Photographer's Guide to Cold Weather- Ankles Down
If your feet are cold, then you are not dressed properly. I have either guided or run into other photographers dealing with cold feet and, as you know, it is uncomfortable/ painful detracting your focus away from the animal towards your lower extremities. If you are dress properly even in the most extreme conditions, your feet will feel comfortable. The three components of adequately keeping your feet warm are socks, inside the boots, and boots.
Starting at the base of your feet are socks, and they are paramount to keeping your toes warm. Weather conditions and your own quality of blood circulation will cause you dress different compared to another person at a given temperature. For me, I deal with the cold well and run warm. Even though each person is different if you run colder you can just add more layers.
For all winter temperatures, I use a liner. For the liner, you want to look for a lightweight wicking sock for moisture management. Never use cotton because your sweat during physical activity will cause you to be cold when you become dormant. When buying a liner sock look for merino wool to keep your feet warm, and to wick away the moisture. If you are looking for a sock fitting is crucial; if the sock it to tight, then it could lower the circulation to the toes. Look for a fit where you can wiggle your ties freely. For a liner, I like the REI Co-op Merino Wool Liner Socks.
After wearing a liner you should look for a thicker sock to wear on top. The liner sock gives you warmth and moisture management; the thicker sock will give you insulation. Just like the liner avoid any cotton for this sock. When looking for a sock I like a heavy cushioning merino wool sock. My favorite sock is the Smartwool Expedition Trekking Socks. If the weather is extreme (-20F and below I will add a third expedition sock).
Inside the boots is an area often overlooked that can keep you warm. The two main parts of the boots interior are liners and chemical insulation. The largest amount of heat loss from your feet comes from standing on the cold ground, therefore you want to increase the insulation in this area. The item you can stick into your boots is the REDHOT footbed for warmth management. I use this insert for my non- insulated/ smaller hiking boots for temperatures anywhere from 10-35F. In all boots to keep your feet warm chemical warmers are an effective way to generate heat. I like the full foot warmer from HotHands that last 9 hours.
Boots play an important role by providing insulation between your foot and the ground. I tend to run warm, so for any weather above 10F I use my non- insulated hiking boots with a REDHOT footbed and chemical warmer to keep my foot comfortable. My favorite hiking boot is the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid. When the temperatures start to get extreme I pull out the trusty Baffin boots. After years of searching for the best winter boots I finally settled on Baffin. The boots that work great for me are the Men’s Evolution Snow Boot because they are lightweight, for what they are, and are extremely comfortable. I have used these down to the -50F, snowshoed, and carried my pack- they are awesome. The best part of these boots is the removable liner because you can take it out and throw it in your sleeping bag at night, so you can have warm feet in the morning. They are rated to -70C/-94F, and are tested in arctic regions. The ratings might seem severe, but they are just numbers at the end of the day. Boot temperature ratings are based on a person being physically active, therefore they do not mean much to photographers that are physically active then dormant for hours on end. Another good model is the Baffin Selkirk. If you have bad circulation look for Baffin Eiger with a rating of -100C/-148F. If you are trekking through powder, then a gaiter will prevent any unwanted snow from entering; I personally use Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters (make sure you size up to have them fit over the Baffin boots.).
A seat cushion is my biggest trick. I was coming back from photographing a coyote on a kill sitting outside for over eight hours in -40F (without factoring in the 20+MPH winds), and as I got back another photographer said he was driving the road all day, and jokingly said he thought I was dead. He did not know how I was outside just sitting still for so long. I learned to use a seat cushion to sit on, and another for my feet after thinking I use one to sleep on in this weather, so why don’t I use one to sit on? You lose most of your warmth from the ground, so any added insulation between you and the ground will prevent heat loss. When looking for an inflatable sit- pad you want to look for the thickest pad you can find to give the most insulation. For the most warmth use a Thermarest Z Seat- Pad on the bottom, and an inflatable pad on top, or just two Z Seat- Pads layered.
If you are always cold even wearing the gear above, then you need to look into other areas. Your body will make sure to keep your core warm, therefore if it becomes cold blood flow will be minimized to places like your toes causing you to be cold. If you are sitting still at your campsite, then take your bottle of boiling water and place it in your crouch to heat the arteries.
I hope this helps anyone struggling with cold feet; if you have any questions feel free to reach out.