High-performing heated boots have long been a Holy Grail in the footwear world. With its new men's Bugathermo and women's Snow Hottie models, Columbia Sportswear Company took a stab at making the ultimate heated boot. The boot features built-in rechargeable batteries and on-boot controls to provide three temperature settings. A single charge provides up to eight hours of heat for your feet.
Over two months of Minnesota winter, including temps below zero, I tested the Bugathermo boots, which cost $250 a pair. A female friend who coaches Nordic skiing tried the Snow Hotties out. Our conclusions were about the same: Columbia has missed the aforementioned Holy Grail by a long shot. The Bugathermos are clunky and uncomfortable. Design flaws include a bad fit on the top of the midfoot area, where boot flex causes material to fold over and press into your foot. Fit around the calves was uncomfortable and loose on long hikes.
And the embedded heaters? I could barely feel the warmth. When hiking on a ten-degree day with the heat turned on for one foot but off for the other, my feet felt about the same.
To be sure, Thinsulate insulation keeps these boots warm. I could walk in the snow for long periods on zero-degree days with no issue. But the internal heater, powered by lithium-polymer batteries, was almost unnoticeable. Heat seeps rather than blasts.
The Snow Hotties are better designed than the Bugathermos, melding a motorcycle-type boot with equestrian style, as the company puts it. But Columbia also touts the "warmth of a furnace" with these leather boots.
My female tester liked the Snow Hotties' look and feel. But like me, she said the internal heaters were not overly effective. It was a subtle warmth, she reported. On the icy trail, skiers whizzing by, there was no Holy Grail.
--Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.