Winter can be a cruel mistress.
How many times have we ventured outside feeling confident that we made the right wardrobe choices for the day’s weather, only to be kicked in the teeth by Old Man Winter.
The answer here should be many, because nailing your outfit, particularly during the winter, isn’t always easy. If you’re heading into the backcountry and will be moving consistently, nobody wants to overdress and spend the day shvitzing, but alterntively, turning into Jack Nicholson in the maze scene of The Shining isn’t particularly appealing either.
Pants, jackets and hats are all important components of keeping yourself toasty during the colder months, but boots are arguably the most important area of your winter wardrobe.
From shoveling the walkway and trudging to your mailbox to more intensive backwoods adventures, like camping, winter boots play a pretty important part in the cold-weather months of our lives. A good pair of winter boots should provide warmth, durability, traction and comfort, as well as aesthetics. We admit that this is a tall order, and if you’re unsure of how to navigate the mysterious path of choosing cold weather footwear, we’re here to help. This is how to choose winter boots:
Function & Function
Footwear plays a major role in our day to day, and are often designed to be aesthetically inclined. The first thing you should ask yourself is whether your boots are being chosen according to fashion or function? If you’re like me, you’re interested in both, because it won’t matter how cute your non-functional boots are if your toes freeze off. As with most products, it is important to first consider how you plan to use your boots and what the weather in your region is like, and go from there..
Looking for something that will keep you warm while you walk the dog, shovel the driveway and head into the backyard for impromptu snowball fights? You’re looking for something that’s everyday casual. You’re still going to want something that’s going to keep away the chill and look reasonably attractive with whatever you’re happening to be wearing that day. A solid brand for everyday snow boots is Sorel. Attractive, but big on function, they consistently roll out picks that balance style with overall performance, including offerings that go beyond everyday needs and act as a solid choice for more prolonged outdoor activity.
You’re looking to get out there and stay out there for extended periods, and looks aren’t really your biggest concern. Perfect, onward and upward. You’re going to want to pay extra-close attention to the potential for performance when choosing a winter boot. One of the first things to consider if the activity in mind as your choose your winter boots. If you’ll be hiking and moving for long periods, you’ll likely want something a little more lightweight than a boot you choose for low impact, slower-moving feats. You’re likely going to want something with solid traction, good waterproofing and adequate insulation depending on the activity, Salomon has produced some excellent options in this category.
For anything other than purely fashion inclined boot choices, you’ll want a shaft height that rises at least past your ankle, at the very least to provide necessary warmth and prevent snow from falling inside. Once you get beyond the bare minimum of height requirements, you can choose between a shorter or taller boot shaft. Here’s the deal on each:
The most obvious benefit of taller boots is that they offer additional protection from rain and deep snow and they provide extra warmth up the calves. Simply put, tall boots keep snow from caking onto your pants and melting as soon as you go indoors. In terms of drawbacks, tall boots are typically more difficult to take on and off and you can’t really wear your pants over top (if you like having the option of wearing your pants tucked in or out).
Short boots are often simpler to remove and we were able to hike in three of the four pairs of short boots in our review. While they did not provide as much protection from the snow, many of them still offered significant water resistance in puddles and slush. Moreover, if you live in a region that only gets a few inches of snow at a time, short boots will almost certainly provide all the snow protection that you would need.
Warmth & Construction
Warmth is obviously a major concern when shopping for winter boots. Picking the right combination of materials and composition of the boot is going to be a major factor in whether or not your boots fit your needs. Paying attention to the technical specs and info on various boots will be majorly helpful in ensuring that you’re making the right choice.
Leather is a phenomenal material for boot uppers, particularly if it’s waterproofed. Aesthetically attractive as well as incredibly durable, it’s an extremely popular choice, and for good reason. Rubber also makes for a good choice for boot uppers, because of it’s durability and waterproof tendencies.
While a great choice for uppers, most winter boots intended to perform on ice and snow shouldn’t have a leather sole. Flush against the snow, leather soles won’t do much to insulate your feet or provide traction on slippery surfaces.
For all intensive purposes, your winter boot should be 100% waterproof and rubber fits the bill. In addition to being lightweight, it’s going to provide some much needed traction on slippery ice and snow, and will keep you from sliding, particularly if you find yourself moving uphill or in a precious environment where you should be surefooted.
When no temperature rating is available, look at the lining materials, which greatly differ depending on the kind of winter boots. When looking for boots, you might notice the word “pac” being thrown around as a descriptor. This basically means a soft inner shoe, so pac boots essentially have removable linings made of polypropylene, wool, acrylic, or special materials like Zylex. Pac boots are used for outdoor activities, such as hiking, when it is important to be able to quickly dry out boots. Winter boots without a removable liner often use thermal materials like Thinsulate. As a rule of thumb, you should look for boots with 400 to 800 grams of insulation for extreme cold and less insulation for boots that will be used during fall and spring.
As mentioned, there’s plenty of good material options for boot lining, including materials like shearing, which are ultra-warm and effectively wick sweat away from the skin. On the other hand, synthetics like Primaloft® and Thinsulate™ , mimic the effects of shearing while providing a less bulky alternative insulation.
Another factor that contributes to the warmth of a boot is the insole. The lining is a moot point if the cold seeps in through the sole and insole. For this reason, the insole is often insulated as well. Insoles do more than insulate the foot against the cold. Many winter boots have antibacterial or antimicrobial properties to prevent foot odors and bacterial growth that can start when the boot is left moist with perspiration. Look for these as well as quick-drying technologies when shopping for winter boots.
Winter boots vary significantly in their ability to work around wet conditions.The waterproofness of boots will depend on many different factors, not limited to, the materials and construction of the boots. It is important to understand the conditions you will, or may, encounter to ensure you choose the most appropriate boot choices. In the simplest terms, winter boots can be broken down into being either water resistant and waterproof.
Water resistant vs waterproof
Water resistant options are papropriate for very light activity in dry winter weather, and basically nothing more than a quick jaunt to the park across the street with your dog or sitting in the chalet après ski.. These will repel splashes of water and light snowfall, but slushy days and extended trips into the snow will prove to be problematic.
A more comforting choice if you expect to be spending any time in the snow or slush, and what we typically recommend for any prolonged activity in the winter. If you’re even considering heading into the back country for a picturesque hike or are feeling motivated to try out winter camping, we strongly recommend making sure your boot is waterproof.
Another important characteristic of water-resistant boots is a cuff or gaiter. A cuff is a snug lining that curves at the top of the boot to form a kind of collar, which catches snow that would normally go into the boot, and encourages the snow to fall to the outside of the boot. Similarly, a gaiter is meant to stop snow from getting in through the top of the boot. Also called “top closures,” gaiters are tubes that extend upwards from the top of the boot and tighten around the calf. Gaiters can be bought separately, but they are also included in winter boots. They can extend anywhere from just above the boot to all the way up to the knee, and are something worth considering in searching for a pair of boots that’ll keep the snow out.
Breathability sometimes clashes with the need for waterproofing. For example, some lightweight winter hiking boots feature a nylon mesh in the upper that permits great breathability, but this can allow water to set in. Most winter boots are made of a combination of materials. Full leather boots are more waterproof but not as breathable as boots with a combination of split-grain leather and nylon. However, there are also materials like Gore-Tex, which are considered both waterproof and breathable, and are an an awesome choice for boot materials.
Those who tend to perspire a lot should take care to buy breathable winter boots. Although special waterproof and breathable materials may cost more, the passage of air in the boot will prevent foot fungi, or worse, frostbite that can occur when the feet are wet in sub-zero conditions.
So you’ve found your perfect boot, but now it’s time to account for how they’re going to feel on. Boot fit differs in a number of ways, and it’s important to make sure that whatever you’ve selected is going to work for you.
Leave a little room
When fitting your boots, you want to make sure they they aren’t too tight; a little bit of dead space in your boot is essential to promote foot warmth when you’re out there. Another important thing to consider is your socks an essential compliment to any solid pair of winter boots. The thickness of your socks should be a consideration when picking your ideal winter boot size, as thicker, more substantial sock picks are going to require some additional room.
Brand specific sizing
In a perfect world, each and every brand would be consistent in their sizing, but realistically this just isn’t the case. Save yourself some work and do a little brand research – a good way to do this is to check out our size charts or our cross-brand FitFinder to determine what your best option is.
You can do this!
That should be of some help in finding you your best winter boot! When it doubt, check out the fabric, feature and tech specifications we feature with our products for some additional background info on any pair.
If all else fails, we have a pretty solid customer service team that’s down to answer any questions you might have for them