Fashion vs. Function
Footwear plays a major role in a person's overall look. Since many women purchase winter boots for use around town, we're going to start off with a debate about fashion vs. function. 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. If you live in an extremely cold and snowy area, it may be critical to purchase a tall, burly boot like the Sorel Joan of Arctic that has super warm insulation. On the other hand, if you are looking specifically for a winter hiker, the Vasque Pow Pow II Ultradry will certainly do the trick. In the case of a hiking boot, style is probably not at the top of your priority list; however, if you are on the hunt for a boot for general around town use, it is often important to balance function with style.
Luckily, we tested a number of products that offer just that balance. The Sorel Joan of Arctic was the warmest in our review, but it's also one of the most stylish according to our social media poll of over 50 women! However, this bulky boot is not very comfortable and we don't recommend it for long walks in town. On the other hand, the Editors' Choice winner, The North Face Shellista II Mid is comfortable to walk in and is cute for around town use, but it isn't as warm as some of its competitors.
Additionally, we reviewed several pieces that performed well while hiking and still earned decent scores in our style metric. The UGG Adirondack II was one such model. This boot offers a fair amount of water resistance and warmth, and it is comfortable on moderate hikes. The North Face Shellista Mid II was similarly versatile in its performance and style. Alternatively, if you are simply seeking out a fashion boot and are not concerned with its performance, a piece like the Northside Kathmandu is a cute option that would work well in dry, mild winter climates.
Once you've determined how you want to balance function with style, be sure to consider your personal look. In this review, we tested many winter boots with faux fur and several without. Figuring out whether or not you like the faux fur look is important since it can be challenging to find winter boots without it. Keep in mind that boots with faux fur can somewhat limit versatility. On cool days in late fall, our testers didn't feel ready to bring out the fur just yet; instead, they preferred to wait until it was a little colder and later in the season. Finally, remember to just be yourself!
Tall vs. Short Boots
In this review, we tested only two boots whose shafts measured less than 10 inches (from the ground to the top of the shaft) and seven boots that were taller than 10 inches. There are pros and cons to both of these designs; let's break it down. The most obvious benefit of taller boots is they offer additional protection from rain and deep snow and they provide extra warmth up the calves. Even the tall boots that didn't do too well in our puddle test proved to be essential when schlepping through snow drifts.
On the other hand, most of the tall boots we tested were not suitable for hiking (with the exception of The North Face Shellista Mid II). They are typically more difficult to take on and off and don't offer the mobility of boots like the Vasque Pow Pow II Ultradry that are designed specifically for winter hiking. In fact, we were able to hike in three of the five 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. But, if you do expect snow and you do decide on a shorter boot, be sure to opt for one that has a shaft that cinches closed, or has the option to flip up into a taller boot like the Ugg Adirondack II.
We found it more difficult to tuck our pants into the short boots in our review (even skinny jeans bunched up a bit with some of the short boots) you could also say we found it easier to wear our pants on the outside of our short boots, depending on which way you want to look at it. In wet conditions, tucking your pants in can keep them dry; however not everyone likes this look. One final consideration is that short boots (especially the ones we tested without faux fur) are a bit easier to wear in late fall and early spring when you may not want a huge winter boot.
Fur or no fur?
We realize that after talking with many outdoorsy women that faux-fur is a very personal topic. Some women love the looks, while others think its atrocious. Take some time to figure out what your tastes are, because this could limit your decisions, or expand the possibilities in winter boot selection. In addition to personal preference, there are some basic pros and cons for faux-fur boots. First, a faux fur collar provides a great seal at the top of the boot that keeps heat in, and pesky debris out.
That said, some of our testers noticed that after long days trudging snow, the snow would melt and eventually, seep down the shaft of the boot. Second, many of our tester that wore a flared pant found it easier to wear this type of boot over top of their pants, given the large hole at the top. However, those who prefer to wear boots under the pant, can't have that versatility with this type of boot. Using this information, try to figure out if you'd prefer faux fur or not. If you love it, but sure to check out the Sorel Joan of Arctic and Northside Kathmandu boot. However, if you're on the fence, be sure to look at all your options in this review by visiting The Best Winter Boots for Women article.
Performance & Comfort
Once you've narrowed down how you're going to balance out fashion and function, and you've decided on whether tall or short boots are going to better suit your needs, you should consider what sort of performance and comfort you expect out of your boots. Above, we touched on performance, which includes such characteristics as water resistance and warmth, but let's talk a little more about it here.
Performance is directly related to construction. Boot warmth depends upon the insulation used, the material and thickness of the outsole, and the design of the footbed. Factors like shaft height and the seal at the top of the shaft also play a critical role in overall warmth. We found that boots (like the Sorel Joan of Arctic) that had a little more dead space in the toe box warmed up more effectively than boots with a very narrow profile. Interestingly, the Sorel Tofino only has 100 grams of insulation; however, it was warmer than the Northside Kathmandu, which has 200 grams of insulation. This could be partially due to the Kathmandu's very thin sole. We found that the thick sole on boots like the Vasque Pow Pow II Ultradry and the Kamik Momentum provide quite a bit of extra insulation. Be sure to check out our individual reviews of each product, where we go into depth on how each boot compares in warmth.
Construction also affects water resistance. All the pieces that we tested were waterproof to some extent, but we found that several pieces had designs that decreased their water resistance scores. If you live in an area that gets lots of winter precipitation, you should be cautious about purchasing boots like the Northside Kathmandu or the UGGs, which both allow water to seep in through their seams.
Over the long term, materials like suede may need to be refinished with a waterproof treatment, while rubber will remain water resistant over the life of the product. Additionally, we really liked how the faux fur cuffs (and the UGG's sheepskin cuff) contributed to water resistance. These features not only sealed in warmth, but also caught snow and rain, keeping it from making its way down into the boot.
We also want to talk about how comfort and coziness should play into your decision. There may be no better time to pamper your feet than in winter. Oftentimes women sacrifice comfort for style and this is especially true in footwear. Our testers think that snow and cold temperatures are the perfect excuse to hang up your uncomfortable heels or flats and slip into something that's still stylish, but just more comfortable. If you plan to hike or walk significant distances in your boots, it's important to really think about comfort. While some of the pieces that we reviewed have very supportive footbeds (like The North Face Shellista - our Editors' Choice winner), others (like the Sorel Joan of Arctic) completely fell short in our comfort metric. In the end, you will need to prioritize which qualities are most important to you before choosing the boot that is just right for you.
Want to make your feet extra happy? Consider investing in winter boots that are super cozy. The UGG Adirondack II and the Northside Kathmandu may just alter your definition of coziness. Both of these boots have plush inner linings that will make your feet feel ultra snuggly.
Finally, let's talk briefly about purchasing boots made from animal products. We reviewed several models that do not have any leather or sheepskin, including the Columbia Minx-Mid II Omni-Heat and the Kamik Momentum. However, all the other pieces use leather, suede, or nubuck materials. Additionally, the UGG Australia Adirondack II incorporates sheepskin. In this case, UGG uses only sheepskin that is a byproduct of the meat industry. For more discussion on this topic check out our individual review of this product.
In our individual reviews, we also talk about how each piece fits. Some of the boots that we tested have more narrow soles and toe boxes, while others have airy toe boxes and run slightly too big. Furthermore, some models (like The North Face Shellista II Mid) have supportive footbeds, but their insoles may or may not be the perfect fit for *your* foot. When fitting your boots, make sure they aren't too tight; a little bit of dead space in your boot can promote foot warmth and allow you to layer on thick, cozy wool socks. Be sure to peruse the 'Style & Fit' section of our individual reviews to see if the boot that you're considering runs small, large, or just right.