If you spend time in the mountains or just spend weekdays trudging along snowy sidewalks, then you know life is better with a pair of winter boots. But not all are created equal, so I put together a team to evaluate 15 of the top-rated styles.
In the end, our favorite was the Kamik Nationplus, an inexpensive model that many of our testers fell in love with. We pitted the Nationplus head-to-head with some of the fanciest winter boots on the market and found that, while it wasn’t the boot for Arctic cold or high-output aerobic activities, it rated good to really good in all the categories we used to evaluate it and will give you the most mileage for everyday wear and outdoor play. It’s flexible while remaining supportive, repels the elements, and feels comfortable for walking around. It’s the ultimate utility player. Even better, it’s about $100 cheaper than its nearest competitors. Buy the Nationplus and spend that extra cash on fancy winter socks.
What Should I Know Before Buying Winter Boots?
As a lifetime West Coaster, I’ve spent time exploring the Canadian Rockies in temps hovering in the minus 20 Fahrenheit range, but I have never lived in truly brutal cold. So, for expert winter boot guidance, I called polar explorer and guide Eric Larsen, who walked 500 miles to the North Pole in 2014.
First, Larsen recommends focusing on how you’ll be using your boots, paying attention to two variables: how much you’ll be moving and for how long. Exertion and duration. High-exertion activities will require considerably less insulation than, for example, ice fishing. “If you aren’t going to be very active, don’t underestimate insulation,” Larsen says. To stay warm during ten-hour dogsled expeditions, he once wore boots with three-inch-thick soles. And if your activity is going to span more than one night, you’ll need a way to dry your boots. That means a removable liner.
“If you’re looking for the warmest footwear, then, hands down, it is going to be a boot with insulated rubber, a very thick sole, an insole, and a removable liner,” Larsen says. Finally, size up a little. “People have a tendency to buy their winter boots like they buy their running shoes,” he says. “You don’t want a fit that will cut off circulation to your feet. That’ll just make them colder.”
How We Picked the Best Winter Boots
I started by asking guides, fellow gear testers, and outdoor educators for their personal favorite winter boots. Next, I cross-referenced their favorites with picks from the Outdoor Gear Lab and The Wirecutter and looked at ratings of popular boots on Amazon.
I also took into account what the boots were made from: I looked at insulation, upper materials, sole materials and tread, water resistance, stack height, whether the boots had removable liners, and collar height. I also used information from a test that I conducted for my Gear Guy column. (For that test, I wanted to see how boots did while soaking wet and how they performed as yard boots.) Next, I put together a list of 15 boots, including the four from my previous test, and requested samples. Companies sent the samples for free, and I’ve since returned several boots and donated the rest to a local charity.
Finally, I rounded up a group of students from the outdoor program at Southern Oregon University, where I teach, to test boots in the field. I included the students in part to neutralize any bias I had from the previous test, as well as any bias I have from years of testing gear in the outdoor industry. The students didn’t know much about the boots in advance, and their mission was to wear them as much as possible, rate them with a number system, and pick their favorites.
The students used these boots to walk around town in Ashland, Oregon, as well as on snowy hikes in the Siskiyou Mountains. Conditions ranged from rain to wet snow, and temperatures hovered between 30 and 50 degrees. They compared the boots while hiking up our local ski resort, Mount Ashland, on hills with about four inches of snow. Next, testers completely submerged each boot for a minute in a snow-slurried puddle that was just over ankle deep. Finally, they buried the boots up to the ankle in snow and took notes on how warm their feet remained after two minutes. One note: It’s been a bad winter in the West, and we didn’t have a chance to test the boots in temperatures below 30 degrees or in snow deeper than four inches.
Best Overall Winter Boot
Kamik Nationplus ($85)
The Nationplus has everything a warm boot needs: insulated rubber, a very thick sole, an insole, and a removable liner. It comes with 200 grams of Thinsulate insulation and a seam-sealed leather upper that was supple while remaining waterproof. From the sole to the tongue is a thick, burly rubber base that ends right above your ankle. The Nationplus also has an intuitive lacing system, with six large eyelets above the ankle. “Standing in the puddle of ice water, I didn’t feel anything on my feet,” wrote one tester.
While the Nationplus wasn’t sport-specific like the Salomon Quest Winter GTX, our favorite boot for winter hiking, it still received some of the highest marks for comfort, particularly while testers were using them to climb the ski runs. That’s partly because they’re relatively lightweight for their height: 3.6 pounds per pair and 11.5 inches tall. (The heaviest boot we tested, the Bogs Bozeman, weighs four pounds per pair; the lightest is the Quest Winter GTX, at two pounds four ounces per pair.) That height gives the Nationplus ample ankle support and helped keep snow from sneaking into our socks. And despite its height, the Nationplus was easy to put on and take off.
It is also worth noting that the leather upper and simple, straightforward style help the Nationplus dress up a bit if you choose to wear them around town. They work with a pair of jeans, and putting them on won’t frustrate you as you get ready to walk to the store. The treated leather and hearty rubber make them look like a considerably more sophisticated boot than their $85 price tag would suggest.
The Nationplus was slightly (but only slightly) less comfortable than Keen’s Durand Polar ($160), another warm and versatile boot that also impressed testers with its combination of insulation and low weight. At first glance, we worried that the Polar would be stiff and overbuilt for higher-output activities, but we found it to be nearly as versatile as the Nationplus. It lost to the Nationplus for two reasons: Its lacing system made the Polar tricky to put on and take off, despite its significantly shorter 6.7-inch collar height, and testers also said it was slightly less grippy while ascending the ski hill.
Overall, the Nationplus most impressed us with its versatility. It scored at or near the top of the test for snow traction, beating even the studded Icebug Metro2 W Bugrip. It hung with the warmest boot, the Vasque Lost 40, for warmth. It also had great water resistance. I could imagine being equally comfortable wearing the Nationplus on a snowy evening dog walk and pulling a long shift as a chairlift operator.
Best Boot for Commuters
Icebug Metro2 W Bugrip ($190)
As the name suggests, this boot belongs in the city. The soft elastic cuff and a single zipper combine to make the Metro2 the easiest boot to put on and take off, and the suede exterior gave it a Blundstone-like style.
But it was the Metro2’s crampon-like grip that really shone. It’s the product of 16 carbide studs in each outsole. You could run laps around an ice rink in the Metro2, and it is the boot to buy if you regularly traverse icy sidewalks or hard-packed snow. It won’t work as well if you live anywhere with slushy or rainy winters—it finished dead last in our soak test. And the studs are annoyingly aggressive on bare asphalt. But the Metro2 was so much grippier on ice than any other boot in our test that we had to include them.
Best Boot for Working in Snow
Vasque Lost 40 ($180)
While the aesthetic of the Lost 40 is reminiscent of a low-tech Mukluk boot, its style hides some impressive technical performance. It placed neck-and-neck with the Keen and Kamik Nationplus for warmth, boasted the tallest stack height (more than an inch) of all the boots we tested, and gripped snow and ice with tenacity. Its seven-millimeter inner felt sole and 200 grams of insulation made it a beast at keeping out the cold and snowy elements.
When I tested the Lost 40 in my previous Outside roundup, I knocked it for letting water seep in through the soles after 22 minutes. This test, however, was focused on overall winter performance, and, hot damn, did it perform. Using Vibram Icetrek technology, the Lost 40’s soles proved nearly as sticky as the studded Icebugs on the ice, and they hung with the Kamik while ascending the ski runs. The Lost 40 is too much boot for everyday city use, which kept it from winning the test outright, and the aesthetic has more of a Luke Skywalker on Hoth look than you might want for date night—unless, of course, dinner was on Hoth. But it’s our choice for people who spend extended periods of time outdoors in very cold conditions. This would be a great boot for a chairlift operator, where its grip, impressive stack height, insulated midsole, and thick outsole are unstoppable.
Best Boot for Winter Hiking Trips
Salomon Quest Winter GTX
A lightweight waterproof boot with an aggressive tread, the Salomon Quest Winter GTX takes the cake for winter day-hiking. The Quest finished close to the best on the climb, and our testers noted that the robust lacing system allowed a snug fit that was better than any other boot we evaluated. At two pounds four ounces, it saved a noticeable amount of energy compared to boots that were significantly heavier.
Visually, the Quest could have passed for a spring hiking boot, but Salomon did not skimp on warmth. This boot was best in the slush-water soak test, thanks to its Gore-Tex waterproof membrane. And that lacing system allowed testers to really yank on the laces and firmly place their heels in the back of the boot, aided by a brilliant U-shaped catch just above the ankle. This gave testers’ toes plenty of room to move around while still making the boot feel locked down and secure.
If we were basing this test solely on cold-weather hiking performance, the mixture of low weight, great fit, and aggressive lugs would have made the Quest hard to beat. But there’s a catch: To keep weight low, Salomon used a nonremovable integrated liner, which makes it hard to dry out if it gets wet. If you sweat heavily on day one of a winter backpacking trip, for example, you’d be in real trouble for day two.