The Best Winter Boots

March 13, 2015

  • by
  • Peter Reese

Buy winter boots, now? Where were you before late fall rains turned to sleet and snow? Can’t I simply suffer for a few months until spring shamrocks sprout under my icy toes?

No, sir. The time’s ideal to slip on, strap up and turn nasty days into warm-footed victory. Late winter and spring are, in fact, among the most unsettled storm periods of the year; variable weather threatens to vanquish pristine, collectible Air Jordans along with fashionable, summer-weight chukkas.

Three insights make picking a winter winner a sure bet, preventing you from looking like a galoshes-wearing curmudgeon.

#1: Get real about your Winter Warrior status.

Is this about pushing up peaks through wolf-infested woods or staying upright on urban sidewalks?  Will outings take you through deep snow or on packed, gravel or even paved trails?  Are snowshoes part of the mix, even three to six times this season?

Boots vary tremendously in their off-trail and on-shoe capability.  Active Junky recommends you plan on moderate activity (and 6” snow) as a minimum.  If anything, spending $10-$20 more now means avoiding borrowing or buying a second pair for weekend outings.

#2: Traction rules.

Hitting the deck, even a powder-plumped one, lacks charm.  Even athletes in their 30s, already dealing with sports injuries, need to dodge ankle and knee twists along with spinal torqueing.  Surefootedness is essential, with consideration given for the anticipated speed of travel.

Deeper tread patterns don’t guarantee more aggressive grip.  The boot’s ability to disperse energy and shed water reduces the creation of underfoot ice (caused by higher pressure per square inch). The goal is a stable platform from heel to toe with every step; look for boot outsoles that mimic bad weather truck tires.

#3: Fashion is now a given.

Even hard-core boot makers turn serious function into high-tech or high-touch designs suitable for urban outings.  Boot longevity – including the ability to maintain the pair’s appearance – is a bigger factor.

Boots with better materials including waterproof laminates, quality leather uppers, composite support insoles, durable laces and intelligent outsole formulations cost 12%-20% more than lookalikes.  Fast fashion isn’t the move here.  Enduring, classic looks are the call when sleet, snow and slush land outside your door.

Universal Attributes

Performance: Traction, moisture management and temperature control are vital even in lighter weight models offered for more moderate climates.  Add $10-$15 upcharge for next tier results.

Features: In winter boots, easy of entry (lace, zip, hook and eye, elastic and toggle) means the boot gets worn more often.  No price premium is attached here.

Durability: Active Junky testers are wary of cheap laces and crumbling outsoles that wear off like children’s chalk on a summer sidewalk; here’s where spending $5-$10 more adds up. 

Style: Three choices on this one; Mountain Man (rugged), Peak Bagger (fast) or Downtown Denizen (aware).  While some models mash them up, AJ votes for picking one and making it work.

Value: If a mid-market boot retails for $80, spend $100 to make certain it fits the trio of BOOTSTRAP BASICS.  This is a once-in-a-decade purchase for many so make it count.

Ahnu Tamarack Snow Boot

Ahnu tamarack boot Ahnu Tamarack $152.96 - $158.06

Perhaps the most versatile of boots recently tested by Active Junky, Tamarack has its roots in Ahnu’s thoughtful approach to footwear.  Streamlined slip-on access lands feet in a solid platform that carries moderate traction on ice-covered surfaces.  At its best in snowy or sloppy conditions, Tamarack’s interior volume allows medium-to-heavy socks for cold weather comfort.  Style-wise, this model doesn’t push a wilderness vibe too far to make Ahnu at home in office and social settings.

Key Attribute:  Style

Best For: Commuters, light winter hiking on paths and trails

Columbia Bugaboot Original

Ptsa 18046203dt Columbia Bugaboot Original Starting at: $96.00

Few boots combine traction with warmth like this recently tested Columbia model.  The lower delivers an up-north duck boot attitude while the supple upper laces Omni-Heat love in close.  Magical silver dots create real-world, on-trail warming power in a tribute to the brand’s commitment to defying the tech’s early critics.  True to size and with moderate toe box volume, most feet will find welcome warmth along with trail-worthy traction.

Key Attribute:  Features

Best For: All-around urban and field use in moderate to fairly extreme weather

Adidas Fast X Mid GTX

Carsca d1 Adidas Fast X Mid GTX $108.00 - $124.84

Active Junky’s been pushing this brand to its limits since 2011. This model, cousin to non-GTX summer models, plows through powder on its own or strapped to snowshoes. Lighter and faster than others evaluated, Fast X laced securely and stayed snug with and without gaiters on the flats, climbs and descents. Outsole tech by Continental (as in, tires) handled snow, gravel and ice with aplumb. Gore-Tex makes good even better in a boot that sidesteps break-in time; average to slightly-narrow feet are ideal while sizing runs about half a U.S. size large. For a high-touch version, try the Adidas Felt Boots (pictured at top) that bring 100g of PrimaLoft Gold to a capable, comfortable lace-up.

Key Attribute:  Performance

Best For: Winter athletic pursuits, hard-core urban assaults in blizzard conditions

Oboz Bridger BDry Mid

E3b117ff d492 42c2 a29b 1e07ee1584da Oboz Bridger BDry Mid $153.00 - $153.00

Not strictly a winter boot, this non-insulated boot overcomes slippery snow, ice and rock to own the trail from fall until spring.  Active Junky recommends Bridger when conditions are unknown or suspect as long a subzero conditions don’t’ prevail.  Toothy outsoles underpin Oboz’ proprietary waterproof, breathable technology topped by nubuck leather.  This one is not for posers as the design attitude centers on overcoming life’s obstacles; real ones, as a matter of fact.  Switch out the laces as these are slippery unless carefully knotted. Don’t put this one in the pile with mall-worthy walkalikes knowing Bridger is worth every penny.

Key Attribute:  Value

Best For: Value and long-distance hiking capability.

Korkers Snowjack Boot

Erez Korkers Snowjack Boot $171.00 - $195.30

This pushes the top end, price-wise, of Active Junky’s picks.  Dipping down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit courtesy of 400g of 3M Thinsulate, Snowjack cranks up traction with its OmniTrax interchangeable sole system.  Match it to prevailing conditions as lugged and studded outsoles shift gears nearly on the fly.  Style keeps Korkers from looking like dozens of other choices and far from an Old School pac boot.  A full-year warranty puts it above and beyond with scales tipped at 3lbs 7oz.

Key Attribute:  Features

Best For: Winter travelers expecting radically varying conditions.

Kamik Dawson

Kamik dawson 2 Kamik Dawson

Kamik’s full-grain, waterproof upper is no surprise.  Active Junky’s watched this brand in the market and on their feet over the past four years.  Dawson is a sweet way to enfold feet in reliable Thinsulate insulation at a touch over 3lbs.   Canadian born and enmeshed in the survival legacy of native people living at the edge, Kamik thinks about footwear like its life and death.  Dawson thrives in inclement conditions where there’s room for style.  This one means surefooted success from the poles to Pittsburgh.

Key Attribute:  Durability

Best For: All around use including everyday winter wear

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