The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How to Choose the Best Winter Boots for Women

Line 'em up! Testing waterproofness at the lake.
Monday November 5, 2018

There is nothing like having warm, dry, and happy feet and a solid pair of winter boots is vital for a successful winter. Whether you want to go sledding in the park with your family or hike your favorite snowy trails, the key to warmth, comfort and protection is in the boot. To help you choose the best women's winter boot for you we first need you to consider a few fundamental questions.

What's the weather like where you live? If the climate is wet, make sure to consider waterproofness. If that water freezes a lot, take traction into account. Do temperatures dip into the single or negative digits? If so, warmth is the priority. Or do you live in a drier climate where it rarely gets into sub-zero terrain, you may not need a very burly boot.

Here we shovel snow while temperatures dip into the double negative digits in Ontario  Canada.
Here we shovel snow while temperatures dip into the double negative digits in Ontario, Canada.

Then think about the types of activities you enjoy (or have to complete) in winter. Is snowshoeing or winter hiking your thing? Then you may want to consider hiking boots over an all-around boot. Just need to shovel the walk and get to and from the car, a warm, comfy, slip-on option may be right for you.

Also consider fit if you have a specific needs for a narrow heel, wide foot, or lots of arch support. Once you've answered these questions, keeping reading to find out how they affect your boot choice.

Most of the boots in this review are geared for general, around-town use and winter hiking, rather than extreme technical activities. If you are in the market for a boot that is crampon-compatible, check out The Best Mountaineering Boots for Women Review.

Types of Winter Boots


Over the years we have tested dozens of women's winter boots and have determined that there are four major categories of winter boots. Each has their pros and cons. These categories include Pac Boots, Active Hiking Boots, Snow Boots, and Around Town Boots.

A look at the Pac Boots in this review. Left to right: Sorel Caribou  Sorel Joan of Arctic  Sorel Tofino II.
A look at the Pac Boots in this review. Left to right: Sorel Caribou, Sorel Joan of Arctic, Sorel Tofino II.

Pac Boots


If you're not sure what to get, this category is a good place to start! Pac boots are very versatile and typically function best for around-town use and winter chores. They feature a well-defined thick rubber shell around the foot with a waterproof or water-resistant upper and an inner, insulating liner that is often removable. This outer shell/inner liner combination is their defining feature. Pac boots are usually highly weatherproof, with tall shaft heights, thick soles, and great insulation.

The downside? Fit and breathability. The fit is typically sloppier than an active hiker or snow boot. The lacing systems aren't very technical and are often designed to be quickly pulled on and kicked off. Their traction is often minimal.

And, while these boots keep your feet toasty warm, if you run hot or are running around a lot, your feet will likely get soggy with sweat. All those layers don't breathe well. As a result, they are better to wear for short periods of time or while not being super active. They are great for shoveling the sidewalk, clearing snow off your car, or mellow dog walks. Steep or long hikes are less pleasant.

Examples include: Sorel Joan of Arctic - our Top Pick for Severe Weather , Sorel Caribou - our Top Pick for Winter Chores, and the Sorel Tofino II.

Testing winter hiking boots on a glacier  in a snowstorm.
Testing winter hiking boots on a glacier, in a snowstorm.

Active Winter Hiking Boots


An active hiking boot is best for… hiking in the winter! These models feature a snug lacing system and rigid upper that allows a more precise fit and better overall stability on technical terrain. The rigidity also helps you to kick steps into steep snow or to wear and works well with a pair of snowshoes.

These boots are designed for activity and are often quite breathable, wicking away moisture to keep feet dry and warm all day long. Traction should be bomber, compared to most winter boots, biting into the hillside. Winter hiking boots typically have softer rubber soles and deeper lugs, grabbing technical terrain with rocks and logs better than other types of boots.

The Shellista II and Ice Maiden II have enough traction for casual hikes but aren't burly enough to grip in more technical terrain.
The Shellista II and Ice Maiden II have enough traction for casual hikes but aren't burly enough to grip in more technical terrain.

The downside? They are typically techier looking and take more time to get on and off. They often shorter to facilitate movement, so you may need gaiters to keep the snow out, and their streamlined construction means that you don't float as high in deep snow. But if you're like to stay super active even when the snow flies, this is your category.

Winter hikers in this review: Oboz Bridger 7" Insulated Waterproof boot - Editor's Choice Winner, The North Face Chilkat III - easiest to put on, the excellent Keen Durand Polar, Columbia Bugaboot IV Omni-Heat - best traction of all boots tested.

A great budget snow boot  the Columbia Ice Maiden II is also waterproof!
A great budget snow boot, the Columbia Ice Maiden II is also waterproof!

Snow Boots


A snow boot features a water-resistant upper and rubber outsole that may not be as durable or weather-resistant as Pac boots. They are best for walking around town or light hiking but don't offer much in the way of significant weather protection. Traction varies in these boots.

Snow boots in this review: Columbia Ice Maiden II - our Best Buy award winner, Columbia Heavenly Omni-Heat

From the woods to the restaurant  the North Face Shellista II has you covered.
From the woods to the restaurant, the North Face Shellista II has you covered.

Around Town Boot


While a plethora of designs fit into this category, these boots are simply best for wearing around town or the odd light hike. They are not suited for active winter hiking or super messy chores. Typically these boots are cute with styles that are fit to wear both to work and while commuting.

Around town example: North Face Shellista II Mid - our Editor's Choice for Everyday

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Winter Boot


Tall or short? Casual or hardcore? We've got you covered.
Tall or short? Casual or hardcore? We've got you covered.

Sizing and Fit


In our reviews, we talk about how each boot fits. Some of them have narrower soles and toe boxes, while others have spacious toe boxes and run slightly large. Some models, like the Oboz Bridger, have super supportive footbeds, but their insole shape may or may not be the perfect fit for your foot.

It's very important to nail sizing to make sure your foot has enough room to stay warm but that the boot snugs down enough to support you during your favorite winter activities. A little bit of extra space in your boots can promote foot warmth, allow you to wiggle your toes around, and have room to slip in some toe-warmers on extra cold days. Be sure to peruse the 'Style & Fit' section of our reviews to see if the boot that you're considering runs small, large, or just right.

The Columbia Heavenly Omni-Heat boots have 200grams of insulation  enough for moderately cold weather.
The Columbia Heavenly Omni-Heat boots have 200grams of insulation, enough for moderately cold weather.

Insulation and Warmth


Performance characteristics include water resistance and warmth, and both are directly related to construction. Boot warmth depends on insulation quality and quantity, 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 have a little more dead space in the toe box warm up more effectively than boots with a very narrow profile. Insulation placement in the footbed, in the shaft, as well as the thickness of the sole, are all factors that will determine the warmth of a boot. We found that the thick sole on boots like the Sorel Caribou provides quite a bit of extra insulation underfoot.

Here are two of the completely waterproof boots we tested  the Sorel Joan of Arc on the left  and the Sorel Tofino II on the right.
Here are two of the completely waterproof boots we tested, the Sorel Joan of Arc on the left, and the Sorel Tofino II on the right.

Water Resistance


Winter reboots get their water-resistance or proofing by using treated leather, nylon or rubber, or by sandwiching a waterproof but breathable membrane between the insulation and the outer material. Pac and snow boots use the former method. Winter hiking boots tend to use the latter, which is why they work so well for active pursuits. Either method can be completely waterproof with the right construction and quality materials.

If you're going to be wearing your winter boots multiple days in a row or in especially wet weather, look for a product with a removable liner, like the Sorel Joan of Arctic. This allows the boot to dry faster if it gets wet inside from puddles, precipitation, or sweat.

Most winter boots have some sort of DWR treatment to keep water from soaking the outer material even if it isn't seeping into the boot. This is what makes water bead on the surface. Over the long term, materials like leather, suede, and nylon may need to be retreated to maintain their water-resistance, while rubber remains water resistant over the life of the boot.

Closed metal eyelets let you quickly tighten and tie the Bugaboot Plus IV.
Closed metal eyelets let you quickly tighten and tie the Bugaboot Plus IV.

Lacing


Lacing and unlacing your winter boots are the annoying tasks that stand between you and your wintry trail retreats or your warm, relaxing moments by the fire. It does matter how hard a boot is to get on and off and how long it takes to get the proper snugness and support if you're heading out for a walk. Pac boots' loose fit makes them easier to step in and out of, and they require less precise lacing since you can't get them that tight anyway. Winter hiking boots will also require more time to cinch up but some allow for one fluid pull from the top while others require tightening all the way from your toes to the top. We tell you how each boot performs here in our Ease of Use metric.

There are also several slip-on winter boots on the market, which skip the issue altogether, we appreciate their simplicity, and often they fit well enough for all-day use.

Weight and Comfort


Comfort should always play into your decision, especially if you plan to hike or walk significant distances in your boots. While some of these boots have very supportive footbeds, like The North Face Shellista II, others like the Sorel Joan of Arctic ultimately fall short in our comfort metric. Weight plays a big role in comfort. Heavy boots are fine if you're standing around outside looking for maximum warmth, but they take a tole if you're wearing them all day. We weight each of the boots we test. You can find those values in the Women's Winter Boot Review comparison table.

Testing the depth the North Face Shellista II can go in the snow.
Testing the depth the North Face Shellista II can go in the snow.

Tall vs. Short Boots


We consider a tall boot one that's 11-inches or above. A short boot is below 11-inches. We tested both. Like most things, there are pros and cons to both of these designs. The most obvious benefit of taller boots is that they offer additional protection from deep snow, and provide extra warmth for your calves. Tall boots come in really handy when trudging through snow drifts.

Simply put, tall boots help keep snow from caking onto your pants and melting as soon as you go indoors.

On the other hand, most of the tall boots we tested are not suitable for hiking (except for The North Face Shellista II Mid, which is on the shorter side of tall at 10 ½ inches). They are typically more challenging to take on and off and don't offer the mobility of shorter boots like the Oboz Bridger Insulated Boot, which is explicitly designed for winter hiking.

Note the gaiter ring at the base of the laces on the Oboz Bridger insulated boot  in case your hike gets into deep snow.
Note the gaiter ring at the base of the laces on the Oboz Bridger insulated boot, in case your hike gets into deep snow.

In fact, we were able to hike in most pairs of short boots in our review. While they don't provide as much protection from the snow, many of them still offer 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. However, 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 offers a way to attach a gaiter.

One final consideration is that short boots (especially those without faux fur) have a longer season. They are a bit easier to wear in late fall and early spring when you may want some warmth but not necessarily a huge winter boot.

The Joan of Arctic can be paired with a skirt for a cute winter look.
The Joan of Arctic can be paired with a skirt for a cute winter look.

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. In the case of a hiking boot, style is probably not at the top of your priority list. But, if you are on the hunt for a boot for general around-town use, it is often important to balance function with style.

When deciding on fashion and function, it is important to consider how you will use your winter boots. For example, if you will be driving to work and then bolting quickly indoors again, you can probably get away with sacrificing on warmth.

As with most products, it is important first to consider how you plan to use your boots and what the weather in your region is like. If you live in a frigid and snowy area, it may be critical to purchase a tall, burly boot like the Sorel Joan of Arctic. And, luckily, the Joan of Arctic does a great job balance function with style. It's one of the warmest boots in our review, and it's also one of the most stylish according to our testing pool! 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 going to the cafe, but it isn't as warm as some of its competitors.

We also reviewed several pairs of boots that perform well on mellower hikes and still earn decent scores in our style metric. The North Face Shellista II Mid is one example that is versatile in its performance and style.

The faux-fur line up! Love it or hate it  faux fur does help keep snow out of the top of the boots.
The faux-fur line up! Love it or hate it, faux fur does help keep snow out of the top of the boots.

Fur or no fur?


Who knew that faux-fur is such a controversial topic? Some women love the look, while others say it's a dealbreaker. Consider what your tastes are because this could narrow your options, or expand the possibilities, in winter boot selection. In addition to personal preference, there are some basic pros and cons for faux-fur boots.

A faux-fur collar does provide an excellent seal at the top of the boot that keeps heat in and the snow out. The fleecy wool pile on the cuff of the Oboz Bridger Insulated Boot is also very cozy. These features not only seal in warmth but catch snow and rain, helping to prevent moisture and cold air from making its way down into the boot.

However, some of our testers noticed that after spending all day in the drifts, snow would build up on the collar, melt, and eventually seep down into the shaft of the boot. Second, the fur can make it tricky to wear these boots under pants. Depending on who you are, what you wear, and your intended use, consider if faux-fur is your thing. If you're on the faux-fur fence, be sure to look at all your options in this review by reading The Best Winter Boots for Women article.




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