Barefoot in the Cold

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, Winter is upon us. And people email me every day asking what to do if they want to be barefoot or minimalist in the cold weather. While I’ve written about running barefoot in the cold before, this is a whole new thing 😉

First let me say: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. In other words, don’t go out and try to imitate me.

I’ve been barefoot running for over 2 and a half years, and haven’t worn a pair of real shoes for more than a total of 3 days in that time.

Last winter, I thought, “I’ll keep my barefoot shoes on until it seems too cold.” And the next thing I knew, it was Spring!

So, clearly I’ve acclimated. And that’s not too surprising. Humans (and our hominid cousins) lived in cold climates without shoes for a LOOOONG time. So, we’re kinda wired for it, if we give ourselves time to adapt.

Here’s the video I just shot, after we got 18″+ of snow in Boulder. It’s about 15 degrees out.

What I did is this:

  • Outside for about 10 minutes
  • Inside to dry off my feet and warm them for 5
  • Outside for another 10
  • Inside to dry and warm for about 3
  • Outside for 30+ minutes… by this time my body temp had gone way up. I was sweating quite a bit. And my feet felt totally warm. Not numb. Warm. When I got inside after finishing the shoveling, they didn’t have to thaw or warm up or anything.

Lena wants me point out that you should check the Wiki about frostbite so you don’t do something stupid and get hurt 😉

The content of this post does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your health or a medical condition.

22 thoughts on “Barefoot in the Cold

  1. I have frostbitten my feet by being barefoot in the cold. Long, stupid story that I won’t bother with. It wasn’t very hard and didn’t take very long, and I didn’t know what was happening until later when all the skin on my feet came off in big sheets. When your feet go from cold to painful and then the pain stops, that is a danger sign – and there is no way to know if your feet feel warm because they are warm or if they feel warm because you have temporarily or permanantly damaged your nerves and your feet are slowly freezing. To this day I cannot tell the difference between cold and hot with my feet. So yes, this is a really bad idea. I don’t think there is any evidence at all that humans in our current iteration ever successfully spent cold winters without shoes or frostbite, and even if they did there is no reason to think we can replicate that living in modern heated homes for most of our lives. Also, what is the point? I like being barefoot more than most people, but it is just not worth the risk.

    1. Sorry to hear about your experience, Jocelyn.

      I’m all for being cautious. At the same time, to simply say “being barefoot in the cold” is inherently dangerous seems oversimplified. How cold? How long? While doing what? What sensations are you feeling? Are you numb? Is movement hindered?

      I made only to show that one can adapt more than we often imagine. I’m not suggesting that we should live our lives outdoors, barefoot, in freezing temperatures. I spent about 45-50 minutes outside (the last 30 or so, non-stop), I never felt pain or numbness and movement was never impaired. Clearly, my “technique” was to go inside and warm up whenever I felt any discomfort (until the discomfort never appeared). Were I to spend hours outside, especially in wet conditions, I wouldn’t do it barefoot.

  2. Steven – Being barefoot in the cold is uncomfortable. We’re all not you.

    It could be a good product in temperate weather but stretching the sales pitch like this puts your entire marketing hoopla into question.

    1. Hi Brendon,

      I’m not saying everyone should be like me. Which is why we sell

      I’m merely pointing out that what we THINK are our limits may not be.

      BTW, when we started our business (November 23, 2009) most of our initial orders came from Michigan and Minnesota… they were the ones who inspired me to see what would happen if I was simply curious.

      Take care… Feel The World

  3. Tabi socks – maybe not so great for snow but perfect for cold windy days.

  4. Actually, the time that I was talking about — 15,000 years ago — is when people WERE wrapping their feet and making sandals that are remarkably like ours.

    There are also STILL people who live in cold climates with little-to-no footwear.

    The research into footwear (there’s a shoe museum in Toronto… have you been?) shows no evidence of footwear during times that hominids were living in very cold climates. While they *may* have had footwear, it hasn’t been found yet.

    Similarly, many argue that humans need footwear in hot climates, or locations with rough or thorny trails… but there are still groups that live in those places without shoes and without a problem (the occasional cut or bruise is not inherently a problem… and must be balanced out, when considering footwear, by the various problems that shoes may cause). In other words, they’ve adapted to their environment.

    I’m not *recommending* that anyone let their feet adjust to the cold. I’m merely pointing out that it happened to me (and to many people that I know).

    BTW, the problem with your “get frostbite, win money” idea is that since you’ve announced it here… well… I think you get my point 😉

  5. Being a person who has spent the last thirty years barefoot year round, mostly in New England (from Rhode Island to Maine ), the most that I ever wore was thong sandals similar to yours (and sometimes socks), and that was in winter. I live mostly outdoors. I think if you do wear them for winter, its best to start in summer and let your feet acclimate. If donning socks they should be wool as close to 100% as possible. I’ve never found wet socks a problem just wring them out and put them back on. Also it helps to wiggle your toes a lot, I notice people who wear shoes, don’t move their feet enough, restricting circulation.
    Happy Bare footing, Cheers

  6. The problem with the internet is, lot of people thinks it’s ok to be A-holes. Would you talk this rudely to Steven if he were standing in front of you?? If you actually read what he wrote & not read INTO what he wrote, you’d see he was never advocating or encouraging anyone to go outside in the cold with these sandals. Quite the opposite “First let me say: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. In other words, don’t go out and try to imitate me.”

    I suggest that you some of you guys/ gals go to therapy & deal with the anger issues inside of you that make you take it out on others.

    Rock on, Steven!

  7. Just thought I’d chime in that my feet handle cold a lot better in these than I expected. I grew up in Wisconsin – unless I wore boots, my toes would get cold and numb if I was outside for a while.

    Now, my feet get pretty red (as his do in the video), and they *feel* the cold since they’re exposed (mostly as a breeze), but they never go numb or painful as long as I’m moving. My feet stay entirely comfortable, even warm to the touch. I attribute it to better blood flow in my feet after getting used to minimal footwear, honestly. My feet would be white and cold after taking off my shoes, but not in these.

    Staying still is another matter. Then the cold ground starts to affect my feet in a minute or two, and it’s about as bad as you’d expect. And I don’t think they would handle cold and *wet*, like partially-melted snow, but that would also feel a lot colder and I very likely wouldn’t want to in the first place.

  8. If your face can handle a low ambient temperature, your feet can handle it better. I run with vibram 5-fingers all winter. They offer no thermal protection or protection from wetness, but they don’t need to. After 20 minutes of running, without fail my body shifts into a new thermal equilibrium, a warm comfortable state from head to toe. As long as I’m moving, it stays that way. Watch out for wind though. Frostbite happens to exposed skin because wind can take 20 degrees from the temp (Celsius). This is the case all the way down to about -25C (-13F) when **other** body parts start going numb 🙁 And No, this is not just me. We all have the same kind of circulatory system, more or less, but for it to keep you warm, it must be active.

  9. Steven, you are always going to get the odd aggressive and uninformed person who denigrates your product or views. Personally I wouldn’t entertain the rude and obtuse with the courtesy of your reply. I live in Canada so with a simple dose of common sense – which is not so common in this litigious world we live in – I will not be running barefoot in -20F. But I can absolutely attest that your body does acclimatize. We have warm Chinook winds that come through Calgary and we experience dramatic temperature increases. On days when it has been -20F and colder the wind will warm it up within hours to 15F and we will be walking around with t-shirts and shorts. You wouldn’t find me in t-shirts and shorts at 15F in the middle of summer though. I would be freezing.
    I ran barefoot when I was young, thousands of kilometers with no problems. I stopped running for 12 years and when I started again in my mid thirties with my expensive professionally designed running shoes I had problems with my IT band, calf cramps, backache and extremely painful Achilles etc. Every morning I would hobble for 20 minutes until my Achilles warmed up. I saw your product this weekend on TV and it has reminded me to go back to basics. I’ll be ordering a pair of Xero’s from you. Thanks for making this product available.

  10. Areyoucrazy: Where didn’t you learn your manners? Based on your theory, there is no way to anything. I’ve never stood on the moon, so I should assume it isn’t solid? It seems to me that Steven has done plenty of home-work, and promotes the “barefoot” thing without all the hype of the other companies. Thanks Steven!

  11. I knew a guy in college who wore leather sandals all year. Sandals and shorts and a t-shirt. Had a theory about humans being tougher then we thought. I myself do wear sandals in the winter (if it isn’t too snowy) but I wear them with socks. So.. do able with good socks..? Maybe.

    1. Socks are totally an option. Either an oversized pair of wool or cotton socks, or check out

  12. Funny thing about the human body. I went to New Mexico to go skiing and it was in the 20s. I walked around town, in the snow, in my Vibram KSO’s with no issue if having cold toes/feet. Yet, back in San Antonio, working out early in the morning, still in my KSOs, with dew on the ground in 45 to 50 degree weather, my toes stung and went numb from being cold. Temp change in NM, +- 5 degrees. Temp change in SA, 35 to 40 degrees (highs in the upper 70s). I am going to get a sheet of you DIY classic for my son and I to make matching sandals. He’s three, and after I showed him a how to video, he got excited to “help daddy make shoes.”

  13. I don’t know why you’re such an unhappy and miserable person, but there’s no need to project it onto others. When your reaction is all out of proportion to the event, you might want to look inward and ask why.

  14. Sounds very time efficient. I would just use boots.

    1. LOL… it only added a few extra minutes. But I was just curious to see how one could handle/adapt to the cold.

  15. Very clearly says that you should check the Wiki about frostbite for yourself. He also recently designed closed shoes. I would not do this. I got frostbite from a cold pack I had put inside the large boot I was given to support my ankle after a severe sprain. It was NOT fun. On top of that, I couldn’t ice my ankle at all until it healed. If this isn’t for you, don’t do it. If you think you want to, go ahead and try it. Same thing for barefoot running. Ever since I discovered the wide toe box of some brands, there is no going back for me. I wish the shoes were more fashionable sometimes, but the most fashionable thing I can think of is having great feet that really support me when I’m older, and not needing hammertoe surgery after all.

  16. Nobody would suggest that you can violate the laws of physics 😉

    Cold is cold. The longer you’re in it, the colder you get.

    You may want to look into the options from Drymax socks. You may also need to use more than one layer, with each layer doing something different. A pair of Aerogel insoles could also help

  17. I’ve never even heard of a foot warming cream until your comment, so, no.

    Sounds like it could be interesting… but I can’t remember the last time the tops of my feet felt cold. It’s not uncommon that my hands will be freezing when my feet feel fine.

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