In SKI’s “Ask the Boot Doctor” column, professional boot fitter Sam Tischendorf helps Outside+ members diagnose their specific ski boot issues. Join Outside+ to read Tischendorf’s expert advice. To submit your ski boot questions to the Boot Doctor, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I get cold feet when I’m skiing, even when it’s sunny and warm out. I’m thinking about buying boot heaters or heated socks for next season. Is one better than the other? – Susan R.
I also really struggle with circulation to my toes, so I always ski with boot heaters and use them to regulate my toe temperature even on a hot, spring ski day. I can be quite strong in my opinion about the debate between heated socks and boot heaters, but I prefer boot heaters, myself.
Heated Socks vs. Boot Heaters
- Heated socks are a great option for skiers who aren’t picky about their ski socks
- Boot heaters are best for skiers who like to ski in ultra thin ski socks
Heated socks are fantastic if you’re looking for something that will keep your feet warm during different kinds of winter activities. I use heated socks for things like fat biking or nordic skiing. But I’m really hypersensitive in my ski boots, and the texture of heated socks, although it continues to improve, is not the same sock-feeling as you get from a traditional, super thin ski sock.
If you’re not that discerning about the texture of the ski socks you normally wear and how they feel in your ski boots, a heated sock can be a wonderful option. But for skiers who, like me, are really picky about their ski socks, the standard boot heaters are the bee’s knees. There are different brands out there that use different technologies, so make sure you find a system that works for your foot and boot fit.
Related: The 6 Best Heated Gloves for Skiing
Boot heaters are installed directly onto the toe box of your footbed. Depending on how your bootfitter installs it, an incision is often made on the footbed and through the liner to run the cord from the heating element to the power pack between the liner and shell. This means that after the system is installed, the boot heater will always be there on the footbed. But if you decide down the line not to use your boot heater anymore, you can just cut the wiring and leave the element there and it really won’t be a bother.
Most bootfitters know this, so this is more for people who install their own boot heaters at home: You don’t want the heating element directly under the metatarsal heads; you want it placed as far forward in the toe box as possible, towards the end of the footbed, otherwise you might notice a slightly harder texture underneath your metatarsal heads, which can cause discomfort. If installed correctly onto the footbed, you shouldn’t even notice that it’s there.
Read more: Why you should consider custom footbeds
I suggest that people don’t try to do this installation themselves. We see so many customers at our boot shop who do at-home jobs, and they’re an absolute mess. It’s no wonder these people come into the shop and say their boot heaters don’t work, or they can’t feel the warmth, or all of a sudden something feels super bizarre in the boot. Pay the extra little bit of money to get boot heaters installed by an actual bootfitter.
One thing to remember about boot heaters is that they’re not designed to heat your foot and heat up the entire boot. It’s really just designed to cut the cold. If your feet get too hot in your boots, they’ll sweat and your socks will get wet, and then you’ll get cold feet whether your boot heaters are on or not. So always keep the boot heater on a mid- to lower temperature setting to cut the chill of the air as opposed to creating a really toasty effect.
On that topic: Heated ski gear to help you extend your days on the slopes
How to Avoid Cold Feet When Skiing
- Make sure you’re wearing the right ski socks
- Dry out ski boot liners after every ski day
- Avoid starting the day in cold ski boots
Which brings us to the next most important point: Some people struggle with cold feet while they’re skiing because they have bad circulation to their feet and toes; heated socks or boot heaters are a great solution for these types of skiers. But some people who don’t have bad circulation may also struggle with cold feet if they’re wearing the wrong socks, not drying out their liners, or starting the day with cold ski boots.
If you otherwise don’t have problems with cold feet and hands, check the socks you wear while skiing. Perhaps they’re too thick, causing your feet to sweat and then get cold while you’re out in the elements. If you wear thicker socks than the ones you had on when you had your boots fit, that might also affect the circulation to your toes.
Another common root cause of cold feet in ski boots is wet liners. It’s common for snow to creep into the plastic shell of ski boots when you’re skiing. Manufacturers have tried over the years to fix this problem, but I’ve found that good old Gorilla tape over the gusseted area of the shell is the best solution. You could also consider a neoprene boot glove to help keep snow from getting into your boots.
Be conscious when you get boot modifications done that any work on ski boot shells can compromise how watertight your ski boots are. Although bootfitters do their darndest to keep that gusset area from changing too much, sometimes that’s unavoidable.
Your liners might also get wet from sweat if your feet overheat. Either way, it’s important to dry out your ski boots after each use. You don’t want to end up with hands like mine, so keep your liners in your boot and use a boot dryer to dry out wet liners at the end of the day. A boot dryer that blows room-temperature air into the boots is going to be much more effective than even taking your liners out of your boots to dry. Most boot dryers have a 24-hour timer, so just turn that on and keep it on. And make sure you dry out your boots at the end of the season before storing them for the summer.
And lastly, never start your ski day with cold boots. Don’t leave your ski boots in the car or in a cold garage overnight; store them inside the house or by a heating source to make sure they’re at least room temperature before putting them on.
If you struggle with cold feet when you’re skiing, try to get to the root cause and address that versus going up a boot size. Skiers with bad circulation might be tempted to go up a boot size to give their feet more room, but I advise against that. A bigger boot might not fix your circulation problems, but it will definitely affect your skiing performance.
Sam Tischendorf is one of the very few professional female ski bootfitters—or as she likes to say, professional feet ticklers—in the industry. She currently works at Bootdoctors in Telluride, Colo., is a member of the Masterfit University teaching team, and collaborates with Blizzard/Tecnica on the Women To Women gear project.
More Advice from the Boot Doctor
What’s the deal with cabrio-style ski boots like Dalbello and Full Tilt?
How old is too old when it comes to ski boots?
How to measure your own feet to determine your ski boot size
If you’re stuck in the backseat while skiing, check your ski boot flex