Is there an argument for removing your boots to prevent frostbitten toes. Lets say you are at 4000m in the winter in a snow cave with no sleeping bag and frostbite is probable, but death is unlikely.

I'm guessing that if there was a benefit to removing the boots, it would be from increased circulation.

  • 3
    In described situation I would say you need to temporary remove boots to warm-up your toes to prevent frostbite. For that altitude in winter I would use double boots so you can stay only in inner boots. It also depend how many people in snow cave. If 2-3 people in snow cave the the temperature can be quite high. May 15, 2017 at 11:50
  • @user1209304, thanks. In the back of my mind are all the stories I've read of high altitude emergency bivvys of the old great climbers of yesteryear. If you wanted to post this as an answer...
    – llama
    May 15, 2017 at 11:55
  • if you are in a group you can place your feet on a partners belly, this is a common quick way to get some heat to your feet and increase circulation.
    – AM_Hawk
    May 16, 2017 at 16:14

4 Answers 4


As an anecdote, I did. I unexpectedly bivied overnight during a snowstorm at 14kft in -15F, 50mph winds with a pack, bivy sack and warm clothes. I had dry feet prior, didn't have an issue getting the boots back on, and walked out in the morning without frostbite.

I used my pack and boots to stabilize the loose snow ledge and provide insulation. I alternated between warming my toes and fingers throughout the night. I've always found my feet are warmer without boots, but I have had severe injuries and my feet swell quite a bit so perhaps the pressure adversely affects them.

  • Nice! Glad you came away reasonably unscathed. I always appreciate experience in these answers.
    – llama
    May 15, 2017 at 20:43

I only see an advantage if your boots are wet:

Then I would advise to remove the wet shoes and socks. Maybe you are in the lucky position to have some dry spare socks in your backpack. If not you may have a bivi sack to heat up your extremities. Otherwise you can at least put your feet in your backpack. This would help immensely.

If the boots are dry, I don't see any advantage in removing them. You can loosen the laces so they won't fit too narrow but they will still give you lots of urgently needed insulation. In general your feet shouldnt swell because of the cold environment but your feet might swell when they warm up again in the snow cave.

Another important point: It might seem you have wet socks only because your feet are sweating. Or you have just this false friend feeling. Keep in mind that it might be difficult to get the feet back in the shoes if those are damp (or your feet swell by warming up again) so think twice if you wanna remove the shoes, you might not be able to get them on your feet again.

Regardless of wet/dry feet with shoes on or off: Always observe your overall condition and in particular your extremeties (hands, feet). Especially when you get numb feelings, try to massage them, try to swing the arms and legs to get the blood flowing. Work as a team, observe each other, maybe massage each other, don't forget to melt snow if possible. Drinking is important not only due to acclimatization but also to get the blood thin and therefore flowing to the extremities.

  • 4
    I would also mark the essential part of the last paragraph in bold. Before the essence seems to be: Don't remove boots unless wet. However in the short term you should absolutely remove the boots regardless to massage them. If you're in early stages of frost-bite (getting numb, whitish skin), massaging is the way to go. Once that helped or your too exhausted to go on, you can put them back into the shoes or a sleeping bag as recommended.
    – imsodin
    May 15, 2017 at 15:09
  • 2
    If your boots restrict circulation, you can loosen the laces and wiggle your feet without taking them off.
    – RedSonja
    May 16, 2017 at 10:41

@Willis has a great answer which I don't entirely agree with. However, I do not believe there is a right answer so am not saying leaving boots on is wrong - its very situation dependent. Generally I would advocate removing boots unless there is good reason not to.

Leaving feet in boots means little movement, loss of blood flow therefore loss of heat. In such a situation of a force overnight bivy, frostbite is very likely unless you can maintain blood flow to the extremities - leaving boot on all night will almost certainly mean frostbite by morning. You need to get heat to the feet.

The only way to increase blood flow to cool extremities is movement - massage or exercise. With boots on, in a forced bivy, movement of feet and toes is extremely limited. With boots on, there is not way to add heat.

By removing boots, you can massage feet and use hands to get cold muscles moving and increase blood flow- you can also stick the feet under armpits etc (your mates, not yours) to obtain heat. Clearly this is not an option if solo, leaving blood flow as the only way to get the heat where its needed.

Unless you are extremely disciplined about looking after your feet, once you stop feeling them, you will not be bothered removing your boots, and sacrificing hand warmth in the process, to warm them up.

  • 4
    Good points. Doug Scott attributes his lack of frostbitten feet while unecpectedly bivouacing with Dougal Haston at 28,750 feet after summiting via the South West Face because he removed his boots and masssaged them and also placed them inside Hastons clothing.
    – Paul Lydon
    May 16, 2017 at 11:26
  • Would wiggling the toes help (to maintain blood circulation)? I'm a bit skeptical about removing shoes in cold. May 17, 2017 at 8:58
  • 1
    From experience, its hard to keep it up. Once the toes cool down and blood flow is restricted, you can't get enough new warm blood to get heat back in.
    – user5330
    May 17, 2017 at 9:06

Down slippers weigh very little and store very small. Always pack them and use them along side high altitude down overmitts. Dont find out the hard way.I used them on the Cairngorms overnight minus 22 with the wind, in a bivvy shelter partially covered in snow. Of course the best way to retain heat is out of the wind and off the ground so always have a 3/4 lightweight thermo matt.

  • i just got some recently : )
    – llama
    Feb 13, 2021 at 16:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.