My feet are quite wide and so I prefer to wear sandals. I wore sandals for over 700 miles of my round Wales walk back in 2013, and wear them throughout the winter.
When the temperature drops below zero, or snow gathers on the ground, I am often asked, “don’t your feet get cold?“.
Having been asked so many times, I have decided to put down in writing my observations about healthy winter feet in the hope it will help others.
Basically, the thing to remember is that it is all about colours, and follows a roughly linear series of stages. However, do note I am a sallow-skinned Caucasian, so all reference to skin colour should be read in that context.
Look at your toes.
What colour are they?
Press the side of your toe with your finger. Does it change colour?
1.1 Yes, it goes a bit pink and then fades rapidly back to white.
That is normal and healthy, you clearly aren’t taking this whole extreme winter walking thing seriously.
1.2 Yes, it goes deep red and only very slowly back to white.
You have an infection, maybe due to stage 2.2a on a previous walk. Visit the doctor to avoid stage 3.
1.3 No, it stays white.
Bad news, you are a zombie.
Stage 2. Red
Are your toes painful?
Well at least they are still alive.
Well at least they don’t hurt. However numbness means does cause certain dangers.
2.2a – You might prick your toe on a thorns, or rusty wire and not notice, leading to infection.
2.2b – You might step on broken glass and bleed to death.
2.2c – You might step in a fire and burn yourself.
Stage 3. Yellow
Blood poisoning, you missed warning 2.2a
Stage 4. Blue.
Your circulation has stopped entirely. This will lead ultimately to limb death, but at least you won’t bleed to death (warning 2.2b).
Stage 5. Black.
Is that charcoal black?
You forgot warning 2.2c didn’t you?
5.2 no, more dull grey/black.
Frostbite, get to the hospital quick and they may save some of your toes.
Stage 6. Green
Gangrene, no time for the hospital, find a saw or large breadknife.
Stage 7. What toes?
You missed stages 5 and 6.
Download and print the Quick Reference Card so that you can conveniently check your foot health at any time.
Last word … on a serious note
My feet are still (despite misuse!) healthy. However, for many this is a serious issue, not least for those with diabetes. When I was child my dad, who was diabetic, dropped a table on his foot and had to be constantly monitored to make sure it didn’t develop into gangrene. Diabetes UK have their own foot care page, and a list of diabetes charities you can support.