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Tips for choosing the right winter walking boots

Written by Fiona

October 29 2019

The walking boots that you choose for winter will depend on a number of factors, including where you will walk, what type of walking you enjoy and how cold/wet/snowy it is. However, whatever your chosen boot, it does need to keep your feet warm and dry.

Features to look for in winter walking boots

Protection – The number one consideration when choosing boots for winter walking, hiking, mountaineering, etc. is protection from the elements.

The boots must protect your feet from the cold, as well as the wet and snow. Look for boots that have mid-height ankles, rather than the low-rise ankles or shoe styles of summer.

The boots should be made of an obviously durable fabric, suede or leather, have a waterproof liner (such as Gore-tex) and boast extra protection such as rubber toes, heels and rands.

Insulation – If you will be spending a lot of time walking through snow, it’s worth making sure your boots are insulated. This insulating could be made of Thinsulate, wool or polypropylene, or similar.

Some bots have a removable lining that means you can use them like slippers when padding about indoors.

Comfort – You need a bit of wiggle room in winter boots. Most people will wear one winter-thick pair of socks but if your feet and toes are jammed tightly into the boots it will restrict the circulation of blood in and around your feet.

Equally, boots should not be so loose that your feet move about and end up with chafing and blisters because of the fabric rubbing against your skin.

Make sure, when you ry on your boots, that you wear the rocks you will wear for your walking adventure.

Breathability – Breathability is an important feature to consider. Not only does it add to the wearer’s comfort, it ensures dryness by preventing the accumulation of moisture due to sweat inside the shoe.

Insulation and waterproofed materials hinder breathability. Consider winter boots made from Gore-Tex, fabric or leather as these materials offer a good balance between breathability and water repellence.

Traction – First of all, the soles of your boots should have a sole that will grip the terrain, In winter, you might walk on mud, wet rocks, snow and ice. A sole with a more aggressive studded sole and also a right-angled heel will keep you upright, even when walking on slopes.

In addition, you will want to ensure your boots are crampon compatible. These are added to the base of your boots to give extra grip in snow and ice. There are different types of crampons to fit different styles of boots.

You don’t need specialist boots for many styles of crampons but you do need to be sure that the crampons will fit the boots you plan to wear. As a guide, boots are rated from B0 to B3, from flexible to stiffer. There are crampons to suit each type of boot.

  • B0 boots are too flexible for crampons.
  • B1 boots can be used with C1 crampons.
  • B2 boots can be used with C1 or C2 crampons.
  • B3 boots can be used with C1, C2 or C3 crampons.

Some people also use micro crampons, such as Kahtoola. These are fine in some situations but they will not offer enough grip when conditions are very icy. There is little to substitute a good quality pair of Grivel or Petzl style crampons.

Weight – Winter walking boots are invariably going to be heavier than summer boots, but your purpose is best served by selecting the lightest boots available for your needs. You can walk for longer in light weight boots because the heavier the bots, the more impact they have on your leg muscles.

Snow boots are useful when walking around ski resorts, for example.

Design features to consider when buying winter walking boots

Temperature rating This is an important consideration. Temperature ratings mentioned by manufacturers may not be totally accurate, but they do give a fair idea. If you plan to be out when the mercury dips to below -20°C, then you’re better off with boots rated to provide warmth at -25°C.

Volume of insulation – The amount of insulation has a direct bearing on a boot’s temperature rating. Boots with less than 400g of insulation are for milder weather. Here, “grams” refers to the thickness or volume of insulation and not its weight.

A good pair of boots are an essential addition to your checklist of winter camping, if you plan on staying warm, that is. They must have at least 600g of insulation. Such boots will likely be ankle length or taller.

The type of insulating material and the shape of the boot influence its insulating properties. If you’re headed for a walk in temperatures below freezing, pay particular attention to the insulation properties of your boots.

Toe cap – A reinforced toecap protects your toes from injury in case of inadvertent stubbing against a hard surface. These also help the boots retain structural integrity. Importantly, a sturdy toe cap can take the weight of crampons and similar traction equipment, should the need ever arise.

Soles – The soles on winter boots, usually made of rubber, are designed to ensure maximum traction on snow and ice. Vibram Arctic Grip soles are currently among the best in terms of performance. Made entirely of rubber, these soles do not feature any metal inserts and are designed to work particularly well on wet ice.

You may want to consider winter hiking boots with lug soles. These soles, made of rubber, feature deep grooves that improve balance and provide good traction.

Try before you buy

Once you have assessed a range of boots based on these features, you may want to try on a pair or two to check arch and foot support. Wearing boots will allow you to assess if the boots let you maintain proper posture while walking.

You will also get an idea of how the lacing system works, with respect to ensuring snugness, particularly for taller boots, as gaps at the cuff (the top portion of the boot) may result in snow and water entering the boot. Wear the boots with socks so as to get a better idea of the fit. Walking around a bit in the shoes will inform you of the weight that these add to your strides.

A pair of gaiters can help to keep the wet and snow out of the ankle of walking boots.

Once you’ve purchased a pair, ensure that you spend time building up your walking distance. Most modern boots will be comfortable straight away but it is a good idea to wear them in a bit by going on shorter local walks first before heading for the hills or mountains.

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