shoes so much (yet another reason to get bigger shoes!!), and they seem to last much longer for some reason.

Tuck them into your neoprene ankle wrap, under your foot, right above where the cleat of the shoe would be, to keep the cold from the metal cleat at bay ... and/or tuck them on top of your shoe, under your neoprene bootie (yet another reason to get your booties slightly big!), right over the mesh part of the shoe that is over your toes to keep your toes warm. I've also tucked them down my neoprene ankle wrap, over the ankle pulse point, on really long cold rides.

On a recent investigation, I discovered that there are several new types of chemical warmers available. One is like an shoe insole, and would cover the whole bottom of the foot. Others are designed to stick to your clothing and will keep the part of your body next to where you stuck the warmer warm. I have not had a chance to experiment with these yet, but they look like good ideas.

You can find chemical warmers in the outdoors and/or hunting and fishing sections of your local department stores.

Sorel Snowlion
Sorel Snowlion

7. Sorel winter boots. When the temperatures drop to around the -30C range, and especially if I'm going to be out there for any length of time (several hours), I switch to platform pedals and ride with my Sorel Snowlion winter boots, rated to -40C/F. Other brands of similar winter boots would likely work as well.

In those conditions I will use many of the other techniques described above as well as my Sorel boots, such as the socks, chemical warmers, etc.

Sorel Snowlion

I rarely have problems with cold feet anymore. I hope this helps you too!!

“Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we'd have frozen to death.” -- Mark Twain

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