Most of the pieces in this review are geared more for around town use and winter hiking, rather than extreme technical activities. If you are in the market for a boot that is crampon-compatible, be sure to click over to The Best Mountaineering Boots for Women Review.
What do you need?
Before learning about different types of winter boots and their features, consider where you live and what you need a pair of winter boots. Do you live in a place where climates are wet and dip into the double digits? If so, warmth is priority. Or do you live in dry climates where it rarely gets into sub-zero terrain, but sidewalks remain slick? If so, weather protection might be key. Either way, consider what you're looking for in a winter hiking boot first.
Types of Women's Winter Boots
Over the years we have tested over 60 different types of winter boots. In our research, we have determined that there are four major categories of winter boots to consider, each with their pros and cons. These categories include; the Pac Boot, Active Hiking Boot, Snow Boot, and Around Town Boots.
If you're not sure what to get, this category is a good place to start! Of all the boots tested, we've learned that Pac boots are more versatile typically function best for around-town use and winter chores. They feature a well-defined thick rubber shell and an upper typically constructed of either a waterproof or water-resistant textile. Also, some have removable liners while others feature a one-boot construct. In our research, the Pac Boot has proven to be more weatherproof provided high shaft heights and more versatile uses overall.
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 designed to simply be pulled on and kicked off. Also, uppers aren't typically breathable. As a result, they are better for wearing for short periods of time while not so "active". Feel free to wear them to the store or while walking to work, but don't plan on taking them on any steep hikes. Most boots that we reviewed fit into this category.
Examples include: Sorel Joan of Arctic - our Top Pick for Severe Weather, Sorel Tofino II, Sorel Caribou - our Top Pick for Winter Chores.
Active Winter Hiking Boots
An active hiking boot is best for well….hiking in the winter! These models feature a snug lacing system and rigid upper allowing a more precise fit and better overall stability on technical terrain. The rigidity also enables you to kick steps into the snowside if needed or to wear with a pair of snowshoes. They are also more breathable, wicking away moisture to keep feet dry and warm all day long. Traction is more bomber then most winter boots, biting into the hillside, but not floating as high in deep snow. We also noted that the rubber is typically softer with deeper lugs, grabbing technical terrain with rocks and logs better than other types of boots.
The downside? They are typically 'techier looking' and take more time to get on and off. If you're in the market for an active winter hiker, this is your category.
Winter hikers in this review: Keen Durand Polar - Editor's Choice Winner, The North Face Chilkat III - easiest to put on, Columbia Bugaboot III - most versatile fit.
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: Kamik Momentum, our Best Buy award winner, Columbia Heavenly Omni-Heat
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 examples: UGG Cecile - our Top Pick for Style, North Face Shellista II Mid - our Editor's Choice, Keen Elsa - a favorite for everyday wear.
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 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 that has super warm insulation. On the other hand, if you are looking specifically for a winter hiker, the Keen Durand Polar 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 some products that offer just that balance. The Sorel Joan of Arctic was one of the warmest in our review, but 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 around town use, but it isn't as warm as some of its competitors.
When deciding on fashion and function, it is important to reflect on how you will use your winter boots; for example, if you will be driving to work and then bolting quickly indoors again, then you can probably get away with sacrificing on warmth.
Additionally, we reviewed several pieces that performed well while hiking and still earned decent scores in our style metric. The Keen Elsa is one such model. This contender offers a fair amount of water resistance, and it is comfortable on moderate hikes. The North Face Shellista Mid II has a similarly versatile in its performance and style. Alternatively, if you are just seeking out a fashion boot and are not concerned with its performance, a piece like the Sorel Tofino II is a cute option that would work well in dry and mild winter climates.
Once you've determined how you want to balance function with style, be sure to consider your 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 just to be yourself!
Tall vs. Short Boots
In this review, we tested five boots whose shafts measured less than 10 inches (from the ground to the top of the shaft) and six 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.
Simply put, tall boots 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 were not suitable for hiking (except for The North Face Shellista Mid II). They are typically more challenging to take on and off and don't offer the mobility of boots like the Columbia Bugaboot Plus III that are explicitly designed for winter hiking. In fact, we were able to hike in most 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.
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.
Can't decide what height winter boot you want? One unique boot that we tested was the UGG Adirondack II, which is a short boot with a cuff able suede shaft that can be worn up or down: roll it down and you have an 8.25-inch shaft with a fluffy sheepskin cuff or roll it up, and you have a 10-inch shaft that provides extra protection from the snow.
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 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 II only has 100 grams of insulation; however, it was warmer than the Keen Elsa, which also has 100 grams of insulation. This is due to the Keens lower amount of insulation in the footbed and shaft of the boot. Also, it has a thin sole. We found that the thick sole on boots like the Sorel Caribou provides quite a bit of extra insulation underfoot.
If you're going to be wearing your winter boots multiple days in a row, it may be beneficial to look for a product with a removable liner (like the Sorel Joan of Arctic) or at least a removable insole. This will allow the boot to dry faster if it gets wet inside from puddles, precipitation, or sweat.
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 liked how the faux fur cuffs contributed to weather 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. Often, 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 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 ultimately 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.
In our 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 reviews to see if the boot that you're considering runs small, large, or just right.
We hope this article has been helpful in your search for the best women's winter boot!