How to Warm Cold Feet and Hands

Whatever the cause of your cold feet or hands, you'll want to do something about them, here are some practical suggestions to help you make it through the winter months (and others too) without your icy extremities bringing you down or keeping you indoors.

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There are many reasons for having feet or hands that feel cold, it is an effect of a number of medical or physiological conditions and if you are particularly badly affected consulting a doctor could be a good move as it may be indicative of some underlying condition.

The most frequent cause of cold extremities however is to be female. Not that some men don't suffer in a similar manner, it's just that women overwhelmingly suffer from cold hands and feet more than men do. The pay off for this is that women are less likely to suffer from hypothermia than men are as they are better at retaining heat in the body core. This may have been of use when living in caves and dressing in ill fitting furs, but is rather a thin advantage these days.

Cold extremities may be exacerbated by Raynaud's Disease.

I refer to feet and legs in what follows, but it also applies to hands and arms, it got a bit clumsy referring to both areas all the time.

You can't have warm hands or feet in isolation

Don't radiate heat needlessly

The reason your extremities get cold is often that your overall body temperature isn't as warm as it should be. In order to retain heat in the core, your body reduces blood flow to the extremities as they act like radiators and cool the blood down. So step one in keeping your feet warm is actually to keep the rest of your body warm as it is designed to keep warm from the core outwards, with hands and feet being the lowest priority. So if you're walking around with any part of your legs exposed wondering why your feet are still cold, it's because that bare skin is radiating heat away before it gets to the feet as your body keeps the upper part warm as a priority. Just to fool you, the bare region might not even feel so cold.

Wrists and ankles are often thinly insulated or not insulated at all, cover them with boots or booties and use gloves or mittens with long cuffs that go under or over your sleeves.

If your feet are cold, put on a hat

An old saying that is an extension of the point above, your head loses heat quickly as it is often uncovered. Adding a layer of insulation in the form of a hat will mean your body has more heat to go round so your feet and hands are more likely to warm up. This works wherever you are, indoors or out. The same applies to other clothing, you won't have warm feet if the rest of you is cold.

The greatest heat loss of footwear is to the ground

In the warmer months of the year we don't really notice the insulating function of our footwear and most of the time a simple thin sole is enough to keep the cooler ground unnoticed. As the temperature falls however, the cold ground can drain the heat away precipitously.

As hot air rises, so cold air falls, so when indoors you can help warm your feet by lifting them off the floor on a foot rest.


Warming Things

For Socks - wool is best, avoid cotton except for thin inner socks. Outer socks should have a high % of wool, 70%+ is best, some synthetic content aids wear and comfort (stretchiness). Don't stuff too many socks into close fitting footwear, it's trapped air that keeps the heat in and squashing it out  with an extra pair of socks will make them less effective and you colder.

Sheepskin / Shearling - An excellent material for making warm footwear from, it is a great insulator, it has the property of being able to wick away moisture (you might not like to think of it, but your feet sweat gently all the time) helping you to stay warm. It is also hard wearing, so your sheepskin footwear will be up to the job of keeping you warm and will last through a lot of intensive wear too. Make sure it is the real deal and not some "faux" substitute.

Insulated booties as slippers - Possibly the warmest of all indoor footwear, originally used by mountaineers inside their tents so very warm but not so hardwearing to walk around in.

Shoes and boots - Boots are warmer than shoes, they cover the ankles which are often uninsulated or poorly insulated. Being taller there is less chance of warmed air being pumped out. House boots or booties work really well indoors with all the benefits of boots and the comfort of slippers.

Thermal insoles can be used in the shoes or boots you already have to give them an insulating boost as lots of heat is lost downwards through the ground as temperatures fall. Thick man made soles are better insulators than thin leather, full on winter boots will also have an insulating insole.

Good warm winter boots don't need multiple thick socks, the boot insulation will provide most of the warmth. Boot liners for rubber rain boots are good to winterize boots you may already have.

If your workplace is warm but the journey cold, keep your day footwear at work and travel in your more serious cold weather gear.

Women's | Men's

External heat - Sometimes generating the warmth yourself just isn't enough and some extra help is needed. Hot water bottles are traditional, low tech and effective, especially if they have a cover which helps slow the release of heat and prevents it starting off a bit too hot. There are also microwavable pads with rice or wheat and even foot-wrap-sock-slipper things for quick heat without any messing about with hot water.

Small electric blankets for home or heated foot rests for the office can provide extra heat.

Hand and foot warmers - These come in a variety of types, air activated, slowly burning fuel or with a battery to provide the energy to generate heat. They can used on the commute or where you are standing for any length of time in the cold, keep one in each pocket to avoid having to swap a single one back and forth, here.

Mittens are warmer than gloves - Having all your fingers in the same compartment keeps them warmer than having them individually wrapped. If exactly the same materials are used to make gloves and mittens, the mittens will always be warmer. A cheaper pair of mittens can be warmer than a more expensive pair of gloves if you can cope with the loss of dexterity (which isn't so great in gloves anyway).

Extremity Warmers

Insulated slippersInsulated bootie slippers
Ultimate slippers
Serious insulation, not so serious sole
Shearling boots to warm up cold feet Shearling boots, also ultimate slippers.
Insulation while wicking sweat away

Thermal Insole Thermal Insoles
Give an insulating boost to the footwear you already have

Feet/foot warmers Feet / foot / toe warmers
Air activated heating pads

Wool socksWool socks
Wool is the best sock material for warmth and moisture wicking
heated socks
Heated Socks and Insoles

Battery or heat-pad powered

tundra women ruthRechargeable Hand Warmer
Power packs that can be used for heat or battery back up for your phone
kamik women snowvalley
Hand warmers

Air activated pads to keep your hands warm

heated mittens
Hand warmer mittens

Mittens/gloves with a pocket for Heat Factory hand warmers
heated gloves
Heated Gloves

Rechargeable battery packs

baffin men mapleMicrowaveable Heat Pads
Booties and pads, microwave for a few minutes for up to half an hour of heat
baffin men evolutionHeated pads and footrests
Electrically powered warming mats to heat up your cold feet.

See those bare legs? Will they listen? No, no they won't, but we know better.
ugg women cecileWomen's Winter Boots
e.g. Baffin Ease Tall - Women's

Amazon - Zappos
Temperature rated: -30C/-22F. to 10C/50F, nylon shell rubber sole
columbia women minx
Men's Winter Boots
e.g. Baffin Maple - Men's

Amazon
Waterproofed, nylon / rubber outer, rated -40F/-40C, traction sole


Mittens are warmer than gloves for toasty fingers