Buying Right: Winter-Wise Boots

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, January 1996

Buying Right: Winter-Wise Boots
By Glenn Randall

Insulated hiking boots are more expensive than rubber-bottomed, felt-lined pac boots, and they're not quite as warm. But pac boots aren't made for walking; for anything a step more vigorous than ice fishing you'll find them clumsy and short on support. In the interest of an active winter, herewith six insulated boots designed for activities from just kicking around in the snow up through heavy-duty backpacking. All incorporate some kind of waterproof lining and most are insulated with warm yet unobtrusive Thinsulate. All come in unisex sizes unless noted. Weights are for a pair of men's size-nine boots.

At $105, Nike's Air Pamir WS (two pounds, 15 ounces) is the best value in the bunch. Its proprietary double lining consists of a breathable thermal layer and a waterproof outer layer. Nike's steel shanks in the midsoles and air-filled pillows in the heels provide a nice balance of support and cushioning underfoot. Available in men's and women's sizes. From Nike, 800-352-6453.

Tecnica's Track 1 (two pounds, five ounces; $139) is the lightest boot of the lot by more than half a pound, which gives it a comfy, almost cross-trainer feel, though it's insulated with Thinsulate and has a fully waterproof/breathable lining. These supple boots are for folks who want to go light and fast with little weight on their backs. Available in men's and women's sizes. From Tecnica, 800-258-3897.

The next four boots derive their waterproofness from a Gore-Tex bootie between the lining and the upper. Besides breathability, the Gore-Tex pedigree assures you that the boot has passed a rigorous testing program for waterproofness. You can wade through a stream in Gore-Tex kickers, albeit for a price.

Timberland's 6" Premium Field Boot (three pounds, two ounces; $160) was warm, comfortable, and dry while walking unladen in slushy spring snow; it has a waterproof leather upper and nylon panels. If you're partial to packs, however, you might want more support under the arches and at the ankles. From Timberland, 800-258-0855.

Vasque's Black Ice Boot (three pounds, eight ounces; $160) has half as much Thinsulate as the Timberland, so it's not quite as warm. But it's a superior choice for a long day hike through the snow or an overnight trip; I'd say it offers enough support for loads up to 30 pounds. From Vasque, 800-224-4453.

With both foam and Thinsulate insulation, the Merrell Denali GTX (three pounds, six ounces; $165) is the warmest boot in this review. In fact, Merrell rates it to a bone-chilling minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit. My testing temperatures didn't dip that low, but these boots were extremely warm and supportive for a weekend trip under a 35-pound load with temperatures in the teens. Available in men's and women's sizes. From Merrell, 800-869-3348.

Danner's Trailblazer (four pounds; $205) is the only boot in this review that uses stitching to attach the sole to the upper, which creates impressive durability and a pleasingly wide, stable-feeling sole. I appreciated the firm support underfoot when I was toting 55 pounds. The Trailblazer's proprietary system includes a Gore-Tex membrane, lining fabric, and polyester and Thinsulate insulating materials--which adds up to a level of warmth comparable to the Timberland. From Danner, 800-345-0430.

Filed To: Snow Sports

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