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 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 or similar.

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, here.

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. Indoors, house boots or booties work really well 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 far more insulating than thin leather, full on winter boots will also have an insulating insole.

Good insulating 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 winter boots | Men's winter boots

External heat - Sometimes keeping the warmth and generating it 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 keep some of the heat in slowing the release and so that it doesn't start off being a bit too hot. There are also microwavable pads with rice or wheat and even foot-wrap-sock-slipper things for quicker heat without any messing about with hot water.

Small electric blankets for home or heated foot warmers 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 that great in gloves anyway).

Extremity Warmers

Insulated slippers
Insulated bootie slippers

Ultimate slippers
Serious insulation, not so serious sole

Shearling boots to warm up cold feet
Sheepskin boots and slippers

The other 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 socks
Wool socks

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

Battery or heat-pad powered

rechargeable handwarmer
Rechargeable 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 glovesHeated Gloves
Rechargeable battery packs
heated foot warmer
Heated footwarmers

Electrically powered warming to heat up your cold feet.

Proper warm footwear, insulated high uppers and a thick sole are needed to keep your feet warm outdoors.

Mittens are warmer than gloves for toasty fingers