There is nothing like having warm, dry, and happy feet during the winter. A solid pair of winter boots (and socks) is the first step in attaining that success. Whether you want to go sledding in the park with your family or hiking your favorite snowy trails, the key to warmth, comfort and protection are in your boots. To help you choose the best women's winter boot for you we first need you to consider a few fundamental questions.
Where Are Your Boots Going this Winter?
What's the weather like where you live? If the climate is wet, make sure to consider waterproofness and weather protection. 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? In that case, you may not need a very burly boot.
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. Do you 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 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.
Types of Winter Boots
Over the years, we have tested dozens of women's winter boots and have determined that there are three major categories of winter boots. Each has its pros and cons. Not all boots are created equal, and some boots are more suited for specific uses than others. The categories we've identified include; All-Around Use, Pac Boots, and Active Hiking Boots.
All Around Use Boots
These boots are the most versatile category, offering a better fit than Pac boots, and built for light hiking adventures, getting to and from work, and wearing throughout the day, in cold weather. They are perfect for work, commuting, wearing around town, going out to dinner with friends and more. This is probably the largest category of winter boots out there, and most of the boots we test fit into this area of use.
They are typically more stylish than both Pac Boots and Active Hiking Boots and offer a breathable construction that allows you to wear them comfortably all day long. If you're seeking a versatile boot that can do it all, and it doesn't need to be that specialized, this 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. They are also very durable.
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, looking more like a wavy traction pattern that's best for battling deep snow, but not icy surfaces.
Active Winter Hiking Boots
An active hiking boot is best for, you guessed it, 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 snowy slopes 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 downside? They are typically techier looking and take more time to get on and off. They are 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.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Winter Boot
There are many factors to consider when looking at buying a winter boot. Take a look at key considerations when buying a winter boot, and to better understand how they work (even though it might seem pretty obvious).
Sizing and Fit
When sizing a boot, it's critical to consider the relative size of your foot and read reviews to see if the fit is true, or small or large. Luckily, we discuss these details in each individual review, but when you go online to do more research, you need to keep in mind a few details.
Sizing is important to ensure that you get enough warmth through the winter. If you prefer to wear a thicker sock, consider sizing up your boot to provide more warmth for your toes. A tighter boot is going to be colder, simply because the space in front of your toes needs to be able to conduct and hold heat. If that space doesn't exist, your toes will get super cold. You need to be sure your feet can move, which is why the sizing is so important.
Wearing a thin wool sock actually helps to keep feet warmer. While most might think a thicker sock is better (and warmer) they typically have a harder time wicking away moisture from your foot (that's generated when moving), ultimately keeping your foot wetter, and thus cold. Our recommendation? Avoid cotton socks in the winter, and buy a light or midweight sock to promote wicking and breathability in your footwear system.
Related: The Best Hiking Socks of 2020
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 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 quite a bit of extra insulation underfoot.
Winter boots 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.
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. Keep an eye on seams, which can often be a weak point in boot construction and waterproofness.
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. 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, others like ultimately fall short in our comfort metric. Weight plays a significant role in comfort, as well. Heavy boots are fine if you're standing around outside looking for maximum warmth, but they take a toll if you're wearing them all day. We weigh each of the boots we test to help you see how heavy each might be.
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 snowdrifts. Unfortunately, they are not as agile and don't have the same mobility as short boots, which are designed for plowed sidewalks and trails.
Most pairs of short boots we were able to hike within this 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. You can even wear them in shoulder seasons, paired with a cute skirt and tights.
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 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.
As with most products, it is important first to consider how you plan to use your boots most of the time 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, that looks good as well. Many options out there have a techy exterior that doesn't look the best when hanging out or going to dinner in town. There are lots of options that balance both fashion and function.
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 of 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. This ultimately helps to keep feet dry and warm during the coldest days of winter. One downside of these collars is that snow can 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 underneath pants. Depending on who you are, what you wear, and your intended use, consider if faux-fur is your thing.
While there are seemingly lots of different options on the market, it's important to take a look at some of the best performing boots out there. We have provided you with some food for thought when going forward and making these important decisions for Winter. We wish you luck in this super exciting process that'll find you a pair of boots that'll have you tackling snow-covered side-walks and trails all winter long.