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

How We Tested Winter Boots for Women

Wednesday November 21, 2018
Testing interior temps in each winter boot as they sit in ice water.
Testing interior temps in each winter boot as they sit in ice water.

We've worn these boots on steep mountain hikes, across glacial ridges, into alpine lakes, icy streets, and snowy trails. We've tested the older boots in our review through entire winters. With snow coming late on the west coast this year, we headed up to volcanic glaciers and frigid snowfields to see how new entries and old favorites held up. Below we outline how we tested each metric specifically.

Warmth

To test for warmth, we submerged each pair of boots in a cooler of ice water and measured the inside temperature of the boots with a laser thermometer at five-minute intervals for 20 minutes. We examined the quality and quantity of insulation and outsole material to evaluate the standing and active warmth of each contender. Finally, we wore the boots in cold temperatures and when splashing around in cold lakes and reported how toasty our feet felt in each pair of boots over time, in action, and while standing around.

One thing we learned was that while boots lose heat at different rates, this didn't always correlate to our experience wearing the boots. The type and amount of insulation surrounding the foot have a great effect on how we experience cold.

Taking the Shellista II for a walk in the lake to determine waterproofness.
Taking the Shellista II for a walk in the lake to determine waterproofness.

Weather Protection

Weather protection takes both water and snow into account. To test waterproofing, we determined each boot's maximum puddle depth. To do so, we hiked to an alpine lake and stood in 4" of water (simulating a deep puddle). If you're going to stand around in cold water, we figured, let's make sure it's in a beautiful spot. Then we slowly walked in deeper to see where each boot lost its water resistance. Then we measured it with a ruler. For the most part, the depth of waterproofness was determined by the height of the boot, with a couple of exceptions.

We also wore these boots while walking through snow banks, over trails, and during snowstorms to determine comparative performance. If a boot took an extra long time to dry out, we noted that, as well.

Walking into the lake in the Shellista III Tall boot and keeping dry!
Walking into the lake in the Shellista III Tall boot and keeping dry!

Comfort & Fit

After weighing each boot to determine a baseline, we compared the relative comfort and fit features. We wore each pair with thin socks to compare the stability and footbed support along with the coziness of the liners and collars. We also noted any areas of constriction that would limit the fit of a boot to a certain foot shape. Finally, we performed online research to determine if the boots needed to be sized up or down. Overall, boots that felt good to wear all day had a fairly versatile fit and had few additional cozy features scored higher.

Pull once and all the laces tighten up with the  Heavenly Omni-Heat. This is not a luxury found in the North Face Shellista II Mid.
Pull once and all the laces tighten up with the Heavenly Omni-Heat. This is not a luxury found in the North Face Shellista II Mid.

Ease of Use

We took each boot on and off several times with warm hands and with cold hands, and when the boots were warm and cold. We noted how tricky it was to dial in the fit and if the boot stayed snug throughout the test. We also noted which boots took us longer to put on and take off based off the labor of lacing and unlacing.

Traction

In addition to real-life traction testing on trails and snow, we created a traction test to compare boots in identical circumstances. We created a ramp and walked it while it was dry, wet, and covered in ice. We walked across an icy driveway in each pair of boots. If we encountered a stream while testing the winter hiking boots, we noted if they provided traction on slippery, wet rocks. Finally, we looked at lug depth and type of rubber (soft or hard) to determine which boots were best for travel over snow and which were better for technical winter terrain.

The Sorel Tofino II is cute enough for any mountain town activity  including a trip to the Colorado Boy brewery.
The Sorel Tofino II is cute enough for any mountain town activity, including a trip to the Colorado Boy brewery.

Style

In this subjective metric, we simply gathered responses from women on the street, in the field, and at work. Style is far less important when comparing winter hiking boots than functionality and comfort. For those looking for all-day winter wear, however, boots that are versatile with different outfits and functional while maintaining some flair did the best in this metric.

After much walking through snow, trekking across ice, standing in cold lakes, and drinking hot chocolate afterward, we are proud to provide you with our recommendations for the best women's winter boots.