Cold & Wet Feet


Experience From - Ray Zirblis#1, Will Brown #1, Unknown, Will Brown #2, Randi Young, Ray Zirblis #2, Charles Steele, Matt Mahoney #1, Karl King , Norm Yarger , Dana Roueche , David Niemi , Mike Franusich , David Zuniga , Blake Wood , Jay Hodde , Peter Bakwin , Simon Shadowligh , Mike Erickson , Rod Dalitz , Ann Stil , Steve Loitz , Debbie Reno , Rollie , Dave Cooper , John Vonhof , Doug McKeever , Larry Miller , Heidi Schutt , Rich Schick , Matt Mahoney #2 , Sue Norwood , Doug McKeever #2, John Morelock , Martha Holden#1 , Doug McKeever#3 , Tico Gangulee , Martha Holden#2 ,

Ray Zirblis #1

"My feet get cold..."
You probably know this stuff, but...

You might try some of the wool blend socks like Smart socks. Also, try a light wool or poly pro hat and gloves, even if you are just in a T shirt and shorts. Sleeves or legs from old long underwear help me, kind of like those warm up footless stockings dancers wear. I can scrunch them up when I'm hot and extend them out fully when cold. or try putting on another light layer, or wind vest. Bottom line: when my feet are cold, I put something on (or eat something.)

This may seem crazy, but here's a weird one if you want to experiment:

Mountaineering and on fishing boats, before the high tech foot gear of the past 20 years, we used to rub chili powder on our feet. I occasionally do this in below zero weather runs now. It's an odd feeling, definitely warm, though. My guess is that stream crossing might wash it off, but it seems to be absorbed and might work any way. It isn't advisable for feet with cuts, raw areas (ouch!) and it sure does funny rainbow things to socks already stained by shoe-dye bleed, etc.

If you play around with this, be very careful. One grain of chili powder left on your finger and gotten in your eye, tongue, etc. will sting.

By the way, is it possible that your shoes are laced too tight?

Will Brown #1

Jay asked about keeping wet feet warm at Hardrock, and Ray Zirblis suggested wool blend socks. I have a problem with one foot that had reconstructive surgery on it 10 years ago. I wore Smartwool merino wool socks at the Uwharrie Trail 40 in February here in North Carolina. There were frequent stream crossings and the temperature was in the high 30's. My bum right foot didn't get uncomfortable, a rare occasion in the winter.

Smartwool has thicker models than the UltraThin I was using, which presumably would add warmth. Merino wool socks are really comfortable, and I think they wick better than synthetics. They're part of my blister prevention solution, which is working so far.


Mountaineering and on fishing boats, before the high tech foot gear of the past 20 years, we used to rub chili powder on our feet. I occasionally do this in below zero weather runs now. It's an odd feeling, definitely warm, though. My guess is that stream crossing might wash it off, but it seems to be absorbed and might work any way. It isn't advisable for feet with cuts, raw areas (ouch!) and it sure does funny rainbow things to socks already stained by shoe-dye bleed, etc. If you play around with this, be very careful. One grain of chili powder left on your finger and gotten in your eye, tongue, etc. will sting.

Ray this is a very good technique for keeping feet warm. A lot of people do not know this but the active ingredient in Zostrix, an over the counter pain reliever is the same ingredient found in chili powder. You could pay 7+ dollars for Zostrix or buy a big container of chili powder at Price Club, Costco, Sam's Club, etc.... mix with a little Vaseline and voila, instant therapeutic heat.

Will Brown #2

Herb asked:

Flock of about 65 sheep too). Any who, we are having trouble finding vendors for these socks. Where can we get them? TIA.

REI has several models of Smartwool socks, but not the UltraThin. They have a Light Hiker model that might work. They make a sock liner that's about the same weight as the UltraThin, but I didn't find it as comfortable. It's higher, while the UltraThin is a lower ankle length (not as low as the Wigwam Ultimax running socks). I've got 6 pair, and they've gotten heavy use in the past year and a half. No sign of wear.

I had to call Smartwool to find a place that had the UltraThin. The one that got them for me was Dom's Outdoor Outfitters in Livermore, CA. 510-447-9629 They had to order them from Smartwool. Catch 22, but I had them in a week. I've got a Dom's catalog at home, but not here. They must have an 800 number. I fished around for a web site and couldn't find one.

Randi Young

While I'm certain that chili powder will work, there are a number of very unnecessary ingredients in the chili powder (salt, oregano, garlic, etc.). The ingredient which causes the capillary action and warms the feet is cayenne pepper.

The best method I've found for using cayenne pepper to keep feet warm is to turn your socks almost inside out, leaving the toe section cupped as it will be when you slide your foot in. Sprinkle a BIT of cayenne pepper into the portion of the sock where your toes and about 1" of your forefoot will be....just sprinkling the bottom of the sock seems to work well. Be certain to keep your hands clear of the pepper, because it will cause you immeasurable agony if conveyed to a contact lens or bare eye! As someone mentioned, you won't be happy if you try this with any open cuts or blisters nearby.

Now, keeping your feet warm is easy. Turning off the effect is the trick! When you have finished your run/climb/bike/ski/snowshoe, carefully remove the socks and rinse well. Then be certain to put them into the laundry inside out so that the suds can remove the last grains of pepper. Wash your feet with cool water and a good dose of soap. THEN (this is the TRICK), rub lotion into your feet. Doesn't matter if it's hand lotion, body lotion or suntan cream, just rub it in well, and "viola" your pepper heat will be deactivated!

I once made the mistake of rushing through the deactivation process. Many hours after showering and "lotioning" my feet, I went out dancing. To my dismay, I discovered that I'd not used enough lotion on one foot. The dancing caused one very uncomfortable "hot foot" and made for a short evening out, as the foot was too hot to continue dancing.

I've used this cayenne pepper method during the Beargrease Snowshoe Marathon in Duluth, MN, a race run in actual temps of -18F (wind chill -51). Cold feet were NOT a problem!

On the topic of socks, I've been running for years in some socks which can be very difficult to find. Rohner of Switzerland makes an incredible running sock (the Marathoner) which is a great blend of merino wool, nylon and lycra. Very "cushy" foot without the bulk of Thorlos, and warm and comfy in hot, cold or wet conditions. The socks are very expensive, unless you are lucky enough to find them on special (usual retail price is $23/pair).

Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in either the Swiss sock industry or in cayenne pepper "futures".

Ray Zirblis #2

Thanks, Randi!! It's Cayenne pepper, as you note, NOT CHILI POWDER. It's won't matter much if Chili powder is used, except you'll get that Tex-Mex smell.

Charles Steele

With respect to Jay's cold wet feet question... Wool socks work well for warmth, but I've almost entirely switched to CoolMax, It insulates when wet, dries quickly, and wears unbelievably well. I typically wear 2 pair. The first pair is a set of Wilson low top CoolMax running sox (about $5 for 2 pair at Walmart), and on top of that I wear either a second pair of the same thing for warm conditions, or else a pair of heavier Duxbax brand CoolMax hiking socks (also Walmart, $5/pr, if you can find them). They wear like iron, and don't compress the way wool ones do. (I have one pair of these heavy ones which I've worn in at least one 50 miler plus all of Rocky Racoon; they still show no real signs of wear -- maybe this is why they are now hard to find).

Another possible solution, which works although may cause other problems: Wear a baggy or the corner of a garbage bag as a vapor barrier between two pairs of socks (or even against the skin it will work). This provides tremendous insulation. It's a great survival technique; but for running might cause problems in that your feet might begin to slip some in the shoe, or the moisture buildup might lead to blistering. It can be a lifesaver hiking or snowshoeing, though. You might try it in practice to see if it works for you.

I don't, unfortunately, have any financial interest in any of the above products or companies.

On the same principle, there are also neoprene booties, and the like, but such things are likely too heavy/bulky for running.

Matt Mahoney #1

Wear a hat. I am serious. To keep you hands and feet warm you must keep your whole body warm.

Karl King

John Thieme wrote:

My question for you experienced winter runners: What do you do when your shoes and socks are soaked after the first mile?

John, when they've reached that point, you should change into dry because it's too late when everything gets soaked. But, you can avoid/delay the problem by a very simple gambit:

Put your running shoes in the trunk of your car so that they cool down to the local air temperatures. Just before starting your run, change from warm shoes to the cold ones in the trunk. If you're only running through snow, your feet will stay dry for hours. If it is a dry snow you may run the entire race with dry feet.

If you're running in wet snow near freezing, this technique is less effective.

The temptation is to put on your running shoes and get them nice and warm before you hit the cold temps. The warm shoes melt the snow and your feet are wet in short order. With cold shoes, the snow on the surface doesn't melt and soak in.

I like Wigwam Ultimax socks for wet conditions as they were specifically designed to wick moisture out the shoe, up onto the upper portion of the sock where it can evaporate. Before designing running socks, Wigwam had the good sense to ask local ultra runner Roy Pirrung what features would make a sock good for running. Thus, the absence of irritating seams, and the ability to wick out water.

Norm Yarger

..."Just before starting your run, change from warm shoes to the cold ones in the trunk"

Karl, I tried this once, it was dark in there and once I had the shoes on, I couldn't get out of the trunk.

Dana Roueche

John Thieme asks about keeping his tootsies toasty. While Norm and Karl are in their trunks putting their shoes on, I'm adding another layer to keep my body warm. The key to warm feet and hands is to keep your core body temp warm. It's hard to keep any extremity warm if you are cold to begin with and on the reverse if you are warm and toasty inside, usually your hands and feet will benefit from all that warm blood circulating.

The worst thing you can wear are cotton socks, avoid those and go with either wicking socks like Karl mentioned or I prefer wearing wool socks. Even when soaked, my wool socks do a great job at keeping my feet warm. I also wear wool mittens for that matter. So much for high tech.

The final thing to think about is to make sure to keep your head is warm and dry which will help keep your body warm which will help keep your feet warm. Notice the system concept? A good hat is critical in cold and/or nasty weather. I believe so much so, that I recently bought a $50 Outdoor Research hat that is gore-tex lined, has a brim and ear warmers all built in to one.

David Niemi

Another major part in making sure that your feet stay warm is make sure they are clean. Any sweat or dirt will transfer to the socks reducing their breathability and you will get cold sooner. In winter I always wash my feet prior to running and have often been out in -20 to -30 C weather running for 2 - 3 hours with few problems.

Mike Franusich

Besides what's been mentioned so far, like starting out with cold shoes, I've learned a couple of other tricks that can help when running on snow and in the cold. One is for keeping your feet dry and the other is for keeping your clothes dry. Here's what I do:

To keep my feet dry I start with the thick Wigwam socks, followed by soft plastic bags (non crinkly) held in place with thin socks. I use shoes with solid uppers, and put gators over those. Even if the shoes get soaked from a hidden salt-slush puddle, my inner socks stay dry and my feet stay warm.

While feet get wet from external moisture, clothing gets wet from the evaporated sweat condensing inside the layers. As your clothes get wetter the insulating effect drops and the point of condensation moves closer in until you're saturated with the outer layers maybe even freezing. GoreTex and such are not that useful for passing on moisture in really cold (way below freezing) weather because the water condenses before it can even pass through the magic layer.

The trick then is to keep the water vapor from reaching the outer layers. This might sound a bit wierd, but it really works -- put a thin wicking layer next to your skin, followed by a waterproof vapor barrier layer, then put the fleecy stuff over that. Either a waterproof windbreaker or a garbage bag will work. I like to hold the barrier layer in place with another snug thin layer. The sweat will condense on the barrier and will saturate the inner layer, but because of the dry outer layers you'll still feel warm.

You do have to think about where the water runs out, 'cause if you tuck it into your pants you can get a frozen tush, as happened to me one sunny -8 day.

David Zuniga

Actually, my podiatrist recommended I use antiperspirants on my feet. My feet sweat a lot. He recommended spraying my feet at night and in the morning. While I am not that diligent, when I do spray them it really helps. My feet stay as dry as a bone. I know it sounds weird but it works for me.

Blake Wood

I remember reading an article in a climbing magazine a number of years ago, where they had very good success keeping their feet warm by encasing their feet in plastic bags, both outside and inside their socks, then rubbing their feet with antiperspirant to prevent sweating inside the plastic bags. I haven't tried it myself, tho'.

Jay Hodde

I ran Coldfoot last year, which hardly makes me an expert on this (even though we get some rather nasty weather here in Indiana), but I discovered that the key to keeping warm was to not overdress to the point I was sweating.

I wore less clothes, but they weren't wet from sweat, and my shoes stayed relatively dry even though the road was snow-covered. Soon after I added clothes and started to sweat, I got cold. Then dropped.

Like I said, I'm not an expert on this...

Peter Bakwin

Snowshoe running/racing you get wet no matter what. Not only do your feet get wet, but the 'shoes throw snow all over your back, the back of your legs, and down your shirt/jacket. This is especially true in the great off-track races that seem to be unique to Colorado. It is important to keep the snow from sticking to your clothes, where it will melt, making you cold & wet. One trick is to spray your clothes with Pledge (waxy furnature polish). No really, I learned this one from the father (or as we like to call him, grandfather) of modern snowshoeing himself, Leadville resident Bill Perkins, and it works on nylon or lycra. My feet always get soaked, but typically not cold as long as I'm moving. I wear thick wool or poly socks that are warm when wet. Those who are prone to cold feet use use neoprene overbooties (booties made for cycling seem to work well), but I found my feet got just as wet with the booties & I don't like the added weight. Others swear by neoprene socks.

As soon as you stop you want to get into dry shoes & socks. Untying the frozen laces with frozen fingers is always an amusing challenge. Bring on winter!

Simon Shadowligh

The following is anecdotal (I have no references, medical studies, yada, yada, yada) but it's seems to have worked for me.

My experience from winter camping/mountaineering (and some running) has been to wear 2 pair of socks (I use a pair of polypro liners and a pair of Ultimax Ironman Triathlon socks if running, wool socks if mountaineering). Most importantly (and I learned this lesson the hard way with a pair of plastic climbing boots), nothing should be constricting you feet (i.e. the blood flow to your feet). I think this could happen unknowingly to a runner if they typically wear only 1 pair of socks or their shoes are a little snug to begin with. Now, because it's cold or snowing, they add another pair or a thicker pair and suddenly their impeding the flow of blood to their feet. This could also happen (I assume) if you were wearing tights and the elastic around the ankle is too tight (I just guessing about this one).

Stay hydrated: thick blood doesn't flow well to the extremities.

Keep the rest of your body warm. Your body will be more than happy to shut down the flow off blood to your extremities if your core is cooling.

To help with the above, stay well fueled (I think Scott had recommended 300 - 400 cal/hour). Seems obvious but so often the obvious gets overlooked.

Mike Erickson

I concur with Karl on the Ultimax socks and the cold-soaked shoe trick. One thing we used to do when I was a kid nordic ski racing in the '70's was rub our feet with cayenne pepper. It gets them real warm - real quick! Modern alternatives include Xostrix creme and Capsaicin-C cremes for arthritis, both of which include capsicum, the active ingredient in hot pepper...both the garnish and the defensive spray.

Rod Dalitz

Blake wrote:

I remember reading an article in a climbing magazine a number of years ago, where they had very good success keeping their feet warm by encasing their feet in plastic bags, both outside and inside their socks, then rubbing their feet with antiperspirant to prevent sweating inside the plastic bags. I haven't tried it myself, tho'.
Yvonne Chouinard recommended use of thin plastic bags for winter mountaineering - thin socks under the bags, thick socks over the top, then plastic winter mountaineering boots.

The whole concept is relevant for temperatures below freezing, because with normal socks your sweat evaporates, percolates through the socks, and eventually condenses in the cold region. So, the plastic contains your sweat, and keeps the sock dry, thereby improving the insulation. However, the warmer your feet, the more they sweat!

To keep your socks dry, you need to have waterproof OUTER layer as well. It is so much easier to keep socks dry when the outside world is well below freezing! If it rains, the rain gets in too easily.

I have tried it for cycling, and ski mountaineering, with the following results:

I tried plastic bags over skin for four days, and ended with the most amazing rash, which I believe is a sweat rash. I would strongly recommend wearing thin socks and changing them frequently.

The plastic bags are slippery, and move about while running, until they tear. So, you need to replace them as well.

My best experience is on Saunders Mountain Marathon and similar events with an overnight camp. Then, dry socks with a light plastic bag over make your sodden wet shoes so comfortable walking around the campsite!

Ann Stil

Vapor barrier socks are not too expensive and work much better than plastic bags in extreme cold. You are unlikely to get blisters and they do not tear. Be sure they are large enough. If your feet swell and your circulation is restricted you cannot stay warm and frostbite becomes more of an issue.

Steve Loitz

I use vapor barrier socks for years in my cold weather mountaineering, backcountry skiing and trail running. My problem has been foot fungus (athlete's foot?). I have had great success using a roll-on antiperspirant before putting on the thin sock liners (over which the vapor sox go). it not only keeps the sweating to a minimum but also starves the flora. (By The Way, the antiperspirant also works well to help avoid jock itch).

Debbie Reno

I was looking at some (expensive!) Gore-tex socks, and wondering if anyone has tried them. Doing snow-shoe events, I can see how these would be useful, as well as perhaps on the ultra trails. But before I invest the $$, I would love some feed-back from anyone who has used them.


I have a pair of Gore-tex socks and they work great. I would also suggest a pair of neoprene booties for running in snowshoes. They keep your feet dry and warm. Also almost all running shoe company's make a Gore-tex model running shoe. These also keep your feet warm and dry.

Dave Cooper

The gore-tex are ok but the Neoprene are a lot better.

Before Lane and I joined the ranks of the Southern CA folks we lived in IN and worked delivering newspapers from 2AM to 7 am 7 days a week regardless of weather.

We tested everything that was available for feet and hands at that time.

The winner: Polypro socks, followed by thick wool socks , followed by Neoprene booties. We could then put on running shoes (a few sizes larger) and deal with any amount of cold or snow.

The neoprene will make your feet sweet, hence the need for the polypro (to wick away), and the wool (to absorb).

John Vonhof

Debbie wrote,

I was looking at some (expensive!) Gore-tex socks, and wondering if anyone has tried them. Doing snow-shoe events, I can see how these would be useful, as well as perhaps on the ultra trails. But before I invest the $$, I would love some feed-back from anyone who has used them.
Be sure you check the socks for inside seams around the toes, the heel, or anywhere there will be pressure.

I presonally recommend the Dupont SealSkinz Waterproof MVT Socks. They do not have seams, and are made with a coolmax liner bonded to a membrane that lets moisture out but not in, and that is bonded to a supplex nylon outer sock. They have an insulated model as well as low, mid, and high styles. Some runners will wear an additional coolmax sock inside.

Their web site is

Doug McKeever

I agree with you, John, in praising the Dupont SealSkinz socks. My pair does have a taped seam, but it has never caused a blister. I wore them the entire distance at Coldfoot 100 and had warm feet even at temperatures down to -12 F and snow covered surface. I intend to wear them at the upcoming Iditasport 100 also. I have worn these socks with either Thorlo running socks or Thorlo Hiking socks underneath in snow, mud, streams and all manner of slop and have been very pleased with the performance. However, after three or four years and who knows how many tough miles, the socks are starting to wear out and are beginning to leak. Time for a new pair.

Larry Miller

My upcoming 50K involves 3-4 stream crossings. Temps will probably be between 20-35 degrees. Any suggestions on how to get across with warm feet? by the way, the cheaper the better! How about just one pair of Coolmax socks?

Heidi Schutt

I have been experimenting with putting on two pair of thin Coolmax sox (I use Defeet Coolmax sox) - so far it is working well - feet have been damp - but not cold.

Rich Schick

I agree with the don't sweat it approach though I would avoid thick sock, especially cotton. The best bet in my experience are the liner socks of whatever flavor, the thermax/polypro/capilene type will dry quickest, but a thin nylon dress sock is a cheap alternative.

Matt Mahoney #2

This summer at Hardrock I discovered I could dry my shoes faster if I lay on my back after a stream crossing, raise my feet in the air, and let the water drain out of my shoes for a few seconds. It also helped that I didn't wear socks. Even so, Hardrock has a lot of water, mud, snow, and rain, so my feet were wet for most of the 51 hours it took me to DNF. You know how the skin gets all wrinkled like a white prune after being in the tub for a long time; that is how my feet looked.

Sue Norwood

What I've found works best for me in cool/cold weather are Thorlo Light Trekker sox. They are light gray in color and thicker than Coolmax sox, but I wear the same size shoes with either. They are made of wool, acrylic, nylon, and another fiber (I don't have a package). I love them. My feet still feel warm and dry even when they are wet. They cost about $9-10 in the Atlanta area, but they are worth it.

And my Montrail Vitesse shoes don't feel wet long from streams, either. I was afraid at first that they might: they have less mesh than the road Sauconys I had been wearing for many years. But they're fine in creeks.

Doug McKeever #2

My first ultra, a very snowy/rainy 50 miler in Oregon in July, 1987, involved a stream crossing a few miles into the course. I stopped, removed my shoes and socks, and proceeded to walk across the calf deep stream. As I was putting my shoes and socks back on at the far side, a group of more experienced runners came along, splashed across the creek, and sloshed on down the trail. "So that's how it's done!" I said to myself. (Laurie Staton, you were one of those experienced runners!)

My advise for you is to not worry about the wet feet, even in cold temperatures. As you continue, your flexing feet will warm up! You could warm up quicker perhaps after crossing by removing the socks but putting your shoes back on (stream cobbles can be tough on bare feet) then replacing the dry socks, but the race clock doesn't stop just because the runner has halted. I would advise wearing something warmer than Coolmax socks, perhaps something like Smartwool trail running socks because of the wool content.

At some runs within my experience, notably Hardrock, one's feet are wet nearly continuously, and being largely snow melt those streams are danged cold! One tends to develop a certain stoicism about the discomfort (but then again, at that run there is enough to get one feeling badly that mere wet feet are one of lesser of the problems!)

John Morelock

Something with lots of swooshes or other equally recognizable logo, approximately knee length, 100% cotton (cotton droops in a symmetric manner that really catches the eye of photographers), and the really sophisticated veterans will go with the beige or taupe tinted material (the shade depending on the type of soil in the mud). Tops should be taped up with tape that has been dyed to match the color of the socks (one should not use duct tape, gauche, ugh!)

For our more daring and adventurous entrants, we recommend the twisted top, as you pull the socks on (one at a time) gently twist the sock in a clockwise (on one leg, ccw on the other) manner finishing with approximately a half rotation for anklets and a full rotation for knee length.

***** end of conventional wisdom section *****

Smartwool works real well - drys fast. Thurlo doesn't do so well, balls up in clumps under the does when wet. Sort of depends on whether you like thick or thin -- my wife likes the cool max doubles and I don't I have no monetary interest in socks.

Martha Holden#2

What's the conventional wisdom on the best socks to wear for a 5+ hour run in possibly rainy, chilly, muddy conditions?

Doug McKeever3

Martha, If your shoes have the volume to handle the extra thickness, I recommend a thicker, warmer sock than is normally used for running, such as Thorlo Light Trekking socks or Smartwool Hiking. But what I really like for running in slush for hours on end is a waterproof sock, worn over the fiber socks. I have had particularly good luck with Sealskinz socks, which retail for about $29 a pair but will keep your feet quite toasty in the sloppiest conditions.

For use in conditions considerably below freezing, the Sealskinz are not needed but they provide protection from wind if that is an issue (it is in Alaska but maybe not where you are running). Goretex running shoes, of which there are several models, have the disadvantage in my view of letting water over the top which then doesn't want to get out. The Sealskinz come up high enough (I use the midcalf model, not the knee-highs) that no water should get in if you put them under your pants, not over (but who would put their socks over their pants, anyway?)

Tico Gangulee

A cheap, easy effective way to keep your feet dry in wet weather is to use a couple of bread bags. Unless you've got really sweaty feet, it should be no problem. Put the bread bags on over your socks though, and wear fairly think socks.

Martha Holden#2

For anyone else who may be interested, below is a summary of the responses to my question regarding the best socks for wet weather running:

I bought a pair of the thicker Wigwam Ultimax Ironman socks for the Holiday Lake 50k on Sat. 2/19. The weather was questionable: a lot of rain the day before, possible rain that morning, guaranteed stream crossings. It turned out that we had a beautiful, warm (65) day for the run, but the trail was muddy and thanks to the rain, we had a few "bonus" stream crossings. The socks performed well -- I was on the course for 6:20 and my feet felt great; only a couple of very small blisters.

Thanks to everyone who responded!