We’ve all been here a time or two…Your cell cameras have been hot and now you’re on stand during a much anticipated late season cold front, your boots are packed with toe warmers, yet you’re flexing and curling your toes in hopes of bringing warm life back to your feet.
There’s nothing more uncomfortable or distracting than frozen feet on a whitetail hunt. I used to be a tough guy and just suffer through numb toes in cold weather until I finally realized I was suffering for no good reason. Following these short and simple steps can give your feet hope during cold frigid whitetail hunts.
When most people talk about late season clothing systems, moisture control is usually a hot topic. The script readings something around adequate layering and wearing light base layers on their way in to control moisture. This is due to heat loss through evaporation. Control moisture levels, control evaporation, and limit heat loss. It’s actually relatively simple on paper.
When we talk about keeping our feet warm during cold frigid weather, moisture control only seems to come up around keeping water out of our boots. Beyond limiting water ingress, moisture control should start with the fabric worn next to skin.
A lot of experienced cold weather hunters say wearing a silk, synthetic, or thin wool liner sock does wonders under their heavier main insulated sock. This next to skin layer or liner sock is the key to not only controlling moisture but also creating air gaps between layers which we’ll talk about later.
Personally, I’ve always ran a thin merino sock layered underneath a second heavy wool sock. I am high on merino wool as a liner due to it’s insulating abilities when wet, this is ultra important if you are hunting swamps or marshes (mishaps happen). Quality merino socks certainly aren’t cheap but I’m not into pinching pennies around my time in the deer woods.
- Add a small amount of foot powder. While this isn’t a common practice for hunters, it’s used across the athletic world daily.
- Never put on wet or damp boots
- Avoid over tightening your boots
- Air your feet out after any long hikes in. In frigid cold weather this might just be unlacing your boots and venting for a minute or two.
Insulate with Air
If you grew up hunting anything like me, when the weather got cold you just stacked on more layers…long johns, sweatshirts, and whatever else you could laying around. And we still found ourselves freezing… To accomplish proper layering, you need space and/or air between layers. It’s not just about adding more material.
Start with a thin base sock, as previously mentioned. While your next to skin sock should fit snug, it’s critical that your first layer is not too tight. Wearing a base sock too tight will restrict blood flow and ultimately work against keeping your feet warm.
Add in your insulating sock. Again, proper fit is everything. Your goal isn’t to simply increase the thickness of material around your foot but to add a layer that traps heat/air next to your base sock. Any insulating sock with loft seems to work well.
Battery operated/heated socks are now becoming a thing and for good reason. They work! There are a plethora of options out there for numerous use cases. For late season hunting, I’d recommend a synthetic heated sock that has the ability to control different heat levels and turn on/off as needed. This allows you to run no heat when you are physically active, properly vent when you first get on stand, and then run heat cycles as desired.
- Size up when layering
- Go for loft
- Consider socks with toe box material mapping – Added/reinforced/engineered material on the toe portion of the sock.
Not all boots are created equal. While rubber boots are a popular choice among whitetail hunters, they simply don’t cut it in frigid temps. Regardless of how much insulation they have, my experience has been rubber boots will always get cold. I contribute this back to moisture control.
In place of heavy rubber boots, look at a well insulated pac boot or even mountaineering boots. During the 2022 late season, we ventured to Wisconsin with the opportunity to hunt with Dan Infalt. We consistently saw temperatures well below single digits without windchill. A solid system to control moisture and layering system inside a pair of Crispi Guide GTX boots with 200g of thinsulate insulation was enough to keep me going but I did add toe warmers a time or two.
If more cold late season opportunities were in my future, I’d strongly look at a 600-800g thinsulate pac boot. But here in Ohio, we just don’t see cold enough temperatures to get the use out of that purchase.
- Avoid tight fitting boots
- Synthetics will breath better than leather
- Add waterproofing treatments as needed
- Add gaiters if water exposure is a concern
When it comes to the shell around our feet nothing is more important than limiting heat loss through conduction. As whitetail hunters we usually find our feet sitting on cold metal tree stands or saddle platforms that rob our feet of any potential of staying warm.
Much to my suprise just adding a well built insole in my boots seemed to help. While aftermarket insoles were purchased to help fatigue and overall condition of my feet on western hunts, using them in cold frigid temps whitetail hunting was a nice bonus. The increased footbed thickness seemed to help just enough to notice.
Boot muffs have also emerged onto the scene in the last few years. Think of a sleeping bag, form fitted for your boots. Personally, I have no experience with these however, it seems like a good concept and fairly fail proof. I say fairly fair proof….You need to keep them dry and most importantly you need to remember to put them in your pack. Boot muffs are not designed to walk in.
Giving credit where credit is due, several years back Byron Horton of The Whitetail Experience, discovered a unique hack to protect his feet from conductive heat loss while on stand. Horton, would take old winter socks and cut out the toe box making a sleeve to put over his boots. The added protection is enough to make a difference and adds a creative way to use toe/hand warmers on top of boots if desired.
While each noted item has its benefits in aiding heat loss in the late season, keeping your feet warm in frigid whitetail hunting conditions should really be looked at as a system. Each part of the system carries a small advantage, when combined each becomes exponentially better.
Author: Chad Sylvester, Exodus Co-Founder/Owner