For 6 years, our expert team has tested over 40 different pairs of the best winter boots. For 2020 we highlight 14 options to protect you from serious cold and snow. We can tell you which boots are the warmest, most comfortable, have the best traction, and are the most waterproof, so you can focus on what's important to you. Whether you need a pair for shoveling the walk, walking to the woodpile, stomping through slush puddles in town, or snowshoeing through the backcountry, our advice will help land you the best pair of boots for all of your snowy adventures.Related: The Best Women's Winter Boots of 2020
The Best Winter Boots of 2020
Best Overall for Men
Oboz Bridger 10" Insulated
The Oboz Bridger 10 is not only the best overall winter boot according to our wide variety of performance tests, but is also the best choice for winter hiking. All of our testers who have worn this boot have taken a liking to the comfortable and secure fit that starts with an excellent O-fit insole. The uppers are moderately stiff, providing excellent support when hiking or snowshoeing, with a lace system that is user-friendly and secure. The Bridger passed our warmth tests with flying colors, as the 400g Thinsulate insulation and heat-reflective insole are the warmest in this review. In addition to their impressive warmth, they are also completely water-resistant — the B-dry waterproof membrane kept our tester's feet completely dry for a 10-minute submersion test. Traction is also impressive with an aggressively lugged outsole, a winter rubber compound, and sharp edges that provide good bite on most surfaces.
While testers loved the precise fit of the Bridger 10, they run a little bit on the small side, so if you're interested in a roomier fit or prefer to wear thick socks, you may want to order a half size up. Made of leather, they also feel pretty stiff straight out of the box, but loosen up the more times you wear them. They're on the pricier end of the spectrum, so they may not appeal to those on the tightest of budgets. However, if you want the best winter boot and the best boot for hiking, then we highly recommend this versatile, warm, comfortable, and waterproof option.
Read review: Oboz Bridger 10" Insulated
Best Bang for the Buck
The Kamik NationPlus Pac-Style boot easily takes home our award for the most budget-friendly option. This tall, lace-up boot is easy to fall in love with for its competitive performance in our warmth, water resistance, traction, and comfort tests. Featuring a removable Thinsulate liner and a high traction sole, the NationPlus continues to impress with its excellent price to performance ratio. The Pac-Style design means they have a separate removable liner boot stuffed inside of the outer shell, very similar to the exceedingly popular Sorel models, but are more comfortable, have far better traction, and cost about half the price!
On the downside, these leak a bit at the base of the tongue and can leach pigment from the leather when wet, so don't wear your favorite socks. They're also a little harder to pull on than some options. Still, at half the price of some of the other boots in this review, it's easy to choose the Kamik NationPlus as our Best Bang for the Buck award winner. For those with higher volume feet, we encourage you to check out the Kamik Nation Wide, a wide-bodied version of this boot.
Read review: Kamik NationPlus
Best Slip-on Winter Boot
Kamik Greenbay 4
The Kamik Greenbay 4 earns a Top Pick for being the best slip-on winter boot in the review. This affordable Pac style boot impresses our testers with its incredible user-friendliness. It's as easy to pull on and off as they come. This utilitarian boot is ideal for stashing by the door to shovel snow, walk the dog, or run errands around town. The slip-on design provides a roomy and comfortable fit. The Greenbay is also toasty with an 8mm removable thermal liner. The liner is surrounded by a molded rubber lower and tall waterproof nylon upper with a 14.5-inch total shaft height. Both the uppers and lowers are water-resistant and will keep your feet dry in most situations. The aggressive tread on the thick rubber soles provides good grip in snow and icy conditions.
These boots aren't fully waterproof, however, and our submersion test revealed that they leak at the seam attaching the lower boot to the upper shaft if submerged in water for an extended period. And, because these boots have a loose fit that lacks support, they aren't ideal for winter hiking or snowshoeing. That said, if you're looking for a simple, easy to use boot, then the Greenbay 4 is an excellent choice.
Read review: Kamik Greenbay 4
Best for Traction
Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV Omni-Heat
The Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV is a versatile winter boot that scores relatively well across our tests but truly impresses with its traction. With a unique sole design and tread reminiscent of a snow tire, these boots grip where others slip. They provide predictable and confidence-inspiring traction on firm snow and icy conditions. Columbia's Omni-heat thermal reflective lining helps make these boots feel warmer than their 200g of insulation might suggest. It also helps them boast a high warmth-to-weight ratio. They are one of the most user-friendly lace-up boots in our test, with a less complicated system than most of the competition. The fit is generally good, slightly roomier than similar boots with a supportive upper and soft insulated lining.
On the downside, the Bugaboot Plus IV is fairly water-resistant, but not completely waterproof. We are also disappointed by the minimalist, unsupportive insole, which inspired us to simply swap them out for a better version of our own choosing. Overall, though, these boots are versatile and well suited for activities ranging from chores around the house to full-on winter hiking and snowshoeing. Their outstanding traction earned them our Top Pick for Traction Award.
Read review: Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV
Best for Wearing Around Town
Timberland Chillberg Insulated
Let's be honest — most of the boots in this review look no more interesting or stylish than a pair of snowboard boots, and for many, such a high priced investment should come with a little more style. If you want a new pair of boots that are actually comfortable and waterproof but don't want to look like you just walked out of an REI store, then we recommend the Timberland Chillberg Insulated, our Top Pick for Wearing Around Town. Lumberjacks would look at home wearing this boot, but so would East Coast urbanites, who will receive all the comfort, warmth, and waterproof protection they need on their 15 block trudge through slush puddles en route to the subway. With their light yellow or black color schemes, these boots look and feel a lot like your standard Timberlands, but made for winter. We also appreciate their efforts to incorporate as many recycled materials as possible.
Our only gripe about these boots is their decidedly loose fit, which also became a positive the more we wore them. The looseness just makes them feel a bit clunky and imprecise but also ensures their adaptable comfort. We took them on a long hike in the woods and actually thought they handled pretty well, convincing us that they would be fine for trudging all over town. Cinching the laces up tight doesn't solve the fit issue though, and the truth is these boots should be worn loose. Size down half a size if you prefer a snug fit.
Read review: Timberland Chillberg Insulated
Notable for Comfort
Blundstone Thermal 566
test. A few weeks into our testing, we were in love. These are slip-on boots that provide simple, rugged durability and excellent water resistance, thanks to their full leather upper. The fit is snug even though there are no laces, and the traction is reasonable in snowy and icy conditions thanks to a slip-resistant outsole. What sets the 566 apart, though, is their removable sheepskin liner, which works with the supportive footbed to provide unparalleled comfort for the foot.
The Blundstone boots are a little harder to pull on and off than the Bogs or Kamik Greenbay 4 boots. Still, soft and cushioned, the Blundstones make stepping out to shovel the walkway on a frosty February morning an appealing task.
Read review: Blundstone Thermal 566
Notable for Convenience
Bogs Classic Ultra Mid
We've been backcountry skiing and living in small mountain towns for the past 13 winters, and one thing we've noticed over that time is that virtually every skier we know has a pair of Bogs waiting for them in the car. The relief of sliding the feet out of tight, constricting ski boots is matched only by the ease of sliding on a pair of simple, loose, and comfortable Bogs afterward. They're like house-slippers, except for outside in the winter. With their two giant handles carved out of the neoprene shaft material, wide foot opening, and lack of any laces that need to be tightened, loosened, or adjusted, these boots are as easy as they come. They're also completely waterproof, so no more worrying about wet socks or tip-toeing around in the snow in shoes.
There are a lot of reasons why Bogs are not one of the highest scorers in our testing, such as the fact that they aren't nearly as warm as advertised. They also don't have much in the way of aggressive outsole traction, and look rather ridiculous. Frankly, these are muck boots designed for dairy farmers, so fashion probably wasn't a top concern in their design decisions. Because of these flaws, we don't really ask all that much of them, and don't even consider them for hiking or snowshoeing. But every time we need to step outside into the snow to walk the dog for the fifth time that day, or just walk down to the mailbox or run to the store, we can't help but smile at how much we love the simple convenience of these boots.
Read review: Bogs Classic Ultra Mid
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by a talented and diverse trio of gear testers, composed of OutdoorGearLab contributors Jeremy Benson, Ryan Heutter, and Andy Wellman. Andy has been a senior gear reviewer at OutdoorGearLab for the past eight years. He has been a climber, skier, runner, and adventurer his whole life, has spent five expeditions exploring the Himalaya, has written and published climbing and bouldering guidebooks to the Southeast, has raced ultra distances on four continents, and has spent 100-plus ski day winters teaching skiing in Colorado. He is currently based in the Cascades of Central Oregon.
Joining him is Jeremy Benson, a north Tahoe-based freelance writer, former professional skier, and a mountain bike racer. He is the author of two books on these pursuits, published by Mountaineers Books — Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes: California, and Mountain Bike Tahoe.
Full-time mountain guide Ryan Heutter finishes the team. Ryan holds a degree in Outdoor Adventure Management from Western Washington University and is an internationally-licensed IFMGA mountain guide. He has many climbing ascents all over the world, including over 20 big wall routes in Yosemite and Fitz Roy in Patagonia.
As a collaborative effort compiled by many different testers, based in different locations, and tested over the course of multiple winters, this winter boot review brings you a wide variety of perspectives to aid with your purchase. These boots have been tested in the Cascades of Washington and Oregon, the Sierra Nevada of California, and Colorado's San Juan Mountains, to ensure that they live up to their billing. Beyond merely using them during the course of our everyday lives and jobs, we took them on many long winter hikes, and also conducted a number of controlled side-by-side tests to further expand our understanding of how they perform in all conditions. These tests include standing in frozen lakes to test water resistance, and measuring internal air temperatures while the boots are soaking in an ice bath to help understand which boots keep feet the warmest. You can rest assured that the information published in this review doesn't simply pay lip service to manufacturers marketing jargon, but is the product of hard-won knowledge by actual use and testing.
Related: How We Tested Winter Boots
Analysis and Test Results
Despite their seeming simplicity, winter boots actually come in a number of different styles and are designed for different purposes. The majority of the boots tested here are designed for winter hiking, which can be done with or without snowshoes, but are not crampon compatible. Winter hiking boots have aggressive outsoles for traction, compact but warm insulation, and a high ankle cuff to keep out the snow and water. These boots are laced up, and can also be used for any other type of winter activity, whether that's performing outdoor chores such as shoveling the walk, running errands in the snow, building snowmen, sledding with the kids, or simply walking about town. Pac Boots are another type we've tested, and they feature a separate and removable interior liner, best exemplified by the popular brands Sorel and Kamik. These boots are best used for general winter use in very cold temperatures and deep snow, are also good for activities like snow machining or sledding, but wouldn't be our first choices for hiking or snowshoeing. Finally, there are a few slip-on models which, as the name suggests, lack laces but emphasize convenience by allowing you to pull them on and off quickly and without hassle.
We tested each of the 14 winter boots in our review on five critical performance metrics: warmth, water resistance, fit and comfort, ease of use, and traction. How we tested them, the things to consider for each metric, and the top performers, are all described below. Since there are different types of winter boots that each have different advantages and disadvantages, we encourage you to carefully consider your own needs, which will help you narrow down the selection of which boots are the best choice for you.
Related: Buying Advice for Winter Boots
Are you searching for the best value? You'll notice that our Best Buy Award winner, the Kamik NationPlus is one of the least expensive models we tested, but it still scores well from a performance standpoint. The Oboz Bridger 10 is our highest rated boot for performance, and also one of the most expensive models we tested. When considering how much you need to spend, consider what you need your boots to do for you. If you're just shoveling the walk a few times a winter, you can go budget. If you want functional walking and hiking boots to wear nearly every day of winter, then spending more may make sense.
We typically wear winter boots in the least hospitable weather conditions, so we expect them to insulate our feet and keep them toasty and warm. Therefore, we feel a boot's warmth is one of the most important aspects of its overall performance. Each model in this review has insulation to keep the cold at bay, but different brands use different materials, such as Thinsulate, Primaloft, or perhaps something proprietary. The Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV Omni-Heat takes the unique approach of combining Columbia's Omni-Heat reflective lining with a lighter insulating layer to keep your feet warm with less bulk and weight.
Of course, we test the warmth of these boots outside in the field, but we also test them in the lab for direct head-to-head comparisons. The most objective warmth test we perform is to place the boots in an ice bath and take temperature measurements with a laser thermometer every three minutes for 12 minutes total. This test provides us with an objective analysis of how quickly cold can permeate a boot, beyond our subjective analysis. The Bridger 10 won this test, losing only 13.6 degrees of internal temperature after the full twelve minutes, while also finishing with the highest internal temperature. Other top performers for this test were the Keen Targhee Lace High, which lost a mere 15.6 degrees, and the Greenbay 4, which lost only 17.4 degrees. Boots with less insulation, like the Bugaboot Plus IV, the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid, and the North Face Chilkat III, lost heat more quickly than boots with double the insulation.
To further test each boot's warmth, we wore each pair with a light merino wool sock in a slushy ice bath for eight minutes at a time (letting our toes warm back up in between). This test helped us determine how well each competitor insulates with a foot inside. In some cases, we even tested boots side-by-side, with different boots on each foot, for a more direct comparison. While manufacturers rate some of these boots to temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, we never encounter temperatures that cold in southern Colorado or the mountains of the West Coast, so we, unfortunately, can't verify those temperature ratings with real-world findings.
The warmest boot we tested is the Bridger 10, which has 400g of synthetic insulation, a thermal reflective insole, and a snug and comfortable fit. In general, we found the boots with 400g of insulation to be warmer than boots with less, retaining heat for longer.
We're also quite impressed with the warmth provided by all of the Pac boots we tested, such as the Sorel Caribou, and the Kamik Greenbay 4 and NationPlus. Pac boots have an insulating inner liner and a water-resistant or waterproof exterior. Their removable liners do a great job of keeping your feet warm. On the other hand, the neoprene insulation on the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid does not trap heat as effectively. Its large, loose opening also allows heat to escape, making it the least warm boot in our review. Warmth accounts for 25% of a boot's overall score.
Insulation can only trap or reflect the heat your foot creates, so a proper fit is essential to maintain adequate circulation. A winter boot can have all the insulation in the world, but if it constricts blood flow, your feet may still feel cold. Conversely, if your boots are too big, they are harder to walk in and take longer for your feet to heat. This is why fit and comfort, discussed below, is just as important as warmth when selecting a boot.
Wet feet are not happy feet, especially when the water making them wet is barely above freezing temperature. Because our feet need to stay dry to stay warm, water resistance is the second most important attribute of a winter boot. All winter boots feature some form of waterproofing — either a durable molded rubber outer, treated leather or Nubuck material, a waterproof breathable membrane — or all of the above. But how well do they work? To find out, we walked out into a very, very cold lake and stood there. This submersion test is the ultimate way to find any weaknesses in a boot's water resistance.
The height of a boot is really important when it comes to water resistance, as perhaps the easiest way for a foot to get wet is from snow pouring in over the top opening. The shaft height, which you can find in our specs table, aims to inform how tall each boot is. Also important is where the low point of a tongue's gusset is, as this is the depth of water you might be able to stand in without leaks pouring in. Boots like the Sorel Caribou are tall and have a high maximum puddle depth before allowing water inside, while a short boot like the Blundstone Thermal require that you step carefully in snow or slush that's even a few inches deep.
Many boots passed our submersion test with flying colors, allowing absolutely no water to leak into the boot after being submerged five inches deep, even after 10 minutes. While it's unlikely that you'll ever just be standing in deep puddles for extended periods while wearing any of these boots, it's comforting to know they can handle it. Since many boots are completely waterproof up to a certain depth, the tie-breaker for the purpose of scoring then became how deep the water could be before leaking or over-topping takes place. At 10.5 inches of waterproof stack height, the Caribou is the most waterproof boot we tested, followed very closely by the Bogs Classic and the Bridger 10.
Some boots claim to be waterproof, and might work very well to keep out momentary splashes, but let water in if they get submerged for an extended period. A good example is the 14.5" tall Greenbay 4, which began to leak at the 3-inch mark during our submersion test. It lets water in through the seam where the upper and lower portions meet. We also noticed leaking at the base of the tongue with the Best Buy NationPlus boot, making its puddle depth only 4.5 inches due to its low tongue attachment point. The NationPlus is reasonably waterproof but, annoyingly, leaches pigment when wet. The Bugaboot Plus IV, Thermo Chill Mid WP, and Chilkat III also have this problem, leaking water in at the bottom of the tongue during when submerged. Water resistance is worth 25% of a boot's overall score.
Fit and Comfort
Comfort is King, especially when it comes to footwear! We recommend that you make comfort your primary consideration when selecting a winter boot, and if something we have recommended doesn't feel perfect on your feet, toss out our advice and listen to your own body. For this reason, it's wise to make online boot purchases from a retailer that will take returns for items that don't fit right or aren't comfortable. On the other hand, we also recognize that comfort is an extremely subjective assessment. Simply put, what we find to be the most comfortable may not feel good on your foot at all.
How you need your boots to fit depends mostly on your preference and how you intend to use them. A looser fit is okay unless you want great winter hiking and snowshoeing performance. Pac style and slip-on boots generally have a looser fit when compared to a lace-up, single layer insulated boot. A winter hiking boot needs to fit a bit snugger, as looseness and a sloppy fit will lead to blisters and frustration over time. We've done our best to mention how each tested model fits, as in loose, large, tight, short, narrow, etc. in the review for each boot, so be sure to consult there to make sure it's likely to work out for your foot shape.
The most comfortable models, according to our testers, are the Blundstone and the NationPlus. These models are loose, very cozy, and are simply a joy to wear. However, both of them are most appropriate for work, chores, or running errands around town, and don't give the tighter and more precise fits that serve one better while hiking.
Among the selections that are designed primarily for hiking, we find the most comfortable to be the Vasque Snowburban, Merrell Thermo Chill, and The North Face Chilkat. These boots are form-fitting enough to be precise, but also maintain excellent flexibility for hiking long distances. The Bridger 10 is also quite comfortable for hiking if you purchase them a half size larger than normal, and after they have broken in a bit and become more flexible in the shaft.
Even the low scoring boots in our review are still quite comfortable. They're just looser fitting and somewhat clunky. The roomy fit of the Caribou is comfy and cozy but not well suited for taking a hike. That's okay, as we find these boots best for winter chores and running errands anyway. The same goes for the Bogs Classic and the Kamik Greenbay; the beauty of these boots is in their simplicity and convenience, they are comfortable but lack the fit characteristics that would make them suitable for hiking. The Keen Summit County boots are the widest fitting boot in our test, which is ideal for some. But, for people with low to medium volume feet, they are impossibly loose. Fit and Comfort also accounts for 25% of a product's final score.
The lacing system will have an impact on how tightly the boots will fit. Our fleet employs a wide variety of lacing systems, from the more traditional laces used on the Snowburban II to no laces at all on the slip-on models. We discuss laces, or lack thereof, further in the Ease of Use metric below.
Ease of Use
How easy and convenient is a boot to put on and use? For some, this is the most important consideration! For instance, if you need a boot for trudging out to the woodpile a couple times a day, it can get really annoying to repeatedly lace-up many rows of eyelets, over and over, day after day. A design that allows you to simply slip the boot on, without compromising performance, greatly adds to its ease of use. For those boots that do require being laced up, the differences in how one does that are significant. Some boots have large eyelets and always remain laced, needing only a quick tug to cinch them tight, while others require looping the laces back and forth through rows of hooks repeatedly, and can't even be left untied or the laces drag behind you in the snow. A final consideration is whether a boot has pull tabs that make it easier to pull the boot on, especially with gloves on.
Slip-on boots dominate this category because they don't slow you down with laces. With its large handles and foot opening, the Bogs Classic is one of the fastest boots to pull on, and its ease of use is so supreme that we know many people that swear by them simply for this reason. Another user-friendly favorite is the Greenbay 4, which is just as easy to get in and out of as the Bogs but has a higher cuff, warmer insulation, and better traction.
Some of the highest overall scorers don't perform as well in this metric. But while lacing systems like those on the Bridger 10 or Timberland Chillberg take a little more time, they reward you with a more supportive fit. Better support keeps them comfortable longer and more suitable for a broader range of activities.
A final consideration, especially if you are looking for a solid winter hiking boot, is weight. Keep in mind that hiking through snow is really hard work, and the more weight you can save on your feet, the further and easier you will be able to travel. Ease of Use accounts for 15% of a product's overall score.
Dependable traction is important. It doesn't matter if you are going to the grocery store on a snowy day, walking out in the woods to cut down a Christmas tree, or heading down a trail to gain some winter solitude, you need to be confident that your boot can handle the slippery conditions you may encounter.
In general, boots with aggressive tread patterns and softer rubber perform best. This is precisely how tire manufacturers design their snow tires, and just like snow tires need chains or spikes in severely icy conditions, boots require additional traction for safe travel over sheer ice. Consider an aftermarket crampon such as YakTrax or MICROspikes to slip on over your boot's sole if you are walking on very icy surfaces with any regularity.
To test traction head-to-head, we trudged up steep snowy (and often icy) slopes at least a dozen times. We also took our boots to old firm snow patches high in the mountains and found icy walkways. The Bugaboot Plus IV is the clear winner of our traction testing. It has a unique and innovative tread design that looks just like a snow tire. The soft rubber lugs have sharp edges and generous siping cuts that allow these boots to grip on firm snow and ice better than any other model in our test.
The NationPlus and Bridger 10 also have some of the highest scores for traction in our tests. With aggressive tread patterns and softer rubber that provides a solid grip, we stayed confident over a wide range of conditions and surfaces. Traction is weighted as 10% of a boot's final score.
Choosing the best winter boot is not an easy decision, and the vast number of choices can easily confuse the matter. The first step is to determine what your intended uses are, and from there, narrow down which aspects of a boot will be the most important for your needs. Figuring out whether you would do best with a hiking boot, Pac Boot, or slip-on model will rule out much of the other noise, and then you can try a few on for the best fit. We hope this review has helped you make a great selection — stay warm out there!
— Jeremy Benson, Ryan Huetter and Andy Wellman