How to Avoid Getting Frostbit Toes

“What’s up with your toes?” A fellow guide asked me, as he pointed to my feet that were propped up next to the warm fireplace. Looking down I see the top half of my middle toe had turned black. “That’s frostbite!” Dan tells me as he covers his mouth in disbelief. Ripping off my other sock I discover my baby toe, and the big toe on my left foot is also discolored, dark blue…

I was always under the impression that frostbite only happens when your skin is exposed to extremely cold air. So when I discovered I had mild frostbite on several of my toes, I was shocked. The guides quickly helped by getting me a bucket of warm water to put my feet into and soon my toes were back to normal color. 

Now I was paranoid. 

My clients (who happened to be doctors) that I was guiding that week informed me they thought I have a condition called Raynaud’s Syndrome. A condition in which some areas of the body feel numb and cool in certain circumstances and oftentimes, your fingers and toes will change color. As a hunting guide who spends 300 days a year in the field, this has now become a safety concern for me. Ultimately I haven’t been diagnosed but with the research I have read it appears this is what I am experiencing. Because Raynaud’s Syndrome affects the circulation to your extremities is it quite possible that I did suffer mild frostbite to my toes that night. One will never fully know.

According toThe Mayo Clinic Frostbite occurs in several stages:

  • Frostnip. Frostnip is a mild form of frostbite. Continued cold exposure leads to numbness in the affected area. As your skin warms, you may feel pain and tingling. Frostnip doesn’t cause permanent skin damage.
  • Superficial frostbite. Superficial frostbite causes slight changes in skin color. The skin may begin to feel warm — a sign of serious skin involvement. If you treat frostbite with rewarming at this stage, the surface of the skin may appear mottled. And you may notice stinging, burning and swelling. A fluid-filled blister may appear 12 to 36 hours after rewarming the skin.

Deep (severe) frostbite. As frostbite progresses, it affects all layers of the skin as well as the tissues that lie below. The skin turns white or blue-gray and you lose all sensation of cold, pain or discomfort in the area. Joints or muscles may stop working. Large blisters form 24 to 48 hours after rewarming. The tissue turns black and hard as it dies.

Below are some ways for you to be prepared and avoid frostbite:

  • Wearing a boot with higher insulation.
  • Wearing wool socks, and always having a back up pair to exchange out.
  • Wear heated socks, and heated gloves.
  • Wear a incinerator muff  (goes around your waste, made to help keep your hands warm)
  • Use toe and hand warmers.
  • Build a fire to help warm your extremities back up
  • Dry out your boots before wearing them.
  • Avoid getting your feet wet and if you sweat, put on a new dry pair of socks/shoes 
  • Wear mittens rather than gloves.
  • Continuously wiggle your toes and fingers to keep blood circulation. 
  • If you can no longer feel your extremities, head inside
  • Place thermal insoles in your boots. 
  • Dress appropriately for the weather

Stay warm and enjoy the great outdoors, safely!

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