Your 2020 In-depth Winter Boots Buying Guide
So October has passed, the days of falling yellow leaves and heavy rains are beginning to fade, and the smell of frost in the air is finding its way to your nostrils all too often. Aside from getting your winter coat out of the closet and wondering where those thick wool scarves ended up during the year, there is probably another question crossing your mind. What’s gonna keep your feet warm and dry for the next few months?
There are so many things to cover when equipping yourself with a quality pair of winter boots. First of all, how well are they insulated? How comfortable are they? Do they give good maneuverability or does all that insulation make them too rigid? Does the sole provide good traction to prevent slipping on frozen surfaces?
If you are a worker and you need a pair for your job, then there’s also safety to consider, as well as the fact that you will be spending at least 8 hours a day wearing them.
Different Options for Different Needs
Naturally, every winter boot model will be made to be warm, comfortable, and durable. However, “winter” can mean a whole lot of different conditions that need addressing. For instance, how low of a temperature will you be exposed to? Do you spend your time in the boots staying still or participating in some activity? Are there a lot of slippery surfaces to walk on?
For extra hard-working individuals that are not spared of heavy-duty work even in freezing temperatures, safety is another concern that has to be covered. So aside from comfort, durability, good insulation, these boots will have to provide the workers with protection from falling objects, piercing damage, or any other potential form of harm.
Where the tip of the boot is concerned, there are a few options to consider, depending on the amount of protection your toes need.
Soft Toe: Regular boot tip. This option gives you no extra protection for your toes and is usually picked by people that don’t expect to be exposed to this form of harm. It does leave the tip of your boot in it’s most flexible state.
Composite Toe: Using lightweight, yet resilient materials, this option is the middle-ground in safety terms. It provides a good balance in mobility and protection, so if you think a steel toe is too extreme for you, this is your safe bet. Also, since it is not made of metal, a composite toe will transmit cold or heat far less than it’s steel counterpart.
Steel Toe: The ultimate protection for your toe. Heavyweight, but sturdy, it will keep your toe safe in most working conditions, but at the price of added weight and lack of flexibility in the front part of the boot.
Puncture-Resistant Plate: Built into the sole of the poot, this plate protects your foot from piercing damage from sharp objects on the ground, such as nails, pieces of glass, etc. If you work in an environment where you are exposed to these dangers, a puncture-resistant plate is a no-brainer.
Metguard: Your toes are not the only part of your foot exposed to damage from falling objects. Those objects tend to be large, and in most cases will catch your metatarsal along with your toes, so a metguard is a must-have in such conditions, as metatarsal bones are very fragile and can leave you in a cast for a while. With a reinforced toe box accompanied by a metguard, your foot will be as safe as it can get.
Waterproof vs Water-Resistant
If those two terms tend to confuse you and make you wonder what is the difference between them, here is a short summary.
Whether it is boots, shoes, a watch, or a phone, you may see a waterproof or water-resistant sign on them, and it wouldn’t hurt knowing what the manufacturer means by that.
Waterproof means that the product, in our case a boot, can be completely submerged into water and the material simply would not soak any of it. Such boots are usually made of synthetics or rubber, materials that shed water, and don’t let a drop through. Be it rain pouring from above, or be it you treading through a puddle, or even keeping your foot in it, your feet will not get wet.
However, not everything is on the bright-side here. Given that the materials used for waterproof boots are not so flexible and actually tend to be a bit stiff, they will often give less comfort than those made of more flexible, non-waterproof materials. Of course in these modern times, everything is being done to increase comfort and make up for it in different ways, be it padding, insoles, or other methods.
Another con here is that these waterproof materials also tend to be less breathable. Yes, they keep the water at bay, but they also keep the air inside, not counting the small amount that finds its way up the shaft. The material itself doesn’t breathe, so should your feet start to sweat, they may create a dark, damp atmosphere inside your boots. These are the ideal conditions for fungus and bacteria to thrive in, which may lead to bad odors, or even worse, feet infections.
You could find alternative ways to deal with this of course, such as socks that wick away your sweat drops or breathable lining. It depends on your needs and the amount of sweat you produce, so take all matters into consideration when picking your pair of winter boots.
Water-resistant means that the material is keeping the water at bay for a certain period of time. If submerged, just like in the waterproof example, the water-resistant pair of boots would repel the water for a short period before starting to soak.
These materials are more breathable than those of waterproof boots and will allow the air to flow in and out. Aside from air, it also lets moisture escape from the inside, providing better conditions for your feet. For these reasons, they can not provide the same amount of protection from water and will eventually soak if left exposed to it for too long.
With water-resistant footwear, it is important to pay attention to the seams, as these are the spots where the water is most likely to find its way to the inside of your boot. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are treading through muddy puddles or any other form of dirty water, your boots will soak it up eventually, providing good conditions for bacteria to grow. So washing your water-resistant boots after they’ve been soaked in unclean water is a strong recommendation.
Insulation is something everyone will consider when buying a pair of winter boots, but not a lot of people know how much insulation can vary between boot models. After all, winter temperatures can vary a lot from place to place, so boots are made to cover all possible conditions and needs. Insulation thickness is measured in grams (G) and it represents the thickness of the insulating material.
Insulating Thickness Scale
This is as low as it gets with insulation. A thickness of 200G is widely used in cases where you experience chilly mornings that turn into a sunny day. Having really thick insulation in this situation would probably do you more harm than good in the long term, as your feet would sweat during most of the day as soon as the temperatures rise. Also since this is as thin as it gets, it is usually used by people that are physically active during the day, as sitting still with just 200G of insulation might make those chilly mornings a bit unpleasant.
Not quite for snow and winter, but more adequate for cold weather. With moderate physical activity, this level of insulation will likely keep your feet warm in normal autumn temperatures, but they still might be a bit too thin for you if you spend most of your day sitting outside.
We are now getting into the winter levels. If temperatures are getting near freezing and it’s starting to look like snow - start thinking about at least 600G of insulation. If you’re active during your day, this should be enough to keep you warm and dry.
For harsh winters, with sub-freezing temperatures. This level of insulation will have an effect on the mobility of the boot, so this level is often chosen by people that don’t need to be too mobile. Baring really extreme temperatures, this should be enough to keep your feet warm even with the minimum amount of activity.
This amount of insulation is intended for the most extreme temperatures, accompanied by snow, and ice. Frostbite is a real danger in these cases, so if you are exposed to such conditions for longer periods, 1000G or more will be a necessity. It is suitable for very little activity, as this amount of insulation limits mobility drastically.
Long gone are the days where you would just buy whatever keeps your feet warm. Depending on the nature of your need, there is a variety of insulation types to choose from.
The world-wide favorite, the reigning champion. Probably the most advanced insulating material available, it uses fibers much smaller than any other insulating material, making it more effective as you can fit more of it into the same amount of space.
It is lightweight, very flexible, and extremely durable as it does not compress over time, hence it’s very good at keeping the shape even after a long period of use. It is also breathable and wicks away any moisture from the inside, providing great conditions for your feet in prolonged periods of wearing.
The traditional, yet still effective form of insulation. Unlike most modern insulation types, this one is not built-in so it can be taken out at will and washed or allowed to try after it gets wet.
This, however, means that moisture can find its way to the inside of your boot, and the insulation provided in terms of heat-efficiency is not optimal.
Shearling insulation offers great comfort as it is very soft and fluffy, making the boots easy to wear for longer periods of time. It also does a great job of keeping your feet warm even in extremely cold temperatures.
However, most shearling insulated boots are not made for rugged outdoor environments, but for day-to-day activities.
If there is any other type of insulation that can match the efficiency and quality of Thinsulate - it would have to be Litefire. In the process of its creation, it is first laid down in a gaseous state before being turned into a solid one. The result of this is an incredibly breathable material that is highly resistant to both water and wind, while still being very lightweight and thin.
Also, instead of layers and layers of insulation for collecting your body heat, Litefire reflects that heat right back, providing better long term warmth for your feet. Optional additional insulation can be added if needed as well, so you really need not worry whether your feet will be warm and dry should you opt for this insulation type.
As usual, with these recommendations we will try to cover a few models that have proved best, and are widely used in certain jobs, activities or just for day-to-day use. When picking your own pair, however, take your time to find what is best suitable for your needs and make sure that it’s the right fit.
Danner Mountain 600 Weatherized
Optimal for winter hiking
A great hiking model from Danner that you will not regret buying if you are into long hikes over rough, snowy terrain. With 200G of Primaloft insulation, this boot will keep your feet warm even in freezing temperatures as long as you keep moving. And since they are optimized for hiking, we will assume that you do intend to keep on moving.
The Vibram SPE midsole is a comfort master-piece, striking a perfect combination of rubber and EVA foam. It adapts to the foot very well and provides great long-term comfort and impact absorption for those exhausting days of treading through mountain peaks and snowy, rock-covered paths.
Vibram also features an extra grippy outsole - Megagrip. It will keep excellent traction on almost any surface, including snow, slush, and muddy slopes.
Timberland White Ledge Men’s Mid Waterproof Boot
A great all-rounder
An incredibly well-rated all-round shoe from Timberland. Extremely durable, confirmed by a great number of buyers, they can withstand hikes through mud, snow, streams, or any other rough terrain you might encounter. All this, while still having the stylish looks to be worn on your way to the office during the workdays.
This model is also very comfortable and doesn’t have too deep of a shaft. It provides good arch-support and is made from lightweight materials, making it very easy to be worn all day. So if you are just looking for a quality pair of winter boots for everyday use that will also serve you on your occasional hike or a mountaineering excursion, this is definitely a pair you should at least consider.
Carhartt Men’s 10” Waterproof Insulated PAC Composite Toe Boot
Optimal for working in winter conditions
A well insulated work boot that includes necessary safety features for heavy-duty work conditions. Providing toe protection with the Composite Toe addition, as well as meeting the ASTM safety standards, this model also offers great comfort for longer periods of wearing. The boot is 100% leather with a rubber sole, and has 1000G of LiteFire insulation. Despite the high levels of insulation, this boot is still flexible enough to be used while moving and working, thanks to the nature of LiteFire materials.
Storm Defender Waterproof Breathable protection guarantees you warm and dry feet in most types of wet conditions, while still allowing the air to circulate, providing your feed with a much-needed gasp of fresh air.