After a collective 100 hours of research and on-the-ground trials with seven testers (three women and four men) in 17 different pairs of winter boots during a cold Alaskan winter, both in the city and on the trails, we’ve selected the Keen Durand Polar WP for men and women as our favorites.
The Keen Durand Polar WP (women’s, men’s) offers the best combination of warmth, traction, support, waterproofing, and flexibility for most people who spend more time on out-of-town adventures than in town. That said, the Durand Polar WP still walks easily enough for in-town errands or chores like shoveling snow, and as long as you’re active, it’ll keep you warm in temperatures as low as zero degrees.
The Blundstone Thermal Boot is a fully waterproof and insulated version of the company’s Chelsea boot that barely adds any extra bulk or weight. Its classic design makes it a great boot for everyday wear. Our testers were surprised at how comfortable and cozy this insulated boot was—it has a removable shearling insole that makes it feel more like a slipper than a work boot.
Women’s boots often sacrifice function for aesthetics, but the Columbia Heavenly Omni-Heat Organza is both practical and good-looking, with a low-profile heat-reflecting layer that keeps feet warm down to zero degrees, excellent waterproofing, and a surprisingly comfortable, slipper-like fit. The updated 2018 version’s faux fur lining is trimmed and the eyelets have been redesigned.
These mid-cut boots feel almost like a shoe, but they use the same heat-retaining technology as the heavier Bugaboot Plus III Titanium.
The Columbia Peakfreak Venture Mid Waterproof Omni-Heat men’s boot offers excellent insulation and traction on ice, with a flexible, sneaker-like feel underfoot and a roomy toe box to accommodate feet that are too wide for our top pick.
If insulation is your top priority or you plan to be out in the cold without many chances to move around and warm up, the L.L.Bean Wildcat Boots (women’s, men’s) are impressively warm, supportive, and surprisingly comfortable. This style is a little clunky, but you’ll appreciate that structure when the temperatures drop below zero but your feet stay warm.
If your winter conditions tend toward the wet and cold, or if you just want boots that can handle the very worst that a spring melt throws at you, the Muck Boot Arctic Excursion Mid is a top pick. Essentially a fleece-lined rubber boot, the Arctic Excursion Mid is surprisingly warm—good down to about 20 degrees—with flawless waterproofing to help you move confidently on days when you’re spending a lot of time slogging through slush and splashing through endless puddles.
Why you should trust us
Lisa has lived in Alaska for almost 30 years’ worth of cold, snowy, and icy winters, including lots of hiking, snowshoeing, sledding, dogsled race watching, northern lights viewing, and pretty much every other type of cold-weather fun you can imagine. As a travel and outdoors writer, she makes the majority of her living by traipsing around outside in the full variety of challenging Alaska conditions and then reporting on what it’s like.
The other six testers who helped evaluate the full range of boots are all outdoorsy Alaskans with enough experience to judge the relative merits of these boots not only against one another but also against the competitive field at large. That field, combined with Alaska’s varying (and often challenging) winter conditions, including temperatures that ranged down to and below zero, put them in the perfect position to evaluate just how well these boots lived up to their manufacturers’ promises.
But in addition to being folks who like to go and play in the wild, our test team also consisted almost entirely of Anchorage residents. They go to and from work, walk their dogs, and shovel their driveways, just like folks living in cold cities in the Lower 48. And they understand that finding the right pair of boots doesn’t just depend on how cold it is—the choice depends on what you plan to do with your boots.
Who this is for
If you live in an area with cold winters, a good pair of boots will help keep your feet warm and dry during any pursuit, whether you’re walking to a mass-transit stop, shoveling snow, taking the dog out, or just forging a path through the snowdrifts to your car. Winter boots are also built for good traction in most winter conditions, although you’ll still need nonslip devices in icy conditions. Even if you don’t plan on spending a lot of time outside in the winter, it’s still good to have a solid pair of winter boots on hand in case your car breaks down or your bus is delayed.
Everybody’s definition of winter weather varies, and it has a lot to do with what you’re used to. If you live in a place where temperatures regularly plunge below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, 40 degrees above zero really does start feeling like T-shirt and sandals weather. But if you’re used to temperatures that frequently hit the 80s and 90s, temperatures of 40 degrees mean it’s time to bundle up and prepare for the winter apocalypse.
Good winter boots will last for years, so if your current footwear still keeps your feet warm and dry and fits well, you have no need to replace it. But old boots that have seen a lot of use will eventually start leaking as the waterproof liners deteriorate over time, insulating less effectively as the insulating material degrades or providing less support as the material in the midsole breaks down. If winter boots just don’t keep feet as warm or dry as they used to, or if they don’t feel as comfortable, it’s time to replace them.
Where we tested
Because we wanted to consider each pair of boots for use both in the city and outdoors, we tested them all in both environments, strolling Alaska’s icy winter sidewalks and taking to our favorite trails, which were a combination of fresh snow and hard-packed ice, in the mountains and in forested foothills closer to town. All of our testing took place in a region of the state known as Southcentral, with daytime temperatures that typically ranged from 0 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the day. All told, we spent about a month testing, amassing a total of 100 hours of testing and research across our seven testers. For our 2017 update, we also tested boots in freezing temperatures and along icy sidewalks in New York City.
How we picked and tested
We scoured the Internet for reliable expert reviews and owner input on which boots were good enough to be put to the test. When it came to serious outdoor gear, some of our best sources included OutdoorGearLab, SectionHiker, and customer reviews from outdoors retailers like REI. For opinions on boot style, we turned to sources such as Men’s Fitness and Refinery29.
Once we settled on our target styles—eight pairs of men’s boots and nine pairs of women’s boots —we focused primarily on our own hands-on, on-feet testing. When a given boot model wasn’t available for both genders, or if we found a standout performer designed for a given gender, we also tested the most similar models available for the other gender. In a few cases, we chose to test new models from manufacturers that regularly draw raves to see how the newest models stood up against the old standards.
We evaluated each pair of boots in a series of three tests. In the first test, we packed all the boots up to the instep in tubs of ice and used a temperature gun to measure how quickly the internal temperature dropped at three-minute intervals. The goal was to eliminate the body heat produced by feet from the equation while comparing how well the boots protected against heat loss to a cold surface (the ice). In almost every case, this data closely paralleled our testers’ observations about the boots’ insulating ability.
In the second test, we evaluated the boots’ waterproofing by spending up to five minutes “walking” in place in tubs filled with ice water. The ice served two purposes: one, giving us another read on how well the boots were insulated relative to one another, and two, making it immediately obvious when water started seeping into the footwear. The test evolved to include deep knee bends and other movements designed to stress the places where a boot is most likely to leak with repeated wear and use, and we declared the test over once a boot started to leak, which happened to some degree in about half the cases.
To be completely clear, although all but two of the boots we tested were meant to be waterproof, we deliberately designed this test to push them all well beyond any reasonable expectations of performance. Waterproof winter boots are designed to protect against slogging through slush or stepping in the occasional puddle, but they’re not intended for prolonged immersion. If you know you’ll be doing more walking in water than out of it, you should look at knee-high rubber boots. An insulated version that we tested for this guide, the Muck Boot Arctic Excursion Mid, showcased just how well this type of boot works in wet conditions, shining even on the wet decks of an Alaskan boat in subfreezing temperatures.
Our last—and arguably most important—test involved taking each pair of boots for a walk on both city streets and outdoor trails. This test allowed our panelists to put their extensive experience to work evaluating each boot’s traction, walkability, and effectiveness in insulating feet. Each boot went through at least two or three miles of walk-testing, although in many cases they had quite a bit more, with testers continuing until they felt they had amassed enough information for a confident opinion.
Our pick: Keen Durand Polar WP
Of all the boots we tested, the Keen Durand Polar WP (women’s, men’s) offers the best blend of features for people who need a versatile boot that does it all. The Durand Polar WP provides excellent traction on most winter surfaces, can easily take you down to zero degrees of temperature, and offers a fit that suits most feet, although some people will need to size up. The waterproofing is also excellent, except for a small vent in the tongue that lets water in. Finally, this boot is also flexible enough to walk in easily but gives more structure and support than the town boots we evaluated.
Like most serious winter boots, the Durand Polar WP excels on snow, thanks to a combination of fairly aggressive lugs and open space between them that helps slow the accumulation of snow. It also offers good traction on rough ice and good lateral support (receiving four out of five points from our testers in that regard), although again, like most boots in this class, it provides only so-so traction on smooth, flat ice.
Note that the upper requires more break-in time than that of the other boots we evaluated, so if you have sensitive ankles and calves, you might want to wear padded socks for the first few uses. This boot has a slightly wider than usual toe box, too, although people with wide feet will want to go up half a size, and it does a decent job of locking your heel in. The Durand Polar WP is notably taller than a mid-cut boot, which means it will do well at keeping snow out on its own.
One of our testers described this boot’s insulation as “cushy”—a measure of both its comfort and its insulating ability, which will keep you warm to below-zero temperatures as long as you keep moving. The relatively structured build helps with this by keeping the boot from compressing your foot and cutting down on circulation, which in turn would chill you.
Such a construction often translates to a clunky boot, but the Keen Durand Polar WP is actually very easy to walk in, with just enough rocker (upturned toe) and flexibility in the forefoot and ankle to allow a natural stride without sacrificing support. Interestingly, this boot placed first in our temperature-gun tests of insulating value, although our testers thought the L.L.Bean Wildcat and the Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Titanium Omni-Tech were a little warmer in actual use.
Our final two notes have to do with water. The Keen Durand Polar WP boots had excellent results in our waterproofing test—and also kept our feet warm in those tubs of ice water—except for a vent in the top half of the tongue that seems to soak up water, from which point the moisture eventually seeps into the interior of the boot. The vent isn’t far below the gusset that holds the tongue to the rest of the boot, the usual “high mark” for waterproofing, so just make sure not to step into water deeper than the vent, and you’ll be fine.
Lastly, the women’s version of the Keen Durand Polar WP has a faux-fur cuff around the ankle opening that, although it sheds water initially, will soak up the liquid and turn into a sodden mess with continued exposure. The faux fur is warm, comfortable, and cute, but if you think you might be wandering into truly wet conditions, consider purchasing the faux-fur-free men’s Durand Polar WP.
Keen Durand Polar WP: Flaws but not dealbreakers
On the women’s Durand Polar WP, the faux-fur lining in the upper part of the ankle cuff could be considered a flaw for some people, but unless you’re going into wet conditions, it’s not a dealbreaker. In our experience, the faux fur drew several compliments as a nice, feminine touch, something to consider if you plan to wear these boots around town.
Our testers ranked the Durand Polar WP squarely in the middle of the pack for “serious outdoor insulation.” To put it another way, this pair will keep you warm during almost any activity, and almost any foul weather, as long as you keep moving. If you’re doing more sedentary activities, though, you might want to consider one of our even more heavily insulated options, and if you’re buying with an eye toward technical outdoor pursuits like mountaineering, you’ll want a stiffer boot that’s designed for climbers. But for the vast majority of people recreating in the outdoors, the Keen Durand Polar WP offers the perfect blend of features.
Also great for men: Blundstone Thermal Boot
After our previous pick was discontinued, we went back to the drawing board, gathered up long-term testing notes from some of our previous contenders, and found that Blundstone boots had been a favorite among Wirecutter staff. For this guide, we tested the company’s uninsulated original 500-series boot and the thermal version of that same boot. Both of these boots earned high scores in previous tests, and we wanted to put them to the test again. Our previous pick, the Sorel Madson Boot, was a stylish design, but that ended up being a downside because the style was quickly discontinued and is being replaced by a new line. This Blundstone style is the company’s classic, best-selling design and is probably not in danger of being discontinued anytime soon.
Even though the uninsulated version performed great in winter conditions (and we still recommend it if you want to be able to use it year-round or you live in milder climates), the thermal version is fully insulated, waterproof, and surprisingly not too bulky. It’s a great-looking boot for everyday wear, easily transitioning from casual office wear to a more formal night out. Our testers hiked on trails, commuted to work, and, because these boots are easy to slip on and off, kept reaching for them for taking the trash out or going on a quick walk with the dog. This boot also passed our waterproofing tests with flying colors.
It also comes with a sheepskin insole, which gives the boot a cozy, slipper-like feel. Our testers did notice that it made the boot feel more snug when wearing it at first, but the boot quickly breaks in and fits true to size. One thing we found out about Blundstone sizing, which is not intuitive, is that its half sizes refer to only an increase in width (not length). So if you prefer to wear thick socks and want to size up, you may have to go up a full size instead of a half size (see our section on boot fit and keeping warm). Our testers found that the half-size increase was sometimes plenty to adjust for a thicker sock, but if you think you need extra room in the toe box, you may need to go up to the next full size. The great thing about the thermal boot, though, is that our testers stayed extra toasty when wearing just their regular lightweight wool socks.
Blundstone Thermal Boot: Flaws but not dealbreakers
One of the flaws of this boot is that it doesn’t have great traction on icy surfaces. It’s not terrible, just not particularly grippy. For really icy days, we’d recommend using a pair of non-slip traction devices that can go over your boot.
We’d also read that some users had issues with these boots being too narrow for wide feet or hard to pull on if you had high arches, but we didn’t find any of these complaints to hold true with our testers. This could be due to a misunderstanding with Blundstone sizing, as mentioned above, where half sizes are just wider versions and not actually a half-size bigger. If you have wider feet, we recommend you get a half size up. If you plan to wear thick socks, we’d recommend going up a full size. Our testers with high arches found the boots stiff and snug in the beginning, but this quickly faded away after about a mile of wear.
One of the complaints we’ve heard about insulated leather boots is that because they don’t breathe as well as plain leather, feet are more prone to sweat and become damp (and thus cold). Our testers didn’t experience this, but it is something to be aware of if you know you have sweaty feet. If this is the case or if you live in milder climates, we’d recommend going with the uninsulated version of this boot (see the Competition section).
Also great for women: Columbia Heavenly Omni-Heat Organza Lace Up Boot
We’ve often felt that women’s boots prioritize looks over functionality, so we were thrilled to find that the Columbia Women’s Heavenly Omni-Heat Organza Lace Up Boot is both attractive and functional. The updated 2018 version’s faux fur lining is trimmed and the eyelets have been redesigned. We haven’t tested this version but the other specs are similar enough that we feel comfortable recommending them.
The pair we tested kept our feet warm and comfortable right down to zero degrees. The boots are fully waterproof up to the tongue gusset, they mold to fit almost any foot shape, and the flexible soles are easy to walk in. These boots were cute enough to draw random compliments from both men and women on the street, and they offer good traction in most winter conditions except for glare ice.
Warmth is, arguably, the most important feature of any winter boot; it doesn’t matter how waterproof or grippy the boots are if your feet are cold. We weren’t able to get conclusive readings on the Heavenly Omni-Heat Organza in our temperature tests due to the long, narrow neck and the fluffy faux fur lining the top half of the collar. But during testing it kept my feet, warmed by only a pair of lightweight wool socks, perfectly warm down to a chilly zero degrees. That warmth is thanks to Columbia’s Omni-Heat technology, a layer of thin, metallic dots that reflect body heat, creating an unusually effective, lightweight, and nonbulky layer of insulation.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the Heavenly Omni-Heat Organza’s effective waterproofing, right up to the tongue gusset (the fabric that binds the tongue to the body of the boot); this pair withstood the full five minutes of flexing and bending in a tub of icy water. Any boot’s waterproofing will start to break down over time with use, but for now at least, this pair is solid.
Most winter boots tend to be quite clunky, but the Heavenly Omni-Heat Organza fits more like a comfortable slipper. If it can mold to fit my extra-wide forefeet and narrow heels, it can fit any foot; but if you have very wide forefeet like me, you’d be well served by going up a half size. The forward half of the sole is especially flexible; the back half of the sole is a little stiffer for extra support. The overall effect is a sole that’s easy to walk in—these boots feel more like soft sneakers than clunky winter wear—but still supportive enough that you hardly notice rocks and the like underfoot. It’s a unique experience in winter footwear, and entirely pleasant on balance.
The final element to consider is traction. The Heavenly Omni-Heat Organza’s “outie” lugs do a great job in moderate snow, and the soft sole gives the boot good traction on rough, textured ice. But this style has the same Achilles’ heel as every other boot in this group: It’ll slip on smooth ice, which includes winter walking trails where the sun has melted snow into a polished, icy crust. In those conditions, it’s best to put ice grippers on your footwear, no matter what sort of boot you’re using.
Columbia Women’s Heavenly Omni-Heat Organza: Flaws but not dealbreakers
The faux fur that lines the top half of the Heavenly Omni-Heat Organza’s long ankle collar is pretty, and it helps seal warmth in and snow out. It even sheds water at first, but if you happen to step into something deeper than the waterproof tongue gusset, or if your feet sweat a lot, the faux fur will get wet and stay wet, reducing the boot’s comfort and insulating value.
The other issue worth noting is that if you have flat feet, plantar fasciitis, or any other condition in which your foot requires a lot of structured support, you might not be a fan of this style’s slipper-like fit, which also makes it unsuitable for carrying a heavy pack. But for in-town wear and light outdoor use, that slipper-like feel is far preferable to clomping around in unwieldy boots.
For below zero degrees: L.L.Bean Wildcat Boots
We think the Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Titanium Omni-Heat offers the best blend of features for most people going outdoors, but if your sole priority is keeping your feet as warm as possible—which could mean during sedentary activities at moderate winter temperatures or staying active at serious below-zero temperatures—we recommend the L.L.Bean Wildcat Boots (women’s, men’s).
This boot performed well, but not perfectly, in our waterproofing test, with just a minimal, brief leak at the back of the left heel in the men’s version. The women’s version didn’t leak at all, and the water intrusion in the men’s boot was so slight that we continued the test to the full five minutes.
The L.L.Bean Wildcat also offers surprisingly good traction, even on ice. The real starring feature, however, is its structured but roomy fit, which allows plenty of room for thick socks without compromising your circulation (which in turn would chill your feet), along with the 400 grams of PrimaLoft insulation that help keep your feet warm even in serious cold.
The manufacturer rates this boot for use down to -25 degrees Fahrenheit during moderate activity. Based on our hands-on testing and our temperature-gun tests, which ranked the Wildcat second overall for its insulating value (behind only the Keen Durand Polar WP), we think that rating is accurate.
L.L.Bean Wildcat Boots: Flaws but not dealbreakers
Although the L.L.Bean Wildcat is surprisingly easy to walk in given how supportive it is, there’s no denying that it’s a clunky boot. That kind of structure lends itself to excellent support and stability, but it isn’t the best option for spending a lot of time walking around in town. If you want a more flexible boot that’s still quite warm, you might prefer the Keen Durand Polar WP. The Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Titanium Omni-Tech falls between the two in flexibility and agility.
A sporty men’s boot: Columbia Peakfreak Venture Mid Waterproof Omni-Heat
These mid-cut boots feel almost like a shoe, but they use the same heat-retaining technology as the heavier Bugaboot Plus III Titanium.
For those with wide feet or anyone who wants a men’s boot that looks a little sportier, we recommend the Columbia Peakfreak Venture Mid Waterproof Omni-Heat. The Columbia Peakfreak Venture Mid offers good traction on ice and is also a little warmer than the Thermal Blundstone. It has extra space in the toe box, although it didn’t do quite as well in our waterproofing test.
Our testers gave the Columbia Peakfreak Venture Mid a perfect score for its traction on snow of all types, although the mid-cut upper means that if you wear these boots into deep snow, you’ll need gaiters to keep the snow out. (Gaiters are fabric sleeves that essentially seal the gap between your boots and your pants.)
The Peakfreak Venture Mid will also keep you warm down to temperatures as low as zero degrees, as long as you wear appropriate socks and keep moving. It landed strictly in the middle of the pack during our temperature-gun testing, but it has Columbia’s unique, heat-reflecting Omni-Heat lining, which sends your body heat right back at you. As soon as you put a heat-generating foot into these boots, they get much warmer.
This style is a good choice if you like a roomy fit, although you’ll need to order up a half-size to get that fit, especially if you have wide feet. These boots also lock your heel in nicely, which in combination with the relatively flexible easy-to-walk-in sole gives them near sneaker-like levels of comfort—no clunky winter boots here!
Finally, note that on the pair we tested, the Columbia Peakfreak Venture Mid had a noticeable but slow leak from one of the rivets near the bottom of the upper. Except for that leak, which was limited to just one boot, this pair kept the water out.
Columbia Peakfreak Venture Mid Waterproof Omni-Heat: Flaws but not dealbreakers
Even though the toe box on the Columbia Peakfreak Venture Mid is one of the most spacious in this class of boot, it does taper a little toward the front and may rub on the pinky-toe side for some people. Make sure to order from a seller that will let you return the boots if they don’t fit. In addition, this was the only model in our test that leaked from a rivet instead of seeping from a seam, which calls this model’s waterproofing into question—but if you’re planning to spend a lot of time in watery conditions, this isn’t the type of boot you should be looking for anyway.
For cold, wet conditions: Muck Boot Arctic Excursion Mid
In most places, winter means dealing with snow and ice. But in coastal communities and during the spring melt after a snowy winter, you may go through periods of wet, messy conditions that are still winter-cold. That’s exactly where an insulated rubber boot like the Muck Boot Arctic Excursion Mid excels, with enough insulation to handle most winter conditions, good traction in wet conditions, and a neck high enough to keep both water and snow out.
Our testers said the fleece lining kept them warm in almost any conditions down to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit; one even took these boots on a November boat ride through Alaska’s Prince William Sound, collecting glacier ice for use by a local distillery. Traction was great on a cold, wet boat deck, although it was a little below par on rough ice and very slick on smooth ice. And a boot like this doesn’t offer any ankle support at all.
In our experience, the fit was slightly narrow through the midfoot—just enough to lock the foot in place, even without laces to tighten the boot down—but spacious in the forefoot. The Muck Boot Arctic Excursion Mid actually showed some of the greatest temperature loss in our temperature-gun testing (remember, this test eliminated the foot as a heat source within the boot), but with that in mind, this pair was surprisingly warm during our waterproofing test, which it aced with no leaks at all.
That result goes to show that there’s more than one way to keep a foot warm; our tester said these Muck boots acted a bit like a wetsuit, holding a layer of warmed air against his feet to provide increased insulation. In contrast, the other boots we evaluated use everything from metallic dots that reflect body heat back at you to sheepskin, PrimaLoft, and Thinsulate insulation.
In this case, our tester found the Arctic Excursion Mid to be good down to about 20 degrees during normal use. He also liked the thick rubber tab on the back of the heel that made it easy to kick these boots off—without it, you’d be fighting to extricate your feet from the long, relatively form-fitting uppers.
Muck Boot Arctic Excursion Mid: Flaws but not dealbreakers
The Muck Boot Arctic Excursion Mid can’t be beat when it comes to protecting against a combination of cold and wet, but the design offers no ankle support at all, and the traction isn’t the best when it comes to ice—in fact, this pair was among the worst boots we evaluated on smooth glare ice. If you intend to use this model as an all-purpose winter boot for mild to moderate conditions, you’ll also need strong ankles and some ice grippers to keep yourself steady on the ice.
Care and maintenance
Most winter boots don’t require much maintenance, although if you live in an area where the community uses salt or chemicals to melt ice and snow, you should wipe off any accumulations as you notice them.
For treating leather boots, our staff at Wirecutter likes Obenauf’s Heavy Duty Leather Preservative. This heavy-duty wax will help waterproof boots that don’t claim to be waterproof while also protecting them from salts and chemicals they may be exposed to on the streets. One thing to be aware of: if your boots are made of light colored leather, this wax will most likely darken their color, so we recommend doing a test patch first to be sure you like the result.
One of our most outdoorsy testers pointed out that none of the boots in our test group had removable liners, which would make it easier to dry the boots out if they were to get wet. That’s okay, because for most people removable liners aren’t necessary—they’re more of an expedition-oriented feature. But if any boot manufacturers are reading this, note that liners would be a handy feature for in-town boots, too, because once any waterproof boot gets wet inside—whether from sweaty feet, a leak, or a journey into a puddle that was a little too deep—it tends to stay wet for quite a while. In the meantime, if your waterproof boots have gotten damp inside and you don’t own a boot dryer, stuffing them with crumpled newspaper can help absorb the moisture quickly.
Boot tips: Fit, function, and keeping warm
If you struggle with cold feet, it’s tempting to pack as many heavy socks into your winter boots as possible. But putting on too many socks‚ or wearing boots that are a little too small, can actually backfire by cutting down on your circulation, which will leave your feet feeling colder instead of warmer. It’s surprising just how much a little compression can chill your feet, so if you find them getting cold—especially if only parts of your foot or certain toes are getting cold—ask yourself if you might actually be wearing too much on your feet instead of too little. If temperatures really are cold enough to justify thick socks, you may actually need to go up half a boot size to make room for those socks without compressing your feet.
A poor boot fit doesn’t just cut off circulation; it can also make you miserable if the boots don’t allow sufficient room for your forefoot, instep, or midfoot. We’ve offered observations about what sort of foot each boot we’ve evaluated seems to fit best, but there’s no substitute for trying on boots until you find one that fits well. Go late in the day so your feet will be at their biggest (they swell throughout the day), and bring whatever socks you intend to wear with the boots. Make sure you have a thin margin of “breathing space” all around your forefoot and that your instep and midfoot aren’t compressed at all, although they should be locked in enough to keep your heel from sliding around inside the boot as you walk, especially when you’re walking uphill or downhill.
Finally, pay attention to what sort of socks you’re wearing. Cotton socks are fine for summer wear in most places, but they’re a terrible choice for winter wear because they soak up water and hold it against your skin, where it’ll chafe and chill you. (It doesn’t matter if the water came from slush, snow, sweat, or a puddle of meltwater; the end result is the same.) Rayon, a common material for dress socks, also acts like a sponge. You’ll be much better off using socks made of a wicking polyester or other synthetic blend, or my personal favorite, wool. You can buy odor-controlling and fully washable socks made of merino wool at almost any outdoors or footwear store, and some of the patterns and sock weights are attractive enough for office wear.
L.L.Bean’s Snow Sneakers 3 (men’s, women’s) were our also-great pick for hikers. They were comfortable and sporty, and combined agility, warmth, and stability on everything but the most slippery surfaces. But in 2018, L.L.Bean replaced them with the Snow Sneakers 4 (men’s, women’s), which the company says is lighter and more flexible. We haven’t tested the new versions.
Columbia’s Bugaboot Plus III Titanium Omni-Heat (men’s, women’s) were another also-great pick for seriously cold temperatures. These boots offered the best balance of warmth, waterproofing, and walkability, but they were bulky enough to be reserved for only the most extreme conditions. Columbia updated them in 2018 with the Bugaboot Plus IV (men’s, women’s), which we haven’t tested. The new version has a lighter insulation and is around $25 cheaper.
The Blundstone Men’s Original 500—a Chelsea-style pull-on boot almost identical to our also-great pick—was a close runner-up when we were making our final pick decisions. This boot passed our waterproofing tests despite not claiming to be waterproof; one of our editors has worn this particular boot in NYC and Portland, Oregon, winters for a little over five years and loves how versatile it is for year-round use. But this same editor also tested the Thermal Series version and was impressed at how much cozier it was. He said, “While I’ve never been uncomfortably cold in the uninsulated Blundstones and wool socks, I was downright cozy in the insulated boots. The difference is immediately noticeable and all the more so when standing in one place for more than a couple of minutes at a time.”
So while we still think the uninsulated Blundstone is a great boot, we didn’t make it a pick because it requires a little more adjusting and upkeep in order to be a proper winter boot. Eventually it does need to be waxed in order to remain waterproof, which is normal upkeep for any leather boot. Depending on how harsh your winters are, you may also want to opt for heavier-duty wool socks in order to increase this boot’s thermal abilities. Our testers in Alaska were actually surprised at how warm the boots remained in temperatures down in the 20s, but anything below that and you probably have to keep moving in order to stay comfortable. Because this guide is for winter boots specifically, we opted to recommend the thermal boot that works incredibly well as a winter boot straight out of the box. If you live in a place with milder winters or don’t mind keeping up with waterproofing and wearing heavier weight wool socks in cold winters, this may be the perfect boot for you. The advantage to not having insulation and a fully waterproof boot is that it breathes better and you can wear it year-round, indoors and outdoors.
Because the Muck Boot Arctic Excursion Mid was not available in a women’s version, we also tested the Muck Boot Arctic Après Lace. The Muck Boot brand is very popular for use in wet, sloppy conditions, and the Arctic Après Lace has a fleece lining to help keep your feet warm. This pair did admirably in our waterproofing test, with only one instance of early, minimal seepage at the back of the right boot that didn’t repeat through the rest of the test.
Like most winter boots, the Arctic Après Lace excelled at traction in rough ice, hard-packed snow, and soft snow; our tester gave it a perfect score of five out of five in those cases, but only three out of five when it came to smooth, flat ice. She said it was at its best in temperatures between 0 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and that it had a true-to-size fit with a locked-in heel.
The only complaint we had about this boot involved the tongue: If you lace the boot up all the way, the tongue rolls up into a strange tube shape with its edges facing in toward your shin, which creates some uncomfortable pressure. The only solution we found: Our tester skipped the top lacing hook and folded the tongue so that it stuck out instead of rolling in against her leg. She said it looked a little funny but left her with a solid fit that felt great on her feet.
The Sorel Women’s Tivoli II is one of the cutest boots we tested; it originally drew our attention because it’s popular with customer reviewers on websites of sellers such as REI, Amazon, and Zappos.com. Given the cute factor, these boots were surprisingly functional, passing our waterproofing test with flying colors. They had the lightest insulation of all the boots in our temperature test, however, and felt the coldest by far while we stood in the tub of ice water for the waterproofing test.
That doesn’t mean these boots are bad; it just means that the Tivoli II is built for mild winter conditions that don’t dip much lower than freezing, or for walking in places where you can go from one indoor point to another with very little time outside in harsh conditions. If this sounds like winter in your area, these boots might be the perfect footwear for you, especially since they’re very lightweight and walk more like a sneaker than a boot. The footbed is just a bit narrow but will accommodate most feet, including wide feet if you go up a half-size.
The Tivoli II’s traction is surprisingly good on snow and rough ice, although, again, if you expect to be facing glare ice you’ll need to add ice grippers, and if you’re facing harsh winter conditions or long outdoor trips, you’ll want a more serious boot. But for a cute boot that handles mild, point-to-point city use and puddles or slush gracefully without turning your feet into a sweaty mess when you go indoors, this model is a great choice.
We originally received the Icebug Glava BUGweb boots (women’s, men’s) for inclusion in our review of winter traction devices. Because they’re also purpose-built winter boots, we decided to include them here, too. (We tested the women’s version.)
The Glava is one of only two winter boot styles we evaluated that aren’t meant to be waterproof, and it certainly isn’t—the zipper, which runs up the back of the boot from sole to ankle cuff, doesn’t hold water out at all. That zipper makes it easy for you to enter and exit this clog-style boot, though, and every other part of the upper is water-resistant; it’s just the zipper that’ll get you wet.
The other aspect that makes the Glava stand out is its BUGweb, a stretchy harness that holds four traction spikes and fits into grooves laid into the sole. Although stand-alone ice grippers ultimately offer more traction because they have more spikes to dig into the ice, we still found the Glava to be a real step up over the other winter boots in ice traction, and you can apply the BUGweb to other footwear, too.
The boot itself walks easily, although without laces I wasn’t able to get the heel locked in—I felt a persistent rub that, although it never caused blisters in several miles of walking, might bother people with more sensitive heels. Also, if you have pointy heels like I do, you’ll want to go up at least a half-size so you can close the rear zipper. (Even now it’s a bit of a struggle for me, but it’s getting better with time and use.)
The manufacturer promises that the Glava boots will keep you comfortable down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit, and I’m inclined to second that, because in my experience they were comfortable down to 0 degrees with light socks as long as I kept moving. If you’re going to stand around in the cold, though, you’ll need heavier-duty boots.
The Glava draws a few customer concerns about its fit, so even though it’s a nice pick for those who spend most of their time in mild (and sometimes icy) winter conditions, order it from a source that lets customers return the boots if they don’t fit.
Read the original article on The Best Winter Boots.