Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Winter Boots

Thursday September 30, 2021
We tested these boots on city sidewalks, snowy driveways, icy...
We tested these boots on city sidewalks, snowy driveways, icy trails, and when strapped into snowshoes.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley

Like many of the reviews here on OutdoorGearLab, this one is a compilation of many years of winter boot testing. Our current analysis includes testing we conducted during mid-winter months in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, the San Juans of Colorado, and the Sierra Nevada of California. We took the top choices 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.

The selection of boots we tested in the fall of 2019, lined up and...
The selection of boots we tested in the fall of 2019, lined up and ready for water proof testing, which we conducted one right after the other in order to more easily tell the differences and have the same height water. This test also allowed us to gain valuable feedback about warmth at the same 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, deck, and even the roof. All the while, we paid attention to 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 primarily in the mountain ski town of Mammoth Lakes, California, and the greater Lake Tahoe area.

Fall testing requires 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 and pushed each boot to its limits and beyond.

To thoroughly test these boots, we just keep walking, no matter the...
To thoroughly test these boots, we just keep walking, no matter the weather.
Photo: Jen Reynolds

Warmth


We tested warmth in a few ways. First, to objectively measure how well each boot retains heat, we placed the boots side by side in an ice bath and took internal temperature readings with a laser thermometer at three-minute intervals for twelve minutes. This showed us precisely how each of the tested models retained or lost heat without the addition of body heat.

One of the ways we tested a boots warmth was to submerge them in an...
One of the ways we tested a boots warmth was to submerge them in an ice bath for twelve minutes and measure the temperature inside the boot every three minutes using this laser thermometer.

We also tested for warmth by putting on a single pair of merino wool socks 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. This test was also performed as a side by side comparison with two different models on at the same time for a direct comparison. We also wore our 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-minute slush bucket test and a ten-minute water submersion test, we dunked our booted feet around 5 inches deep to see if the boots would show any signs of leaking. While this is 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. The submersion test goes above and beyond the demands that most people will put on their winter boots from a water resistance standpoint, but it quickly becomes evident which boots are truly waterproof and those that are simply water and splash resistant.

Standing in a cold lake will test the limits of any boot's...
Standing in a cold lake will test the limits of any boot's waterproofness.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

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 wide version. We assessed comfort by walking around in the boots, spending time in and out of doors, and by polling our various review contributors. Testers took detailed notes on the comfort and support of the insole, the width and length of each model, as well as the stiffness and support offered by the shaft.

Warm, comfortable boots keep you on the trail longer.
Warm, comfortable boots keep you on the trail longer.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley

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 icy pathways and parking lots, firm old snow patches, and freshly fallen snow to see which rubber compounds and lug patterns provide the best grip in a variety of conditions. In some instances, we wore a different boot on each foot to test traction on slick surfaces side by side.

Testing boots side by side to compare traction between different...
Testing boots side by side to compare traction between different models.
Photo: Jeremy Benson