The Best Winter Boots for Men Review
What's the best pair of winter boots to keep your feet warm and comfortable all winter long? Winter can be cold and nasty, with a spectrum of conditions to walk through, from mud to snow and even ice. We set out to test ten of the most popular and highly rated models to see how they compared to one another and to find out which ones kept our feet the warmest and driest. We tested each pair over several months and evaluated them on their Warmth, Fit and Comfort, Water Resistance, Traction, and Ease of Use. Whether you're looking for a pair of boots for a family ski vacation, winter hiking excursion, or simply need to traverse slush covered streets every day on your commute to work, we have a boot for you.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Selecting the right winter boot can be make the difference between enjoying spending time in the outdoors during the winter months and absolutely dreading it. Consumers have long been forced into a handful of boot options, often available in limited locations or quantities. Boot manufacturers have begun to take notice of this gap in recent years, and there are now many quality winter boots to choose from, with more specialized offerings for specific activities as well as boots that can serve a range of purposes. We chose a group of ten boots that represent the spectrum of what is currently offered in the winter boot market and put them to the test, wearing them in all manner of conditions and even in a ice water bath to gauge their waterproofness and warmth. During this process we were able to narrow down the most important criteria to look for when purchasing a new pair of boots, and we'll share all that information with you in this review.
When selecting the best winter boot for you, you'll want to consider your main intended use for them. Do you need a thick and heavily insulated boot designed for long hours outside in cold climates, or something that is more streamlined for functionality during active winter sports? Or perhaps you need a stylish pair for commuting that still keep your feet warm and dry. And while you might own a variety of running or hiking shoes for different conditions, most people only own one pair of winter boots, so you'll want something that is versatile enough for wearing outdoors in poor conditions, whether it be running errands on a bad weather day or going out to the local park to build a snowman with the kids. For more considerations into what to look for in your next pair, check out our Buying Advice Guide, or keep reading below to see what types of winter boots are out there and how the different models compared in our side-by-side tests.
Types of Winter Boots
There are many different types of winter footwear available, so we must establish some broad definitions to categorize this group with. Most consumers will want to first look at the pac boot and slip-on boot categories, as these tend to offer the best warmth and comfort for most day-to-day use, with more universal fits and casual styles. Those who are looking for more active footwear for walking, snowshoeing and wintertime hiking may want to skip ahead and look at the insulated hiking boot category, which will showcase more performance oriented boots.
A pac boot is what immediately comes to mind to many of us when considering winter boots. By definition a pac boot is "a soft, flexible, heelless shoe worn as a liner inside a boot or overshoe." Modern day pac boots owe their design to the original winter footwear of the Inuit called kamiks, which were made of seal or animal hide. While providing excellent warmth and stealth for days on the ice, kamiks boots undertook a more durable form when paired with a thick-soled outer boot. While quite warm, pac boots tend not to breathe well, leading to increased perspiration. Luckily the inner liners of these boots are easily removable (though not that easily replaced) in order to dry them out. In 1962, Sorel introduced the Caribou model, which became an instant classic incarnation of the pac boot design that is still in wide use today. We tested the Sorel 1964 Premium T in this review, another example of a classic pac boot. The simple construction of the pac boot leads towards a warmer, though inherently loose-fitting boot. These are great lifestyle boots and are ubiquitous in ski towns from coast to coast. Our Best Buy award went to the Kamik Nation Plus, a budget friendly pac boot that is well suited to hard winters.
This is another example of a broad category that many boots may fit into, but simply describes any boot that does not feature laces or other means of further securing the foot. Slip-on models may be made from leather, rubber, neoprene, sheepskin or synthetic materials. There is usually some helpful accessory like a pull tab or handles that aid in putting the boots on, and often a heel counter on the back to help kick off them off when coming indoors. These boots typically rate very high in the ease of use metric, though fit is often compromised. Because there are no laces to customize the fit, good slip-on boots need to be well-shaped or molded to ensure a good fit for walking long distances. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid, is a classic example of a slip-on style barn boot, and was designed for serious mucking about on the farm. The other slip-on boot we reviewed was the Romeo-styled Keen Anchorage II, a comfortable and convenient around town insulated boot.
Insulated Winter Hiking Boots
Because of the inherent loose fit that comes with pac boots and some slip-on boots due to their inner liners or lace-free designs, manufacturers also make boots that incorporate waterproof outers, insulation, and inner liners into a single boot that is thinner and more adept at walking longer distances and performing during winter activities. These boots often feature less overall insulation than their pac boot counterparts because they are designed to be used during more active situations. For a secure fit these boots need to be snugly laced, and this category features boots that use tradition lace up systems as well as more modern speed laces like those on the Adidas Outdoor Terrex Conrax CP. For better comfort during walking, the height of these winter hiking boots ends above the ankle, but not as high as on pac boot models, and more effort is put towards creating aggressive soles that can actively grip in the snowy and icy conditions one might encounter while hiking along wintry trails.
While some of these boots, including the Top Pick for Winter Hiking Vasque Snowburban Ultradry, are great contenders for three-season backcountry endeavors like a spring ascent of Mount Whitney via the main trail, we recommend wearing durable double mountaineering boots, like the La Sportiva Spantik, if you plan to camp out overnight during the winter. Although they may be comfortable during the daytime, these single layered hiking boots are difficult to dry out while on overnight hikes in wintertime temperatures and may result in cold injuries if taken beyond their limitations. The Keen Summit County III, Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Omni-Heat and The North Face Chilkat II are all good examples of insulated winter hiking boots that we tested in this review.
Whether you plan on using your winter boots for the occasional trip to the ski hill, or wear them everyday as an insulated work boot, using a well-fitting, warm and weather resistant boot is going to enhance your winter experience and allow you to focus on the task at hand, no matter if that is walking to the bus stop or pelting your friend with a snowball. Below you'll find how the different models we reviewed ranked in our testing categories to give you, the consumer, better insight into selecting the right boot for you.
Criteria for Evaluation
Warmth was one of our most important metrics when rating these boots. Winter boots are by nature designed to be worm 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 is was a thick felt or neoprene liner, or between 200 and 400 grams of synthetic insulation. One of the warmest boots in our review, the Salomon Toundra Mid WP, used a unique Spaceloft Aerogels insulation used in NASA spacesuits, and it should keep you plenty warm even if you plan on going into orbit. Another 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 North Face Chilkat II put such pressure on the top of the foot 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.
We also noticed that the comfort rating of the different models did not always correlate to real world experience, and that some boots with only 200 grams of insulation were much warmer than those with 400 grams. The Keen Summit County III, for example, boast a -40 degree F/C rating and 400 grams of Keen.Warm insualtion; however, our feet got cold in these boots right around freezing and they were no match for the warmth provided by the Kamik Nation Plus, which only has 200 grams of insulation. While the Kamik is also rated to -40 degrees, we just didn't have those temps in our test area to fully verify that claim, but they did a great job at keeping our feet warm even on below freezing days.
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 featured some kind of waterproof barrier to keep moisture out. Some boots, like the Kamik Nation Plus, use simple waterproofed suede leather outers, while others, such as the Keen Summit County III, have an inner waterproof-breathable membrane to allow passage of foot perspiration but not allow water in. Most boots also use a rubber bathtub style wrap around sole for added water resistance.
The reason behind such attention to waterproofing is that the synthetic insulation fiber used in most of these boots loses its ability to retain heat as it gets wet, so wet boots will lead to cold feet. 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.
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 Bogs Classic Ultra Mid and Kamik Nation Plus are quite tall and have high maximum puddle depths before allowing water inside, while the comfortable around-town Keen Anchorage II has such a low cuff that care must be taken with snow or slush even a few inches deep.
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 personal. 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 used custom orthotics in their footwear, while others, like The North Face Chilkat II, 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 Bogs Classic Ultra Mid, has a surprisingly good fit for a slip-on boot, but you should keep in mind that the outer rubber will not stretch or conform to your foot like a leather boot will, so if they don't fit your foot out of the box they probably won't get much better. Our Best Buy winner, the Kamik Nation Plus, also has a great fit, particularly for a pac boot, which are notorious for feeling a little sloppy. And our Top Pick for Winter Hiking, the Vasque Snowburban Ultradry, topped the pack in comfort and fit as well. It was one of the least bulky models in the pack, and it felt great on even after long days, which is key in a hiker. We were also impressed with the comfort of the Adidas Outdoor Terrex Conrax CP, which combined a running shoe feel with winter level protection.
The least comfortable models that we tested were The North Face Chilkat II and the Keen Summit County III, for opposite reasons. The Chilkat was sized very small, and we even had to return the size 11 that we tested all the other models in for a half size up, and it was still fairly tight. Moreover, there is just not a lot of room inside for even an average sized volume foot, and as mentioned this created pressure points and cold feet. Be sure to size at least a whole size up in this model. As for the Keen Summit County II, it was cut on the wide side, which left the boot feeling sloppy; however, if your feet run wide you will probably really like the feel of this model.
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 the Keen Summit County III.
Whether you need your winter boot 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. Winter conditions often call for durable and deep lugs made of rubber compounds that will still adhere in cold conditions. The winter hiking specific models that we tested provided the best traction in harsh packed snow and slushy conditions, with smaller lugs being able to bite better into the surface. The pack boots and slip-on models proved adequate in all but the slickest conditions, and seemed to favor soft snow or wet surfaces more. No matter what, when encountering seriously icy conditions every boot will require additional traction for safe travel. Consider an aftermarket strap-on crampon such as YakTrax or MICROspikes to slip on over your boot's sole if you will be hiking an icy trail.
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 1964 Premium T, 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. By far the simplest boots to use were the fully slip-on Bogs Classic Ultra Mid and the Keen Anchorage II, which use large grab handles or pull tabs to slide the boot on, and keep the foot in place with more attentive anatomical molding.
We found that although very easy to pull out, the inner boot liners found in the Sorel and Kamik boots were difficult to replace, 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.
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. Read through our Buying Advice article for more tips on what to consider when making your purchase.
— Ryan Huetter
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