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Q&A

Winter Camping: How to warm up your boots in the morning?

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Is there a good technique to warm up your boots in the morning? Should you just put them on and warm them up with your feet or is there a better alternative?

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5 answers

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Should you just put them on and warm them up with your feet or is there a better alternative?

In fact, I've found just putting them on and putting up with the cold for the first few minutes isn't that bad an option when you're used to it. It feels horrible putting them on, but after doing that and running around the tent a few times (which helps me wake up also!) the discomfort soon disappears.

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General tips to help you out:

  • If your boots have felt liners, then remove the felt liners and keep them in your sleeping bag. It goes a long way to making things bearable in the morning, but I'd only recommend doing this if your liners are dry.
  • Once you've set up camp, switch to hut slippers. This lets your boots/liners breath as moisture evaporates.
  • Put your boots near a fire or heat source for an hour or two if possible to prevent them from freezing. Be careful not to put them too close or rubber will melt/crack, leather will harden, and lace tips might melt. Do not put them in an oven as it's too easy to overcook them and ruin your footwear.
  • Open your boots wide (like Zoul said) and loosen the laces so that they are easier to use if frozen in the morning.
  • Wear Gore-tex socks over your wool socks. That way, even if your boot is still wet/frozen in the morning it won't permeate your socks, and your feet still get to breath (and stay dry if you have a dunker on a lake).
  • You might avoid freezing laces by putting (dry) towel or similar over your boots. Frozen laces are the worst. Another option would be to take the laces out and bring them in your sleeping bag but then you're introducing moisture in your bag (bad bad bad idea).
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Stick in handwarmers like 15min (subject to the type you're using) before you're going to put them on.

I like the crystallizing type for this purpose, but if you are going to be opening a pair of iron-oxidizing warmers type for the day anyway, you might as well put them first to your boots.

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One option is to take them with you into the sleeping bag, just as anything else that needs to keep from freezing (like gas or batteries). I feel like my sleeping bag already takes enough beating as it is, so the boots stay outside. I just make sure they’re wide open, so that I can get them on my feet in the morning even if they’re frozen. Running a few meters to and fro makes them bearable for the time required to get on the track, then they will slowly warm up. Ah those winter mornings :)

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I have found sleeping with my boots inside the bag is the ONLY way to go when it is really cold out. Moderately cold, sure you can tough out the re-thaw in the morning - but real cold... forget it.

It is tough to get over the psychological barrier of putting boots in your bag - but it will make a difference. A few points to consider:

  • During the day, sweat builds up in your boots. Leaving them out at night, this freezes, meaning that not only do you have cold, frozen boots in the morning, if you do manage to get them thawed, they are still damp (BAD). Dry boots are a necessity**.
  • If your boots have liners, separate them from the shell, and put both in your bag with you. (Even if you don't have liners, take out the insoles to facilitate drying.)
  • If it is truly cold, no amount of running, jumping, sticking them in the sun will warm them up in a reasonable amount of time. You are putting yourself at risk of cold injuries.
  • On the subject of cold injuries - trench foot, etc, results from prolonged exposure to cool damp conditions. Several days of un-dried boots can cause lasting issues.
  • Heavy duty boots can be impossible to put on if they are well and truly frozen - the leather/plastic/liners are so stiff, it would take a contortionist to get your feet in.

** Some people swear by plastic socks (gore tex, nylon, or even plastic bags) to trap the moisture your foot generates inside the bag before it reaches your boot. Although this keeps your boots dry, it can make for a miserable squishy hiking/skiing experience -- but might be the only way to keep your boots dry during prolonged exposure.

If you can't stomach your boots in your bag (it is not that bad, really) you can try the following fuel or time-intensive measures:

  • Boil water, pour it in nalgene type (well sealing) bottles and cram those as far down in your boots as you can.
  • Hold boots over stove / fire for as long as it takes (be aware of melt-age).
  • Camp somewhere with ready access to early morning sun. Place boots on closed-cell foam pad in direct sunlight. <-- Though at -25F, no amount of sun will do it...
  • Consider hand/toe warmers (chemical based heat machines) to put in your boots with your feet to facilitate rapid warming.

Bonus Protips:

  • Make sure your socks are dry as well by sleeping with them close to your body at night. I have found draping them over my shoulders/chest, directly against my skin gets them dry by morning.
  • Down booties are great for keeping your toes toasty until the last possible moment before the boots go back on. It is easier to stay warm than to get warm.
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