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I've recently moved to a new city where I've been told the temperature usually settles around -20 deg C in the mid-winter.

I either run in Merrell Pace gloves or VFFs, and I've found that when the temperature gets to 0 deg that my toes start to go numb. Even with socks (with the Merrells, haven't tried injinji socks yet) my feet get pretty cold and uncomfortable.

Does anyone here have recommendations for a minimalist shoe that will help to keep my toes from freezing off, or tips to help keep the feet warm while running outdoors?

  • Good question, I was wondering the same this morning whether I should bring my Vibrams out running or if it would be 'too cold' – Ivo Flipse Dec 9 '11 at 11:03
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Have you checked out the Flow by VFF? They are supposed to work like a wet suit.

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    Could you provide more information about the Vibram FiveFingers FLOW and what characteristics about it specifically makes them good for cold weather? – Matt Chan Dec 12 '11 at 3:11
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    They have a neoprene upper. If you get a snug fit, the layer of water between the neoprene and your body helps keep you warm. – Ben Dec 12 '11 at 6:35
  • Flows + injinjis might work actually. I'll have to try this out and get back to you! – Lilith Dec 15 '11 at 2:48
  • Care to elaborate on why they're any better than the other shoes? – Ivo Flipse Mar 28 '12 at 8:22
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I really love the New Balance MO10 (W010 for the women's model).

They're super warm--Almost too warm for anything over 10°C--and water-repellent. I don't know how they would do in -20°, but I've run in them in -3°C with no trouble at all.

They're almost like the world's perfect shoe, and I recommend them without hesitation.

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  • The link was dead, please check if the substitute still links to the right model. – Baarn Nov 11 '12 at 18:19
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    I'm sorry, I don't see any links. – alord1689 Nov 17 '12 at 3:17
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An article about 5 Minimalist Winter Running Tips popped up on my Facebook feed, and seems quite relevant.

Basically, the article suggests your feet are quite capable of surviving cold temperatures, and when the article says people can run in -20, it means -20 Fahrenheit, not Celsius, so... that's really cold!

I suppose I can add my personal experience thus far. I've run with barefoot shoes in -15, with light socks just to be safe, and I couldn't even tell it was cold. Definitely layered up my upper body though, base layer, light top, and a warm top on top of those. Gloves and a hat are a must too!

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I made a soft moccasin and put them over my shoes. I got the pattern on the internet and i used sweatshirt material. Not good in snow or rain but worked on a dry surface. If not up to making your own just put a pair of heavy duty socks over shoes. My feet stayed warm like a pair of mittens on your feet.

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I cannot yet make it down quite that low in temperature while barefoot. When it gets even colder, I resort to minimalist shoes and wool socks. My current shoes include the NB MT110, Inov-8 F-Lite 195, and Inov-8 Bare-X Lite 150 depending on available traction, temperature, and moisture levels. One option I have heard recommended is to combine boiled wool tabi socks with huarache sandals. I do not have boiled wool tabi socks yet, but I have used Injinji toe socks and fleece tabi socks with my Luna ATS sandals. As Alex's linked article mentioned, keeping your core warm is a very big factor in determining how much additional temperature protection your feet will need.

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The people at Xero Shoes posted a video on the subject as well as a list of tips:

So, yes, you can handle the cold if you:

  1. Warm up indoors first
  2. Adjust your running pattern — rather than a 5 mile run, do some 1/2 mile loops (getting warm inside between each 1/2 mile and, as you get more acclimated, make slightly bigger loops)
  3. Be smart! There are no bonus points for running barefoot on the snow to the point of getting frostbite. Add some toe socks or thick wool socks and a layer of protection, like Xero Shoes.
  4. BE REALLY SMART! If you get too cold. STOP!
  5. Give yourself time to acclimate — you’ll definitely get better and better at handling the cold over time.
  6. SERIOUSLY, BE SMART!!!! (get the hint?) 32-degrees (Fahrenheit) is rarely a problem for me… but ZERO… that’s a whole other story. “Dry” powdery snow is way easier to tolerate than wet snow. In other words, adjust to reality

Comments from an earlier article back up the advice that you really want to listen to your body. Specifically, watch out for the lack of feeling that is associated with frostbite and take a break in a warm area if that starts.

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