Because of their distance from the body core, extremities have the poorest circulation. To make matters worse for your feet in winter, they are always close to snow or ice. The same factors that keep your body warm—adequate insulation and staying dry—will also warm your feet.
The advent of plastic double boots made it much easier than before to keep your feet warm and dry. The plastic shell is an absolute barrier to snow and water, while the inner boot provides the insulation.
In some circumstances, bunny (or mouse) boots are an option. Developed originally for the military for arctic conditions, bunny boots rely on felt insulation sandwiched between airtight and watertight rubber inner and outer boots. The boot is not rigid and is best suited for non-technical routes. Because the rubber serves as a vapor barrier, keeping perspiration inside, it's necessary to dry your feet and change damp socks daily.
Gaiters are needed for keeping snow from entering the boot from the top. Standard gaiters cover the boot top and lower leg, while supergaiters add an additional layer over the entire boot. Overboots go one step further by including a layer, which quickly sheds snow, below the boot as well. Various brands of supergaiters and overboots offer insulation as well as a snow barrier.
Inside the boot, a vapor barrier sock will keep your foot warmer by preventing perspiration from evaporating. The energy required by evaporation robs warmth from your feet. The vapor barrier also keeps outer socks and boots drier. The sock is worn over a light pair of liner socks and beneath a heavier pair of insulating socks. The major disadvantage to vapor barrier socks is the necessity to change the liner socks and dry your feet each night. Apply foot powder and a strong anti-perspirant (not merely a deodorant) to help keep feet dry and comfortable—and watch out for blisters on the soft, moist skin.
The right socks are important in keeping your feet warm, but too many socks can do just the reverse. They can make the boot tight, restricting circulation and causing cold feet.
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