November is inching its way closer and we just had an eye-opening start to cold weather and the long winter here in Wisconsin. The silver lining to the early cold and snow is that the whitetail rut and its action-packed deer hunting is not too far away. Long hours in treestands and ground blinds are ahead of us, and the topic of how to keep your toes from freezing off comes up a lot. We wait all year for these few weeks of the hunting season, and frozen toes are often the culprit of good sits cut short. Here are a few tricks that I’ve learned to keep my feet warm and stay in the game throughout November.
Public enemy No. 1 for warm feet is sweat. And I sweat like a pig. If you actually have to walk more than a couple hundred yards to your stand — often the case on public hunting land — and you’re wearing your heaviest socks in your most insulated boots, your feet will probably sweat like a sumo wrestler in a sauna, too. So the trick is to go light. Wear a light pair of gym socks, cotton is fine, for the walk to the stand. Your feet will still sweat in your warm boots, but those cotton socks will soak up a lot of it. Before you leave, pack dry, insulating wool and blended socks into a gallon-size ziplock bag. Push the air out of the bag and seal it up. Then, when you reach your stand, or nearby, change out your socks, placing the sweaty cotton ones into the ziplock and seal it shut until you get home. Your boots will be warm from the walk, and your feet and socks start the hunt out dry.
When the temps plummet toward freezing and lower, wool, wool blends, merino wool like the stuff from First Lite, polypropylene and silk are your toes’ best friends. You’ll eventually learn a system of what works best for you for temperature ranges and different types of boots. All of these materials wick moisture away from your skin, which is key. Polypropylene and silk are a little better at it, so these thin liner socks go on first. Then the wools socks for insulation. Sometimes you may need two pairs of wool socks on, depending on the temps and your boot size. Check the labels of the socks to make sure they’re not made of cotton, or have too much cotton in the material. The more cotton, the less warmth. Most importantly, make sure the socks are not too tight — circulation and air space are both vital to staying warm.
Get the best insulated boots that you can afford for your type of hunting and the temperature ranges and weather you’ll be hunting in. Many manufacturers make high-quality, incredibly warm hunting boots, it’s just a matter of what fits your feet and your budget. LaCrosse Hunt Pac Extremes and Alphaburly Pros have been my go-to boots for several seasons now. Before that, I wore Army surplus rubber Bunny Boots and Mickey Mouse Boots with great success. The key with boots for staying as warm as possible, is to get a pair a half-size to even two sizes larger than your foot size. Having some air space inside that boot is critical to keeping your little piggies toasty in a blizzard on your best rut stand. Trapped air is one of nature’s best insulators — just think about the puffy insulation in down jackets and in the insulation in your home. If you’re wearing extra-thick socks and your feet are cramped in regular-size boots, it simply won’t work. Try on your boots with all of those socks on before buying anything, trust me on that. Bigger boots will be a little cumbersome to walk in, but it’ll definitely be worth it when you can pull an all-day sit in your best spot.
Toe warmers work, there’s no doubt about it. But for me, their use is all about the timing. If I activate them immediately upon setting up for the day, my feet will get too warm and they’ll be frozen too soon. So, I have found that waiting to activate the heaters and placing them in my boots just before my toes really start to get past the point-of-no-return cold, then they can save the day. Remember, the heaters are activated by air, so they need some air space in your boots to last as long as possible — another reason to get your boots a little larger than normal.
If you can, have a piece of carpet or foam rubber on the floor of your stand, especially a metal stand. That metal will suck the warmth out of the most expensive boots on the Cabela’s shelves faster than a Shelby Mustang runs a quarter-mile.
Move your feet. Keeping your toes and feet moving throughout a sit will circulate the blood and create some friction in your boots — both will add warmth. Curl your toes back and forth, shift your weight from foot to foot, flex your leg muscles in place, etc. All of these movements can be performed unseen by any wildlife, since you’re just doing them in place. Plus, it pushes off boredom during an all-day grind. Keep a schedule and do those little exercises every half-hour or 45 minutes, it helps pass the time when the deer movement is slow.
Everyone has a system that will work best for them, and trial and error is usually the only way to find out. If you put together a few of these warming tips, you’ll have a leg up on Old Man Winter.