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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Warm feet? Do I want a Double or Single boot?

 Or maybe better asked, "How to avoid this?!"

This is the Internet.  So, the following is basically a "rinse and repeat" of earlier info posted prior.

I'll get to the boot question in a minute.  But if you have never had cold feet, feel free to skip this one.  Cold feet have been a reality for me since my very first outdoor endeavors, literally starting in the 3rd Grade!   That was a long time ago and I have learned to manage cold feet for the most part, even after some serious chemo induced neuropathy, but warm feet are still an ongoing process, decades later.

I can barely remember now, crying from the pain in my feet as a 3rd grader, and twenty years later the pain of having to walk off Mt Rainier in cold mid-winter condition in only my socks.  My feet swollen and frost bit from a bad bivy on top of Liberty Cap and unable to wear my boots once my feet unthawed.

I like technical gear and those discussions.   But let's start this conversation with some basics that have little to do with the gear you buy.   This part is free, just needs to be installed on your hard drive, located between the ears, and is worth more than any pair of boots.

Been a while since I have made a serious blog post.  But if you can make use of the search function here, in the content are some comments on staying dry to stay warm. 

It took me a long time to figure out a lot of my cold feet issues are/were caused by wet feet.  I now suspect my feet naturally perspire more than the next guy's.

VBL socks and antiperspirants can help there.   I have used both to good effect.  I have climbed a lot in some very cold conditions, (-40C and elevations up to 22,000ft ).   I've only had minor frost bite once, that winter in Mt Rainier in 1976.   

Bottom line on wet feet?  If your socks get wet from sweat your feet will eventually get cold.  You can protect the insulation in your socks with a VBL (but they tend to slide around some) or by using a good dose of rub-on antiperspirant.    I like antiperspirant and a thin sock, relying in the boot for insulation.

More on the boots shortly.

You need to know the source of the problem before you can solve it, right?   So, no wet feet!

That is a good start.  A number of reasons I can now list as to why I froze one of my feet on Rainier.  All, but one, were trivial mistakes by a rookie.    The same mistake, most make, is the culprit almost every time.


Get dehydrated and tired in cold weather and you are very likely to become a frost-bite victim.  Simple as that.  Both dehydration and physical exhaustion are pretty much a part of winter alpinism.  Do your part.  Stay hydrated, and go out physically fit.


No one wants to be a mouth breather.  And not everyone is Colin Haley.  If you can climb as fast as Colin, you might get up the Cassin, unharmed, in single boots.  If you plan of belaying all the mixed pitches and stay a couple of nights out on the Cassin, best to take a good pair of double boots and enough fuel (which means bringing a stove) to stay hydrated.  

Colin wasn't the only one on the mtn that year (2018) in singles.

"5) Better gear.
Compared to my previous attempts, my crampons, ice axes, helmet, umbilicals, and clothing were all lighter weight. Also, this time I carried single boots rather than double boots, and no stove."

Cassin Ridge Speed Solo – Skagit Alpinism (

Common sense once you figure it all out.

The black set of toes above?   Not mine thankfully.  And I wasn't on that particular climb.  But it was one of the coldest nights I have spent in the mountains sitting in a tent below them. They had an open bivy.  Temps lower than the climber and his gear were prepared for.  But I'd guess it was the dehydration and wet feet (from hard climbing all day) that were the real culprits.   It wasn't fitness or a gear issue IMO.   

Look closely at any climbing frostbite injury and very likely something similar will jump out as the cause.

Cigarettes?   Not an uncommon suggestion. Nicotine is indeed a vasodilator.  Best to do some more reading on the subject if that is the answer you prefer.   I'll stick with dry feet and a better water intake :)

"Vasodilators dilate arteries and/or veins. This results in increased blood flow and lowered blood pressure. Vasodilators are commonly used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart conditions."  

"Hello friends with terrible toe circulation, have any of you tried a full double boot and found it to be significantly warmer than a lighter tech option?" BM

Not an uncommon question.

Still, I don't think it is the right question on how to solve "cold feet".

Good hydration, dry feet, and right up there, as the "most important" basis for warm feet, is boot fit. If the boot doesn't fit well you are simply screwed from the get-go.

Almost everyone will find one brand of boot a better fit than another brand of boot. The boot you may have your heart set on (and your pocketbook) may be the worst boot for your feet. A smart buyer will use the Internet and their credit card to order in every boot that you think will do the trick and rug test them all for fit. Simply return what you know won't work and sort the rest in the comfort of your own home. The results may surprise you.

Dry feet? Check.

Manage your fluid intake? Check

Perfect boot fit? Check

The perfect boot? Ya, not so much ;)

A few have used fruit boots on Polar Circus. No need really, as the climbing isn't all that difficult. I've used double boots there several times in cold weather and really light weight tech boots there in nice weather and Spring conditions. 8hr suffer fests in the cold or 4hr romps under blue skies. Pick your poison for the boot and the conditions.

But that is what alpine and ice climbing are all about, right?

A lot of difference between "perfect" conditions and a bad day out.

Photo is from a few winters back. A bunch of us were trapped on top of the Midi in a storm. Notice what the locals are wearing for boots. I was the only one waiting for the tram the next morning, in single boots. And very glad I didn't have to spend the night in the loo again in singles.

Technical ground in double boots? Sure. But every ounce on your feet eventually adds up to pounds on your back.

If I can stay warm, I will always choose a lighter boot. The cost of the wrong choice may be steep.

"You must ask yourself, is it $1000 total, or $100 per toe?"  JJ

Last but not least.  How many pair of boots do you own?   For a long time I owned a pair of mtn boots and a pair of rock shoes.  It was all I could afford.  

These days I own 4 different pairs of mtn boots.  All sorted by weight and warmth.  Overdone?  Sure.  But having warm and dry feet, and the least amount of weight/bulk on my feet makes the $ spent per toe worth it to me.

My "old" double boots (the Scarpa 6000 I wrote about below) are still working fine. But there are a few new ones I'd love to try.   But up front, the boot needs to fit your foot and your use, not mine.  Good luck!

And finally, all viable, modern options, to extend your comfort level of your own boots.

Lenz socks

Thermrup insoles

chemical toe warmers

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