3 Best Winter Hiking Shoes in 2023
Whether you’re off to the icy trails or just need to protect your feet from the frigid winter weather, we’ve got great picks that will keep your tootsies warm, cosy, and protected. Built for the winter season, these properly insulated, cold-ready hikers will keep your footing secured on the trails.
After testing each shoe in the field, slipping and sliding on off-road paths and snowy trails, we have selected our best models that will keep you upright and comfortable all winter long. From the Adidas Terrex lineup to Chaco and Vivobarefoot, we offer really solid options to choose from.
To get you started in your search for the right fit, we’ve rounded up the best winter hiking shoes available out there based on our meticulous testing and investigation. Take a quick look at our top highlights below with their comprehensive reviews.
Best winter hiking shoes overall
Winter hiking shoes with the best cushioning
Comparison of the 3 best winter hiking shoes
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Just because it’s winter does not mean you have to stop hiking. Winter is one of the most beautiful times of the year to enjoy hiking– so long as you are prepared.
One of the most important ways to ensure you can enjoy the crisp and quiet trails the winter season provides is by equipping yourself with the best winter hiking shoes.
The core concepts of winter hiking shoes
When shopping around for winter hiking shoes, there is a lot to consider– grip, waterproofing, stability, closure systems, lug patterns, sizing, and manufacturer’s reputation.
To help you decide, we went ahead and highlighted five core concepts of hiking shoes designed for winter.
Traction on slippery surfaces
Traction on winter hiking shoes makes all the difference. If you cannot reliably walk in your hiking shoes over wet, slippery, and icy terrain, then it won’t matter how warm your feet are because you won’t be going outside.
Good traction comes from a combination of deep tread patterns with pronounced lugs and high-quality rubber compounds.
Lug depth matters a lot in winter. Look for at least 4 mm, better 5 mm.
Waterproofing to keep your feet dry
Waterproof shoes can be very important for winter. Waterproof membranes on the shoe’s interior prevent moisture from getting inside. The drier, more insulated environment will keep your feet a lot warmer.
See how little air passes through a waterproof GTX hiking shoe
Hiking shoes that are waterproof may sound mandatory. However, waterproofing for winter hiking shoes is only necessary if you expect to experience prolonged exposure to cold and wet weather.
Otherwise, the extra weight and cost, combined with the decrease in breathability, may not be worth it. If the temperatures are not too low and you are wearing thicker socks, a hiking shoe with water-resistant materials may be a better option.
Reinforced toe cap for durability and protection
If you think bashing your toes on a quick descent hurts in warm weather, try doing it with cold toes. That’s why toe caps are essential for providing protection to your toes on rough and rocky trails.
A good example of a reliable toe cap can be found on the Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX
Gusseted tongue to keep out snow
If you are interested in a pair of hiking shoes that don’t have a gusseted tongue, then we would recommend straying away.
A gusseted tongue is an updated version of the regular shoe tongue. A gusseted tongue is closed and sewn to the sides of the hiking shoe. This design prevents moisture and debris from sneaking into your shoes through the laces.
Ideal socks for winter hiking
When it comes to the best socks for winter hiking, there is only one good answer– merino wool. Merino wool comes from Merino sheep that graze in the highlands of Australia and New Zealand.
Since the 12th century, Merino sheep have been prized for their soft and reliable fleece. Since then, Merino wool has been included in spinning technology and fibre treatments to create outstanding fabrics that consistently outperform cotton and other synthetic materials.
Merino wool is well known for its numerous advantages.
- It provides excellent insulation for cold weather.
- It transports moisture or wicks it away from your feet so it can evaporate.
- It is lightweight and keeps its shape.
- It’s well known for its anti-static and anti-odour properties.
Merino wool socks will come in a variety of shapes. We recommend mid-calf crew socks or quarter-calf anklet socks for hiking shoes and boots.
Wool socks will also come in different thicknesses. Thin and lightweight socks are best for hiking on warmer days or on more accessible trails. Midweight socks are slightly thicker and ideal for more demanding trails and colder temperatures. The thickest socks are best for hard hikes and frigid temperatures.
Tips for keeping your feet warm
One of the most important things you can do to keep your feet warm for winter hiking is to invest in the right pair of shoes. That’s why you’re here, reading this article.
However, there are a couple of other tips we wanted to share with you that might also help keep your feet warm during all your winter adventures.
Use toe warmers
Toe warmers are an effective, lightweight, and economical way to get more warmth inside your hiking shoes. During the winter season, we recommend keeping a few packs of warmers in your car or a go-to hiking backpack, even if you don’t plan on using them.
The fallback of toe warmers is that they are only single-use and must be thrown out afterward. Below we have some more sustainable options to keep your feet warm.
Add another insulating liner or insole
If you know your feet get cold often and want to plan ahead, you might consider sizing your hiking shoes big enough to accommodate an additional insulating liner or insole.
Winter liners and insoles are typically made from felt or wool. Winter shoe liners resemble socks that integrate within your hiking shoe. After-market insoles replace the original insoles and provide added warmth and cushion.
Try a pair of gaiters
Gaiters are protective sleeves that attach to your hiking shoe. They protect the lower legs and cover the tops of your shoes. They block dirt, snow, ice, and rain from entering through the laces or around the shoe's cuff.
Gaiters are easy to take on and off. By attaching gaiters to your hiking shoes, you temporarily transform them into hiking boots for the time being. Plus, gaiters can be used on multiple pairs of shoes.
We really like the Adidas Terrex Free Hiker Cold RDY because of the integrated gaiter closure system.
Avoid over-tightening your laces
A common mistake many hikers make is over-tightening their hiking shoes, believing they will keep their feet warmer. However, overtightening your shoes may end up causing you trouble in the end.
Overtightening can reduce blood circulation to your feet if not completely cut off. Poor circulation to the feet will make them colder over time. Overtightening can also prevent heat from escaping and moisture from evaporating from the shoe's interior. This may result in sweaty and uncomfortable feet.
Instead, tighten your laces as loose as possible without sacrificing stability and support.
How we test hiking shoes
To make this recommendation, we’ve thoroughly tested all models in actual winter hiking jaunts, covering 30+ miles for each pair of shoes. We’ve also checked and analysed the footwear inside our RunRepeat shoe lab to determine the quality of the materials and technologies used.
Our selection process involves doing these steps:
- We invest our time, energy, and our own resources to procure winter hiking shoes. This allows us to remain 100% independent and objective when giving our assessments.
- We take each model on real-life winter hiking excursions to personally assess its actual fit, insulation, traction, stability, durability, and support, among others. We test the models further to determine if they can handle moderate to extreme winter conditions.
- We collect more information from the test results inside our lab. We even reach a point where we dissect the shoes just so no part is hidden from our scrutiny.