Updated November 2017
Winter is coming, and we keep this review up to date so you can keep your feet happy all season long. The only major update to this category is the release of the Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry, the second iteration of the runner-up product to our Editors' Choice winner. We sent the new pair to our boot experts to see how much the updates affect its overall performance, as well as a few brand new contenders. In the meantime, we highlight the differences between the new version and its predecessor in the individual review.
Best Overall Winter Boot for Men
The North Face Chilkat 400
Totally water resistant
Fit is short (order up in size)
Mildly laborious to tie up
For the first time, we reviewed the The North Face Chilkat 400
in place of a lower-scoring offering from North Face that we had tested in the past. We weren't disappointed with our choice, as the Chilkat blew the competition away. This model is snug and cozy and was by far the best option for winter hiking. Whether you're cruising through town to get to the base of the lift or with snowshoes on for a winter adventure, they combine comfort with serious warmth. This boot is also completely waterproof, which ensures that your feet will be dry no matter the conditions. The Chilkat 400's
flexibility and soft upper shaft set it apart from the competition, as very few models succeed in making a tall upper shaft that is comfortable to walk in all day and keeps snow out. Rubbing, itching, and chafing were common complaints from other models, but not with the Chilkat 400
! Not only do we think this is the best boot for winter hiking, but it's also our Editors' Choice award winner as Best Overall Winter Boot.
Read review: The North Face Chilkat 400
Best Bang for the Buck
The best traction
More labor intensive to put on than others
The Kamik NationPlus
boot was our favorite tested Pac boot for its warmth and comfort. It has a thick and well-cushioned Thinsulate inner boot that kept our feet warm into the single digits, and the design of the midsole made walking long distances comfortable, which is rare for a Pac boot. The large, aggressive lugs are made with soft, sticky rubber; in turn, the lugs provided the best traction on the ice of any boot in our test, and it held its own on snow and dirt as well. While it wasn't the single best boot we tested, the thing that really set it apart is its price. Retailing for only $85, this boot is the most affordable that we tested, by quite a margin. With such high performance, and at half the price of some of the other boots in this review, it was easy to choose the Kamik NationPlus
as our Best Bang for the Buck award winner. For those with higher volume feet, we encourage you to check out the Kamik NationWide
, a wide-bodied version of this boot.
Read review: Kamik NationPlus
Top Pick for Ease of Use
Bogs Classic Ultra Mid
Very easy to use
Super spacious fit
Not as warm as other boots
Not the best traction
Some quality control issues
In years past, the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid
has been our Editors' Choice for Best Overall Winter Boot numerous times, yet in this year's review, were ranked much lower when compared to the competition. Despite this, we still want to recognize it for its incredible simplicity, which is unique among this selection of boots. Endeared to our hearts, we have awarded it our Top Pick for Ease of Use. With one of the lowest scoring products receiving a Top Pick award, what gives? We will shoot it straight with you: during our ice bucket test, two separate pairs of our test boots leaked water in through the seam, between the outsole and upper; thus, the Classic Ultra Mid
received a very low score for water resistance, as it deserved. This low score dropped it from a top three boot to very close to the basement. However
, despite the manufacturing defect in our boot (and testing a second pair, which also leaked), and complaints of similar things happening to other users, we believe that these are great boots for people who spend lots of time in the cold snow, and avoid standing in puddles of water. The bottom line is that they slip on in a second and fit easily with any sort of sock combination, making them best and easiest choice for winter-time chores such as shoveling the driveway, taking out the trash, or getting the mail. If you live in the snow like we do, then you understand how big of a deal this really is. We just want to be sure to point out that if you live with your feet in the water, then these boots probably are not going to cut it for you.
Read review: Bogs Classic Ultra Mid
Top Pick for Comfort
Blundstone Thermal 566
The Blundstone Thermal, Style 566
is a new model in this year's test, and with a few weeks of use, we can already say that it's a top-notch model. Blundstone boots are Romeo-style slip-ons that provide simple, rugged durability, and excellent water resistance - thanks to their full leather upper. The fit is snug even though its sans laces and the traction is above average in snowy and icy conditions due to a slip-resistant outsole. We love the Bogs boots for their ease of use, and while the Blundstone
performs in the same manner, it is not quite as easy to take off. What really
sets the Thermal 566
apart from others in our fleet is their removable sheepskin liner which works in coordination with the footbed, providing unparalleled comfort for the foot. Soft and cushioned, it makes shoveling the walkway an appealing task - even on a frigid February morning! We couldn't wait to step into these boots and head outside!
Analysis and Test Results
In order to present our test findings in the most thorough way possible, we rated every boot based on five separate criteria, giving them a score from 1 (terrible) to 10 (perfect). As this is a comparison
review, the scores were decided upon by comparing each boot to all of the others. With that thought in mind, it is worth noting that just because a boot receives a low score for Warmth, does not necessarily mean that it is not warm, but instead that it is less warm than the other boots in the review. Below we have described our criteria for evaluating each category, as well as what boots performed the best and worst in these categories, and finally, the weight that each category had in determining a product's final score.
Following the snowshoe trail on a beautiful winter day in Colorado. The five pairs of winter hiking boots featured in this review are ideal for this sort of activity.
Warmth is one of the most important metrics when rating winter boots. Winter boots are by nature designed to be worn during cold months, and they need to be able to keep our feet warm when standing around in the snow and cold temps. All of the models we reviewed had a quantifiable amount of insulation, whether it was a thick felt or neoprene liner, or between 200 and 400 grams of synthetic insulation. An interesting standout was the Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Omni-Heat
that uses Omni-Heat reflective material to achieve a warm boot without the heavy loft of bulky insulation.
All insulation materials simply trap and reflect the heat created by the foot, so proper fit is also required to maintain adequate circulation. A boot can have plenty of insulation, but if it constricts the blood flow to your foot the boot will feel cold. While packed with lofty insulation, the Columbia Bugaboot II Slip On
was so small that the loss of circulation caused our feet to feel cold even when worn indoors. This is why fit and comfort, discussed below, are just as important as warmth when selecting a boot, as the wrong fit will quickly lead to cold feet.
The inside of the Bugaboot Plus III Omni, showing the silver heat reflective liner that helps make this a very warm boot.
We noticed that the two warmest boots in our review this year were the two boots that upped the insulation a notch to include 400 grams, rather than the more ubiquitous 200 grams used by many boots. These were The North Face Chilkat 400
and the Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry
. On the other hand, the Merrell Polarand Rove Zip
, despite using 200 grams of insulation like most every other boot, had a full-length side zipper that noticeably leaked heat out and allowed cold to seep in, providing the least warmth in the test.
Due to their soft, flexible upper shaft and superior warmth, the Chilkat 400 quickly became our favorite option for winter hiking.
While we tested the warmth of every boot out in the field, in order to provide a more accurate head-to-head comparison, we also wore each boot with a light sock in a slushy ice bath for eight minutes at a time to get a true feel of how warm they were, or whether they let in the cold. The results of this test were fairly easy to quantify. We must point out that while many of the boots are rated by their manufacturers to temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, we never encountered temperatures nearly that cold in southern Colorado while testing. Warmth accounted for 25% of a product's final score.
Always take a manufacturer's warmth or comfort rating with a grain of salt, as they don't always correlate to real-world findings.
If you are looking for a winter boot, then you probably live in a climate where winters are cold and the streets are snowy and slushy. Whether the precipitation falls as rain or snow, it needs to stay on the outside where it belongs if you want to avoid being uncomfortable and having cold and wet feet. All of the models we reviewed feature some kind of waterproof barrier to keep moisture out. Some boots, like the Sorel Caribou
, use simple waterproofed leather outers, while others, such as the Salomon X Ultra Winter CS
use a combination of waterproofed nylon or synthetic fabrics. Most boots also use a rubber bathtub style wrap around the sole for added water resistance.
The reason behind such attention to waterproofing is that water conducts heat (or cold) far more effectively than air does alone, and so cold water will freeze a foot much faster than cold air. We also have to remember that winter is a time when the ground, where we walk, is most often covered in snow, ice, or slush, which are all forms of frozen water. Moisture also can build up on the inside of the boots and will cause coldness just the same as if the boot had sprung a leak. Pac boots and full grain leather boots experienced these symptoms the most in our review, as they did not provide the same breathability that a waterproof-breathable membrane does. Consider this as you shop for a boot that you will exert yourself in, like in winter sports, especially if there might be a lot of time spent standing around, since a boot with less insulation may not make your foot sweat as much, but will cool off and cause cold feet faster.
Warm, waterproof, and easy to put on, the Sorel Caribou a great choice for shoveling snow (or performing other outdoor winter chores).
We must remember that all of these boots are waterproof except for the large hole in the top of them, meaning that they are only as waterproof as they are tall. Boots like the Sorel Caribou
and The North Face Chilkat 400
are quite tall and have high maximum puddle depths before allowing water inside, while the athletic Adidas Outdoor Terrex Conrax CP
has such a low cuff that care must be taken with snow or slush even a few inches deep.
In the ice bath test, the Chilkats proved themselves as both the warmest and most waterproof boots we tested. They were totally waterproof up to the top of the tongue crease - at 8.5 inches of depth.
Also, while all the boots included an attached tongue to keep out water that should end up on top of the foot, the tongue height varies in different models, and this effectively becomes their maximum puddle depth. The Sorel Caribou
, a very tall boot with a completely attached leather tongue, was the most water resistant boot in our test. On the other end of the spectrum, our model of Bogs Classic Ultra Mid
had a leak in one of the seams above the outsole. Likewise, due to design, the Merrell Polarand Rove Zip
and the Kamik NationPlus
both had relatively low water entry points. Water Resistance accounted for 25% of a product's final score.
Testing out these boot with a walk through the snow and slush in Ouray, Colorado.
Fit and Comfort
Getting a proper fit may be more or less important depending on the type of boot you choose, and since people's feet come in all shapes and sizes, finding the perfect fit is very subjective. We have spent enough time in each one of these boots to make fit recommendations, such as width, street shoe sizing, and foot volume, to help you narrow the choices down. Remember, though, that there is no substitute for trying them on. Pac style boots will have a loose and somewhat sloppy fit when compared to a single layer hiking boot, so we have tried not to compare apples to oranges in that regard. Some boots will readily accept an aftermarket insole for those who like extra arch support or who need to use custom orthotics in their footwear, while others, like The North Face Chilkat 400
, do not have the extra room for one.
All of our award winners had great fits and were very comfortable. Our Editors' Choice award winner, The North Face Chilkat 400
, has a comfortably snug fit that makes it a great choice for active use, although some people may wish to size this one up half to a full size. Our Best Buy winner, the Kamik NationPlus
, also has a great fit, particularly for Pac boots, which are notorious for feeling a little sloppy. The Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry
topped the pack in comfort and fit as well. It was one of the least bulky models and it felt great on even after long days, which is key in a hiker.
Showing the liner with the tongue overlapping it on the inside of the Nationplus boot. These boots give great warmth and comfort for by far the lowest price, an easy choice for the best buy award.
The poorest fitting boots tended to still be quite comfortable, although very sloppy. These were the Sorel Caribou
and the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid
, both of which left plenty of extra room for the foot, ensuring comfort, but didn't inspire us to go for a hike in them. That's okay, as we found these boots best for winter chores, anyway. The Columbia Bugaboot II Slip On
suffered from the opposite problem, as it was sized so small and tight as to be very difficult to squeeze our foot into. We loved these boots otherwise, and would simply recommend sizing up a whole size (or more!). The least comfortable boots were the Adidas Outdoor Terrex Conrax CP
, due not to their fit but to the design of the tongue and cuff, which sat so uncomfortably for our testers as to rub and chafe horribly after just a short walk. Fit and Comfort also accounted for 25% of a product's final score.
A final note on fit is the lacing system used (or lack thereof). This will have an impact on how tight you can get your boots laced up, and our review fleet used a wide variety of lacing systems, from speed laces with toggles on the Adidas Outdoor Terrex Conrax CP, to the more traditional laces used on Vasque Snowburban, to no laces at all on the slip-on models. Laces, or lack thereof, are discussed more in the Ease of Use metric below.
Ease of Use
Many people only use their winter boots for short durations — say going out to shovel the car out or walking from the bus to the ski resort's lodge — and for this, we prefer boots that are easy to slip on and off. Many of the lace-up models in this review use speed lacing eyelets that allow for quick and secure lacing, and some of the laced Pac boots, like the Sorel Caribou
, are simple to slip on and walk short distances in with the laces left undone. Features like glove-friendly pull tabs were well regarded, especially for boots without wide openings that required a little more cramming the foot into.
The slip on boots dominated this category, simply because there was no tying or laces to be dealt with. With its large handles on each side of the upper shaft and large foot opening, the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid
was the smooth as butter winner in this category. We liked this feature so much that we gave it a Top Pick award, as we have been using Bogs
for snow shoveling for years and love how easy they are. On the other end of the spectrum was Salomon X Ultra Winter CS WP
. Don't get us wrong, these boots really aren't that hard to put on, but in this case, they do have the most elaborate lacing system. Ease of use was weighted as 15% of a product's final score.
Slip on boots like these Bogs are also ideal for long days that end at the car. Taking off the ski boots and simply popping your feet into these, they are like the winter version of flip-flops.
Whether you need your winter boots to be able to traverse the icy walkways leading from your ski resort condo complex to the garage, or need to kick solid steps in windblown snow drifts as you boot up Mount Baldy in the winter, traction is an important consideration. During our testing, we discovered that models that have outsoles most similar to a winter snow tire performed the best. Specifically, boots with deep lugs with large surface areas featuring the softest and stickiest rubber performed best. This surprised us until we considered that this is exactly how tire manufacturers design their snow tires. Regardless, when encountering seriously icy conditions every boot will require additional traction for safe travel. Consider an aftermarket strap-on crampon such as YakTrax
to slip on over your boot's sole if you will be hiking an icy trail.
To test out these boots' traction head-to-head, we drove to the nearby town of Silverton, a place so cold and forbidding that once the streets get buried with snow, they compact into hard ice that doesn't melt until May. Then we found the steepest hill in town and spent all afternoon walking (or trying to) up and down this glazed ice rink while wearing different boots on each foot. Featuring a combination of the exact characteristics that we described as performing best, the Kamik NationPlus
had the highest score for traction in our tests. A close second was our Editors' Choice award-winning The North Face Chilkat 400
. On the other end of the spectrum were two boots whose results surprised us because they looked to have deep, aggressive lugs. The Columbia Bugaboot II Slip On
and the Salomon X Ultra Winter CS
may have had deep lugs, but they also had a relatively small amount of surface area and very hard, not sticky rubber. We awarded traction as 10% of a product's final score.
Showing the traction pattern on the lugged outsole of the Snowburban Ultradry. The lugs are very firm and work great in snow and soft conditions, but are less grippy on ice than some others.
We found that although very easy to pull out, the inner boot liners found in the Sorel
boots were difficult to put back into the boot, and recommend a boot dryer to aid in this process like the DryGuy Force Dry DX
. When coming home from a day on the slopes it is nice to throw the boots and gloves on the drying stand and turn the knob rather than the old trick of stuffing crumpled newspaper into wet boots that many of us grew up with.
If you are going out on winter hikes you may want extra flotation to keep you from sinking too deep. Look at our Snowshoe Review
to see the models we liked the most and why. And if icy conditions are a concern, then check out products like YakTrax
and Kahtoola MICROspikes
to aid in traction.
Also, be sure to check out our Ski Sock Review
and get yourself some cozy new merino wool socks to accompany your toasty warm new winter boots.
Testing winter boots in the backyard playground in winter. Luckily the snow is still shallow enough that the dog can join in on this sunny hike.
Using snowshoes to go for a hike in the still shallow snowpack at the top of Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The X Ultra Winter CS WP is a great choice for winter hiking adventures, although a gaiter may be needed due to its relatively low ankle cuff.
Searching for the best pair of boots for the winter season can be overwhelming. Do you prefer a casual model or a pair of boots designed for a more active lifestyle? After identifying the type of boot that best suits your needs, other factors ranging from warmth, comfort, and protection from the elements still need to be considered. We hope that this review will help when making these choices.