A -28C / -18F day, even well equipped, is verging on unpleasant out of the sun and in the wind.
I have had a problem with cold feet literally as long as I can remember. Not the first episode I remember but one of the most vivid was having cold, painful feet was out fishing with my father late fall. No easy way to build a fire in a boat. That was in the 3rd grade.
Thankfully things have changed a lot since I was in the 3rd grade.
For the first time in decades I have taught skiing again this winter. Which in turn has limited my time to climb for the moment but has been very educational in other ways besides how the renewed focus on technique has bettered my own skiing.
Another subject entirely but.."those that can't, teach" sadly, can apply. More likely those than can, can't always teach. Those that can do a little of both, learn a great deal about how and why they can, by teaching.
Back to how to stay warm;-) I'm going to talk alpine skiing here but the lessons learned cut across all cold weather sports.
Alpine skiing is IMO a very difficult exercise in how to dress to stay warm. For most learning to alpine ski you will be on short chair lifts and the resulting short runs. So a majority of your time will generally be spent standing in line (not terrible as you can move around some and you are sheltered from the wind) and sitting on a chair lift. Sitting exposed to the full force of what ever winter weather has to offer you all while sitting in a unnatural position.
The result is most over dress for alpine skiing by dressing to stay warm on the chair.
That system works until you start skiing and working hard enough to over heat. Then you get wet from sweat at your base layer level.
So now you are over heated, sweating, wetting out your insulation layers from the inside out and about to get back in the lift line and eventually back on the chair lift. Nothing good is going to come from that scenario.
Hold that thought!
What I have described above is all too common alpine skiing. And that is in perfect "dry and cold " conditions. Add some freezing rain or a good snow storm and the problem rapidly progresses to some serious but unnecessary suffering.
Your clothing must breath well enough to keep you dry from the inside out. Then must be water proof enough to keep you dry from the outside in. And keep you warm in any situation but keep you from over heating as well. No easy feat (impossible really) for any one piece of clothing.
So if you want your clothing system (skiing or climbing) to do all this and stay comfortable you need to address a couple of things.
Will your outer layer keep you dry in the rain? (do you ski or climb in the rain) Will it breath well enough to keep you dry when you are sweating? Will you stay dry on your bike, on a run, ice climbing or alpine skiing? Do you only ski on blue bird days or are you a storm chaser?
How hard are your efforts? Are you sweating on the down every run? If so likely too much insulation. Are you sweating on the ups? Too much insulation? Freezing on the ups? Too little insulation. Makes no difference if it is trail running, ice climbing or alpine skiing. It should be the same thought process and addressing your clothing system accordingly.
I do almost everything outdoors with a pack of one size or another on my back.
What do I carry and why? A spare hat and wool head band. Different thicknesses of what I will be wearing to start the day. A light wind shell or insulation piece depending on the day's weather and length of outing. Spare gloves, again depending on the day's adventures. Which could mean warmer, lighter or just spares of the same.
Options are good. The idea is to add or subtract insulation as required, to get warmer or cool down so I don't over heat and sweat out my insulation.
Back to the feet?
It doesn't take a lot of insulation to keep your feet warm. But your feet need to be DRY to stay warm. That fishing trip early on for me? The obligatory rubber outdoor boots of the day in use which guaranteed wet feet eventually.
The best of that style of boot in the army "bunny boot" below.
But the upper is not the lower.....for warmth or intended use.
One of the best ways to keep you feet dry is by choosing the proper foot wear and staying our of the water. Not always all that easy if you are ice climbing.
Last time I had a cold injury was because I dropped a boot/foot through a hole in the ice on the approach to a climb and soaked a foot. With no spare socks I climbed all day with a wet boot and even more wet foot. I paid a price that lasted the rest of the winter for what was seemingly a minor annoyance at the time.
So if you can keep your feet dry from the outside..with a nice boot like these, how do you do it from the inside?
I have been using/testing a pair of the Dynafit PDGs all winter. And I love the freedom this boot represents to me. It is super light weight and does so many things (for me) exceptionally well.
But to use the PDG and it's minimal insulation for all the adventures I envision you have to be smart and be cautious. This is not a boot designed for ice and mixed climbing, alpine skiing off a lift or long, multiple day, back country tours. The PDG compared to a TLT is like a Porsche GT3 and a Dodge Ram 4x4.
So my first step to keep my feet really warm using the PDG 4 wheeling?
I take a shower the night before I head out in the morning ;-) TMI? I want to start the process with clean feet. I then spend a few minutes after the shower using a bottle of men's antiperspirant roll on to liberally cover my forefoot, from arch to toes and in between my toes. And I make sure I have good coverage. I then let my feet open air dry. I then apply a lwt sock to sleep in (so all the antiperspirant doesn't get rubbed off in bed) and use till I put my boots on the next morning..at the trail head or at the ski area parking lot/lodge. I also bring spare socks these days to change into if my socks do get wet.
"Proof is in the pudding"
I own two exceptionally lwt "mtn boots" that I now use a lot. Many times in tempertures they were never intended for...down to -0-F/-17C. The Dynafit PDG and the Scarpa Rebel Ultra are two such boots. I also have a problem with cold feet. Have since I was a kid. It is worse now after chemo. But staying dry is the real secret to staying warm with little insulation. And everyone has a limit of what they are physically capaable of. And that cna change daily. Even more so on your feet I think. You can get away with a lot less if you pay attention. Stay hydrated and your circulation will be better. Eat well to keep the internal furnace going and the body core temp up. Keep moving...you'll stay warmer. And stay dry while you are moving. What ever that takes :-) You can always add dry clothing. Wet clothing might well be worthless.