05 Oct Cold weather footwear
The human foot has been adapted in shape and structure from our tree-climbing ancestors to facilitate support and control of body weight in bipedal-terrestrial locomotion (Elftman and Manter, 1935; Rolian, 2009). Unlike other specialist walking and running mammals, humans have not evolved hooves, pads or other thick tissue to protect the weight bearing surface of the feet. Human feet are vulnerable to injury from puncture and extremes of temperature.
Risk of injury from cold exposure is particularly high in cold climates, with pain and discomfort rising at toe temperatures below 15°C (Kuklane, 2009). Humans indigenous to colder climates have protected their feet against cold injury for hundreds of years with unique footwear solutions. A fascinating study by Willems et al. (2015) examined walking biomechanics in, and the thermal properties of Reindeer boots worn by the Saami people of Northern Scandinavia in temperatures of -25°C. Made from tanned Reindeer hide and stuffed with grass for additional insulation, the boots produced qualitatively similar plantar pressure patterns to a barefoot condition, with more evenly distributed and lower pressures compared to conventional western footwear. Moreover, the boots had insulating properties equivalent to a TOG rating of 5 (a thermal resistance rating commonly applied to duvets).
From an evolutionary perspective, footwear makes sense given the range of environments in which humans thrive and the vulnerability of the foot. The oldest record of footwear dates back some 10000 years (Pinhasi, 2010). Indigenous footwear designed for cold climates are anatomically shaped for natural toe position and function, are flat, and appear to allow unimpeded foot function as shown by plantar pressures similar to barefoot walking. Such characteristics have been previously recommended for all footwear (Stewart, 1972). Clearly, obtaining Reindeer boots is unrealistic. Thankfully, modern footwear with equivalent design features are available to protect our vulnerable feet during the winter months, without compromising toe freedom and foot function.
Elftman, H. and J. Manter, Chimpanzee and human feet in bipedal walking. Am J Phys Anthropol. 1935; 20: 69-79.
Kuklane, K, Protection of feet in cold exposure. Ind Health. 2009; 47: 242-253.
Pinhasi, R., et al., First direct evidence of chalcolithic footwear from near eastern highlands. PLoS ONE. 2010; 5: e10984.
Rolian, C., et al., Walking, running and the evolution of short toes in humans. J Exp Biol. 2009; 212: 713-721.
Stewart, S.F., Footgear – Its history, uses and abuses. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1972; 88: 119-130.
Willems, C., Savage, R., De Clercq, D., D’Aout, K., Plantar pressures in two types of indigenous footwear, minimal shoes, and western shoes, compared to barefoot walking. Unpublished PhD study (University of Gent). 2015.
Human feet are vulnerable to injury from puncture and extremes of temperature.
This month our scientific blog post explores studies describing how humansindigenous to colder climates protected their feet.
Thankfully, modern footwear is available to protect our vulnerable feet during the winter months – and choosing Joe Nimble’s uncompromising toe freedom design will support healthy foot function.