Q&A: Warm Feet, Please

Question: Four of us sailed my 36-ft Moody Halberdier from Buffalo, New York to Rimouski, Quebec in Oct./Nov. last year. The biggest problem was cold feet. Sailing boots with extra socks did not do the trick in -5°C weather. Rubber boots with liners were OK. I’m planning a trip to Northern Labrador next summer. Any advice on footwear?

Answer: Keeping feet (and hands) warm and dry is definitely the toughest clothing challenge when sailing in cold weather. We used to use Guy Cotten Astron rubber boots, which have an air cushion sole that provides insulation from a cold deck and removable liners (see http://www.guycottenusa.com/ and follow the link to “Fishing”). We’d have several pairs of liners that we would rotate through as they got wet and buy the boots big enough to fit several pairs of thick socks. As you said about your rubber boots, they were OK.

Then we met a sailor in Svalbard who had leather boots with Gore-Tex linings. Wow! (Our reaction both to the boots and to the price!) After one too many cruises with cold feet, we finally broke down and bought two pairs of DuBarry Ultima boots. So far we’re thrilled with them, but we haven’t used them for long enough to give them an unconditional thumbs up—we have to see about their longevity.

Boots aren’t the whole story, though, socks matter too. We used to use synthetic socks until we discovered the joys of SmartWool. Trust us, wool really is smart—it wicks moisture away from your skin, keeping your feet warmer longer. We have several pairs, of different weights, that we rotate through as they get wet.

And, when none of the above is managing to stave off the cold, dancing in the cockpit is another strategy I have used on occasion!

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Meet the Author

Phyllis

Phyllis has sailed over 40,000 offshore miles with John on their McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, most of it in the high latitudes, and has crossed the Atlantic three times. As a woman who came to sailing as an adult, she brings a fresh perspective to cruising, which has helped her communicate what they do in an approachable way, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

15 comments… add one
  • Victor Dec 19, 2009, 10:15 am

    Several thoughts:

    1. your feet will stay warmer if not too constricted in your boot and moisture is wicked away with wool like Smartwool or similar if possible.
    2. I have a pair of Sperry Top Sider insulated leather boots which have always kept me warm.
    3. In the Jeanneau SO 45.2 the hot air from the engine compartment is vented to your feet in the helmsman’s position. Of course this is only useful if the engine is running.
    4. If still cold, dancing is probably the next step (no pun intended.)

  • Peter Feb 2, 2010, 10:12 am

    After suffering with rubber boots for an eternity, Kareen & I have used the DuBarrys for several years now including cruises to Labrador and Newfoundland and we can’t imagine being aboard without them. The one small thing I have done is use store bought orthotic inserts with a gel sole which increase comfort after long watches on your feet.

  • Alex Feb 5, 2010, 10:12 am

    Best solution is Therm-ic.

  • Darrell Feb 7, 2010, 10:15 am

    Sealskinz work pretty well in the cockpit under a pair of ordinary boots (I wear them with my deck shoes on rainy days), but for the price you could almost get a pair of cheap boots.

    We also tested boots in our October 2009 issue of Practical Sailor.

  • Pete Gallienne Oct 3, 2010, 5:24 pm

    Having spent quite some time on trawlers doing research I was told by one of the crew to try his boots. I did and was surprised that I had lovely warm feet…well at least no toes fell off. The boots were bought in Sweden from a fishing supplier and I wore 3 layers of newspaper in them, YES newspaper. Have a go.
    Regards Pete

  • Hans Jakob Valderhaug Oct 6, 2010, 1:10 pm

    I have previously tried top-of-the range Musto HPX boots. They seem to be about the most expensive boots around. Problem is their life span. When cruising in some parts of Norway there’s a lot of rowing ashore with lines, scrambling through bush to find a suitable tree to tie the land line to. My Mustos lasted two cruising seasons before beginning to leak, that’s more than 1000 Norwegian kroner or 100 pounds sterling per season of use. They had “some” care but obviously not enough. When I confronted the Musto people with this they claimed that is the expected life span with this kind of use. When cruising N Norway and Spitsbergen I now use rubber boots bought at a store supplying the fishing fleet, but they are actually farmer’s boots and they are rather cumbersome. By the way my wife Eli has the same Musto HPX boots, pampers them with a protective spray at regular intervals and tries not to wear them ashore. The boots are still waterproof in their fifth season…

  • Chris Nov 9, 2010, 10:54 pm

    2 seasons wearing Dubarry’s in the NW. Lots of stomping around rock, brush,etc. They are well worn but don’t leak and are super comfortable and warm.

    There was a comment near the top of this thread on the importance of hand warmth as well. I am satisfied with my feet at this point but have not found a great solution for gloves. Any good ideas out there??

    Chris

  • Phyllis Nov 10, 2010, 11:03 am

    Hi, Chris; Very good to hear that your DuBarrys have held out so well. Mine get liberally soaked in saltwater regularly as I clean the anchor and deck after retrieving the anchor. So far they have held out very well. I want to give them a bit more of a workout though before I give them the longevity seal of approval!

    As to hands… Not as easy to keep warm as feet unfortunately. I will be posting on keeping them warm soon.

  • Frédéric Aujard Jan 4, 2011, 6:02 pm

    What an important question !
    90% of the time, I wear sheepskin sleepers…inside and on deck, when it’s not too wet !
    For night watch, reefing out, or wet conditions, my Sperry top sider insulated boots do the job well, even in thick snow as cold as – 10°C. The soles are not designed for scrambling on muddy paths, and slip well on ice.
    For dinghy work, landing in shallow waters, I wear my insulated rubber high boots from “le chameau”, the winter boots for french fishermen, available in every fisherman’s supply store in Brittany.
    Next time I ‘ll be sailing in Canadian waters, I’ll try a pair of Baffin rubber insulated boots : they look great for cold weather.

  • Ben Mar 25, 2011, 5:40 am

    I use Dunlop Thermo+ boots. Bulky and expensive but very warm. Very common in the Antarctic charter boat fleet…

    See http://www.dunlopboots.com/business/boot-selector/results/taxonomy%3A74%2C51

    And I wrote something about them here before I found this article:

    http://snowpetrelsailing.blogspot.com/2011/03/keeping-extremities-warm-in-cold-water.html

  • Duncan Oct 16, 2015, 4:59 pm

    When I was a professional ski patroller I went thru all sorts of super expensive gloves most of which had serious flaws within a few weeks. Gloves made by Marmot were the only ones that could take it and remain waterproof and in one piece. Goretex lined and with light brown leather palms they were meant for serious work in wet/cold/icy environments.

    • John Oct 17, 2015, 8:11 am

      Thanks, Duncan, we are always on the lookout for a better glove.

  • Steve Nov 22, 2015, 11:04 am

    Phyllis,
    How are your DuBarry Ultima for insulation? I like the sound of them but just because they are leather doesn’t mean they will be warmer.

    Steve

    • John Nov 23, 2015, 2:05 pm

      Hi Steve,

      The DuBarry boots are still working great for us and kept our feet warm right through our last Arctic cruise in temps down to -2c, and I used to suffer with cold feet on every Arctic cruise.

  • Cap'n Crabby Nov 22, 2015, 12:42 pm

    When we lived in the Pacific Northwest, I used “Bog Boots” like these: http://www.bogsfootwear.com/shop/style/51407-343.html (My wife tells me that they are much less expensive at Zappos or the like)

    They’re 100% waterproof, have good insulation, and the big built in straps make them easy to get on when called on deck in the middle of the night. These boots and hand knitted wool socks kept my feet warm sailing and fishing year found in the PNW and SE Alaska.

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