couple hiking on show with backpacksKeeping our feet warm and dry in the winter is a constant problem for many of us in the Northwest. It can be most problematic for older adults with poor circulation and for those who like to run, hike or ski in all kinds of weather. Wet conditions, freezing temperatures, and the wrong socks can lead to cold, damp, and blistered feet. And even though it rains a lot here--we do get we get our fair share of dry, cold weather which can cause our feet to dry out and crack. And that can be very painful.

Winter can also be painful for those of us with bunions and hammertoes when wearing closed-toed shoes are necessary.

9 Hacks to Keep Your Feet Warm, Dry and Pain-free in Winter

running socks1. Wear proper socks

Socks that contain wool and wick away moisture from your feet are best to keep them dry and prevent blistering. I recommend SmartWool Trekking Heavy Crew Socks to my patients who hike, ski or have circulatory problems. For runners, I suggest Feetures Merino 10 Running Socks. 


2. Avoid tight or loose footwear

ingrown toenailTight shoes or boots can inhibit circulation of the blood vessels in the lower extremities and cause cold feet. Shoes that are too short or too long can cause your toenails to jam into the front of your shoes or boots and cause ingrown toenails, black toenails, and fungal toenails. When buying new footwear be sure to get your feet measured. Even as adults our shoe size can increase. 

3. Keep your feet warm

Use two pairs of socks if needed. In very cold temperatures, I suggest two pairs of socks. Wear one thin layer next to your skin made of a wicking material like polypropylene and a thicker layer made of a combination of wool and other synthetic materials. If you plan to use two pairs of socks you might need to buy shoes a half size larger.

Use foot warmers. Hot Hands Foot Warmers will keep your feet warm for eight hours and are not expensive.

4. Buy shoes to accommodate your foot conditions

By purchasing shoes to make room for your bunions and hammertoes, you'll prevent pain.  Shoes with a larger and deeper toe box and softer leather are key. Kirsten Borrink of Barking Dog Shoes recommends these shoes for bunions and these shoes for hammertoes and/or bunions. For plantar fasciitis it's important to have the proper arch support. Click here to download our book, "How to Buy Hiking Boots to Prevent Plantar Fasciitis".

5. Buy shoes or boots designed for your sport

Always wear footwear designed for the sport you love. e.g. day hiking boots vs. backpacking hiking boots.  Also, before you go out hiking, check your boots for wear. If your shoes no longer provide proper support or are the soles have worn out unevenly you're much more likely to sprain an ankle, trip and fall, particularly in snowy or wet weather. Waterproof trail shoes may be your best bet if you know that you plan to run on snowy or wet trails.

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How To Prevent and Treat Cracked or Dry Skin

When winter arrives the cool weather and use of a wood burning stove, baseboard heat, or a portable heater can dry out your skin and cause it to crack. This is particularly problematic for those who are older because our skin gets thinner and our natural oil production decreases. 

6. Consider The Air In Your House

Cooler air is dryer than warm air because it can’t hold as much moisture. That’s why in the winter (even in rainy Seattle) the air can dry out your skin. While it might make sense to turn up the heat, it won’t add moisture to the air. In fact, certain types of heat like regular or vented gas fireplaces can cause the air to get even dryer.Consider using a humidifier to add moisture to heated air. It’s also important to make sure your home is sealed to prevent the cold, dry air from outside from coming in.

Gormel cream for dry skin7. Moisturizers

There are a variety of products for dry skin on the market. Some contain urea and others do not. For those with very dry skin, I recommend using a product with component if you have very dry skin. It absorbs moisture from the air and draws it to the skin. It also softens and smooths the skin. Two products we use at the office are: Gormel Cream with 20% urea and Adessa Heel Liniment only available at a podiatrist's office. 

8. Gel Socks

Gel socks can provide your feet with an immediate moisture boost. Using a combination of gel socks and one of the other cream can help get your skin conditioned more quickly. Do not wear gel socks to bed. 

tolcylen foot soak for dry skin9. Foot Soaks

Our office now offers two foot soaks to help with dry skin, eczema, and dermatitis: Tolcylen Therapeutic Foot Soak and Daily Microcleansing Foot Soak. They both use moisturizers, cleansers, and conditioners to treat these mild skin conditions.

Now that you know how to keep your feet warm, dry, and pain-free enjoy all the winter sports you can.

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Dr. Rion Berg
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A podiatrist in North Seattle treating families for over 40 years.
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