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

How We Tested Winter Boots

Tuesday October 16, 2018
Snowshoeing is a great way to travel cross country through the snow in the mountains  especially if the snow is too shallow for skiing. Here we're exploring the San Juan high country on Red Mountain Pass in the Chilkat 400 boots.
Snowshoeing is a great way to travel cross country through the snow in the mountains, especially if the snow is too shallow for skiing. Here we're exploring the San Juan high country on Red Mountain Pass in the Chilkat 400 boots.

Like all of the reviews here on OutdoorGearLab, this one is a compilation of years of winter boot testing. This year's analysis includes testing we conducted during mid-winter months in Washington State, Idaho, the San Juans of Colorado, and this fall in the Sierra Nevada of California. We took the top picks from our previous reviews, dropped the lowest performing models and replaced them with new ones. Our testing includes standardized, quantifiable tests as well as hours and hours of wear time.

During winter testing, we spent long days stomping around in snowshoes, putting down some miles on the local winter trails, and shoveling heaps of snow from our long driveway to evaluate each boot's hiking abilities and long-term comfort. We also made countless trips to the post office, the grocery store, and around town dog walks during cold and snowy days to test the ease of use and comfort levels in models meant for less rugged activities. Field testing took place predominantly in the mountain ski town of Mammoth Lakes, California in the heart of the Sierra Nevada.

Fall testing required a little more creativity to hunt down icy snow patches on high mountain passes. But between those high-altitude, snowy hikes, ice bath tests, and cold water submersion tests, we tested the newest boots in the review to their limits.

We tested the best-rated winter boots to help you find the right pair for your needs. We wore them around town  out in the hills  and put them through a set of rigorous tests.
We tested the best-rated winter boots to help you find the right pair for your needs. We wore them around town, out in the hills, and put them through a set of rigorous tests.

Warmth


We tested for warmth by putting on a single pair of merino wool socks on with each pair of boots. Then we stepped into a 32-degree slush comprised of ice cubes, snow, and water and stood there for 8 minutes. We allowed our feet to fully rewarm in front of the fire before retesting so that we did not start testing the next model with already cold feet. We also wore these boots for numerous hours apiece shoveling snow, stacking wood, and while tackling relatively sedentary winter chores out of doors.

Water Resistance


Using both the standardized eight minutes slush bucket test and a ten-minute water submersion test, we dunked our booted feet to see if the boots would show any signs of leakage. While this was an easy way to quantify the water resistance of the boots, we also tromped through countless puddles and snow banks, going out of our way to see if we could get them to leak in real-world applications.

Fit and Comfort


We tried to get as many people's feet into the boots as possible to reach a consensus on fit and noted whether each pair is available in a wider fit. We assessed comfort by walking around in the boots, spending time in and out of doors, and by polling our various review contributors.

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.

Ease of Use


We tested ease of use by seeing how much time it took to put on and take off each boot. We compared lacing systems and, for the Pac models that include a removable liner, we included how easy or difficult it is to put the liner back in after drying it.

Traction


We scored traction after testing each one of the boots on an icy path to see which rubber compounds and lug patterns did the best.