The Best Snow Boots for Wintry Conditions

Adrienne Donica
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

From Popular Mechanics

The prevailing trend among boots this winter? Lightweight, low-profile, comfortable designs that don’t sacrifice performance, whether you’re wearing them to tromp through deep snow drifts, get out for a quick hike in what little sunlight there is, or simply stay upright on icy sidewalks.

Check out the quick reviews below of our top five snow boots, then scroll down for helpful buying advice and full reviews of these pairs and other top performers.

Key Features

Snow boots offer two main advantages over work boots and hiking boots: They are insulated to keep you warm and have higher-traction soles to contend with slippery conditions. Winter boots are typically also waterproof, an important feature if you live in a climate where it snows or rains regularly.

Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

How Insulation Keeps You Warm

Most boot makers use synthetic insulation—such as 3M Thinsulate, PrimaLoft, or their own proprietary material—because it works better when wet than natural insulation, like wool or down. These insulators trap the heat coming off of your body in tiny air pockets within the fabric. To create those toasty pockets, engineers intertwine fine strands of the individual synthetic fibers (often polyester) within the boots. The smaller the strands are (allowing more to be packed into the same space), the more air pockets there will be within the insulation. And that retains more warmth, explains Ken Cox, lead specialist application engineer at the 3M Thinsulate Insulation Lab. It also means that insulation is often comprised of more air than anything else—the Thinsulate commonly used in footwear is made with microfibers that have an average diameter of six microns (human hair measures 25 or more) and is about 95 percent trapped air. You won’t see micron counts on most hang tags when you’re shopping, but know that if a boot has 3M Thinsulate or PrimaLoft, you’ll be shielded from the cold. You can also look for the weight of the synthetic insulation used, which is measured in grams. It doesn’t mean that there’s, say, 120 grams worth of insulation packed into the boot, but that a one square-meter piece of that insulation weighs that much. So the higher the number is, the warmer the insulation will be.

High-Traction Soles

“There are over 20,000 people [in Ontario] in a typical winter who fall down and end up in an emergency department,” says Geoff Fernie, the Creaghan family chair in prevention and healthcare technologies at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and the University of Toronto. Primarily, these people are older adults, but as Fernie and a team of researchers discovered, many of us are at risk simply because of the boots on our feet. “Until we started rating winter boots, they were really dreadful,” Fernie says. “When we did a survey in 2015 and we rated 100 boots, 90 of them were crap. Only 10 of them passed our minimum standard.” Shoe and sole manufacturers paid attention, though, and some even met with the scientists to learn how they could improve their products. In the most recent ratings, 28 men’s boots and 16 women’s boots earned at least one out of three snowflakes. People who wore boots that met the team’s minimum standards were four times less likely to slip than people wearing other boots, Fernie says.

Fernie says two technologies provide superior traction on ice: Green Diamond and Arctic Grip, a product produced by Vibram. Green Diamond works by adding small hard granules to a sole that scratch cold, hard ice, whereas Arctic Grip—designed with microscopically small fibers protruding from the sole that work similarly to a gecko’s foot—excels on slush and wet ice. “On a micro-level, you’ve got millions of mini-crampons, essentially,” Fernie says.

Choosing the Right Pair

Aside from comfort and style, it’s important to consider when you plan to wear your boots. Choose a pair with more insulation and a taller height if you will be in extremely cold settings, outside for a long period of time, or won’t be very active (and therefore not producing your own warmth). But if hiking, snowshoeing, or shoveling snow is in your future, less can sometimes be more, says Heather Svahn, the vice president of Mountain Hardware and Sports, an outdoor gear shop with locations in northern California where the average annual snowfall tops 200 inches. Thick insulation combined with the body heat you generate from moving around can cause you to sweat, which could then freeze when you cool down and make you colder. To move the sweat away from your skin and give it a chance to evaporate before it can freeze, opt for moisture-wicking synthetic or wool socks.

Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

How We Tested

We evaluated these snow boots based on their price, weight, comfort, warmth, style, and waterproofing ability. When it came to determining comfort, we weighed each pair and walked around in them over the course of several days in snow, ice, and dry conditions to assess their fit, support, traction, and overall feel. We tested how well the boots insulate by measuring their internal temperature with an infrared thermometer before and after placing each pair in coolers filled with ice water for five minutes. To test how well they could keep feet dry, we submerged the boots in 2.5 inches of water for an hour. Most of the boots emerged totally dry, and for the few that didn’t, we included notes about what happened.


Oboz Bridger 8-Inch Insulated Waterproof

Weight: 2 lb. 9.6 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -3.4 degrees | Waterproofing: Excellent

Support, warmth, and protection: That’s what the Oboz Bridger Insulated delivers in one of the lightest pairs of boots we tested. It’s actually an insulated hiking boot, but its features and relatively low-key profile make it our top pick for a variety of winter uses, including everyday wear and playing in the snow. The Granite Peak outsole grips well in snow and snow-covered ice but was less secure on wet ice. After a quick break-in period, the boot felt comfortably snug. It works best with thinner socks, which isn’t a problem because the boot has 200-gram 3M Thinsulate and a thermal insole that keeps the cold out while reflecting heat back toward your toes. Despite lots of stitching on the nubuck leather upper (and therefore potential spots for moisture to sneak in), the boot stayed completely dry inside during our waterproof test thanks to Oboz’s BDry membrane and the gusseted tongue. If you’ll be braving large snowdrifts regularly, the D-ring offers an easy attachment point for a gaiter, or you could opt to buy the Bridger in the tall height. Our one complaint is the high lace loop built into the tongue. It makes untying the shoes more cumbersome than most others, but you can always re-lace the shoes to avoid using it.

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Forsake Wilson

Weight: 2 lb. | Internal Temperature Change: -4.5 degrees | Waterproofing: Good

Forsake designed this lightweight boot and its women’s equivalent, the Patch, to feel almost as comfortable as a sneaker. With a soft EVA foam midsole, cushioning throughout the upper, and a gusseted mesh tongue, the Wilson is soft, squishy, and fairly breathable for a leather shoe. We felt no hot spots even after wearing the boots for 10 hours straight. However, following heavy outdoor use, the Wilson showed scuffs and abrasions—not unexpected for a shoe that’s more frontcountry than backcountry. Its upper did absorb moisture during our test, but the waterproof membrane successfully kept the inside dry. For 2020, Forsake renamed the boot to Halden, but the construction is identical, and last season’s model will save you a few bucks.

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Kamik Nation Plus

Weight: 4 lb. 6.4 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -3.8 degrees | Waterproofing: Excellent

Costing less than $75, a pair of the Kamik Nation Plus is a bargain. But the boot can still withstand the worst of winter. Its tall height protects you when tromping through deep snow, and the seam-sealed construction and large synthetic rubber shell surrounding your foot keep moisture out. (The boot stayed completely dry during our waterproofing test.) Insulated with a 200-gram 3M Thinsulate removable liner, this boot—and the women’s version, the Momentum 2—has a temperature rating down to -40 degrees. In our insulation test, it was one of the top performers and always kept our tester, who has poor circulation in his feet, warm. The Nation Plus felt plush underfoot even after we wore it for hours, and the soft lining didn’t itch or scratch against bare skin. The trade-off for all that protection at a great price? This thing is heavy, and each step lands with a thud.

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The North Face Shellista II Mid

Weight: 3 lb. | Internal Temperature Change: -6.9 degrees | Waterproofing: Excellent

Cute and comfortable, the Shellista II is ideal for urban settings and moderately cold climates. The North Face designed the boot with a women-specific (read: smaller and slimmer) fit, so consider buying up by at least a half size if you have wide feet. Once you have the right fit, there’s plenty to like. The winterized rubber outsole promises stable traction on snow-covered sidewalks, and during our waterproofing test, not a drop of moisture made it through the proprietary waterproof membrane. The mid-calf height with a soft inner lining offers protection without restricting movement, but if you prefer a shorter style, opt for the roll-down version. Best of all, this boot looks as sharp as it feels. The nubuck leather and knit upper is stylish, and the slim, lightweight design reduces bulk. Despite the 200-gram PrimaLoft insulation, the Shellista II came in last during our insulation test, so be sure to wear a warm pair of socks when it’s below freezing.

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Caterpillar Kinetic Ice+ Composite Toe

Weight: 3 lb. 6.4 o.z | Internal Temperature Change: -4.4 degrees | Waterproofing: Excellent

Many winter boots feel rigid underfoot, but not the Kinetic Ice+. The composite-toe work boot is flexible enough to jog in comfortably. Still, the foam and rubber midsole packs lasting comfort even on cold concrete. The Kinetic Ice+ is packed with 200-gram Thinsulate for warmth but is still plenty breathable, thanks to a mesh sock liner. We also liked how easy it was to put on. “The tongue of the boot stays up straight and out of the way, making getting your feet in almost as easy as a pair of pull-on boots,” our tester said. The laces did have a tendency to come untied, so be prepared to double-knot them. The full-grain leather upper adds a stylish flair, while the yellow accents increase visibility (Caterpillar also makes an all-black version). And like many work boots, it meets ASTM standards to protect you against impact, compression, and electrical hazards.

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Wolverine Glacier II 6-Inch

Weight: 3 lb. 3.2 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -5.7 degrees | Waterproofing: Excellent

Like the Kinetic Ice+, the Wolverine Glacier II feature Vibram’s Arctic Grip Pro. The soles are designed for maximum performance on wet ice in addition to key safety features such as fire retardance and oil resistance. We compared them to another pair of boots with different Vibram soles, and the Arctic Grip provided noticeably more traction on ice and snow. Along with the excellent grip, our tester raved about the boot’s 400-gram Thinsulate insulation that had him feeling the heat. “These suckers kept my feet warm—not just adequate in the cold, but actively warm and toasty,” he said. (If you need even more heat-trapping power, the 8-inch model has 600-gram Thinsulate, and the Glacier Extreme is packed with 600-gram Aerogel insulation.) But, we also noticed the Glacier is a bit too tight in the ankle and the metal backing of one of the lace hooks has a tendency to wear. As we’ve broken in the boots, the issue has dissipated some, but it’s still not perfect.

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Vasque Laplander UltraDry

Weight: 2 lb. 6.4 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -5.1 degrees | Waterproofing: Excellent

A good-looking boot, Vasque’s Laplander UltraDry is loaded with 400-gram Thinsulate to keep your toes toasty. We stayed warm while wearing them, even though they were toward the bottom of our temperature testing. The insulation also provides plush cushioning from the ankle to the top of the boot. The tall height of the nubuck leather, suede, and mesh upper is perfect for trudging through deep snow, and the UltraDry waterproof membrane kept the boot dry during our waterproof test. We had solid traction on snow, though we noticed the proprietary winterized sole didn’t shed flakes as easily as some others. The Laplander was incredibly stiff out of the box, and it took a good three days to loosen them up. After that, they felt more comfortable with a dual-density EVA footbed and an EVA midsole. Still, this isn’t a boot for someone with wide feet or who needs a roomy toe box, and we recommend ordering half a size up for the best fit.

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Sorel Cheyanne II

Weight: 3 lb. 6.4 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -5.5 degrees | Waterproofing: Excellent

This duck boot from Sorel pairs style and performance. The full-grain leather upper offers timeless style, while the rubber shell, seam-sealed construction, and the leather’s natural waterproofing keeps moisture out. The Cheyanne II isn’t also light as some and felt clunky but not so much that we didn’t enjoy wearing it. We liked the microfleece lining, which was soft enough that we could wear the boots without socks. Paired with the 200-gram insulation, our feet were warm on days when the mercury dipped below freezing. And we didn’t have any problems staying upright after a winter storm.

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Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV Omni-Heat

Weight: 3 lb. 3.2 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -4.7 degrees | Waterproofing: Fair

The Bugaboot Plus IV Omni-Heat has a reasonable amount of insulation, excellent support, and good traction within a relatively small boot. We didn’t have any nagging hot spots while wearing them and liked the thread-through lacing system instead of a more traditional hook-and-wrap design. However, we did notice that the gusseted tongue can bunch if you don’t take the time to adjust it while lacing up. The fit is roomy enough to accommodate thicker socks, and the tall boot height doesn’t restrict flexibility while keeping snow out. For even more protection, the Bugaboot has a D-ring to easily attach a gaiter. The grippy Michelin sole is designed to work well on pavement but also well-suited to trails—we found plenty of traction on dirt, mud paths, rocks, and snow. Another plus? All these features don’t weigh down the Bugaboot, which is less than 3.5 pounds.

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The North Face Tsumoru

Weight: 2 lb. | Internal Temperature Change: -4.3 degrees | Waterproofing: Excellent

Almost all of the snow boots we tested aced our waterproof test, but The North Face Tsumoru have double the amount of protection thanks to a proprietary waterproof membrane and a PU coating on the mesh upper. That mesh keeps the boot light, and we didn’t feel like we were stomping around like in so many other winter boots. Still, the winterized outsole provided great grip on snow and decent grip on ice. The Tsumoru lost marks due to its odd fit. The boot is true-to-size, but even with thin socks, the toe box felt cramped (a half size larger than your usual should clear this up). Our tester also reported his heel had a tendency to lift while walking. But despite these issues, the injection-molded EVA midsole ensures the Tsumoru is a comfortable boot. Costing less than a Benjamin, it’s a bargain buy.

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