Editor’s note: This article was published in 2020. As a result, some of the products might be out of stock when you read this gear guide. We are in the process of updating it with new recommendations.
Leave hibernation to the bears. These six boots are proof that you don’t need to shiver or sacrifice sure footing in order to enjoy winter. Our favorite cold-weather kicks boast incredible warmth for the weight, sticky-as-glue traction and user-friendly price tags, so you’re sure to wear them all season long.
Best Overall for Women
- Versions: Women’s
- Weight (pair): 3 lbs. (women’s 7)
- Price: $195
Ladies: If you’re looking for a boot to four-wheel drive your way through winter, consider the waterproof Oboz Bridger. Its dual-density foam (EVA and TPU) midsole is thicker than a typical hiking boot for up-level comfort, but a nylon shank and TPU chassis keep the boot stiff enough for snowshoeing. The traction is also top-notch: The Bridger’s rubber outsole is infused with silica—the sandy stuff in quartz—to give it extra friction and keep hikers upright on slick or icy surfaces.
But a winter rig would be nothing without guaranteed warmth—which the Bridger has. A whopping 400 grams of 3M Thinsulate (a synthetic insulation) keep the boot so toasty that women, who tend to have colder feet than men, might not notice frigid temps. A wool-topped insole is cozy and prevents heat from escaping through the bottom of your foot. Buy here.
Best Overall for Men
- Versions: Men’s
- Weight (pair): 2 lb. 12 oz (men’s 9)
- Price: $170
It’s rarer than a unicorn, but the KEEN Targhee High Lace checks all the boxes: warm enough for freezing temps, supportive enough for hiking, enough traction for ice and slush and, ahem, slick enough to wear with jeans. It features proprietary waterproofing and bamboo insulation—dubbed KEEN.WARM—that’s rated to -25°F (not a typo), as well as a tall ankle collar that keeps debris out. A bouncy EVA foam midsole is comfortable enough for all-day wear, while a shank provides enough support for snowshoeing or light winter hiking. The Targhee High Lace’s 4mm lugs are on the deep side, offering cleatlike bite in mud and packed snow. And, lastly, the waterproof, salt-resistant leather keeps these boots clean enough for casual wear. Tip: Break them in before hitting the trail—some hikers think the Targhee High Laces are tight; fit is narrow. Buy here.
Best for Kids
- Versions: Kids’
- Weight (pair): 2 lb. 6 oz. (kids’ 2)
- Price: $80
Children have two switches: On and Off. Enable that power up with the Sorel Yoot Pac boots, which are equipped with soft felt liners and sherpa fleece cuffs to keep kiddos’ tootsies warm. (Bonus for parents: The liners are removable and machine-washable.) The nylon upper is coated with PU for weatherproofing, while the rubber shell sheds moisture on the sloppiest of days, ensuring more playtime and less complaining. The outsole’s herringbone pattern is sticky enough for slick pavement and slippery snow. Trade-off: The price for a life free of tingling toes isn’t cheap. Buy here.
Best for Mild Winter Weather
Entry-level adventurers looking for moderate warmth at an affordable price tag will appreciate the out-of-the-box comfort of the Merrell Thermo Chill. Thanks to 200 grams of proprietary insulation, these midcuts keep toes toasty in temps above freezing (but won’t be your best bet when the mercury plunges into the teens). A combined leather-and-mesh upper easily molds to the foot; none of our testers experienced hot spots, even on the first trek. The EVA midsole feels plush, adding to the overall comfort, but won’t support backpacking loads. The rubber outsole’s 5mm lugs claw into most wintry terrain types. Buy here.
Best for Around Town
- Versions: Women’s
- Weight (pair): 1 lb. 6 oz. (women’s 7)
- Price: $100
Celebrate like it’s your birthday because at less than a pound per foot, you can easily dance with these featherlight boots. Designed with a focus on fashion over function, the waterproof Columbia Minx Shorty III’s textile-and-suede upper and faux-fur collar looks as good at the watering hole as it does on a mellow trail. Still, 200 grams of synthetic insulation will keep your feet warm on brisk—but not freezing—days, and the proprietary rubber outsole is sticky enough for packed snow. The Shorty III’s shallow lugs won’t help you much on steep grades or slush, so keep it to nontechnical terrain. Best part? At $100, these kicks are the most affordable adult boots in the lineup. Buy here.
Best for Winter Hiking and Backpacking
- Versions: Women’s, Men’s (slightly different, but close)
- Weight (pair): 1 lb. 14 oz (women’s 7)
- Price: $220
For the backpack-haulers, sled-pullers, snow-trudgers and child-carriers among us: Take a flyer on the Danner Mountain 600 Weatherized. (If the Oboz Bridger is your all-terrain vehicle, this is your tank.) The burly Vibram SPE midsole is a combination of EVA foam and rubber, perfect for all-day comfort and rebound on long, soul-sucking trail days. A full-length nylon shank and a TPU heel cradle add even more support (laterally and torsionally), so carrying 40-plus-pound loads shouldn’t be an issue.
Slick terrain ahead? No problem. Vibram also contributed one of its stickiest outsoles—Megagrip—to create traction that will keep you sure-footed on scree, snow, slush and everything in between. The Mountain 600 has a full-grain leather upper and 200 grams of synthetic PrimaLoft insulation, making it plenty warm for mild winter days and even spicy, subfreezing ones if you’re working hard. Buy here.
It’s basic math: The more insulation, the warmer the shoe. Boots that boast north of, say, 400 grams of insulation will be warm, warm, warm in subzero temps. But if you plan to wear your boots when you’re moving, you don’t need that kind of a hot box. If you’re hiking, backpacking, mountaineering or even snowshoeing, 200 grams should suffice. (More than that and you’ll start to sweat, and sweat can eventually cool and cause your toes to turn numb when you stop working.)
Winter = snow. Snow = wet. A true winter boot needs to be waterproof. Every pick in this lineup is such, so you’re good there, but be sure to read the fine print. Our gear editor once “accidentally” sent a tester up Colorado’s 14,439-foot Mt. Elbert (the tallest mountain in Colorado) in winter to test boots that lacked a waterproof membrane. He returned with frostbitten toes and an attitude. Lesson: Only hike through snow with waterproof boots.
Whether you’re eager to join the neighborhood broomball game or you simply don’t want to slip when you’ve got to walk your doggo, look for boots that grip icy, snow-covered surfaces.
The lugs, or the bumps on the boots’ rubber outsoles, provide grip, much like an athletic cleat. For maximum traction, invest in boots with deep (>4mm), angular lugs, as these patterns hug the ground while expelling mud and muck. Outsoles infused with fabric, silica or even fiberglass enhance friction on slippery stuff.
If you need a practical pair of boots to help you transition from work to adventure, seek out a trail-to-town crossover shoe like the Columbia Minx Shorty. If you plan to snowshoe, hike or even backpack in winter, you’re going to need something more technical, like the Oboz Bridger, KEEN Targhee High Lace or Danner Mountain 600. These have more supportive midsoles, plus features you’ll appreciate on the trail like tall ankle collars and more aggressive lugs.
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.
Article by Heather Balogh Rochfort. Heather is a freelance writer and author specializing in the outdoors and adventure travel, particularly as they apply to women and families. Her organization WildKind educates and empowers families to find their wild. As a lifelong Colorado resident, Heather loves Type-II fun above treeline where the sun is hot and the oxygen depleted. Things she does not like: rock climbing. REI member since 2008.