Winter Boots for Snow and Cold Weather Hiking and Adventure

Winter Boots for Snow and Cold Weather Hiking and Adventure

Choosing the proper winter boots for winter hiking and snow and ice sports requires understanding the activity, the climate, and the gear available.

Lightweight hiking gear is all the rage in backpacking circles: In recent years, as gear has gotten lighter, the footwear needed to support carrying it has gotten weaker, too. Indeed, many hikers and other outdoor adventurers have abandoned traditional hiking boots entirely in favor of trekking shoes or lightweight hybrid shoe boots. But in winter, weight issues have to give way to the environment. In extreme cold, frostbite becomes a much more immediate problem than the extra exertion required to lift a heavy boot. Trudging through the snow is not easy in any footwear, and yes, all things being equal, lighter is still better. But as with so several points in life and adventure, all things are rarely similar. Here are some considerations for choosing a cold-weather boot.

Choose the Right Winter Boot for Your Activity and Climate

What will you be doing, and where and in what conditions? Sitting motionless on a snowmobile? Ice-climbing? Hiking and ice-climbing? Snowshoeing? Ice-fishing? The more active your activity, the lighter your boot can be, although you also need to remember that you can chill very quickly when you stop to rest. Consider the following issues:

  • Temperature: Below freezing is just the starting point! There’s a vast difference between 20 degrees Fahrenheit (regular leather boots might be fine) and minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit (bring out the heavy ammunition: insulated double boots or cold weather military “bunny boots.”)
  • What kind of snow? Light dry powder is one thing; wet slushy snow is another. The wetter the snow, the more waterproof you’ll want the boots to be.
  • The time you’ll be outside: If you plan to hike for two hours, then come inside to friendly warm fire, that’s different than staying out for a weekend of winter camping. But if you do decide to travel with lighter boots, be sure to carry some chemical foot warmers for emergencies, and a pair of dry socks, as well.

Types of Outdoor Winter Boots

Only once you know, the activity and conditions you’ll be traveling in is a time to choose a boot.

  • Traditional Hiking Boots. Classic leather hiking boots with good Vibram soles may be outdated on summer trails, but they remain a good winter choice. They’ll keep in warmth, especially when paired with gaiters, and the soles will grip on slippery surfaces. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail starting in January, which meant a fair bit of trudging through snow. A pair of relatively lightweight all-leather boots (just under four pounds for the team) was ideal. I’ve also tried using even lighter-weight fabric-and-leather boots in light winter conditions, but they tend to freeze up, especially in slushy snow. One way to make a three-season boot do four-season duty is to pair it with a vapor-barrier sock liner, available in outfitting stores.
  • Insulated, lined boots. Insulated boots can line with old-fashioned felt, traditional Sorel boots, or link with other soft insulating material such as Thinsulate. These boots have an inner bootie that acts like a super-sock. The boot’s outer shell is made out of some combination of leather, rubber, or synthetics. Insulated boots can use for activities where you don’t work up a lot of sweat – snowmobiling, horseback riding, ice-fishing. They can also use for short hikes and snowshoeing, but they may be too warm in moderate temperatures. And most of them don’t offer much in the way of foot support.
  • Climbing Boots: Double climbing boots are a variation of insulated lined boots, but they have a harder shell and a more rigid sole to support crampons. These boots have changed radically over the last 20 years or so. Once entirely challenging and all but impossible to walk in, they are now relatively flexible and even comfortable for approach-hiking (for example, when ice-climbing). However, they are much heavier than traditional boots. If you anticipate having to use crampons in freezing weather, these are the way to go.
  • Bunny Boots: For extreme cold – and by powerful, I mean temperatures down in the minus-double-digits Fahrenheit range – military cold weather boots, nicknamed “Bunny Boots,” are the ticket. At more than six pounds a pair, these boots are cumbersome, making them hard to walk in over long distances. And they don’t allow much in the form of arch support. (Orthotics can add to help with support issues). But the critical thing about Bunny Boots is that they will keep your feet warmer than anything else on the market.

The critical thing to remember about winter adventuring is that conditions can quickly change and become dangerous and even life-threatening. Thus, winter gear needs to be selected not only for optimum function for the activity (comfort and weight) but for the worst possible conditions. By understanding the action, the climate, and the boots available, you’ll be able to choose gear that will both work for your activity and keep you comfortable – and maybe even save your life – if and when the weather turns foul.



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