On a list of things that make winter unbearable, cold feet will surely be near the top. The minute your feet starts to freeze is the moment your hiking or trekking trip is about to take an abrupt end. Rather than face this consequence, it is better to get winter hiking boots for this particular terrain. But before you head on over to your hiking gear store or shop online, it is important to know what kind of boots you’re getting and the limitations that come along with them.
The additional layers of insulation make winter hiking boots more expensive than their traditional counterparts. The added materials also make these boots heavier than regular hiking boots.
A good number of winter hiking boots feature a waterproof membrane in their uppers to keep your feet dry. Waterproofness helps you traverse muddy, mushy, and wet winter terrain conditions.
Although they are advertised as waterproof and insulated, there is always a chance for snow to trickle down from your legs and into these boots.
As the name implies, winter hiking boots are best used in cold weather conditions. They are useless in warm, humid, and tropical settings, where a pair of day hiking boots or backpacking boots reign supreme.
Setting your outdoor excursion in a cold environment is more challenging than you realize. You will encounter low temperatures and slippery surfaces along the trail. One of the best ways to prepare for this particular landscape is to get winter hiking boots. Unlike its regular counterparts, these boots are made specially to handle snowy and icy trail conditions.
The main benefit winter hiking boots provide is the ability to keep your feet warm. Your outdoor mobility will be put to the test due to a drop in temperature. It is essential for your feet to be protected from the cold inside this footgear so your outdoor experience won’t be a bad one.
A cold foot is a cause for concern that needs to be addressed Winter hiking boots provide you with competent protection, not only against the cold but from the elements as well. Most, if not all, insulated boots feature a high degree of waterproofness to enhance protection. Aside from keeping water out, boots with waterproof liners are also breathable to improve foot comfort.
The chance of slipping out in the open is increased when you are in snowy Winter hiking boots have sturdy outsoles that render traction and stability. Using this type of footwear will give you a good grip on the ground.
You will be carrying additional gear when you are out in the cold, making it harder to move around. Winter hiking boots deliver adequate support as you transport this added weight for the duration of your trip.
What is going to happen if I do not use winter hiking boots during a snowy hike?
Using boots that do not offer any protection from the cold can lead to severe consequences. For starters, a nasty case of frostbite will not be far off when you attempt a hike during winter. Frostbite is defined as the freezing of skin and the muscle tissue underneath it. Moving around will be impossible because of the pain and discomfort produced by this winter-related injury.
Blisters are another bane every hiker must prepare for. Using a boot that traps moisture or generates friction with your foot are some of the common causes for blisters to form. These factors will cause your skin to swell and hinder your mobility on the trail.
Hypothermia occurs when your body’s ability to generate heat suddenly slows down. Prolonged exposure to a cold environment without the proper protective gear, such as winter hiking boots, can lead to this medical condition. Some of the symptoms include shivering, fatigue, nausea, weak pulse rate, and coma. If no prompt action is taken, hypothermia can even lead to death.
Special features of winter hiking boots
Winter hiking boots are characterized mainly by how insulated they are. Insulation is achieved through the inclusion of a dedicated fabric that traps heat inside a boot. Insulating materials are woven all throughout the boot’s upper to efficiently cover your foot and prevent freezing temperatures from reaching it. There are two kinds of insulated winter hiking boots you can choose from:
Single-layer insulated boots are meant to be used in a low-altitude mountainous terrain that’s not protected by tree cover. A pair of winter hikers has typically 200 grams of insulating material.
Double-layer insulated boots use twice the insulating material and feature a removable liner as well. They’re perfect for multi-day trips because their liners can be removed and dried off. Double-layered boots usually have 400 grams of insulation per pair.
Types of insulation in winter hiking boots
Synthetic. Synthetic insulators are the standard choice for almost all types of hiking footwear. They are inserted between the outer boot shell and the inner lining to protect from cold weather conditions. Synthetic insulation is known to be lightweight and doesn’t add much to the overall size of a boot.
Down-fill. Hikers and backpackers do not prefer boots that use down-fill insulators because of their incapacity to handle extreme cold. Down insulated footwear are usually worn during a break as a basecamp shoe.
What’s the meaning of a temperature rating?
Some footwear companies include a temperature rating for their winter hiking boots. For instance, these brands claim their offerings can handle temperatures of -25°F or lower. Although these ratings give consumers an idea of how a particular boot performs in the cold, they are not guaranteed during the actual hike. Foot warmth is dependent on trail activity, a person’s metabolism, and the state of your health, among others. It’s wiser to consider a boot’s temperature rating as a guide, rather than an absolute fact.
Are there different kinds of synthetic insulation?
Yes, there are. In fact, hiking gear companies and dedicated manufacturers offer a diverse set of insulating options for consumers.
Thinsulate is a popular brand of insulation that uses thin, hollow fibers to trap warmth inside a boot. First sold in 1979 by 3M, this insulating material also features water resistance and breathability.
Primaloft is composed primarily of polyester microfibers wrapped in a layer of nylon to warm your feet. Just like Thinsulate, Primaloft is also water-resistant. The downside to this type of insulation is the fibers tend to form small bumps after some time.
M-Select Warm is Merrell’s own take on insulation. This material works by using a reflective micro-space that traps heat from escaping the boot.
Heatseeker is The North Face’s proprietary insulation technology. Its composition is similar to Thinsulate.
Keen.Warm can be found in Keen’s range of outdoor insulated footgear.
Keeping your feet dry is critical in cold weather. The presence of water inside a boot will cause all kinds of havoc for outdoor aficionados. Winter hiking boots achieve this feat through these methods:
Water-repellent uppers frequently use pre-treated materials in its layout. A Durable Water-Repellent finish is applied to the leather or synthetic uppers to enhance them against the elements.
Waterproof liners, such as Gore-Tex, are woven into an upper to prevent water from being absorbed while allowing excess moisture to escape quickly. The surface of a waterproof membrane is filled with nine million pores per square inch, making it useful in blocking water out while allowing moisture to pass.
Compatibility with crampons
Although crampons are generally associated with heavier and bulkier mountaineering boots, they can also be used with winter hiking boots. These crampons enhance traction on slippery surfaces and keep you stable. Since you won’t deal with technical terrain, going for a pair of lightweight crampons is the better option. This variation is more flexible, can be easily attached to a boot, and has the sufficient number of points for winter hiking or backpacking.
Things to check for when getting men's and women's winter hiking boots
Fit and sizing
The most important quality of a winter hiking boot is its fit. Your foot should feel snug and comfortable inside it. If there’s too much room, your foot will not be secure in place. There’s a tendency for blisters to form when this is the case. On the other hand, a boot that wraps tightly around your foot will cut off blood circulation and make you feel uncomfortable.
It’s also crucial to choose a boot with the proper height. A tall boot is excellent for keeping your ankles warm and protecting them from sudden twisting. The downside here is that they are heavier and bulkier. A boot with shorter height is more comfortable to don and doff. They will not perform well in deep snow, but with the addition of gaiters and snowshoes, they can be a worthwhile alternative.
When looking for winter hiking boots, it is important to emphasize traction to prevent any slippage concerns. A boot’s outsole must have a capable tread design composed of various shapes so you’ll have a better grip when walking on ice and snow. The treads should have enough space and depth to shed away dirt and debris better.
A heel brake is also another boot feature that can improve your winter hiking experience. This outsole part helps prevent slippage during steep descents. Since the presence of snow and ice reduces your grip on the ground, a heel brake can be invaluable to you.
Carrying a load on your back without having the proper support from your feet is a recipe for disaster. Your target pair of winter hiking boots should buffer your feet and protect it from shock via its midsole unit. For long hikes, it’s best to get a boot with a polyurethane midsole for their firm and durable nature. A stiffer midsole can support you better over long distances. For short to medium hiking trips, it’s safe to go for an EVA midsole. They’re lighter, more flexible, and less expensive for this kind of outdoor trip.
The shank is another feature you should check when you are searching for winter hiking boots. This component provides extra stiffness to the midsole, making it suitable for multi-day hikes along a snowy terrain.
It’s crucial to choose winter hiking boots that can last for a long time. Be on the lookout for hikers that have leather uppers and sturdy Vibram outsoles. The former provides additional protection against the cold and water while being resistant to abrasions. Vibram outsoles are recognized for their resilience amid harsh trail conditions. The combination of these components renders lasting robustness to the boot.
Weather and trail conditions that take a toll on winter hiking boots
Encountering various bodies of water on a trail is not as simple as it seems. Wading through streams, rivers, or even puddles, increase the chance for water to enter a boot. When this happens, the cold weather will freeze it. During a backpacking trip, you are going to spend several days out in the wild. As such, there’ll be no easy way to dry off your boots. The wisest course of action is to avoid water as much as possible. Another good tip is to get a hiker with removable liners so you can easily dry them during a break from your trip.
At low temperatures, hiking boots with leather uppers become stiffer and cracked. When left untreated, these components don’t have a chance against tension, impact, or constant bending. Winter hiking boots that feature leather materials should be treated with a solution regularly, so they are protected from the cold weather.
Rubber materials fare no different from leather. When exposed to extreme cold, rubber loses its flexibility and becomes rigid. Of course, varying types of commercial rubber differ in results, but those used in hiking boots may turn brittle when used in below −40°F.
Frequently Asked Questions
What differentiates mountaineering boots from winter hiking boots?
Alpine boots are used when you need to scale high-altitude terrains. Their compatibility with high-end crampons and rigid soles give them an edge for ice climbing. On the other hand, winter hiking boots use less stiff outsoles for snow-filled environments. They’re lighter and more comfortable to use as well.
Are winter hiking boots a wise, long-term investment?
It depends on your preferences when you’re outdoors. If you usually travel in places with warm and humid weather, a pair of breathable hiking boots is much better. In cases where you need to carry a heavy load over great distances, backpacking boots will serve you better. But if you plan to explore snowy terrains, your best bet would be to purchase winter hiking boots.
What can I do to prolong the lifespan of my winter hiking boots?
Just like any outdoor footwear, winter hiking boots accumulate a lot of wear and tear with each use. The first thing you should do after each trip is to clean them thoroughly. Place these boots under running water and wash them using an old brush or a piece of cloth. Once you’re done, place your boots in a dust-free area to dry off. Also, do not forget to apply a treatment solution to your boots regularly to maintain the quality of the uppers.
How can I maximize my winter hiking boots whenever I’m outdoors?
Aside from getting a pair of crampons, you can also wear gaiters. Gaiters are a type of polyester garment worn over a boot and below the knees. They work by preventing water, debris, or snow from trickling down into your hikers. Its height determines a gaiter's protective aspect. For freezing weather conditions, the most sensible gaiter height is one that reaches your knees for better protection. This particular height not only prevents unwanted elements from entering your boot, but it also helps warm your legs in frosty weather.
Is it easy to find winter hiking boots?
Finding a pair for your next big hike is effortless if you know what you exactly need. You can visit the nearest footwear store in your area or purchase from online stores. When you get your hikers from a physical store, make sure to try them on first, so you can get a good feel of it. Online shopping is a more convenient option because you find a new pair from the comfort of your own home. The downside to this option is you will not be able to try on a boot before paying for it. In this case, it’s crucial to do your research first before purchasing new footwear.
15 best winter hiking boots
The North Face Back-To-Berkeley Redux Leather
Salomon Quest Winter GTX
Keen Revel III
Asolo Drifter Evo GV
Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV Omni-Heat
Lowa Hunter GTX Evo Extreme
Vasque Snowblime UltraDry
Asolo Nucleon Mid GV
Columbia Bugaboot III
Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry
Keen Summit County
Salomon OUTblast TS CSWP
Garmont Integra High WP Thermal
Merrell Thermo Chill Mid Shell Waterproof
Merrell Coldpack ICE+ Mid Polar Waterproof
Paul loves adventure. Over the past 20 years, he has climbed, hiked, and ran all over the world. He’s summited peaks throughout the Americas, trekked through Africa, and tested his endurance in 24-hour trail races. He has worked in the outdoor industry as a whitewater and hunting guide, gear tester, copywriter, and outfitting specialist at places like The National Outdoor Leadership School, No Barriers USA, and Sierra Trading Post. He has been quoted in NYMag, NBCNews, and Business Insider to name a few.
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