If you’ve hiked in the snow before, you’ll know there is nothing quite like it. The crunch under your feet, the crisp air, the way everything feels so fresh and new. It’s a great experience, but since you’re on your feet the whole time you need to make sure they are looked after.
You can use hiking boots as winter boots for the snow and ice. However, it really depends on the situation. In an area with very light snowfall, you are good with the hikers, but if it’s heavy snow and quite a lot of it, you should look at winter boots instead.
We’re here to help you learn more about the difference between standard hiking boots and winter hiking boots, as well as when to use each. Stay awhile and have a quick read.
Winter Hiking Boots
The thing with winter hiking boots is that they have a few key components that you will find are often missing from most standard hiking boots.
Ankle support is often quite flimsy in standard hikers, but winter hiking boots actually provide rigid support for your ankles because snow is tricky terrain that can cause you to lose your balance easily and also makes your feet and legs work harder than normal.
It doesn’t matter if the snow is packed, loose, icy, or slushy, each of these situations provides its own form of unstable terrain. Take it from me, as a Scotsman I’ve been in all kinds of snowy hiking situations, and you’ll want a pair of winter boots for it.
In addition to the improved ankle support, the outer sole of the boots is also different. They tend to be made from sticky rubber that provides much more traction for a stronger grip in all kinds of snowy situations. Here is where another key difference comes in.
You might be thinking snow boots and winter hiking boots are the same thing, and this is where you would be wrong. Snow boots tend to be made for casual streetwear, like walking to the store in winter, and they lack that crucial ankle support for winter hiking trips.
Winter hiking boots also have tall ankles thanks to the additional support. This means that it is less likely for snow to get into your boot and melt. With standard snow boots or shoes, snow is more likely to get in, melt, and cause painful hotspots and even frostbite in very cold conditions.
This can be a tricky topic, especially as our ability to withstand the cold can be quite a personal trait. Some people are more resilient than others, but it also comes down to factors such as age, weight, and metabolism. Therefore, you need to think carefully about how much you want.
You have two options with insulation – built-in or removable. If the insulation is built into the boot, it is usually made from a synthetic material or filled with down, the latter of which tends to be more expensive.
On the other hand, the removable insulation is usually made from either synthetic materials or felted wool. On top of this, for both types of insulation, you can choose anything from 200-gram insulation all the way up to 800 grams – it depends on your needs and personal preferences.
While many hiking boots are waterproof, not all of them are. Winter hiking boots are always waterproof because they are made for use in the snow. After all, snow is just frozen water and when it melts it’s going to soak through the boots if they aren’t waterproofed.
If melted snow water gets through the boot it can cause frostnip or, even worse, frostbite. Both of these conditions are incredibly painful and take time to recover from, but frostbite can lead to the amputation of toes, fingers, even whole limbs if it becomes severe enough.
Most hiking boots are water-repellent, which is a great feature to have. However, they have weaker protection than waterproof winter hiking boots and the protection doesn’t last as long. It deteriorates much faster and needs a lot more care when waterproofing offers more.
Waterproof winter hiking boots can still be breathable, which is important to prevent your feet from sitting in their own sweat and allowing air to circulate. Materials such as GORE-TEX are the best example of a winter hiking boot that is both waterproof and breathable.
Winter Hiking Boot Features
There are several key features that every good pair of winter hiking boots should have. Here’s a quick checklist for your reference.
#1 Gusseted Tongue
This is a common feature for winter boots. When you have a gusseted tongue it means that it has been sewn closed on the sides to keep water or snow from leaking into the boot or under the laces. This protects your feet from moisture and ensures they stay dry.
#2 Reinforced Toe Cap
This is helpful for both protecting your feet and your boots. When you are hiking, you never know what kind of debris might land on your toes, and that’s what the reinforced toe cap is for. Furthermore, it protects you should you accidentally hit your foot or stub your toes.
What’s more, they make your boots compatible with other forms of snow gear. Things like crampons, microspikes, and snowshoes can be worn with your boots because the toe cap protects your feet from the added pressure that they provide.
#3 Removable Liners
It’s a good idea to opt for boots that have removable liners instead of the ones that are sewn in. This is because if the liners do get wet for any reason, you can take them out and leave them to dry overnight.
The ones that have been built into the boots cannot be removed to dry, which makes the process a lot longer and it’s difficult to dry them thoroughly. There is nothing worse than putting on damp and freezing boots in the morning, and it’s not good for your feet either.
#4 Mid-High Cut
This doesn’t just offer you better ankle support that is rigid and protective, it also prevents snow and moisture from getting into your boots. I can’t stress how important ankle support is in snowy conditions, the uneven terrain is perfect for sprained ankles and accidents.
Winter hiking boots are heavier than regular hiking boots. This is because winter boots have additional insulation, a much thicker sole, and are also made of tougher material. However, there are also options to buy lightweight winter hiking boots if you find standard ones too heavy.
Your feet should always be comfortable while you are hiking, and this is why a proper fit is so essential. There are a few things that you need to take into account when determining if your boots have the right fit for your feet.
Your boots should feel snug but never tight. Your toes should have room to wiggle a little, but your heel should always stay in place without moving or sliding around. Boots that are too tight will end up being painful and causing pressure points that will lead to seriously sore feet.
You need to take your socks into account as well. Thick socks take up more space, and so bring them with you when you go to try them on. Some people also find that their feet swell during hikes, so you will want to keep this in mind when on the trail.
Make sure you take the time to walk around in your boots to ensure that they are comfortable. Feel for pressure points and hotspots as you walk, keeping an eye on the way they fit and move with your feet. This is because pressure points and hotspots can lead to painful blisters.
Choose the boot with the best insulation for the place you are going. For example, I usually pick a medium level of insulation because the north of Scotland isn’t nearly as cold as the Arctic or the far north of Canada. Too much insulation will leave you sweating profusely.
Additional Winter Boot Accessories
You thought we were done? Surprise, there’s more to consider for your winter hiking boots. Here are the top accessories to keep in mind before you buy (followed by our top two favourite winter hiking boots).
#1 Thick Socks
Wool is the best material of choice here as it wicks moisture away from your feet so that you aren’t walking in your own sweat all day. Wool is also an excellent insulator that will keep your feet nice and warm on those really cold days.
If you are heading out on a really long hike, we recommend packing an extra pair so that you can swap them out if you are prone to sweaty feet. If things get really cold, you can also double them up for added insulation.
You will find that the majority of hiking boots come with a gaiter ring so that you can attach them easily. You can get gaiters in different lengths as well, some stopping just at the ankle and others below the knee.
They aren’t just great for protection from the snow and cold, but in the warmer seasons, they can also keep you safe from insect bites and pesky parasites like ticks (nothing worse than removing a tick, eugh).
You get a lot of extra traction with winter hiking boots, especially as they are made to deal with crampons, microspikes, and snowshoe bindings. This is because of the addition of a lip on both the toe and the heel, just make sure your boots are compatible with your gear first.
If you are planning on mountaineering or extreme winter hiking, these are an essential piece of kit. If you are planning on using crampons, you will need to ensure that you buy boots that are compatible with them.
These attach very easily to most hiking boots and are used to provide extra traction on terrain that is icy or made of packed snow. The long and sharp traction gives you the grip you need to make your way safely across the trail.
These are ideal for new snow that hasn’t been packed down yet. They can be attached to your winter hiking boots and allow you to walk over the snow instead of wading through it. If you’re expecting a lot of fresh snowfall on your hike (or even if you’re not), bring them with you.
#7 Waterproof Coating
If you have leather boots, you will find they tend to absorb water as the leather needs to be moisturised. Make sure you treat your boots regularly to ensure that they retain their waterproof coating to keep your feet safe. You can pick up a branded coating from the boot manufacturer.
- They have tall and supported ankles to keep you steady
- Breathable and moisture-wicking to keep feet dry
- Completely waterproof for snowy hikes
- Comfortable fit to keep you moving all-day
- Toe cap protection for accessories and safety
What I really love about these men’s boots is the fact that they fit so comfortably. The soft textile interior is gentle on your feet and keeps them securely in place while you are hiking. As a fun additional feature, they also come in a massive range of colours to make things exciting.
The reinforced toe cap protects your feet from debris but also means that if you want to use accessories like snowshoes or spikes, you have a secure fit that won’t cause hotspots. The waterproofing also keeps your feet warm and dry through every snowy hike.
Rigid ankle support keeps you upright and sturdy on all terrains, protecting you from injuries. In addition to this, the thick rubber sole provides plenty of traction so that you don’t find yourself losing your balance in different types of snow.
There are 200 grams of insulation inside the boot, ideal for cold conditions up to -25C while also leaving room for thick socks if you find yourself getting chilly. Furthermore, they remain surprisingly lightweight on your feet so that you don’t feel weighed down while walking.
- Developed by NASA for some serious protection (cool, right?)
- Keeps your feet warm in temperatures as low as -40C
- Excellent ankle support to keep you protected and upright at all times
- Strong and thick soles that provide brilliant traction
- Has a great 2-year warranty to give you peace of mind
The thing I love most about these boots is the fact that they offer such extreme cold protection, with incredible insulation that keeps you warm in temperatures as low as -40C. What more would expect from boots that have been designed by NASA though?
The ankle support is rigid, ensuring you get the right support to keep you steady and help to try and prevent injuries. Furthermore, it has a Winter Contagrip that provides exceptional traction on snow and ice so that you can cover any kind of winter terrain with absolute ease.
They are completely waterproof, ensuring that no melted snow or frozen water is going to get into your boots. The toes are also reinforced for your protection against debris, but also to protect your feet if you want to use accessories to make your hike easier or safer.
You also have a really comfortable and soft interior that’s gentle on your feet and ankles to provide warmth and softness for your feet. What’s more, there is a fantastic 2-year warranty that will cover your boots if they fall apart before then (which they shouldn’t).
Now you know everything you need about winter hiking boots (and have a couple of our sneaky favourites to look at). If you’re planning on heading out in the snow and ice, make sure you are sensible with your footwear and make the right choice to keep you safe and warm.
If you found this guide to winter boots helpful, you should really check out the rest of our outdoor living and adventuring guide. It’s written by us, the experts, and covers everything from essentials and boot repair to quick first aid and helpful camping/hiking tips.
A seasoned camper and hiker, there is nothing he doesn’t know about the Great Outdoors. Hiking alone, with friends, or even little ones, he’s done it all. A trained survivalist, he gives Bear Grylls a run for his money.