How do you keep your feet warm??
I get a lot of questions like this from people who are just starting out typically in the veterinary aspect of this sport (volunteers for races etc), but this is a a good discussion for others as well!
My number one answer is - Everyone is different and you have to find out what works for you BUT this is what works for me and this is what I do. Disclaimer you really do have to do what works for you, and with in your budget, but if you are planning on spending mega hours outside you have to have good gear. I live on a very tight budget but good gear is something that will always be worth the money. I'd rather be broke than dead or have lost body parts to frostbite. Other disclaimers, I will only wear something if its functional for me. As a musher function over fashion is the way we live! Here we go!
XtraTuffs I live in the spring/summer/fall. These are pretty standard here in Alaska and they are actually pretty comfortable too. Doing tours and working in a muddy dog yard, they keep you dry up to just below your knees. Here I have them flipped over so that I can wear multiple layers and thick socks to keep my feet warm in the winter. Added traction is needed occasionally because of melting snow etc. I use YakTrax or other ice cleats over them so I'm not dumping buckets of expensive dog food all over my yard.
These aren't the lined winter boots but most of the time I'm just using them around the dog yard for a couple hours a day my feet stay warm because I'm moving around. I wouldn't want to stand around in these for very long on a frozen ground. They are neoprene, they do make thicker winter style boots and even ones with steel toes but I have the just the regular Xtra Tuffs!
Out of the dog yard we go!! I have several combinations of boots that I use depending on what I'm doing and how cold it is. First lets talk about mukluks! A lot of people love these boots and I am one of them! My feet sweat something horrible and I am constantly changing socks or liners in any kind of packboot (something with a rubber bottom and a canvas type top) so i prefer to spend hours in my mukluks! I have 2 pairs of mukluks that are very different.
First we have the Steger Muks, these are the traditional and beautiful boots! I honestly wear them as slippers around the cabin, to work (I change into tennis shoes there) and around town. These are my fancy boots! The reason being, I can't stomp a snow hook in with the soft sole and if they get wet it takes a while for them to dry out. LOVE these boots but for standing around at checkpoints they are not ideal unless paired with a set of Neos (see below for more info). I also am not a fan of the leg laces unless I'm dressing up to go to a banquet or something. In this picture I have the tops rolled over to the liners so they are easy to slip on and off as I need (usually to use the out house! )
Second we have Lobens. LOVE these boiled wool boots. I wear them all the time. I will wear them on the trail for shorter training runs and when its warm out. They have a more solid sole than the Stegar muks, and even when wet will keep your feet fairly warm. Once again they are not really for standing around unless paired with Neos, but for my sweaty feet I really like these as an option! The one down side to this boot for me is that there is very little ankle support and my feet and back get tired quickly.
Last but not least we have Empire Canvas Mukluks. I LOVE these boots. I can wear them on the trail for days, I wear them standing around at check points I can run up and down hills with them, stomp in hooks stand on the runners whatever I need. They are amazing boots! IF they get wet however the buffalo leather that is around the foot part will freeze. The fast laces really keep the boot on your leg and allow for expansion for layers as needed. They also provide stability for your ankles while not cutting off circulation to your feet. They use regular wool liners and I've had this particular pair of boots now for about 10 years. Kevin at Empire Canvas will resole them as needed for a nominal charge and really stands behind his workmanship!! Can't say enough good things about these boots!
On to the trail we go!! For running long distance my feet need to be able to breath. Have I mentioned I have sweaty feet?? I also need some cushion and stability for my ankles, knees and back. For all of this I've turned to Cabela's TransAlaskan packboot. These are a lot lighter than you would think they would be, they get you off the ground to help keep your feet warmer and give you a little clearance if you run into overflow (a few inches...). They also have the "racing laces' which I love because they don't come untied, and don't end up in a knot when you are dead tired and just want your boots off. I've tried a bunch of different liners in these boots and they all work just fine for me. Down side is they are heavier than your mukluks but I've never had cold feet in these boots and I've ran in some pretty cold temperatures (-50ish....). I like them!
Ok now we get to the Neos. What are these? This picture isn't ideal but if you Google Neos Over shoe you'll find more information about them. They are basically an over shoe that helps protect your boots or shoes under from water and help give you some extra insulation, especially for those mukluks or Lobens. I've even seen mushers wear tennis shoes in these to get their running up and down hills easier! Very versatile and nice to have. There are a bunch of different kinds, if you want the kind for winter, make sure you get the lined ones with the taller gator option (will help with over flow and deep snow). They even have ones that have ice cleats in them for walking around on slippery icy surfaces. If you are standing around a lot these will help keep your feet warmer. One thing to not forget is that they are waterproof, you will need to let your boots that you wear inside dry out by removing them from the Neos.
I hope this helps! Best thing for me is making sure I have dry socks, dry liners and warm boots. Starting with warm feet helps keep them warm! Making sure to keep them dry is really important, changing socks frequently and liners as needed is essential! Moisture will cause lots of problems over time! Also wearing appropriate boots is important. I'm not going to wear my TransAlaskans if its 30F... my feet will be puddles in minutes. And I'm not going to wear plain Lobens when its -50.... Common sense is also very important!