snow-footprintsAs I’m sitting here drinking my nice hot cup of coffee and watching the flurries blow into my window, I can’t help but wonder how many crazies are out there running in the snow right now.

Ok, maybe that’s not fair, I’ve given into the urge before to go outside and train or run around during some pretty hellish winter conditions. Hey, it’s kind of fun! And once I had finished putting together my minimalist snow boots, I actually felt like I could truck around without murdering my knees with high-heeled hiking boots.

But, I just know there are some people thinking to themselves that this could be a neat opportunity to go try out barefoot running in the snow. They could even get that coveted “I’m standing in snow without shoes” photo which they can boastfully post as their Facebook profile pic. [1]

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. When it comes down to it, for a lot of people running around barefoot in public is a way to kind of stroke your ego a bit. I’m not saying most people don’t start minimalist or barefoot running for the right reasons (injury prevention or healing), but there is definitely a small bit of satisfaction to be had when other people look at you in disbelief or come up and ask you about your crazy toe shoes.

It’s ok to admit this, we’re only human after all. Well most of us are at least, this guy is a freak of nature.

But let’s be rational for a minute. With cold weather, especially when it is windy, rainy, or snowing, there is a very real risk of getting frostbite in your feet if you’re running around barefoot outside. Heck, you also have to worry about some of the salts and melting compounds that get put down on icy sidewalks to keep them from being a slipping hazard. This stuff can be a skin irritant.

There are some barefoot guru’s and such, who will gleefully extol the reasons why winter barefoot running is an amazing experience, and how it is no problem at all. Of course, some are a bit more level-headed in this regard, but despite their experience still get frostbite. [2] Sure, the human body has mechanisms for generating heat, thermogenesis and brown adipose tissue, but that doesn’t mean that you in particular are well equipped to do so. It doesn’t even have to be snowing or below freezing to get frostbite. If it is cold and wet enough, the heat will be sucked right out of your toes.

Look, I’m not saying it isn’t possible to do safely, I’m just saying that most people won’t be adequately cold-adapted or prepared enough to do it. This may sound a lot like the podiatrists warning people about hurting themselves with barefoot running, but it’s different. Humans did evolve to run, and they started doing it barefoot. But, they started barefoot running in Africa not the North Pole. There is a reason why humans invented things like moccasins, and I don’t believe it was for their stylish appearance.

There is no evolutionary based reason to exclusively avoid the use of footwear, just like there is no reason to completely avoid cooking your food like raw-foodists suggest. They’re both tools and skills that humans developed as part of their long period of adaptation to this planet. When used appropriately they’re very useful, and obviously when used inappropriately they can be detrimental to our health, such as with modern running shoes or overly processed foods, respectively.

If our bodies were engineered to go trucking around in the snow without clothes or shoes, we’d have thick fur covering our skin and pads on our feet like wolves do. Well we don’t, so we invented to closest things to them. Obviously, some people are more adapted to handling cold weather than others, but Inuit still wear animal skins. And yes, there are historical accounts by Julius Caesar of Germanic warriors fighting in the nude even in winter time, but that is ego coming into play again.

If you do plan to go outside and frolic in the snow barefoot, just be mindful of the risks and keep checking on your feet. Be sure to wear warm clothes and insulate the rest of your body. And most of all, keep moving, the body heat generated from your muscles will help to keep your feet warm through the circulation of your blood. If your toes and feet feel numb and never regain feeling or warmness, give up and go back inside. Don’t be that guy with a pic of frostbitten toes, instead of the cool one taken in the snow.

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6 Responses to Be Rational About Winter Barefoot Running

  1. Good advice here, and thanks for the compliment (I think?). I see a lot of crazies running around barefoot in the snow and 99.9% of the time, it’s a bad idea.

  2. James Howell says:

    I spent last winter arguing with some obsessed barefooters about running in snow, ice, etc. They argued “it’s natural” and I counter-argued that our ancestors weren’t stupid; once they moved north and found snow and ice, one of their first moves would have been to wrap their freezing feet in animal skin, grass, or whatever. I cannot believe those ancestors, trying to keep from freezing to death, would have made their lives purposefully more difficult by running around barefooted during the winter. It just ain’t reasonable.

    • David Csonka says:

      Yeah, that’s basically what I’m getting at. Sure, some modern inventions have proven to be less than beneficial for us, but that doesn’t mean everything man-kind has devised should be thrown out.

  3. Sid says:

    Some very good points. Even my dog needs to wear shoes in the winter to avoid the frostbite and road salt. I also seem to remember something about archeologists finding some seriously old mummies with shoes on. People have been putting on clothes in order to survive in hostile enviroments for a very long time.