On the hunt for the best winter boots? We consulted REI staff members and footwear experts Mike Lanning and Liz Hajek Cottrell about what to look for when shopping, and then asked them to recommend boots that deliver warmth, tackle wet weather, hike like pros and transition seamlessly from city sidewalks to snowy trails in winter.
Winter Boots 101
There are four main factors you’ll want to consider when investing in a pair of winter boots: warmth, waterproofness, traction and activity level:
- Warmth: How much and what type of insulation the boots have.
- Waterproofness: How efficiently the boots block moisture.
- Traction: How much grip the boots lend on slick surfaces.
- Activity Level: What you plan to use the boots for.
These four factors work in concert with each other—strike the right balance and you’re almost certain to keep your toes toasty on your next winter adventure.
The more insulation, the warmer the boots—right? Well, kind of. If you spend long, inactive periods outside, or if you live in a region that experiences subzero temperatures, then you’ll want boots that offer the maximum amount of insulation. For the rest of us, too much insulation can cause feet to sweat. Trapped inside your boots without anywhere to go, that sweat can eventually cool and cause your toes to turn numb.
Mike, staff member at the Bloomington, Minnesota, REI flagship store who has spent time winter camping in Denali National Park and Preserve and in the Yukon, Canada, suggests investing in boots that offer 200g of insulation. When the cold packs a mean punch, these boots strike back without restricting mobility, making it easy to get outside and keep doing what you love.
Mike’s other piece of advice: If you aim to hike or snowshoe in your new footwear, purchase boots in your regular size. However, if plan to wear the boots on casual outings, consider going up a size. “Any restriction of blood flow is going to affect the ability of your boots to generate warmth to your extremities,” Mike says. Also, steer clear of boots that pinch your legs, as they can cause you to lose feeling in your feet.
Waterproofness is a vital piece of the puzzle. Planning on trekking through snow or slush? “Having wet feet out on the trail is probably one of the worst things you can do,” says Liz, a staff member at the Lakewood, Colorado, store who loves snowshoeing and has snowmobiled across frozen lakes in Voyageurs National Park.
Based on experience, Liz advises her active customers to opt for waterproof, seam-sealed boots that combat moisture and prevent feet from going numb during long journeys over frozen landscapes.
Whether you’re eager to join the neighborhood broomball game or simply don’t want to slip when you’ve got to walk Fido in the middle of a blizzard, it’s important to look for boots that grip icy, snow-covered surfaces.
When shopping, pay attention to the lugs—the traction-giving bumps on the boots’ rubber outsoles. For maximum traction, invest in boots with deep, angular lugs, as these patterns hug the ground while expelling mud and muck. Lugs with new ice-gripping technology are also worth exploring.
If you need a practical pair of boots to help you transition from work to adventure, seek out insulated boots with moderately aggressive lugs. That way, you can slip back into the office without leaving a trail of icy debris in your wake.
If you love ice fishing or snowmobiling, look for boots that lend maximum warmth. Pac boots have thick rubber outsoles and removable liners that can be swapped out for a fresh, dry pair.
If you find yourself staring longingly at your snowshoes hanging in the gear closet during summer, opt for low-bulk boots that prioritize mobility. Waterproof winter hiking boots, rather than pac boots, can be an excellent investment if you’re serious about staying active when the weather is frigid.
At times, winter hiking boots aren’t tall enough for deep snow. In these instances, our Expert Advice team suggests investing in a pair of gaiters like the REI Co-op Mountain Gaiters.
Ready to invest? Here’s a roundup of the best winter boots available right now.
Best for Cold Temps
- MSRP: $150
- Warmth: Four-layer 9mm ThermoPlus™ removable felt liners
- Waterproofing: Waterproof leather uppers/waterproof rubber bottoms
- Traction: Lugged rubber
- Height: Women’s: 9 in.; Men’s: 10 in.
These classic pac boots come equipped with 9mm felt liners made for teeth-chattering temps as low as minus 40 degrees. At the end of the day, you can remove the boots’ liners and let them warm by the fire.
“These boots are great for getting out in the really cold weather or just slipping on quickly on a snowy day. I wore these boots the most when I lived in Minnesota and needed boots for extremely frigid days or for activities such as snowmobiling. I love the removable liners because they are easy to dry after a long day of use.” —Liz Hajek Cottrell, staff member since 2016
“These heavy-duty boots keep my feet warm and cozy all day in freezing temperatures. There’s nothing light about them—they’re full-strength, no-messing-around boots. They’ve let me post-hole my way through snowy meadows and work outside all day without icy toes. They’re almost like carrying a little cabin on my feet.” —Katherine Anderson, REI member since 2008
Best for Wet Weather
- MSRP: $135
- Warmth: 7mm Neo-Tech insulation
- Waterproofing: 4-way-stretch waterproof neoprene
- Traction: Nonmarking and nonslip rubber
- Height: 15 in.
Originally designed for dairy farmers, the lightweight Bogs Classic Ultra High rain boots feature thick Neo-Tech™ neoprene that takes the sting out of the cold the way a wetsuit dilutes the shock of brisk saltwater. Their tall silhouette delivers longer-lasting warmth than short galoshes, and their handles make them easy to maneuver your feet into on misty mornings.
“Made of waterproof neoprene (dive suit insulation) with sealed seams, they are every bit as warm in slush and wet snow as they are in dry conditions. I find I often slip into them to walk my dog, as they are very fast to put on and take off.” —Mike Lanning, staff member since 1991
“I use these boots probably the most frequently in winter. They are great for throwing on to take the dogs out, and I use them the most at my other job at a horse ranch. They are great ‘muck boots,’ completely waterproof and always keep me warm no matter what the weather. [They’re] also extremely easy to clean off after a day in the mud and snow.” —Liz Hajek Cottrell
Best for Snowshoeing and Winter Hiking
Merrell Capra Glacial Ice Mid WP Winter Hiking Boots (Women’s)
- MSRP: $170
- Warmth: 200g, M Select™ low-bulk insulation
- Waterproofing: Waterproof/breathable membrane
- Traction: Vibram® rubber with Arctic Grip™ compound
- Height: Over-the-ankle
Cold, dry ice is dicey enough—but wet ice? Just thinking about it makes us shiver. The Merrell Capra Glacial Ice boots feature Vibram® rubber with an Arctic Grip™ compound that grips onto wet ice when conditions are slick. Reviewers on REI.com rave about the way these waterproof winter hiking boots fit straight out of the box, with room in the toes to accommodate thick hiking socks.
“These boots are great for getting out in the snow and hiking and snowshoeing. The Vibram® soles are great and grippy for those snowy hikes if you don’t feel like wearing traction devices. [They’re] warm enough for full-day hikes in the winter and snow, and breathable so you don’t get sweaty feet.” —Liz Hajek Cottrell
- MSRP: $129.95
- Warmth: 200g Thinsulate™ insulation
- Waterproofing: Climashield waterproof membrane
- Traction: Ice Grip Contagrip rubber
- Height: Over-the-ankle
Like the Merrell Capra, the Salomon Chalten boots pair 200g of low-bulk insulation with waterproof uppers to envelop your extremities in lasting warmth. Stiff enough to protect your feet from rocks and roots beneath the snow, reviewers on REI.com raved about how comfortable the boots were from the first to the fiftieth use.
Users found the Salomon Chalten boots tend to run true-to-length, but slightly narrow. For those with wide feet, Mike recommends the KEEN Durand Polar.
Best for City to Trail
- MSRP: $170
- Warmth: 200g Thinsulate™ insulation
- Waterproofing: Waterproof leather with fully-sealed seams
- Traction: Slip-resistant rubber
- Height: Women’s: 6.5 in.; Men’s: 7.5 in.
When outfitting her Lakewood customers with footwear that can transition from the city to the trail, Liz prioritizes comfort over style. “A lot of people want something that’s super cute for hiking,” says Liz. She’s often the one who has to say, “Well, I wouldn’t [go with that style] and here’s why.”
Instead, Liz opts for the Kodiak Magog and Surrey II, which both have 200g of low-profile Thinsulate™ insulation, waterproof leather uppers and fully-sealed seams to combat whipping winds and swirling snow.
“These [Kodiak Surrey II] boots nail the casual ‘camp chic’ look, but perform just as well as my clunky (not so chic) hiking boots when it gets cold and wet. Their break-in period is tiny and their waterproof, insulated construction is perfect for unpredictable Seattle weather. From 25-degree mornings at Crystal Mountain Resort to long, rainy days at Discovery Park, they’ve always kept my feet warm, cozy and dry. They’re my go-to boots when I’m not sure what the day will bring, but I do know I want happy feet.” —Sam Farquharson, copywriter, product content, REI.com
- MSRP: $179.95
- Warmth: AeroGel insulating foam/7mm felted-wool liners/200g 3M™ Thinsulate™ insulation
- Waterproofing: Waterproof suede/soft-shell uppers
- Traction: Vibram® rubber with IceTrek compound
- Height: Mid-calf
When we pressed Mike Lanning about his favorite winter boots, he happily indulged our whims—but not without a caveat: “The boots don’t produce the warmth, your body does,” he says. “Doing things like getting a good night’s sleep, eating a hearty breakfast and hydrating well will help you stay warm when you head out on a winter adventure. … The proper winter boots simply help you retain that heat.”
Mike’s top pick? The Vasque Lost 40, which combine 7mm felted wool liners with 200g of 3M™ Thinsulate™ insulation, making them some of the most well-insulated boots on the market with a low-bulk construction that promotes, rather than restricts, outdoor play. Plus, their Vibram® rubber outsoles with IceTrek compound clench the ice, allowing you to proceed with confidence on slick terrain.
“Inspired by the mukluk, this boot combines a substantial amount of insulation, while still offering remarkable freedom of movement, making it among the warmest of boots we have that will legitimately work well for high levels of activity. I find its traction on ice to be good, as well. … [These boots are] best for very cold conditions where one expects at times to be very active, but not requiring activity to stay warm.” —Mike Lanning