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How to Choose the Best Winter Boots

Using snowshoes to go for a hike in the still shallow snowpack at the top of Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The X Ultra Winter CS WP is a great choice for winter hiking adventures  although a gaiter may be needed due to its relatively low ankle cuff.
By Ryan Huetter ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday December 21, 2017

Purchasing something as simple as a pair of winter boots might not seem like a complicated decision. However, putting in the extra effort to learn about the product that will be keeping your feet warm, comfortable and safe, will allow you to spend less time thinking about your feet and more time enjoying the winter. The category of winter boots is a very broad one, with both subtle and drastic differences between models. In this article, we aim to go into more depth regarding the differences between styles of boots as well as individual models, and also talk about specific features and whether they are useful for your intended purposes or not. Finally, we will lay out the most important considerations for making your boot buying purchase.

We gathered up ten of the most popular and highly rated winter boot models for men and compared them to give you the best information with which to make your buying decision. Our testing team spent many months in these boots in all sorts of conditions and then scored each model based on their Warmth, Water Resistance, Fit and Comfort, Ease of Use, and Traction. You can head over to our full Winter Boot Review to see how the different models scored and which ones won our top awards or keep reading for some tips to keep in mind when selecting your next pair.

Types of Winter Boots


While we could divide and sub-divide the different types of winter boots out there until each model was in its category, we have found it easier to break them into three main types. We described these categories in our main Best in Class article, but here we go into more depth.

Pac Boots


Pac boots are a modern day incarnation of the mukluk and kamik boots that were developed by the Inuit to survive the harsh conditions of the Arctic. A Pac boot by definition is comprised of a soft and flexible inner boot liner that slips inside of an outer waterproof over boot, much like a ski or snowboard boot. Pac boots are notoriously warm thanks to the thick insulation used in the inner boot and are quite waterproof as a result of the leather or rubber exterior used for the outer boot. Sorel is the brand that catapulted the Pac boot into the modern lexicon when they introduced their now famous Caribou model in 1962. Two years later saw the release of the Sorel 1964 Premium T, and since then many manufacturers have begun producing similar styles. Pac boots are lightweight for their warmth, are comfortable, and are well protected from water and snow. The inner boot design does make for a less secure fit, and they are typically clumsier for walking than your normal single-layered insulated hiking boot. We like this type of boot for short excursions to the grocery store, shoveling the walk, heading out to the sledding hill, or for more sedentary outdoor activities like snowmobiling and sleigh rides.

Showing the two Pac Boot options tested in this year's review  the Kamik Nationplus on the left and the Sorel Caribou on the right. The Caribou was slightly warmer and more waterproof  while the Kamik was more comfortable  cheaper  and had better traction.
Showing the two Pac Boot options tested in this year's review, the Kamik Nationplus on the left and the Sorel Caribou on the right. The Caribou was slightly warmer and more waterproof, while the Kamik was more comfortable, cheaper, and had better traction.

For this review we tested two different Pac boots, the Sorel Caribou and the Kamik NationPlus. These two boots were similar in that they are both designed with the signature Pac boot features — namely a warm inner boot and a water-resistant outer shell. In our testing, the Sorel Caribou scored slightly higher, but the Kamik NationPlus was our Best Bang for the Buck award winner due to its very affordable price. The Sorel boot fits much larger and was heavier, but was also more waterproof, slightly warmer, and somewhat easier to put on and take off. On the other hand, the Kamik was lighter, more comfortable, and had far superior traction, not to mention costing about half as much.

While the Nationplus boots are not the first choice for hiking  they are ideal for keeping the feet warm and dry around town  and are about as comfortable as you can imagine a boot to be.
While the Nationplus boots are not the first choice for hiking, they are ideal for keeping the feet warm and dry around town, and are about as comfortable as you can imagine a boot to be.

Slip-On Boots


Slip-on boots are defined as being any boot that does not use a lacing system to secure the boot. They often have large handles or pull tabs to help get them on, or a loose enough cuff that sliding a foot right into the boot is an easy task. Slip-on boots can be made out of many materials, including rubber, neoprene, leather, textile or sheepskin. They may or may not be insulated depending on the application the boot is designed for and may have varying degrees of water resistance and walking comfort in favor of the convenience that comes with not having to lace your boots up every time you need to go outside. The main advantage to Slip-on boots is convenience.

While we found that this genre of boots performed lower than either Pac boots or insulated winter hiking boots in our tests, we still found ourselves reaching for them more often due to their incredible simplicity. These boots were tested in high, cold mountain towns in the winter where a pair is needed to go outside, and little outside chores such as running to the post office, getting firewood from the pile, and shoveling snow are frequent occurrences. In this world, a very convenient boot is very much appreciated.

The two slip-on models featured in our review were the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid (left) and the Blundstone BL566 (right)
The two slip-on models featured in our review were the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid (left) and the Blundstone BL566 (right)

For this review, we tested two different models of Slip-on boots, one of which was new from last year. The Bogs Classic Ultra Mid and the Blundstone Thermal 566 were both lace-less models. Of the three, the Bogs was the most convenient, with its two large handles on each boot, and easy slip-on fit. Since we found ourselves slipping them on countless times each day over the course of months of testing, we felt we had to recognize them with a Top Pick for Ease of Use award, despite their relatively low score in the final rankings. The other two models had flaws that kept their scores low. The Blundstone boot was not very warm and also leaked water in through its elastic ankle panels.

Insulated Winter Hiking Boots


This category is made up of any boot that is single-layer, meaning that it has no removable liner, is insulated against the cold, and has a means of lacing that allows for a secure fit. Unlike Pac boots and slip-on models, winter hiking boots are meant to walk over longer distances, so they need to have a good fit without any side-to-side slip. What makes these boots different from their summertime hiking boot counterparts is that the materials used for the outer need to be more impervious to wetness as they will be under constant exposure on wintry hikes, and they need to be much better insulated than summer boots where daytime temperatures are much warmer.

The winter hiking boots of our review were the Salomon X Ultra Winter CS  Vasque Snowburban II Ultradry  Keen Summit County  and Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Omni-Heat.
The winter hiking boots of our review were the Salomon X Ultra Winter CS, Vasque Snowburban II Ultradry, Keen Summit County, and Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Omni-Heat.

Because of the application, many people intend to use their boots for, namely walking in deep snow, insulated winter hiking boots also need to have a higher than usual cuff height to keep snow and slush from getting over the top and inside the boot. These are good boots for hiking day trips, especially snowshoeing, but may prove inadequate for overnight missions due to the difficulty in drying them out quickly in the field. If you're looking for something for multi-day winter camping or hiking trips, you can read our Mountaineering Boot Review for more options on double-layer boots.

While it wasn't our highest rated insulated winter hiking boot  the Bugaboot Plus III Omni is well made  warm  and has a solid outsole that gives traction in snow or on ice.
While it wasn't our highest rated insulated winter hiking boot, the Bugaboot Plus III Omni is well made, warm, and has a solid outsole that gives traction in snow or on ice.

Five of the boots tested for this review fit into this category. They are The North Face Chilkat 400, the Salomon X Ultra Winter CS, the Keen Summit County, the Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Omni-Heat, and lastly the Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry. Despite the fact that they are all made of a variety of different fabrics and materials, by and large, we found this selection of boots to be waterproof up to the top of the tongue. What set them apart the most was the comfort and fit, as well as their warmth. We found the Chilkat 400 and the Snowburban II UltraDry to be the two warmest choices of this bunch, and likewise, they were also the two most comfortable. This led them to be the top two boots in the overall ratings, and we awarded The North Face Chilkat 400 our Editors' Choice award for the best overall winter boot.

Not all winter activities are fun and games - sometimes you have to get outside and work too! We tested these boots in all manner of conditions  from deep snow days to icy terrain  standing around in bitter cold or working hard at our wintertime chores.
Not all winter activities are fun and games - sometimes you have to get outside and work too! We tested these boots in all manner of conditions, from deep snow days to icy terrain, standing around in bitter cold or working hard at our wintertime chores.

Factors in Choosing Winter Boots


With many models to choose from that are all insulated, water resistant, and cozy, most consumers will find that any of the ten models we reviewed will get them through winter comfortably. Keep in mind that this is a broad category and there are many other good boots out there that we did not have a chance to review first hand. So here are some helpful things to look at when considering new winter footwear.

Sizing and Fit


Those with specific foot shapes, namely wide or high volume feet, will want to look at the Keen Summit County, Sorel Caribou, Bogs Classic Ultra Mid, or the Kamik NationPlus, as they have a wider last and fit broader and higher volume feet more comfortably. The Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry fit true to size if not a bit loose which felt perfect for an average foot wearing thick winter socks. We found the Salomon X Ultra Winter CS WP to both fit pretty narrow, especially in the forefoot. Lastly, The North Face Chilkat 400 was quite a bit undersized, and so we recommend trying these boots on before purchasing, or sizing up a full size when purchasing these boots.

Slip-on boots were the easiest to use by far  and we preferred them when getting back from a long day in ski boots.
Slip-on boots were the easiest to use by far, and we preferred them when getting back from a long day in ski boots.

When sizing your boots, consider what you want it to be used for. A loose model will offer exceptional warmth and comfort but will not have excellent long-distance comfort for walking. Tight boots will lead to circulation issues and colder feeling toes. Size your boots appropriately using the socks you intend to use and make sure you have enough room in the toe box to wiggle your toes around. Warm feet are happy feet, and a pair of well-fitting winter boots will make you a lot happier person.

Insulation


We choose winter boots over regular boots for their insulation. To keep feet warm in cold temperatures, the boots need to have some insulating material to trap heat inside them. Insulation combined with an exterior waterproofing material will result in a quality piece of footwear that will excel in both wet and cold environments.

A view of the inside of the Chilkat 400 boot  showing its ample 400g of Primaloft Recycled insulation. We found this boot to be the warmest in the review  as long as you size up slightly so that the fit doesn't affect foot circulation.
A view of the inside of the Chilkat 400 boot, showing its ample 400g of Primaloft Recycled insulation. We found this boot to be the warmest in the review, as long as you size up slightly so that the fit doesn't affect foot circulation.

The different models that we reviewed have two general types of insulation: synthetic fiber insulation and neoprene. Neoprene, which is used only in our Top Pick winner, the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid, is the same textile used in cold weather fishing gloves and wetsuits for SCUBA and surfing. Neoprene is warm, very durable, and will not pack out and lose its insulating properties over time. In tight-fitting neoprene garments there is often a clammy feeling as the neoprene does not breathe well, though when used in the looser fitting Bogs boots, we did not have those issues. It is not the warmest material though, so it is most appropriate for moderate climates and wet weather.

Synthetic insulation is made of spun plasticized fibers that are then integrated into the boot lining. Much like the synthetic insulation used in puffy jackets and sleeping bags, the insulation is most effective at trapping heat when allowed to expand and "loft." This loft gives Pac boots like the Kamik Nation Plus a soft and cushiony feel, as the room between the outer boot and liner allows the Thinsulate insulation to fully loft. However, this leads to a looser fit. The amount of insulation used and how it is sewn into the inside of the boot will also have a bearing on fit and warmth. If the insulation is tightly packed, it might feel just as warm as a boot that used much less insulation but allows it to loft up. Synthetic insulation feels softer and provides more cushion than neoprene.

A comparison of the Pac liners. On the left is the Caribou  and on the right is the Nationplus. These liners proved to be effectively warm in our testing  but we suspect they may "pack out" rather quickly.
A comparison of the Pac liners. On the left is the Caribou, and on the right is the Nationplus. These liners proved to be effectively warm in our testing, but we suspect they may "pack out" rather quickly.

A unique insulation method used in the Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Omni-Heat is the use of the Omni-Heat fabric, a reflective metallic lining that reflects more body heat back into the boot. While uncommon, this lining allowed the Bugaboot to insulate well with only 200 grams of additional synthetic insulation.

Most of the synthetically insulated boots in our review disclosed the amount of insulation that was used (check the specs column under each boot for that number). By and large, most boots used 200 grams of synthetic insulation. However, two contenders, The North Face Chilkat 400 and the Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry, used double that amount — 400g — and the difference was noticeable. In our ice bucket test, we could easily tell how much warmer these two boots were than the rest, and they ended up with the two top scores for warmth.

Water Resistance


Keeping the interiors of winter boots dry is important because water conducts temperature much faster than air, and in the winter time, whatever water you may encounter is likely to be very cold. Boot makers use two ways of protecting the foot from outside moisture. The boot can be made using inherently waterproof materials like treated leather or rubber, or it can be constructed using a thin waterproof membrane, not unlike a rain jacket that is sewn into the interior lining of the boot. Using fully waterproof materials like neoprene and rubber will keep water out, but often at the cost of breathability. This outer shell may need to be periodically treated to keep them shedding water as well as when they were brand new, especially if they use an animal leather to exclude water.

The Snowburban Ultradry lived up to their name and claim. We couldn't detect a hint of water leakage inside these boots after eight minutes in the ice bath.
The Snowburban Ultradry lived up to their name and claim. We couldn't detect a hint of water leakage inside these boots after eight minutes in the ice bath.

Boots that incorporate a waterproof/breathable membrane ensure that water coming in from the outside will never reach the wearer's foot. While this may be true, attention must still be given to the outer materials, since waterlogged fabrics will inhibit the transference of perspiration from the inside of the boot, resulting in a feeling of coldness and dampness - akin to the model having let in water. So, even if the boot has such a lining, like the Timberland Shazzberg Mid, treating the leather outer with waterproofing agents at regular intervals will keep the boot performing as it should.

Braving the snowstorm to take a hike on a trail that was dry just two days before. The Bugaboot Plus III Omni was a great choice for these powder snow conditions; its high shaft kept snow out of the boot without needing a gaiter.
Braving the snowstorm to take a hike on a trail that was dry just two days before. The Bugaboot Plus III Omni was a great choice for these powder snow conditions; its high shaft kept snow out of the boot without needing a gaiter.

All of the insulated winter hiking boots that we tested incorporated some waterproof/breathable membrane inside of them, and all of them proved themselves to be completely waterproof, up to the top of the tongue, that is. The differences in the scores we awarded between boots that were waterproof had to do with how high the cuff and tongue opening was. A low tongue opening meant a shallower puddle (or river) could be tromped through (or slipped into) while still keeping the foot dry, and so received a slightly lower score.

Lacing


The type of laces used will have an impact on the fit of the boot and are also a pretty large consideration when assessing for Ease of Use. Pac boots with many lacing eyelets allow for a comfortable fit but are difficult to lace over the top of the foot tightly. They tend to be easy to pull once and tighten all the way but leave a looser overall fit. On the other hand, insulated winter hiking models often use speed lacing eyelets over the top of the foot for a quick and secure fit, and then lacing hooks above that lets you customize the security around the ankle. While these systems are the most customizable for foot security and tight fit, they are also the most labor intensive and the least easy to use.

The X Ultra Winter CS WP has round laces and requires hooking three lace hooks on each side of the boot before lacing up  a relatively laborious process if you are taking them off and on frequently  but no big deal if you just put them on once a day.
The X Ultra Winter CS WP has round laces and requires hooking three lace hooks on each side of the boot before lacing up, a relatively laborious process if you are taking them off and on frequently, but no big deal if you just put them on once a day.

Weight


A final consideration in your purchase should be the weight of the boot. All winter boots will be heavier than a pair of running shoes, but there were some variability and noticeable differences in the weight of the different models we tested. The Timberland Shazzberg was the lightest boot in this review, weighing in at only 2 lbs. 5.8 ounces per pair. At the other end of the spectrum was the Sorel Caribou, that weighed about 5.5 lbs. per pair. That couple pounds of difference might not matter very much when shoveling the driveway for 20 minutes, but if you spend the whole day out in your boots, you'll certainly appreciate having a lighter boot. Keep weight in mind particularly when choosing a pair of winter hikers.

One thing about these boots is that they are big and heavy. There is far more space inside these boots for the feet than any other we tested. They are also far and away the heaviest in the review.
One thing about these boots is that they are big and heavy. There is far more space inside these boots for the feet than any other we tested. They are also far and away the heaviest in the review.

Choosing a Boot Based on Intended Use


What do you need to accomplish while wearing your boots? If you only need to don a pair of waterproofed insulated kicks to make brief trips into the winter wonderland to shovel the drive, pick something up from the market or get to work in, then your options are broad, and you will likely be happy wearing any winter boot. That being said, there are enough choices and differences that there is bound to be a boot style that will fit your intended applications best. It's also nice to keep your options open so that when you think to yourself, "You know, I wouldn't mind trying out snowshoeing this weekend," you have a pair of boots that can function without having to go shopping again. Below is a list of potential winter activities that require boots, and our recommendations based on that activity, which could help you narrow down your choices.

Snow Shoveling


Almost any boot in this review will work just fine for shoveling snow, or for quick trips outside for any other purpose, like heading to the grocery store or grabbing more wood off the pile. For outdoor chores, we find that we like the most convenient boot that is super easy to slide on and off again, as we are likely to use it many times a day. For this purpose, we have highlighted the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid as our Top Pick for Ease of Use. Other slip-on models also make a good choice, as do Pac Boots. While insulated winter hiking boots will work great for these tasks, we find that we get annoyed lacing them up and then untying them repeatedly all winter.

Brushing fresh wet snow off of the car in the morning. Times like these are when slip on boots are the perfect go to. We love pulling these things on in a second and heading out the door.
Brushing fresh wet snow off of the car in the morning. Times like these are when slip on boots are the perfect go to. We love pulling these things on in a second and heading out the door.

Working Outdoors


If you are a lift operator or work guest services at a ski resort, you probably spend all your time outside in the winter. Likewise, if you work construction in a ski town, then building season doesn't stop just because it's numbingly cold outside. For standing around or working hard in the cold all day, we want the most comfortable and warmest boots we can find. Pac boots are the most logical choice, as they are easy to dry out around the fire or in front of the heater each night, and are both comfortable and warm.

Winter Hiking


For winter hiking, you want a boot that is waterproof, lightweight, and comfortable for walking around in all day. The genre you need to focus on is the insulated winter hiking boots. We reviewed five of these models, and they all have unique advantages and disadvantages. We found the Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry and the North Face Chilkat 400 to be the highest scorers in this category, although any of the boots in this class will work great as long as you find them to be comfortable. We avoid slip-on and Pac boots for actual hiking, as both tend to be too loose to be comfortable and precise for all day use.

Testing the traction of these boots on the trails in winter. Packed snow and ice like that found on the Perimeter Trail in Ouray in winter are exactly what these boots are made for.
Testing the traction of these boots on the trails in winter. Packed snow and ice like that found on the Perimeter Trail in Ouray in winter are exactly what these boots are made for.

Snowshoeing


For snowshoeing, your needs are much the same as that of winter hiking. Snowshoeing comes with one added implication — deep snow. Although it is not uncommon to see people wearing snowshoes on packed down trails in winter, we find it is only worth dealing with their oversized clunkiness when they are truly needed — for venturing out off trail through the deep snow. All of the insulated winter hiking boots will work great for this purpose; however, be aware that unless you are wearing a boot with a very high ankle cuff, like the Chilkat 400 or the Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Omni-Heat, you are going to want gaiters to prevent snow from entering the tops of your boots.

With its super high shaft that protects well above the ankle  keeping the snow out no matter how deep it is  the Chilkat 400 is a top choice for snowshoeing.
With its super high shaft that protects well above the ankle, keeping the snow out no matter how deep it is, the Chilkat 400 is a top choice for snowshoeing.

Winter Mountaineering


We don't recommend any of the winter boots in this review for winter mountaineering. In general, they are not stiff enough or protective enough, and also are not compatible with crampons. Check out our Best Mountaineering Boot for Men Review if you need some mountaineering boots.

Ice Climbing


Same, same. Despite the fact that these are winter boots, they most certainly cannot handle climbing ice. Again, refer to the Mountaineering Boot Review for information about what you need for climbing ice.

Sledding, Building Snowmen, Being a Kid


When we were kids, we called our winter boots, "snow boots," and lived in them for about five straight months. Our favorites were the same cheap slip-on models that Napolean Dynamite wears. However, we can remember countless days of frozen, wet feet after spending all afternoon after school playing outside, because our slip on snow boots had wide openings around the leg that invariably got stuffed full of snow. To allow a whole foot to slip into them, they have to have substantial leg openings, but that makes them less than ideal for playing in the snow. Kids love these kinds of boots because they don't have to tie any laces, and they can shove them on lickety-split and be out the door, but for an adult who simply wants to play with their kids, but not deal with little kid problems, we recommend Pac boots instead.

Braving the snowstorm to take a hike on a trail that was dry just two days before. The Bugaboot Plus III Omni was a great choice for these powder snow conditions; its high shaft kept snow out of the boot without needing a gaiter.
Braving the snowstorm to take a hike on a trail that was dry just two days before. The Bugaboot Plus III Omni was a great choice for these powder snow conditions; its high shaft kept snow out of the boot without needing a gaiter.

Conclusion


A good pair of winter boots is a critical piece of gear for enjoying the coldest time of the year. With a wide selection of styles and models to choose from, it is useful to ask yourself what activities you will most likely use your boots for, and then nail down some options from there. We hope that this article and review have helped introduce you to the best winter boots available on the market today, and provided the necessary information and advice to help make your purchase.

Part of the testing process is wearing all of the boots next to each other so that it is easier to compare them head to head. Here we often wore one boot on one foot and another on the other.
Part of the testing process is wearing all of the boots next to each other so that it is easier to compare them head to head. Here we often wore one boot on one foot and another on the other.


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