The Best Snow Boots for Wintry Conditions

Adrienne Donica
·15-min read
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

From Popular Mechanics

The prevailing trend among boots this winter? Top-notch traction. Paired with plenty of insulation to keep your toes toasty, these snow boots won’t sacrifice performance, whether you’re tromping through deep snow drifts, getting out for a quick hike in what little sunlight there is, or simply staying 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 also waterproof to keep your feet dry in the face of snow and rain.

Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

How Insulation Keeps You Warm

Most boot makers use synthetic (often polyester) 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 created by intertwined fiber strands. 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 research 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, 40 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. Keen’s Polar Traction outsole, made with fiberglass, works similarly.

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. Heavy 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
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

How We Tested

Over the current and past cold seasons, our test editors have worn more than 20 pairs of snow boots in snowy, icy, muddy, and dry conditions on pavement and trails in Pennsylvania and Colorado. While wearing them, we paid attention to their comfort, support, and traction. We tested how well the boots insulate by measuring their average internal temperature with an infrared thermometer before and after placing each pair in coolers filled with ice water for five minutes. And 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. We also considered the cost, weight (measured on our own scale), and style of each pair. You can’t go wrong with one of these 10 pairs.

—EDITORS’ CHOICE—

Keen Revel IV Polar

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. 5.5 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -1.6℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

Updated for 2020, the Revel IV has the sturdy feel of a classic snow boot but the technical advantages of the modern era. The 200-gram insulation, now made from recycled material, joins layers of mylar and felt underfoot that are very effective at sealing in heat. We started testing when temperatures were still pretty warm, and on these 50-plus degree days, our tester’s feet would regularly start sweating. That boded well as temperatures fell once autumn arrived. We sat outside one 37-degree evening for more than half an hour before we began to feel a chill. The biggest upgrade Keen made is the addition of its ultra-grippy Polar Traction outsole. The company claims it has regenerative properties so that the fiberglass portion providing the superior traction will stick around even as the sole wears. We haven’t had our test pair for long enough to comment on that, but so far, we haven’t slipped in wet conditions. The Revel IV offers a higher-volume fit with a generous opening that let us easily slide our foot in and out. If you prefer wearing light or midweight socks, we recommend buying a half-size smaller than your norm. Between the roomy fit and the protective elements (such as the extra large toe cap and heel bumper) added for trail use, the Revel IV felt a little clunky. But its warmth, traction, and relatively tall height for a mid-cut style make it a go-anywhere boot that’s comfortable enough to wear all day without fatigue.

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—BEST VALUE—

Kamik Nation Plus

Weight Per Boot: 2 lb. 3.2 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -3.8℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

Costing less than $90, Kamik’s Nation Plus is a bargain for a high-cut boot with this good of performance. 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—was one of the top performers in our insulation test 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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―BEST FOR EVERYDAY USE―

Forsake Halden

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. | Internal Temperature Change: -4.5℉ | 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 Halden 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, it showed scuffs and abrasions, which was not unexpected for a shoe that’s more frontcountry than backcountry. Although the upper did absorb moisture during our test, the waterproof membrane successfully kept the inside dry. The Halden, then, is a good pick for milder climates or daily use between snowstorms.

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―BEST WOMEN’S WINTER BOOT—

Sorel Kinetic Caribou

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. 0.9 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -2.7℉ | Waterproofing: Good

Sorel’s Caribou is an iconic winter boot that boasts plenty of warmth and protection. In the women’s-only Kinetic, we found similar performance benefits in a stylish sneaker boot. The lower height and supple leather and felt upper results in a more flexible and lighter weight design than the original, which kept us comfortable throughout the day. The wavy EVA midsole, designed to absorb shock, also helped, as did the rubber heel cup that lent some ankle support. So far, the 100-gram insulation has proved to be fairly warm. We did notice the felt tongue retained some moisture during our testing, but the waterproof membrane successfully blocked any from seeping inside to the exceedingly cozy microfleece lining. Just beware, the Kinetic runs small. We recommend going up a half-size when paired with thinner socks or a full size if you’ll be wearing a heavier knit.

―BEST INSULATED WORK BOOT―

Thorogood Infinity FD 9-Inch Studhorse Insulated

Weight Per Boot: 2 lb. 1.8 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -1.3℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

Stay fresh on your feet with the new Infinity FD men’s series from Thorogood. The PU-TPU midsole will maintain its supportive structure over time, while the EVA insert at the heel absorbs shock. With that balance of support and comfort, the logger-style Studhorse provided protection in a flexible work boot that didn’t require any breaking in. And it didn’t feel bulky despite ranking as the second heaviest on this list. Part of the weight is from the 800-gram Thinsulate, which as expected, proved very effective at staving off cold. If you don’t need quite that much insulation, choose the 7-inch model or the 8-inch safety toe version that both have 400-gram Thinsulate. The outsole has a fair number of nooks and crannies that hung onto a bit of mud on wet days, but we still found enough traction to stay upright. The speed hooks have a narrow gap that made for a secure fit on account of the snug laces. That’s also a good thing should they become untied, but as we also discovered, we sometimes couldn’t fit the laces around the hooks on the first try. Still, this comfortable and warm boot is a good pick if fiddling around your shop in the morning regularly turns into an all-day affair.

―BEST TRACTION―

Wolverine Glacier II 6-Inch

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. 9.6 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -5.7℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

The clear advantage of the Wolverine Glacier lies in its Arctic Grip Pro outsole. Vibram designed it 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. Although the men’s boot gave lackluster performance in our insulation test, the experience on foot was much different. “These suckers kept my feet warm—not just adequate in the cold, but actively warm and toasty,” our tester reported. (If you need even more heat-trapping power than the 400-gram Thinsulate in this boot, choose the 8-inch model with 600-gram Thinsulate or the Glacier Extreme, which 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.

―MOST STYLISH―

Timberland Port Union Waterproof

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. 5.8 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -3.2℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

The Port Union Waterproof is a great-looking boot, but it has more than style going for it. It’s well built and packed with features to contend with all but the worst of winter. Timberland’s proprietary waterproof membrane blocked any moisture from getting inside, the 200-gram PrimaLoft insulation provided moderate warmth, and the outsole—designed with a combination of rubber and EVA—offered an unexpectedly cushy ride and great grip in snow and on rocky trails. The men’s boot is true-to-size yet comfortably roomy. Easy lacing let us dial in the fit exactly how we wanted to. One thing we didn’t like: the stiff upper that limited range of motion and rubbed uncomfortably around the ankle. After an hour-long hike while wearing a midweight sock, our tester ended up with a leather burn. Thicker socks helped (as will more breaking in), but given this, the Port Union is best left for less strenuous use around town.

—BEST TALL BOOT FOR WOMEN—

Columbia Ice Maiden II

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. 0.6 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -5.2℉ | Waterproofing: Poor

For how much boot you get, the Ice Maiden II is a lightweight option at an affordable price. The lower cost comes with some sacrifices in performance, but that shouldn’t be a problem for everyday use. The padded upper is very flexible, so it felt comfortable while walking around despite not having a ton of ankle support. We also like the straightforward lacing that let us adjust the fit to varying degrees of tightness. Although the Ice Maiden is true-to-fit, the toe box was slightly cramped. Our tester was most comfortable in lightweight socks. The tasteful amount of faux fur at the cuff isn’t overkill, and Columbia offers the boot in nine colors, so you should find one to match your style. We haven’t tested the grip in snow or ice yet, but we would have liked more traction while walking on a rain-slicked wooden deck. And despite its waterproof bootie, we found the Ice Maiden took on water during our test. Still, if you need something for running errands on cold days or navigating relatively well-groomed paths, this boot will do the trick.

—BEST INSULATED DUCK BOOT—

Sperry Ice Bay

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. 14.5 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -4.35℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

For cold, wet days, we like the men’s-only Ice Bay. The 200-gram Thinsulate lining covered in soft flannel, along with thick socks, kept us toasty warm one miserable fall day. And with a rubber shell wrapping around the foot, there was no way for water to seep in. This construction is hallmark of a duck boot and resulted in a slightly clunky feel, but after a few minutes, we hardly noticed. In the eyelet lacing system, our tester was able to really tighten the laces, which came in handy as he found the sizing runs big. Our test sample was longer than expected and had extra volume, too. Given that, we recommend choosing a half-size smaller than your typical shoe. You should still have room to wear a heavyweight sock. And keep in mind the insulation and taller height of this boot means you likely won’t be able to fit slim cut jeans overtop them.

―BEST WINTER HIKING BOOTS―

Oboz Bridger 8-Inch Insulated Waterproof

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. 4.8 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -3.4℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

Support, warmth, and protection: That’s what the Oboz Bridger Insulated delivers in one of the lighter pairs of boots we tested. A previous Editors’ Choice winner, the insulated hiking boot came in handy on the trail and beyond. 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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