As an extremity, your feet likely will get cold before any other part of your body. That chill can make for an uncomfortable walk and quickly sap your energy. Combine it with wet feet, and you've got a potentially dangerous situation, especially in winter, as hypothermia or frostbite can set in.
Keeping your feet warm and dry during a hike starts with how you dress. Always layer your foot with a wool sock – not cotton, which is a poor insulator and retains moisture, actually worsening the chill – and a waterproof boot over them.
In addition, make sure there is no gap between the boot top and the bottom hem of your pants. Wear mid-cut hiking boots with waterproof pants – rather than denim, which don't dry quickly – with elastic bands that can be rolled over the boot top. This will keep snow and rain from dripping into your boot and will help block the wind from striking the lower calf.
For infants and toddlers who you’re lugging in a child carrier, consider insulating their feet with merino wool socks and a down bootie. Also watch for a gap between their boot and pants, as this is more pronounced when one is sitting.
If your feet tend to sweat, wear a different sock and shoe when driving to the trailhead. Once you arrive, towel off your feet then change into your wool socks and waterproof hiking boots so that you start the hike with dry and warm feet.
Finally, keep a pair of dry wool socks and a hand towel in your backpack. Should your feet get sweaty or chilled during the hike, you then can switch out your socks. Before changing, take the socks out of your backpack and tuck them into your shirt against your body so that they warm up.
Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.