As the seasons shift and those warm summer mornings become icy and cold, heading out into the day will get increasingly perilous. Every year nearly 35,000 American workers are injured by slipping on ice. Many also face issues with cold damage to their extremities. That's why it's important to have the right gear as the winter months approach, and in this list we'll take a look at one of the most important pieces of equipment that anyone who experiences winter should own: a good pair of winter boots.
We know how hard it is to choose a pair from the thousands of available brands, ranging from cheap to very expensive, so we've outlined everything you need to know about winter boots and provided a handy list of ten of the best models available.
When considering winter boots, or any purchase for that matter, the first order of business is usually price. A budget pair of winter boots might be $50-$60 on average, while the average pair will run up to $100. Pricier pairs may be as high as $200, generally with good reason.
What features should I consider in budget, cold weather boots?
What are the more advanced features that I should consider in high-end, cold weather boots?
Colombia is a household footwear brand that makes hundreds of different types of shoes, including winter boots. The Bugaboot Plus IV is one of their budget models that still seeks to maintain that good quality has options that can easily increase its quality at a cost. This model sits on the lower end of the price range, on the budget side.
Let's break down some of the key components that make this pair stand out. Firstly, at 200 grams of insulation this boot sits squarely on the bottom end of the totem pole when it comes to insulation, but this pair has the unique advantage of being both waterproof and made of leather, which traps in heat. The boot also uses a technology called Omni-Heat reflective lining, and the boot is rated for -25 degrees Fahrenheit. It also uses a similar rubber compound that is used in Michelin winter tires. This compound doesn't harden nearly as dramatically in deep cold, so it keeps its grip down to -22 degrees Fahrenheit. Overall, this model seems to be all about balancing, as it markets itself as being lightweight, waterproof, insulating and comfortable all at a low price.
As with most attempts at balancing acts, the shoes simply come up short on some functions. Customers have complained specifically about the waterproofing. Although it advertises waterproofing, it does not seem to be waterproofed above the ankle, so for hiking and fording water deeper than puddles, this boot will not suffice. Some customers have also complained that the lacing is too difficult to undo and that taking off the boot requires the removal of the lacing entirely. It's not particularly tall either, at just 7.25 inches from the arch.
Kamik is a family-owned company that designs winter and work boots, and is constantly seeking out innovative ways to make the best boots for the best prices. The NationPlus is one of their main line models, with a lot of features that come standard in higher end models. The NationPlus runs higher than the Bugaboot, but lower than the average boot at it's tier.
With the price being so close to the Bugaboot, there are a lot of interesting differences. They are both leather and textile, and they both advertise waterproofing but the NationPlus is heavier, taller (at nearly 12 inches, compared to the Bugaboot's 7.25 inches). The NationPlus is heavier, and that mass adds to the insulation capacity. This pair is useful down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. It has a gusset tongue for added waterproofing and has a removable polyester and thermal foil insulator. They also advertise that their Thinsulate removable lining is great at water wicking. This is a more dedicated winter boot at it's price point than the Bugaboot, and would serve better for hiking and long term outdoor work.
Even at this price, with this technology waterproofing is a challenge. Some customers have experienced trouble with water getting into their boots after hiking. Others have complained that the insulator is not as warm as advertised, although this may be more subjective than anything. Finally, there has been some issue with inconsistent quality for some customers, who have received pairs that were not up to standard and lost eyelets and had other problems.
KEEN is all about quality shoes made sustainably, and they have some unique technology to boot. Their Durand Polar model of winter shoes is a rugged higher end model that speaks volumes about their mission statement. For that quality, you will end up paying a lot more- on the highest end of the price range in fact.
Now we're looking at the high end of the spectrum, and there are a few really interesting features to note. For starters, the Durand Polars are 1.6 pounds per shoe, which is slightly less than the NationPlus. This is likely due to the blend of synthetic materials with leather, as well as the lightweight bamboo charcoal acting as the insulator. Although it isn't the sole insulation material, it is notable for being a unique material with no complaints of its function. The Polar uses a special, in-house material called KEEN.Dry that supposedly allows the inside of the boot to breath, and keeps water outside, making it both breathable and waterproof. The Polar also has extra insulation underneath the foot. Finally, it has heel cushioning and stability features built in to improve comfort.
Curiously, for the price and the many advertised features this model doesn't have a minimum temperature rating, so it's anyone's guess as to how effective their bamboo charcoal insulator really is. Several customers have complained about basic quality issues with the eyelets, general stitching, and laces. Several customers have also complained that the sizing for their received pair felt like a size smaller than the size they paid for.
Sorel combines rugged functionality with the modern world of fashion and designer footwear using tried and true materials like felt, wool, and leather. Their Caribou Boots are some of their higher-end, women's snow boots that, true to their designer's vision, split focus between functionality and fashion. This model sits squarely in the average price range for mid-tier boots.
Despite their focus on fashion, Sorel has put a lot of design work into their Caribou Boot. The Caribou has a removable felt insulator with a large cuff for improved waterproofing. It combines leather, felt, rubber, and nylon to create a balanced exterior that is focused on waterproofing and insulating without sacrificing form. It is rated for -40 degrees Fahrenheit as well. What really sets it apart from the other models listed so far are the lugs, which are much deeper and wider than previous models and are made for navigating heavy snow conditions.
The major complaint is with overall quality, with specific problems relating to sizing, insulator quality, stitching and eyelets. It seems that Sorel switched their manufacturing process to included cheaper materials, which is reflected in the fact that the Caribou makes use of a lot of synthetic materials. The result is a comfortable shoe that is not as functional as it could be. Lots of customers have had issues with Sorel sending them pairs that were excessively small or large compared to the size they ordered. There have also been complaints about the insulating ability.
Merrell markets themselves as the end all be all of hiking boots, with a focus on versatility and durability. The Moab Polar is one of their staple models, landing right between budget and mid-tier price. The Moab Polar has many of the same features as other mid-tier priced models, but has a stronger focus on durability and reflects that in its look and material.
The Moab Polar is heavily focused on providing durability and versatility, virtues Merrell intends all their footwear to emulate. The Moab features overlapping layers of materials ranging from leather, synthetic fibers, and fabrics in order to create an exterior meant specifically to survive heavy use in hiking or other high intensity foot travel. Despite it's gruff exterior, the inner lining is made of a mix of fleece and suede, and has been reported to be very comfortable. This model also has a gaiter ring, because it's so short, in case you want to increase its waterproofing capabilities.
This pair is especially short, an inch under even the Bugaboot. This can complicate things in heavy snow environments. It also includes a lot of synthetics in its construction, which is done to reduce the price and decrease the weight but often leads to some quality issues. Customers have also complained that the seams are not of very good quality.
Vaque is a company that has, for over 50 years, been dedicated to making footwear for hiking and backpacking in hilly and mountainous terrain. Their Snowburban II is designed to provide as many necessary features as possible for the price with a focus on waterproofing, and so has some extra features associated with that. This is by far the cheapest boot on this list, but its price is dependent on size, and larger sizes incur greater prices.
The Snowburban II is designed as a cold weather boot with an emphasis on waterproofing. As far as materials go, it is a departure from the other items so far listed because it does not make use of leather, and instead tries to achieve waterproofing with more breathable textile and synthetic materials. It is a comfortable, albeit slightly short, eight inches tall and has gaiter rings to attach for waterproofing. For insulation, a wool lining is combined with 400 grams of Thinsulate and a waterproof membrane to round it out. The soles are made of two types of rubber. There are harder outer lugs for strong performance in snow combined with softer inner lugs to prevent slipping on ice. The soles also feature siping, which is a feature of many winter winter tires and involves lots of thin slits for added bite.
The boot does not have a minimum cold rating, so the best guess based on comparing them to other models is about -40 Fahrenheit. But, again, that's just a guess. Many customers have complained about sizing issues, specifically that this boot runs small. Others have complained about comfort, reporting that the boot doesn't offer enough padding and is painful to wear for long periods. Some have also reported that the lacing is poorly designed. Some have reported quality issues, specifically with the quality of the eyelets and the laces, which are either broken or wear out quickly.
Icebug, like Vaque, has set their focus on outdoor footwear. Icebug specifically addresses the issue of slipping, and promotes sustainable manufacturing practices at good prices. The Metro2 is one of their most popular winter shoes, and has a number of features that set it apart from the previous models on this list. It ranks in at one of the more expensive, too.
This model seems to be geared more toward the urbanite who likes to, or needs to walk around in the city during the winter. It has a fleece lining that is rated down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit, and is made of soft, warm suede. This boot is made both for long distance, heavy-use walking, and for running, and it's soles are designed for both purposes by providing good arch support functions. It has an easy-to-use zipper for quick on-off use, as well. The interesting feature is the studding- 16 carbide steel studs to be exact. These studs are made specifically for ice conditions, like on iced roads and sidewalks where black ice can be a serious hazard. The Metro2 is also the lightest on the list.
For the price, this isn't a very serious winter boot. It works well for icy roads specifically, but icy roads indicate very cold weather and these boots aren't rated for severe cold. They don't feature any advanced waterproofing, either, and they are too light to really be useful in heavy snow or hazardous conditions outside of icy roads. Despite the studding, they don't seems to have any serious lugs.
Muck boots is dedicated to making comfortable, durable, and reliable working boots and that philosophy goes into every model, winter or not. The Arctic Sport II is a women's winter boot designed with a unique blend of work boot and hiking boot features in a winter boot package. It sits nicely on the fence in terms of price, average for a mid-tier boot.
This is one of the more unique options on this list. It blends the practicality, price point, and overall aesthetic of a rubber work boot with the necessary features of a hiking boot, and is rated for -40 degrees Fahrenheit. It features an entirely rubber exterior making it totally waterproof, and it acts together with the fleece and neoprene lining to preform insulation functions. The tread is multi-directional and designed for hiking in uneven terrain. It is also designed with a number of built-in comfort features to reduce strain and decrease long term wear effects.
Several customers have complained that this updated model is not to the same standard of quality as the older one, and doesn't provide nearly as good of insulation. Some have also had issues with cracking across the top after prolonged use. The boot also doesn't come in half sizes, and some customers have complained that the top of the boot hugs the calf too tightly.
Next on the list is Baffin's Impact. Baffin began designing and manufacturing hiking footwear in Canada 40 years ago, and has been innovating and even expanding into industrial footwear since then. The Impact is one of Baffin's sturdiest boots, made for the most extreme conditions. As far as pricing goes, it sits comfortably between mid-tier and high-end, leaning slightly more toward high-end.
Out of every pair on this list, the Impact is the most resistant to the cold, capable of providing effective insulation until -148 degrees Fahrenheit. This is due to the combination of nylon and leather encasing a removable lining that is eight layers thick, made of a number of materials blended in a special way in order to maximize cold resistance. The boot sacrifices some form for much more durability and functionality, having added buckled fastening, and an elastic draw-string enclosed around the top for added waterproofing and heat retention. The insoles feature aluminum supports and the waffle-tread offers high quality traction and support in hazardous conditions. The Impact also offers comfortable features like a flexible mid-sole for advanced range of movement.
This is a heavy duty boot and is not really practical for light use, especially for the price. Several customers have had issues with sizing, as this boot seems to be a somewhat tight fit. Others have complained about this boot's waterproofing capabilities, and have stated that the lining required frequent drying. Some have also had quality issues, specifically related to the construction of the soles.
Our last model is another one by Colombia, who started our list off with the Bugaboot. The Minx Mid II is a more fashion-focused model than the Bugaboot, and sits at about the same price. However, there are a few features that make the Minx distinct from the Bugaboot that warrant your attention.
One of the most striking features about this boot, especially in comparison to the Bugaboot, is it's weight. The Minx is about half a pound per boot at size 7.5. It is ten inches tall in total and features a faux-fur collar and 200 grams of insulation rated for -25 degrees Fahrenheit. It advertises itself as being made of a 100% waterproof nylon exterior with waterproof rubber soles and a water-resistant cuff. It features a quilted outer design to improve insulation and durability, and has a removable foot bed for when the foot bed wears out.
These boots, like the Bugaboot, are not great for extreme conditions, but will get the job done in light winter weather. Some customers have complained that the foot doesn't support arches very well, and other have had general sizing issues. Despite the advertisement of advanced waterproofing functionality, some customers have received pairs that have leaked anyway. Waterproofing issues ranged from sole-leakage, side-leakage, and general poor waterproofing all around.
As winter approaches, it's important to outfit yourself with the right gear to maximize your safety and comfort. When considering gear, footwear is a top priority, and if you take anything away from this list, it should be that you need to be thorough in your research, and pick the best boot for your budget and climate conditions. Hopefully, this list has helped you make the right choice and contributed to your safety this season.