Finding the Right Socks, Hat, and Mittens for Walking in the Cold

In addition to covering your body's core in layers of clothing, it is also important that you find the right socks, hat, and mittens for walking in the cold in order to protect your hands, feet, face, and head, which are most vulnerable to frostbite.

Your feet are more susceptible to frostbite when they're wet as well as cold. You're also more likely to get blisters if your socks and shoes get soaked.

In cold, wet weather, leather shoes or boots are better than nylon or canvas ones, because they keep your feet drier. You can even put plastic bags over your socks. That may seem absurd, but it has enabled people to walk in snow with suede shoes for over 10 hours without ever getting their socks wet.

It's also important to wear socks when walking. Socks should be made of materials that absorb moisture well and provide adequate padding in the heel and ball of the foot.

Some walkers prefer wearing Orlon sport socks or using liners with cotton or wool socks. Whatever your choice in socks, make sure your shoes or boots are large enough to provide plenty of space around your toes. This space will fill with warm air that will insulate your feet nicely and ward off frostbite of the toes.

Some people like to wear two pairs of socks, especially in cold weather. That's fine as long as your walking shoes or boots are big enough to accommodate the bulk of the extra sock.

Otherwise, there won't be enough room for an insulating layer of warm air and you'll be more likely to develop a host of foot problems, such as blisters and corns, in addition to frostbite. The inner pair of socks should be lighter in weight than the outer pair.

There are four basic lengths of socks: low-cut socks that can't be seen above the shoe, anklets that reach just above the shoe top, crew socks that go halfway up the calf, and knee socks. Knee and crew socks are more suited for winter walking because they offer greater protection.

It has been estimated that a hat or cap can hold in 80 percent of the body's heat in cold weather. Without a hat, it's said, you lose more heat through your head than through any other part of your body. Put a cap on your head and, in effect, you've "capped" the heat's escape route.

So, following the old saying, "If you want to keep your feet warm, wear a hat." You may want to try wearing a heavy knitted wool or Orlon ski cap that you can pull down over your ears and face.

A mask can be a mixed blessing, however. Perspiration and condensation of the breath can freeze into ice around your mouth and nostrils -- not the most pleasant winter experience. Some walkers have complained that a mask tends to congest the sinuses because it inhibits breathing. Nevertheless, for safety's sake, it may be a good idea to use a ski mask when the windchill factor is low.

When the weather is really nippy, make sure to keep your ears covered, because the ears are sensitive to low temperatures and can become frostbitten easily. If your hat doesn't cover your ears, try wearing a pair of earmuffs in addition to the hat.

Mittens, not gloves, give your hands the best protection in cold weather. Snuggled together in a mitten, your fingers help keep each other warm.

Some people use tube socks as mittens, because they go farther up the arm for greater protection. In really cold weather, some walkers wear mittens with socks on top -- or gloves covered by mittens.

Go to the next section for more tips on walking in the cold.

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