While the warm rays of the summer sun allow us to take lots of liberties with our footwear selections, choosing cold weather footwear is a different story. Weather conditions matter greatly in our quest to select the best boots for optimal winter dressing, so it’s important to know and assess these differences accordingly. Although it’s cozy to rock some soft, fuzzy slip-on boots, snow, sleet, rain, and slush are just a few of the factors that will likely make our standard winter boots ineffective.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Not all winter boots are made equal, and they aren’t necessarily named clearly, either. Some retailers will refer to these as “snow boots,” while others may distinguish between types of winter boots, such as Pac boots, hiking boots, hunting boots, and work boots. As a result, choosing optimal cold weather footwear is easiest when considering the conjunction of weather conditions and our intended outdoor activities.
For those of us who live in an area that gets cold but rarely sees snowfall, it may be sufficient to invest in some thicker, moisture-wicking winter socks and continue on using a variety of all-weather sneakers. For a comfier day, consider lined moccasins or calf-covering boots. During spans of heavy rainfall—which can be much more prevalent in snowless regions—a thick, rubber rainboot will keep feet dry when jogging to and from the car or walking between classes. A benefit of these types of footwear is that they can be found in taller styles or less-noticeable ankle-height cuts.
Keep in mind that combating cold weather of any kind tends to create persistent issues with moisture, and wearing boots in general can create the perfect environment for hot, sweaty feet. Sock selection can be just as critical as footwear choices, especially when the material of our selected footwear is not breathable.
LEVELS OF PROTECTION
For those living in colder climates with guaranteed snowfall, needs will greatly differ. One of the most important things to consider in these cold weather situations is the depth of the snowfall. Even the best winter boot is useless if snow can penetrate from the top of the cuff. To avoid a miserable, soggy day and subsequent painful blistering, be sure that your footwear height rivals that of the snow or slush you’ll be adventuring through.
Winter hunting boots and winter work boots are those best made for mobility. As their names suggest, they are tailored for specific winter activities and may feature special treads or lacing styles. Tread patterns will increase safety in icy and/or snowy conditions, while lacing systems may ease pressure points and the trouble of taking your boots on and off. A given for all winter boots to be used in wet and hazardous conditions is a nice rubber sole.
Insulated hiking boots provide another level of outdoor safety, also including specialized treads that make navigating a variety of terrains easier. For anyone looking to hike among the gorgeous trails that an icy, crystallized winter landscape brings, specialized winter hiking boots are a requirement. These boots are also crafted to be a bit lighter than some other insulated options, making them a great all-around choice for long walks of any kind through the snow.
Finally, the Pac boot is seen as the most protective option of all. These bulkier snow boots feature the typical rubber sole, but also an encompassing rubber shell which covers the majority of the lower portion of the boot for supreme waterproofing. These bad boys are also typically equipped with some of the highest cuffs, making them excellent choices for traversing deep snowfall. At the same time, their heft and bulk make long-distance traveling much more difficult than alternative options.
Pac boots may be ideal for activities such as sledding, snowmobiling, and shoveling or snow-blowing deep snowfall. Certain outdoor laborers will also elect to use a Pac boot over a winter work boot for their long-lasting protection against wetness: our biggest enemy when choosing cold weather footwear.
MORE TO CONSIDER
If you’re needing to travel longer distances on foot through deeper areas of precipitation, many winter boot options can be modified through the use of gaiters. These footwear additions can raise the protective height of your favorite boots and add an extra layer of protection from the elements. This can be especially useful when dealing with rough and rocky terrain types where safety is an issue.
While most manufacturers will label their boots as safe for hiking and uneven ground use, it’s also good to know what you’re looking for. Wider tread patterns allow snow and ice to leave the sole of your boots as you walk, which helps maintain footing; avoid tight and thin treads if these threats will be present during your outdoor activities.
For those who are looking more for something to wear for running errands, taking out the animals, fetching the mail, or bringing in firewood, your options vary greatly based on your preferences. As mentioned earlier, lacing systems are a great thing to consider when it comes to the speed of putting on and taking off your cold weather footwear, so you may want to look for something that will provide a protective height that works for your area’s precipitation, in addition to a non-cumbersome lacing system.
Another great tip is to look for or add what is typically abbreviated as “DWR”—durable water repellent coating. This may be already included with the style of footwear you choose, but can also be purchased as a spray to reseal boots for a new season or add extra moisture protection to the perfect boots that are a bit lacking in this area. A rival to this is known as the waterproof breathable membrane, and both are effective solutions.
Remember to try on your new cold weather footwear with the socks you intend to wear, as thickness can affect sizing fit and feel. Take into consideration the moisture levels both inside and outside of your new boots, as both will determine how your feet feel and how comfortable you stay as you venture out into the cold!