The Importance of Proper Foot Care When Working in Cold Temperatures

Your feet don’t always get enough credit for all their hard work. They carry you around your job, climb stairs and ladders, help operate vehicles and heavy machinery, and allow you to accomplish what’s essential for a job done right.

So it’s critical to be good to your feet when you’re working. That’s especially true if you’re working in a cold environment like a construction site in winter or a refrigerated warehouse. The day-to-day stress of cold on your feet can be extreme, and you can even suffer conditions like frostbite if you’re not careful.

Fortunately, there are ways to make your feet more resistant to the cold. From boots to socks to medical care and beyond, how to care for and protect your feet on the job is must-have knowledge. By learning the secrets of cold weather foot care and putting them into action, you can help your feet work harder and faster in chilly temps—while keeping them safe at the same time. 

Your Feet vs. the Cold

You’ve probably heard the phrase “getting cold feet” used before to refer to someone who’s losing their nerve to follow through on a commitment. If you’ve ever had really cold feet at work, you’ll understand why they might make someone want to head back home. Cold feet are no joke, and they can get badly hurt if you don’t have a way to warm them up.

Blood doesn’t circulate throughout your body as easily when you’re in the cold, and that means that your body will start rationing your blood supply, sending more to vital organs like your brain, heart and lungs. That extra blood helps your organs keep working, but it also means less warmth for your feet, hands and face. When your feet are out in the cold for too long without the right protection, the lack of blood flow can turn into something really dangerous. 

How Cold Feet Can Harm You

The cold can seriously hurt your feet in two main ways: frostbite and immersion foot syndrome. To protect your feet from these conditions, you need to know how they work and what kind of damage they can do.

When your body loses blood supply to your feet for too long, they start to get dangerously cold. As the cold starts to attack your feet, the skin and tissues start to freeze—a condition called frostbite. Signs of frostbite include numbness, discolored skin, and skin that feels hard to the touch. Walking on frostbitten feet can also make the damage to your tissues a lot worse, so trying to push through your workday isn’t a good idea if your feet are showing signs of frostbite (or its early-stage form, frostnip). 

Immersion foot syndrome is what happens when your feet get cold and wet, and then stay wet for a long time (especially inside socks or boots). Your feet get swollen and itchy after absorbing too much water, then start to develop blisters and infections that can spread through your foot if they’re not treated.

The condition called chilblains is also worth mentioning. Chilblains are patches of red, itchy, swollen, and/or blistered skin that pop up after you’re repeatedly exposed to cold air. Although chilblains aren’t as serious as frostbite or immersion syndrome, they’re often painful and stick around for several weeks. That can be a big potential hit on your productivity and your ability to enjoy life. Plus, in rare cases, blisters can become infected.

Both frostbite and immersion foot syndrome can cause permanent nerve damage and tissue death, and extreme cases can even result in toes that need to be amputated. Historians even think that one kind of immersion syndrome, called trench foot, cost the lives of as many as 77,000 soldiers in World War I. That should show you just how serious it is to keep your feet dry and warm in cold conditions by wearing the right protective footwear. 

Cold Weather Foot Protection Key: Finding Your Size

The best footwear in the world won’t do you much good if it’s not the right size. Even if you can get them on, a pair of boots that don’t fit correctly can rub or pinch your feet all day. That means bad circulation, blisters, and all kinds of other stuff you don’t have time for—so take the time to measure your feet the right way before you start boot shopping.

It’s actually not hard to measure your feet at home, and you don’t need any special tools to do it. Just follow the steps in RefrigiWear’s Boot Sizing Guide to trace and measure your foot on a piece of paper, then find your size on our sizing chart. Once you know your size, you can start thinking about what kind of features you need from your footwear. 

Cold Weather Foot Protection Key: Knowing Your Enemy

What you need from your foot protection will depend on what kind of environment you’re dealing with. There’s no one-size solution when it comes to foot protection, so it’s important to know what obstacles you’ll have to overcome and what your feet will be dealing with.

Major questions you’ll need to think about include:

  • Does your job have a high level of physical activity, or does it involve long periods of sitting still?
  • What are the average temperatures you’ll be working in?
  • Is your job mainly indoors, mainly outdoors, or a mixture of both?
  • Will you be walking through water or other liquids?
  • Will you be walking on iced-over surfaces?

Take all of these factors into consideration as you’re shopping for winter foot protection. Whether it’s winter work boots or winter work socks, you’ll have an easier time making the right choice when you know what kind of protection you need. 

Cold Weather Foot Protection Key: Winter Work Boots

Your boots are the main piece of gear that’s standing between your feet and the wrath of winter, so it makes sense that a good pair of winter work boots should be your foundation for cold weather foot care. Investing in a high-quality pair of insulated work boots will help keep your feet warm for years to come.

What should you look for when you choose cold weather work boots? As we just discussed, everyone will have their own must-have list, but there are some key characteristics most people should look for:

  • Insulation made from warm and lasting materials like Thinsulate™
  • Durable construction that uses materials like nylon or leather
  • Ankle and arch support to keep away aches and pains
  • Soles with plenty of anti-slip tread for walking on slick surfaces
  • ASTM steel or composite safety toes to protect your feet from impacts
  • Waterproof design
  • Rubber heel plates to make the boots easy to remove

RefrigiWear has the women’s and men’s winter work boots that will help your feet thrive and survive even in the most bitter cold. Our Extreme Pac Boots are our most advanced extreme cold weather boots, with slide-in liners for customizable warmth and a rugged, waterproof nylon upper. For those looking for a more athletic style, our PolarForce™ Hiker Boots pack 800g of Thinsulate™ insulation into a sporty hiker design that’s just as good on the trail as it is on the job site.

If you love the classic look and feel of leather work boots, we’ve got great options like our Platinum Leather Boots, with an eight-inch waterproof buffalo leather upper and 1000g insulation rated for comfort at -35ºF. No matter what style of boot you’re looking for, RefrigiWear can help you find something that’s warm, comfy, and durable.

 Cold Weather Foot Protection Key: Winter Work Socks

Don’t ignore winter work socks when it’s time to suit up for a chilly work day. Socks are crucial for keeping your feet comfy and warm all day, and you might not get the performance you need with regular gym or all-purpose socks. Cold weather workers need socks that are specially designed to go above and beyond. 

With winter work socks, you’re looking for things such as:

  • The right blend of stretchiness and warmth
  • Breathable designs that help air circulate in your boots
  • Welted top sections to keep your socks from sliding down
  • Moisture wicking that draws sweat away from your feet and helps you stay dry and comfortable

Moisture wicking socks are especially crucial for physically active jobs where your feet will be sweating as you work. If your sweat stays on your feet, the cold air will cool the sweat rapidly, stealing your feet’s warmth and putting you at more risk of frostbite and immersion foot syndrome. Moisture wicking works by drawing the water away from your skin, protecting your feet from the cold and keeping them more comfortable as you work.

RefrigiWear work socks are made from a blend that uses Merino wool for thickness and insulation, with different materials like Spandex and polyester blended for stretching power. Models like our Extreme Socks even come with venting channels built into the top to keep air circulating through your boots for extra comfort. And our Performance Socks are built for maximum moisture control, with a moisture-wicking design that targets and removes sweat on your feet.  

Cold Weather Foot Protection Key: Bundling Up

It’s easier for your feet to stay warm if the rest of your body is warm, too. When you’re warm enough that your body isn’t worried about rationing blood flow, blood will keep circulating through your feet and hands.

To keep your blood flowing at optimal levels, you’ll need insulated clothing that forms a barrier between you and the cold. You can achieve that by dressing in layers and choosing clothes that have quality insulation materials like Thinsulate™, a synthetic insulation that’s more cost-effective than down and performs better in wet conditions.

RefrigiWear has plenty of options for total body warmth, including our legendary Iron-Tuff® Coveralls that are rated for warmth at a teeth-chattering -50ºF. Or, grab a pair of our Frostline™ Bib Overalls with Performance-Flex and pair them with a flexible, heavy-duty winter jacket like our PolarForce™ Jacket

Cold Weather Foot Protection Key: All-Around Health

 Keeping your whole body healthy and in good shape helps to prevent conditions that can cause cold feet. If you’ve got the right winter gear on your feet but you’re still struggling to keep them warm enough, it’s worth talking to your doctor about whether you might have one of these conditions:

  • Raynaud’s disease
  • Anemi
  • Hypothyroidis
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Anxiety disorders

Remember to also take care of your feet before and after work. A good after-work shower will help remove the sweat, dirt, and grime of a hard day’s work, and applying a little moisturizer can be really helpful to keep the skin on your feet from getting dry and cracked. When your feet are well cared-for off the clock, they’ll reward you with better performance while you’re on the job.

RefrigiWear knows that our customers need advanced protection for their feet just as much as they need it for their torso, head, or hands. We’ve got over 60 years of expertise in crafting the hard-working winter footwear that our customers trust to keep their feet warm, dry, and protected. Your feet help you do just about everything, so don’t leave them out in the cold—choose the foot protection gear that’s proven tough and designed to be unstoppable.