While seasonal hikers stay at home in winter, real outdoor enthusiasts go hiking even in winter. But for this, it is important to have the right equipment and especially hiking boots for winter.
There are three winter hiking boots: insulated winter hiking boots, mountain boots, and pack boots. But which type of winter hiking boot is right for you?
This article will go through the many types of winter hiking boots and explain their differences, so you can pick the best boots for winter trekking, snowshoeing, and winter mountaineering.
Why are normal hiking boots unsuitable for winter hiking?
Your normal hiking boots can be poorly used for a real hike in winter.
It mainly depends on the waterproofness and insulation of the clothing.
Many of the most water-resistant winter boots are intended to be waterproof. Many have rubber or waterproof synthetic soles, allowing you to walk across puddles and snow without getting your feet wet.
Insulated winter boots will keep your feet warm if moisture does get into your boots.
This doesn’t apply to regular leather or synthetic hiking boots, even if treated with water-repellent creams and sprays.
When your everyday hiking boots become wet in the winter, they can easily freeze, causing discomfort or frostbite in extreme situations.
What should you look for when shopping for a winter hiking boot?
Winter boots should be insulated and waterproof to keep your feet warm.
- Winter hiking boots should have laces and not be slipped on.
- Of course, the shoes should also be comfortable so you can hike or snowshoe in them all day.
- The shoes should be compatible with winter traction aids such as microspikes, snowshoes, and crampons.
Snow boots are not just for walking on snow or ice; they’re also useful for trekking through varied terrains, such as beaches and trails. While all winter boots may be used with traction aids like microspikes and snowshoes, excessive pressure must be avoided to minimize discomfort and blisters.
Crampons are a bit more complicated, as you need the right type of crampon.
The amount of insulation you’ll require depends on the type and severity of the weather conditions you’ll be experiencing.
Therefore, the lightest and most comfortable to wear are non-removable synthetic insulating boots. Synthetic footwear is also lighter and more waterproof than leather boots.
In my opinion, the most comfortable boots for winter hiking go over the ankles like regular hiking boots.
Tip: Learn how to lace up your hiking boots in the winter in my blog article. Click on the link to read the instructions.
How should winter hiking boots fit?
When it comes to hiking boots, the optimal fit is crucial so you can walk long distances without worry.
- The boots mustn’t be too tight, as they restrict circulation and cause cold feet.
- The toes should have some wiggle room, and lateral movement in the boot should be as minimal as possible without feeling like your foot is being squeezed.
- Walking with the boot laced up should not cause the heel to come off.
If you’re wearing thick, chilly socks on a winter journey, try out some winter trekking boots with them. It’s critical to wear ski or alpine touring boots when trekking in the cold.
Tip: If you’re between sizes, it’s always easier to make up for the extra space by wearing thick socks or swapping out higher volume insoles than trying to wear too-small boots.
How important are Gore-Tex insulated winter boots?
I’m sure you’ve heard of Gore-Tex technology?
Most insulated winter hiking boots are available with integrated waterproof and breathable membranes.
Breathability boots are essential during the winter, but sweat will undoubtedly build up in your socks and boots due to your feet perspiring, even if your footwear has a waterproof/breathable lining.
When your feet get damp, it’s most important to have insulated boots to keep them warm.
Manufacturers employ a variety of synthetic insulations in winter hiking boots, but many of them are proprietary technologies. Thinsulate, a kind of synthetic insulation made from polypropylene fibers, is one of the most well-known varieties.
If you’re going somewhere cold, but not so chilly that your feet will be frozen all day, a pair of leather boots with around 200 grams of Thinsulate is ideal. For significantly lower temperatures below freezing, boots with 400 grams or more of Thinsulate insulation are preferable.
Tip: If your hiking boots smell bad, check out the blog for instructions on removing the smell from hiking boots.
How much insulation should winter boots have?
Now you may be asking yourself how much insulation material should your winter boots have?
Some manufacturers of insulated winter boots specify the amount of insulation in the boots.
For example, some boots have 200 grams of Thinsulate insulation, and others have 400 grams of insulation – This specification refers to the thickness of the insulation, not its weight.
Boots with thicker insulation are warmer, but the insulation between different models depends on the type of insulation, the design of the boot, and individual user differences in activity, health, weight, etc.
Tip: For long hikes in sub-zero temperatures or highly exposed alpine routes without vegetation cover, winter boots with stronger insulation are always preferable.
What is the difference between insulated winter hiking boots and mountain boots?
There are two types of mountain boots, single-layer boots, and double boots.
- Single-layer boots are designed for day hiking in alpine terrain.
- Double layer insulated mountaineering boots have a removable lining that warms your feet when you get cold feet.
Double-layer insulated mountaineering boots are also preferred for overnight and multi-day treks, as the liners can be removed and tucked into your sleeping bag. This is to prevent sweat – which has accumulated inside them – from freezing overnight.
Mountain boots have stiff soles and can therefore be used with crampons for ice climbing and for climbing over ice-covered rock.
Leather and synthetic mountaineering boots, while lighter and less comfortable than most insulating winter boots, have less insulation.
There are specialized flexible crampons for insulated trekking boots with softer soles that may be used for ice climbing. However, they cannot be used for ice climbing due to the need for a solid mountaineering boot sole and an ice climbing crampon.
What are the differences between insulated winter walking boots and pack boots?
Winter boots usually have a rubber bottom half and leather or synthetic upper – Often with a removable lining.
Mittens are designed to keep your feet warm in the worst of weather, but they’re heavy, extend well above the ankle, and don’t offer adequate ankle support for hiking and snowshoeing.
Pac boots are best for less strenuous winter activities such as snowmobiling or ice fishing.
Important features in insulated winter hiking boots
When buying your new winter hiking boots, look for the following features.
- Temperature range: while manufacturers’ temperature ratings should be taken with a grain of salt, they give a good indication of a boot’s relative thermal performance.
- Amount of insulation: While it’s difficult to compare the thermal performance of boots with different insulation levels, knowing how much insulation is used in boots can help you compare the thermal performance of different models from the same manufacturer.
- Soles: The soles of your boots should provide good traction when walking on loose or firm snow. Look for boots with a deep tread, such as a Vibram sole. You’ll likely supplement your boot with traction aids like microspikes or crampons if you’re walking on ice.
- Reinforced toe cap: A sturdy toe cap provides footfall protection and prevents the front of the boot from buckling and causing blisters when used with tight-fitting microspikes or crampons.
- Cuff: The cuff is the portion of the boot that goes around your calf. Select boots with a comfortable cuff that closes the space between your leg and the boot, keeping you cozy all day long while hiking. It also retains heat and prevents snow from entering your shoe if you have to walk in deep snow.
- Tongue with Gusset: It’s like a regular boot or shoe tongue, except the sides of the tongue are closed and sewn to the inside of the boot. This prevents water from entering the boot through the laces if you step in deep puddles.
- Gaiter Ring: A gaiter ring is a tiny ring affixed to the top of the toe area that you may use to hold your gaiters in place. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have a ring: The gaiters can still be hooked to the laces, but most winter hiking boots include such a device.
Which crampons are compatible with winter hiking boots?
Microspikes are a type of traction device that goes over the toe and heel of your boots. They’re similar to tire chains for your shoes.
They are pointed pieces of metal connected to short chains and elastic bands that wrap around your boots to give you more grip while walking on ice and snow.
While they fit all boots, it’s important to make sure they fit your shoe size, so they don’t break if overstretched.
Also, make sure the toe box of your boot doesn’t bunch up under the crampons, which can cause blisters on your toes.
Winter boots with insulated bottoms have softer soles that flex as you walk and give way in the middle of the sole under the ball and arch of your foot.
You’ll also need flexible center webs in crampons that can bend with the sole and are strong enough to hold a person’s weight.
These are attached to the boots with what are called universal bindings. These are plastic stirrups that wrap around the heel and front of the boots and are secured with webbing.
They are not intended for ice climbing but work well for hiking over crusted snowfields and low-lying ice.
Are insulated winter hiking boots, mountain boots, and Pac boots compatible with snowshoes?
Yes, but it is dependent on the size of the boots and how far apart the snowshoe bindings are.
High-volume boots, such as mountain boots and Pac boots, may require adjustments to the bindings, such as longer binding straps or webbing.
Before you need them on a winter trek, test their compatibility.
How often do you need to replace winter hiking boots?
The soles of winter hiking boots last longer than regular hiking boots because you’re hiking on snow and ice, not coarse dirt or gravel.
Winter hiking boots usually wear out when one of the seams comes loose and rips open.
You can usually extend their life by having them repaired by a shoemaker or by reinforcing the boot’s seams with a silicone seam as a precaution.
So you don’t have to worry about replacing your costly winter hiking boot every year.
Make sure your boots are well broken in before hiking in the winter, even if that means sweating in warmer weather to soften them up.
Have more questions about hiking in the winter?
Contact me on Twitter. I’ll be happy to help you out.
Have fun on your next winter hike!