Footwear is the foundation of your outdoor gear. Any serious outdoors enthusiast will tell you that paying close attention to your boots and socks will pay dividends in both comfort and safety. While there are many kinds of boots that will get you through the winter, we can’t realistically go into each variety, so instead here are some base tips for keeping your feet warm and dry – without having to take out a loan.

Buy as much boot as your budget allows. Boots are an investment and a good pair will last under harsh conditions for many years. Simply put, truly great boots cost a lot to make, but inexpensive boots are likely to fall apart in less than one truly difficult season – and they tend to fail under the worst conditions.

Don’t be fooled by name brands. We’re not talking about a pair of Air Jordans here. The difference between a pair of good boots and a pair of bad boots might be counted in the number of toes you have left after spending any time in harsh weather. Chances are good you know several folks who spend a lot of time in the outdoors; talk to them about what they use and, importantly, why they like it. Some people are simply brand-loyal; try and get them to articulate what they like (and, importantly, what they DON’T like) about their favored footwear.

Don’t forget to break them in. Any pair of high quality boots need to be worn through a break-in period, as they are typically made of heavy materials that will contact your feet and ankles in places rarely abraded by your regular footwear. An emergency situation is NOT the time to get blisters; walking will be painful and infection a very real possibility. Break your boots in slowly by wearing for a few hours a day for a month.*

*It’s February. We realize this is a pointless thing to tell you in February. We’re basically just rubbing it in.

Alternative Cold Weather Conveyances
Snowshoes There’s a learning curve, certainly, and they make you walk funny, but in deep-snow conditions, these can help you avoid dangerous sidewalks and the poor drivers who occasionally end up on them. This pair, an entry-level set available from the fantastic folk at Clintonville Outfitters (2864 N High St.), can keep you from stumping around in knee-deep snow…but beware of the learning curve and go slow. Editor-in-Chief Travis Hoewischer fell on his face the first time he tried frisking about in them.

Cross Country Skis
These are the fixed-gear bicycles of the winter. I can’t believe we don’t see wannabe couriers using them more often. Thrift stores often have low prices on crappy old skis – any of you who send us photo proof you’ve adopted this unique method of commuting gets a free cup of coffee on us. (#asseenincolumbus)

A boot is only as good as the sock underneath it. We’re back to wool. You can have the greatest boot in the world but if your socks are cotton bargain-bin jobs with holes in the toes, you’re going to be miserable. Good socks for bad times cost between $15 and $30 per pair…keep them separate from your other socks.

Yeah, right. It’s still just Ohio. Get real.