The Icebreaker has top-notch traction, warmth (due to its felt liner), and looks good to boot. While this contender scored very high in multiple categories, we ultimately felt that they did not out-compete any of the award winners for the top spot in any metric.
Testing the Icebreakers in a Seattle-area creek, as spawning salmon flopped around nearby.
With a shaft height of 14.25 inches, the Icebreaker falls right in the middle of our test. However, these boots are unique in their lace closure system, which allowed us to close the top of the boots around our calves once we'd put them on. With the laces closed, we felt a lot more secure against splashes and rain, though this lace system (of course) wouldn't keep water out if we stepped deeper than the shaft height.
While we liked this lace system, we rarely found ourselves tying the boots, as one of our favorite parts about rain boots is how simple they are - no laces whatsoever. And if we were planning to be in deep water, we preferred to be in taller boots (like the Baffin Enduro).
The nylon at the very top is waterproof too - we made sure!
With higher boots (or those with the lace closure) you can jump in and not get your feet wet - though our knees got wet on this one...
We found the Icebreaker boots to be just better than average when it came to comfort, though they were certainly unique. This boot's liner (instead of an insole) made them much different than the other competitors in the test. And while the liner was wonderful to step into on cold days (kind of like putting a thick wool sweater on your feet), we found that the lack of an actual insole was unpleasant. Instead of an insole, the liner extended beneath our feet, and while it was a quarter inch thick, we felt it matting down (from moisture and sweat) progressively throughout our test.
When we removed the liner (to check if we could use the boot without it), we found that the boot was enormous - with almost an inch of room forward and back and at least a half of left and right wiggle room. The boot must be used with the liner. Additionally, there was no way to put in our own insoles - we couldn't fit them inside the liner, the boots were so large without the liners that the insoles skated around, and even when we put the liners in over our insoles, they felt strange and unworkable. We far preferred the glove-like fit of the Editors' Choice Bogs Ultra Classic High, especially when we paired it with our insoles.
The liner - a great concept, but we would have loved it if the boot had worked without it too!
The Icebreaker has great traction, due to its variety of stud shapes and orientations. We wore them in the ice immediately after the underwhelming Hunter boots, and, within the first 20 seconds, wrote in our notes: "These are already 200% better than the Hunters.
The Icebreakers did quite well on all the surfaces tested, and even did relatively well on the ice portion of the test. We were impressed by how well they held onto wet surfaces and let us run up and down during the wet grass/mud hill test without any dramatic slipping.
The Arctic Sport (left) and the Kamik (right) did quite well on the goose-poop-and-wet-grass-covered hill.
Around town and even in snowy conditions, we were impressed by how warm these boots were. And as we stated above (in comfort), the relatively firm felt-iness of the liners was really pleasant and even warm enough to get our feet back up to comfortable in 20-degree weather (after wearing less insulated boots). However, these boots did not do as well as we expected in the ice-water bath test. They felt great on our feet initially, but we began to feel the cold through the liners four minutes in. We ultimately became unpleasantly cold after just under 12 minutes in the boots. The Bogs Ultra Classic High and the Arctic Sport both kept our feet warm for longer.
While we were unimpressed by their performance in the test, we ultimately think these boots are warm enough to wear down to 20 degrees with good socks, as long as you're moving. If you're stationary, they're less reliable.
We loved the way the liner felt as we put these on - like a wool sweater for our feet.
With the fabric at the top, the utilitarian design, and the laces, we liked the way the Icebreakers look. They even worked with a variety of styles, as they're clunky enough to go with work wear, while still looking good with more trim jean styles. The Baffin Enduros have a similar chunky look, though they lack the top lace.
While the laces are unique, we ended up really liking the way they looked, though we rarely took the time to tie them.
Ease of Use
We loved how easy these boots were to slip on and off (provided we didn't use the laces), and the liner always felt pleasant on our feet. We also liked the added option of the laces, which allowed us to keep water out and heat in. While they weren't as perfect as the Bogs Ultra Classic High, with its handles and heel studs, they were easy boots to wear. They have an upper circumference of 16.5", which is respectable when compared to similarly performing boots.
Tightening the laces
The size 13 Icebreakers fit differently than all the other boots in the test due to their liner. With our size 12 feet, there's a half inch of room forward and back, and left right there's no play whatsoever (on our D width feet), so we'd be inclined to say they come in at a D width. There's also just a little bit of play vertically (volume wise) which is quite minimal.
While they fit pretty snugly, the relatively thin outer rubber sometimes jabbed into our heels strangely.
The Icebreakers are useful for a wide variety of uses, from tame urban adventures to rugged trails, through mud and snow. We loved wearing these boots at the crag, as they were the complete opposite of our climbing shoes - soft and loose. Ultimately, due to their lack of an insole (and the fact that the only cushioning came from the liner compressing), these weren't as comfortable as other boots for extended sessions, but they're still a great boot.
The Icebreaker comes with a thick Zylex liner (instead of an insole).
For the price (~$65), the Icebreakers are a good purchase. These boots won the Editors' Choice award last year due to their impressive water resistance, traction, good looks, and easy use, all of which qualify them as a worthy option. However, during our test, we had some worries about the durability of the liner, as it began to pack out beneath the ball of our feet and our heels after around forty hours of use. The liner was by no means significantly damaged, but since it is the only source of cushioning and insulation in the boot, we worry that when it goes, the boot won't have much left. You can purchase replacement liners for roughly $20 (which isn't too much), but we really don't know what the lifetime of the liners might be. We ultimately recommend the liner-less Baffin Enduro if you're more price conscious, or the Editors' Choice Bogs Ultra Classic High. Neither displayed any significant signs of wear after the same ~40 hours of use.
The tide rolls into the Puget Sound as the Icebreaker poses on a conveniently gnarled chunk of driftwood.
The Icebreakers are solid contenders thanks to their high marks in good looks, traction, water resistance, and easy usage. They did not win the Editors' Choice award again as we found that their lack of internal structure (in the form of an insole) and their inability to take a supplementary insole limited their long-term comfort. With a few small changes, these boots could be great. We'd love to see some way for the boots to be cut narrower so they could be worn without the liner, but to still include a thick liner that we could put in separately when we wanted it. If this were the case, these boots could handle a huge temperature range. If they could also come with a removable insole (so we could put our own in, but still have the option to use a stock option). With both these improvements, these would be our favorite boots.