The Best Winter Boots of 2019
|Price||$149.96 at Backcountry||$150 List||$79.83 at REI|
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|$84.99 at MooseJaw|
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|$53.31 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Very comfortable, waterproof, lightweight, versatile, made in the USA||Comfortable, very warm, totally waterproof, great traction||Supportive, good traction, very warm||Warm, comfortable, affordable, great traction||Inexpensive, warm, super user-friendly, good traction, made in USA|
|Cons||Expensive, traction could be better||Fit is short (order a size up), mildly laborious to tie||More difficult to pull on and off, relatively complicated lacing system, break-in period||Not completely waterproof, more labor intensive to put on than others||Clunky, not for hiking, leaking seam between upper and lower|
|Bottom Line||The Keen Durand Polar is a versatile winter boot that is incredibly comfortable and completely waterproof.||Our previous Editor's Choice Award winner, the Chilkat 400 was narrowly beaten out but remains one of our favorites.||A high quality boot that is a warm and comfortable choice for winter hiking and snowshoeing.||A very comfortable boot at the most affordable price.||The Greenbay 4 is an incredibly user-friendly and utilitarian winter boot.|
|Rating Categories||Keen Durand Polar||Chilkat 400||Snowburban II UltraDry||Kamik NationPlus||Kamik Greenbay 4|
|Water Resistance (25%)|
|Fit And Comfort (25%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Keen Durand Polar||Chilkat 400||Snowburban II UltraDry||Kamik NationPlus||Kamik Greenbay 4|
|Maximum puddle depth before major leaking||6.75 in||8.5 in||7.25 in||4.5 in||3 in|
|Appropriate Activity||All acitivities, from chores to hiking||All activities, from chores to hiking||All activities, from chores to hiking||All activities, from chores to hiking||Chores, errands|
|Width Options||Regular||Regular||Regular||Regular, Wide version available||Regular, Wide version available|
Best Overall for Men
Keen Durand Polar
The Keen Durand Polar is a newcomer to our winter boot test, but that didn't stop it from earning the highest score and winning our Editors' Choice Award. It was a tough battle for the top step of the podium, but in the end, the Durand Polar took the win from the North Face Chilkat 400 by the slimmest of margins. This boot impressed our testers with its warmth, water resistance, and comfort and it is as versatile as they come. With 400g of KEEN.Warm insulation, it proved to be the warmest boot in the test, topping all other competitors. These boots are also completely waterproof, with a KEEN.Dry membrane that is breathable and completely impenetrable to water. They also have a snug and precise fit, with a soft lining and contoured thermal footbed, making them impressively comfortable at all times.
The nature of the Durand Polar's lacing system makes these boots a little less user-friendly than the slip-on models in our test. That said, the lacing system is easy to use and provides a secure fit for activities like walking and winter hiking. These boots were outperformed in our traction tests by several competitors, but they provide ample traction in most situations. Overall, we are thoroughly impressed by the warmth, comfort, water resistance and versatile all-around performance of the Durand Polar, our Best Overall winter boot.Read review: Keen Durand Polar
See women's: Keen Durand Polar - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
The Kamik NationPlus Pac-Style boot easily took home the award for the most budget-friendly boot for the fourth year running. This tall, lace-up boot is easy to fall in love with, for its competitive performance in our warmth, water resistance, traction, and comfort tests. Featuring a removable Thinsulate liner and a high traction sole, the NationPlus continues to impress our testers with its high-performance and low price.
On the downside, it leaks a bit at the base of the tongue and leaches pigment from the leather when wet, so don't wear your favorite socks. It's also a little harder to pull on than some options. Still, at half the price of some of the other boots in this review, it's 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 Winter Hiking
The North Face Chilkat 400
We first tested The North Face Chilkat 400 two years ago. It shot to the top of virtually all our testing metrics, outscoring the competition and quickly becoming our tester's favorite men's winter boot. This year we added new models to give the Chilkat 400 another run for its money. Again it offered consistent performance with top-tier water resistance and incredible warmth, though the Keen Durand Polar narrowly bested it. Featuring 400 grams of Primaloft insulation that wraps snugly around the foot, the Chilkat keeps you warm and dry when trudging through winter weather. This comfortable boot is also incredibly versatile and can be used for anything from chores to strenuous winter hikes. This is our favorite model for winter hiking, earning it our Top Pick Award.
The fit can be a little tricky to dial in, and the Chilkat 400's laces aren't the most user-friendly. But once you dial in the right size (we recommend ordering a half to full size up), the boots provide a comfortable feel. The Durand Polar is a slightly warmer boot, but when you combine the Chilkat's good looks, warmth, and excellent traction, it still offers the total package that we look for in a top-of-the-line winter boot.
Read review: The North Face Chilkat 400
Best Slip-on Winter Boot
Kamik Greenbay 4
The Kamik Greenbay 4 earns a Top Pick for being the best slip-on winter boot in the review. This affordable Pac style boot impresses our testers with its incredible user-friendliness. It's as easy to pull on and off as they come. This utilitarian boot is ideal for stashing by the door to shovel snow, walk the dog, or run errands around town. The slip-on design provides a roomy and comfortable fit. The Greenbay is also toasty with an 8mm removable thermal liner. It's surrounded by a molded rubber lower and a tall waterproof nylon upper with a 14.5-inch total shaft height. Both the uppers and lowers are waterproof and will keep your feet dry in most situations. The aggressive tread on the thick rubber soles provides good grip in snow and icy conditions.
These boots aren't fully waterproof, and our submersion test revealed that they leak at the seam attaching the lower boot to the upper shaft if submerged in water for an extended period. And, because these boots have a loose fit that lacks support, they aren't ideal for winter hiking or snowshoeing. That said, if you're looking for a simple, easy to use boot, then the Greenbay 4 is an excellent choice.
Read review: Kamik Greenbay 4
Top Pick for Traction
Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV Omni-Heat
The Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV is a versatile winter boot that scored relatively well across our tests but truly impressed us with their traction. With a unique sole design and tread reminiscent of a snow tire, these boots grip where others slip. They provide predictable and confidence inspiring traction on firm snow and icy conditions. Columbia's Omni-heat thermal reflective lining helps make these boots feel warmer than their 200g of insulation might suggest. It also helps them boast a high warmth to weight ratio. They are one of the most user-friendly lace-up boots in our test, with a less complicated system than most of the competition. The fit is generally good. It's slightly roomier than similar boots with a supportive upper and soft insulated lining.
The Bugaboot Plus IV is very water resistant, but not completely waterproof. We are also disappointed by the minimalist, unsupportive insole. Overall, though, these boots are versatile and well suited for activities ranging from chores around the house to full-on winter hiking and snowshoeing. Their outstanding traction earned them our Top Pick for Traction Award.
Read review: Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV
Notable for Comfort
Blundstone Thermal 566
test. A few weeks into our testing, we were in love. These are slip on boots that provide simple, rugged durability and excellent water resistance, thanks to their full leather upper. The fit is snug even though there are no laces, and the traction is reasonable in snowy and icy conditions thanks to a slip-resistant outsole. What sets the 566 apart though is their removable sheepskin liner, which works with the supportive footbed to provide unparalleled comfort for the foot.
The Blundstone boots are a little harder to pull on and off than the Bogs or Kamik Greenbay 4 boots. Still, soft and cushioned, the Blundstones make stepping out to shovel the walkway on a frigid February morning an appealing task.
Read review: Blundstone Thermal 566
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by a talented and diverse trio of gear testers, composed of OutdoorGearLab contributors Jeremy Benson, Ryan Heutter, and Andy Wellman. Jeremy is a north Tahoe-based freelance writer in addition to an avid backcountry skier and mountain biker. He is author of two books on these pursuits, published by Mountaineers Books - Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes: California, and Mountain Bike Tahoe. Jeremy is Joined by full time mountain guide Ryan Heutter, also Sierra-based. Ryan holds a degree in Outdoor Adventure Management from Western Washington University, and is currently pursuing IFMGA guiding certification. He has many climbing ascents all over the world, including over 20 big wall routes in Yosemite and Fitz Roy in Patagonia. Rounding the group out is Andy Wellman, based in Colorado. A climber of over 22 years and Senior Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab for the last five years, Andy has a number of accomplishments, including published climbing and bouldering guides to the southwest and climbing long mixed routes in Peru.
Because we have tested winter boots in the past, this year's review builds upon our growing body of experience with this category. We looked at the current options in the market, retaining the strongest ones, and adding new ones to the mix that looked competitive with known high-performers, ending up with 11 of the best models of winter boot available. We purchased and field tested these 11 pairs in a variety of locations, including mid-winter in Washington state, Idaho, and the San Juans of Colorado, as well as fall in California's Sierra Nevada. We identified several key performance metrics and used a combination of field use and standardized testing to compare performance among the different models. For example, warmth was tested by monitoring temperature change within the boots while they were submerged in containers of ice water, while fit and comfort was evaluated by use by a number of testers with different foot shapes and sizes.
Related: How We Tested Winter Boots
Analysis and Test Results
After thoroughly testing each boot, we rated them on their comfort, warmth, water resistance, traction and how easy they are to pull on and off, giving them a score from 1 (terrible) to 10 (perfect). Since this is a comparative review, if a boot receives a lower score for warmth, that doesn't necessarily mean it isn't warm, just that it's not as warm as the other boots. Read each review for more detailed information on each rating metric. Below we describe our criteria for evaluating each rating metric, as well as which boots perform the best and worst in these categories.
Related: Buying Advice for Winter Boots
On the hunt for the best deal? You'll notice that our Best Buy Award winner, the Kamik Nationplus is one of the least expensive models we tested, but it still scores well from a performance standpoint. Our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Keen Durand Polar, is our highest rated boot for performance, and also one of the most expensive models we tested. When considering how much you need to spend, consider what you need your boots to do for you. If you are just shoveling the walk a few times, you can go budget. If you want functional walking and hiking boots to wear nearly every day of winter, you probably want to pay more.
Of course, the higher priced Durand Polar also seems more durable than the Nationplus. If it lasts several years longer, you may get a better deal. Unfortunately, we haven't tested all of these boots to failure.
You wear winter boots in the least hospitable weather conditions, so they need to insulate our feet and keep them toasty and warm. As a result, a boot's warmth is one of the most important aspects of its overall performance. Each model in this review has insulation to keep the cold at bay, but different brands use different materials, such as Thinsulate or Primaloft. The Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV Omni-Heat takes the unique approach of combining Columbia's Omni-Heat reflective lining with a lighter insulating layer to keep your feet warm with less bulk and weight. Warmth accounts for 25% of a boot's overall score.
While we test the warmth of these boots outside in the field, we also test them in the lab for direct head-to-head comparisons. The most objective test we perform is to place the boots in an ice bath and take temperature measurements with a laser thermometer every 3 minutes for 12 minutes total. The Keen Durand Polar won this test, losing only 15.2 degrees after twelve minutes. The Kamik Greenbay also impressed us by losing only 17.4 degrees, while the North Face Chilkat 400 decreased in internal temperature by 19.8 degrees. Boots with less insulation, like the Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV and the North Face Chilkat III, lost heat more quickly than boots with double the insulation.
To further test each boot's warmth, we wore each pair with a light merino wool sock in a slushy ice bath for eight minutes at a time (letting our toes warm back up in between). This helped us determine how well each competitor insulates with a foot inside. In some cases, we even tested boots side by side for a more direct comparison. While manufacturers rate them many of these boots to temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, we never encounter temperatures that cold in southern Colorado or the mountains of California.
The warmest boot we tested is the Keen Durand Polar, which has 400g of synthetic insulation and a snug and comfortable fit. The North Face Chilkat 400 is another of our top scorers and also features 400g of synthetic insulation.
We are also very impressed with the warmth provided by all of the Pac boots we tested, the Sorel Caribou, Kamik Greenbay, and the Kamik Nationplus. Pac boots have an insulating inner liner and a water-resistant or waterproof exterior. Their removable liners do a great job of keeping your feet warm. On the other hand, the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid's neoprene insulation does not trap heat as well. Its large, loose opening lets heat escape as well, making it the least warm boot in our review.
Insulation can only trap or reflect the heat your foot creates, so a proper fit is essential to maintain adequate circulation. A winter boot can have all the insulation in the world, but if it constricts blood flow, your feet may still feel cold. Conversely, if your boots are too big, they are harder to walk in and take longer for your feet to heat. We first tested The North Face Chilkat 400 in our regular street shoe size and got cold feet. When we sized them up, they became one of the warmest in our review. This is why fit and comfort, discussed below, are just as important as warmth when selecting a boot.
The second most important criterion when selecting a winter boot is how water resistant it is. Water resistance is important because not only are wet feet uncomfortable — they are more prone to getting and staying cold than dry feet. All of the boots we tested feature some waterproofing, either a durable molded rubber outer, treated leather or Nubuck material. But how good are each of them? To find out, we walked out into a very, very cold lake and stood there. This submersion test is the ultimate way to find any weaknesses in a boot's water resistance. Water resistance is worth 25% of a boot's overall score.
Don't forget to consider how tall a boot is. Stepping in water deeper than the top of the boot or the low point of the tongue's gusset results in frigid and wet feet. Boots like the Sorel Caribou and The North Face Chilkat 400 are tall and have a high maximum puddle depth before allowing water inside, while the short Blundstone Thermal requires that you step carefully in snow or slush even a few inches deep.￼
In our submersion test, the Chilkat 400s and the Keen Durand Polar proved to be the most waterproof boots we tested. Their waterproof membranes are breathable and completely waterproof for a full ten minutes while standing in water 5 inches deep. While it is unlikely that you'll ever just be standing in deep puddles for extended periods while wearing either of these boots, it's nice to know they can handle it. These are both excellent choices for all-around use and active winter pursuits like hiking, no matter the conditions.
The Bogs Classic Ultra Mid and Sorel Caribou boots are also truly waterproof and easy to pull on. Between the two, we prefer the Sorels though for their superior warmth. Cozy, waterproof, and easy to put on, the Caribou boots are an excellent choice for shoveling snow or performing other outdoor winter chores.
Some boots claim to be waterproof and keep out momentary splashes but let water in if they are submerged for an extended period. A good example is the 14.5" tall Kamik Greenbay 4, which began to leak at the 3-inch mark during our submersion test. It lets water in on the seam where the upper and lower portions meet. We also noticed leaking at the seam with the Best Buy Kamik NationPlus boot, making its puddle depth only 4.5 inches due to its low tongue attachment point. The NationPlus is reasonably waterproof but, annoyingly, leaches pigment when wet. Both the Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV and the North Face Chilkat III also had this problem, leaking water in at the bottom of the tongue during our submersion test.
Depending on where you live, winter precipitation might fall primarily as snow, rain, or a combination of the two. Folks walking through wetter weather need a more resistant or a waterproof boot. If you mostly deal with reams of dry snow, you may not need the most waterproof boot there is. Those who are more active in the winter months may be more concerned with breathability.
Let us explain: Water conducts heat (or cold) far more efficiently than air does alone. If a boot doesn't breathe at all, moisture can also build up on the inside and chill just the same as if the boot had sprung a leak.
Pac boots and full grain leather boots, like the Sorel Caribou, build-up more moisture than any of the other models we tested. They don't provide the same level of breathability that a waterproof-breathable membrane can. This is important to consider if you're buying a boot for athletic activities, like winter hiking. A breathable waterproof membrane, like that found on the Keen Durand or the North Face Chilkat 400, will likely serve you better.
Fit and Comfort
The fit of your winter boots is important from a comfort standpoint but also from a performance standpoint. A tight fit can lead to decreased circulation and colder feet, while a loose fit may leave you stumbling. Comfort is also a key consideration, and we tend to like boots that offer a more cushioned, soft feel that also offer proper support. Some models will readily accept an aftermarket insole for those who like extra arch support or who need to use custom orthotics in their footwear.
How snuggly you need your boots to fit depends on how you intend to use them. A less precise fit is ok unless you need great winter hiking and snowshoeing performance. Pac style and slip-on boots generally have a looser fit when compared to a lace-up, single layer insulated boot, so we avoided comparing apples to oranges in that regard. Fit and comfort are subjective. That said, we evaluated the various models based on average foot width and shape. Fit and Comfort also accounts for 25% of a product's final score.
Our top performing models in this metric are the Keen Durand Polar, the North Face Chilkat 400, and the Kamik Nationplus. These models quickly molded to our feet and provided a precise and supportive fit appropriate for active pursuits like hiking. All three give the type of all-day comfort that your feet will appreciate. Our Top Pick for winter hiking is the Chilkat 400, due to their snug performance fit combined with a supportive upper cuff, waterproof breathable membrane, and excellent traction.
Even the low scoring boots are still quite comfortable. They're just loose and clunky. The Sorel Caribou's roomy fit is cozy, but doesn't inspire us to go for a hike. That's okay, as we find these boots best for winter chores and running errands anyway. The Keen Summit County boots are the widest fitting boot in our test, which is ideal for some. But, for people with low to medium volume feet, they are impossibly loose.
Ease of Use
Many people only use their winter boots for short periods of time. Typical uses include heading outside to shovel the walkway, running errands around town, or walking from the bus to the ski resort's lodge. For these brief uses, we prefer boots that are easy to slip on and off. Many of the lace-up models in this review employ 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 are well regarded, especially for boots without wide openings that a little harder to pull onto your foot.
Slip-on boots dominate this category because they don't slow you down with laces. With its large handles and foot opening, the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid is one of the fastest boots to pull on. Our other most user-friendly favorite is the Kamik Greenbay 4, which is just as easy to get in and out of as the Bogs Classic but has a higher cuff, warmer insulation, and better traction.
Some of our favorite models don't perform as well in this metric. But while lacing systems like those on the Durand Polar and Chilkat 400 take a little more time, they reward you with a more supportive fit. This keeps them comfortable longer and more suitable for a broader range of activities.
Don't don't forget to consider weight. If you want an all-day boot, lugging around one of the heftier models could get old in a hurry.
Dependable traction is important. It doesn't matter if you are going to the grocery store on a snowy day, walking out in the woods to cut down a Christmas tree, or heading down a trail to gain some winter solitude, you need to be confident that your boot can handle the slippery conditions you may encounter. Traction is weighted as 10% of a boot's final score.
In general, boots with aggressive tread patterns and softer rubber perform best. This is precisely how tire manufacturers design their snow tires. And just like snow tires need chains or spikes in severely icy conditions, boots require additional traction for safe travel over sheer ice. Consider an aftermarket crampon such as YakTrax or MICROspikes to slip on over your boot's sole if you will be hiking an icy trail.
To test the boots' traction head-to-head, we trudged up steep snowy (and often icy) slopes at least a dozen times. We also took the boots to old firm snow patches high in the mountains. The Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV won the day. It has a unique and innovative tread design that looks just like a snow tire. The soft rubber lugs have sharp edges and generous siping cuts that allow these boots to grip on firm snow and ice better than any other model in our test.
The Kamik NationPlus and North Face Chilkat 400 also had some of the highest scores for traction in our tests. With aggressive tread patterns that kept us confident in a wide range of conditions.
Despite all their waterproofing and breathability efforts, sometimes your feet, and boots, just get wet. It's easier to dry boots with removable liners. But we find that, although they are very easy to extract, the inner liners of the Sorels and Kamiks are difficult to shove back in the boot. For these reasons, we recommend a boot dryer like the DryGuy Force Dry DX to aid in the drying process. When coming home from a day on the slopes, it's nice to throw the boots and gloves on the drying stand and know they'll be ready to go in the morning.
If you're going out on winter hikes, you may want extra flotation to keep you from sinking into the snow. Our Snowshoe Review highlights the models we liked the most and explains why. If icy conditions are a concern, then check out products like YakTrax and Kahtoola MICROspikes to aid in traction.
Searching for the best pair of winter boots 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, consider warmth, comfort, traction, and weather protection. We hope that this review will help when making these choices.
— Jeremy Benson, Ryan Huetter and Andy Wellman