This is a question that's been bothering me for the last couple of days:

How is it that the hobbits of the Fellowship were able to survive such cold temperatures throughout their travels without having any foot protection?

I know it's said that they have thick "leather like" soles, with ample amounts of hair for warmth but still, I don't understand how that could provide much more warmth than for instance a regular leather shoe. On top of this I know that multiple days (or even weeks) of their journey was spent crossing mountain ranges, which, near a summit would have a temperature far below freezing. This combined with the assumption that they only have the warmth of shoes on there feet would have presumably resulted in some level of frostbite. But to my knowledge there is no such mention of these problems in the novels or movies aside from the odd "It's cold".

Anyways, I'm just wondering if anyone has some form of explanation to this phenomenon or do hobbits just have really durable feet?

  • 15
    Ever gone cross-country ski touring with a dog? Or thought about how sled dogs (or any other animal) deal with running barefoot in Arctic conditions?
    – jamesqf
    Jun 14, 2015 at 23:28
  • 1
    The Fellowship began their ascent of Caradhras during the late afternoon, and descended the next morning. They did not cross over any other mountains. Apr 17, 2021 at 21:35
  • If you go about 2/3 down you'll see that Yeti footprints are likely just Tibetan villagers with deformed feet per the Michael Ward theory. And the cold adapted human foot can tolerate a lot. curiousarchive.com/everest-yeti-shipton Aug 18, 2023 at 21:00

4 Answers 4


The prologue, Concerning Hobbits, has this to say about Hobbit feet:

They dressed in bright colours, being notably fond of yellow and green; but they seldom wore shoes, since their feet had tough leathery soles and were clad in a thick curling hair, much like the hair of their heads, which was commonly brown.

The text "they seldom wore shoes" does indeed imply that Hobbits could and did wear shoes when the need arose, and this is further confirmed by Tolkien's Letter 27, this time concerning Bilbo in The Hobbit:

There is in the text no mention of his acquiring of boots. There should be! It has dropped out somehow or other in the various revisions – the bootings occurred at Rivendell; and he was again bootless after leaving Rivendell on the way home.

So in The Hobbit, and despite it's absence in the texts, Bilbo therefore wore boots during his entire time from the Misty Mountains, through Mirkwood, to Lake-town and the Lonely Mountain, and back to Rivendell.

It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings likewise wore boots, also despite it not being mentioned in the texts.

  • 8
    If Peter Jackson had used that quote to put the Hobbits in work boots, how everyone would have howled!
    – Oldcat
    Apr 13, 2015 at 16:48
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    I'm not sure that we can extrapolate from TH to LotR so easily. If I'm not mistaken, LotR consistently describes the hobbits as being barefoot throughout their journey.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 14, 2015 at 6:28

Other than vague descriptions of woolly feet with thick leathery soles in The Hobbit and the prologue to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien didn't go into any detail on hobbit anatomy.

However, there are plenty of animals with hairy, padded feet who do perfectly well in snowy and mountainous conditions. The arctic hare is a good example:

Arctic hare
(source: nationalgeographic.com)

Even normal human beings can walk or run barefoot on snow for a surprisingly long time with no ill effects. Hobbit feet will be better suited than ours to cold conditions.

In short, the answer seems to be "really durable feet".

  • 15
    Also being smaller their blood would circulate quicker, making them less susceptible to frost bite but at greater risk of hypothermia. That's probably why they had to eat so much, To keep their body temperature up. (Making this up as I go along)
    – Boelabaal
    Apr 13, 2015 at 15:17
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    mind that the idea of running barefoot in cold weather is to keep in motion. Once you stop, things can get bad really quickly. Why? Because as long as you're running your feet are never in contact with that frozen surface for more than a fraction of a second at a time, and of course your blood circulates faster as well, causing heat to flow through the extremities at a greater rate.
    – jwenting
    Apr 14, 2015 at 5:27

A combination of factors, one of which has already been mentioned.

  • Their feet are hairy - not like a human with "hairy" feet, but REALLY hairy. The hair is described as long, thick, and curly; in fact, the Tolkien Society says the prosthetics team on the LotR movies should have used all the time and money they spent on making thousands of pairs of oversized hobbit feet (apparently, and despite popular opinion to the contrary, Tolkien never said hobbits had particularly large feet) and used their resources instead on buying a few wigs to be applied to the actors' feet. Lots of fur = lots of warmth.

  • Tolkien also described hobbit feet as having very tough, very thick callouses on the soles. If you have ever met a literally barefooted hippie, and perhaps even befriended one, you probably know how thick and gross the callouses on the soles of their feet are. This is simply what happens when you routinely walk around with no shoes on, and it is actually what our feet are supposed to be like. For most of the million years or so since our ancestors came down from the trees, mankind has not had shoes. We went everywhere barefoot, and as a result, we had thick, protective callouses covering the bottom of our feet. One of the benefits of such callouses is an improved resistance to extreme temperatures (within reason, of course). I'm a chef, and the callouses on my hands allow me to handle (no pun intended) extremely hot pans and plates, and I never get burned or develop blisters.
    A person (or hobbit) with thick callouses all over his feet would enjoy similar levels of protection from extreme cold, and would be much more resistant to frostbite. Callouses are basically just a thick layer of dead skin cells, mostly composed of the substance known as keratin. Keratin is the same stuff that your hair and fingernails and toenails are made of; it is also the stuff that Rhinoceros horns are made from. It is inert, it is strong, and it is dead. It can't get frostbite, and neither can the more sensitive tissue underneath, unless it gets really, really cold and stays cold for a long time.

  • If you have ever seen the show "Dual Survival", back when the hippie dude (I think his name was Cody) was on it, you know that he almost never wore shoes, socks, or even long pants. I can remember only one episode, shot in Minnesota or some god forsaken ice hole, where he wore anything on his feet - a pair of wool socks. The temperature was something like 40 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit), and the man was walking through knee deep snow in shorts and a pair of socks. He swore up and down that his refusal to wear shoes and pants had acclimated the mitochondria in his cells to extreme cold, and was enough to stave off frostbite. It seems that he was right, because he stayed in those conditions for several days and came out of the experience perfectly unharmed. The point being that people who never wear shoes are used to never wearing shoes, and their bodies compensate for the cold temperatures pretty well.

  • The other members of the Fellowship also do pretty well in the cold, and none of them were wearing particularly warm clothing either. Legolas is used to living in a relatively pleasant climate in the woods, and wears only a pair of thin shoes - almost like slippers, as I understand Tolkien's description - and he does just fine. Gimli is wearing a coat of chainmail, which would act as a conductor, carrying the cold directly towards his body and lowering his body temperature, if it was dangerously cold outside. Again, he seems to do alright too.
    What does this mean? Probably that it wasn't all that cold out after all. They spent the night exposed to the elements, high in the mountains, in a snow storm, no less, and they walked away unharmed. Obviously, the conditions were entirely survivable.

  • Keep in mind that they were indeed in the mountains. I've been in the mountains on a camping trip when a snow storm hit, and when we were up near the peaks, it was chilly, but not frigid; when we hiked back down the next day, it was still snowing quite heavily, and yet the temperature was in the 50's and we were so warm that we had to take off our coats and shirts and walk down in our undershirts. I'm not saying things were this pleasant for the Fellowship, of course, but I am saying that things might not have been as bad as it seems.

  • Tolkien, or at least his characters, didn't seem to know much about how to survive in cold weather. After a sleeping Frodo was slowly covered by a snow drift, Boromir was foolish enough to dig him out. This would be a good enough idea if there was any chance of carrying him down the mountain immediately, but no such chance exists, and after he digs Frodo out, he basically says "Okay, now you can go back to sleep". The far better course would have been to leave Frodo alone just the way he was, and to tell everyone else to bury themselves in the snow as well. Snow is a great insulator, paradoxical though it may seem. A person buried under a pile of snow will stay much warmer than a person of equal mass who lays on top of the snow. This is the whole reason the Inuit and the Aleut (also known as "Eskimos") build igloos.

  • Finally, the most certain and obvious reason: Tolkien didn't want them to get frostbite. Frodo got stabbed with an evil magic sword and survived. Gandalf fought a demonic fire monster, fell a billion miles, battled the beast for a week, and eventually died, but still, even he survived (which is weird, considering the fact that he died and stuff). Sam and Frodo go a week without food and many days without water, and they survive too. Basically, "then Frodo got frostbite and his toes fell off and he had to go home" wouldn't fit the overall tone and theme of the story.

  • 3
    Gimli's chainmail would have had padding underneath it; chainmail's nearly worthless without it. That padding would have been more than enough insulation. Jul 11, 2019 at 19:51
  • On top of that, Gimli would rather die a thousand deaths than admit to any weakness within Legolas' hearing.
    – EvilSnack
    Sep 25, 2021 at 15:42
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    You probably don't need to specify -40 degrees Fahrenheit. -40 degrees Celsius is the same temperature. Aug 18, 2023 at 20:26

I think they did start to get frostbite. Frodo mentions that his toes had begun to feel warm when he falls asleep in the snowdrift:

A great sleepiness came over Frodo; he felt himself sinking fast into a warm and hazy dream. He thought a fire was heating his toes

This confusion between heat and cold is a symptom of frostbite.

  • 6
    This is a nice spot. To improve the answer, however, could you edit in the supporting quote so others don’t have to go and look for it?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Apr 8, 2021 at 12:22

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