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

How We Tested Winter Boots

Friday May 10, 2019
We tested these boots on city sidewalks  snowy driveways  icy trails and when strapped into snowshoes.
We tested these boots on city sidewalks, snowy driveways, icy trails and when strapped into snowshoes.

Like many 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 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, deck, and even the roof 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 primarily in the mountain ski town of Mammoth Lakes, California, and the greater Lake Tahoe area.

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.

To thoroughly test these boots  we just keep walking  no matter the weather.
To thoroughly test these boots, we just keep walking, no matter the weather.

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 models tested retained or lost heat without the addition of body heat. At the end of this test, we recorded how much heat was retained or lost, by each model on this level playing field.

Checking how quickly these boots cool down while taking an ice bath.
Checking how quickly these boots cool down while taking an ice bath.

We also 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. 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 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 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 waterproofness.
Standing in a cold lake will test the limits of any boot's waterproofness.

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. 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 of the boots.

Warm  comfortable boots keep you on the trail longer.
Warm, comfortable boots keep you on the trail longer.

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 models.
Testing boots side by side to compare traction between different models.