The Best Snow Boots for Wintry Conditions

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

From Popular Mechanics

As recently as a few seasons ago, finding a snow boot that didn’t turn into an ice skate on slush and snow was a challenge. Not anymore. Companies are investing in soles with top-notch traction. Paired with plenty of insulation to keep your toes toasty, these winter 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.

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, 42 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.

Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

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.

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, the more can be packed into the same space to create more air pockets. 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, 200 grams worth of insulation packed into the boot, but that a 1-square-meter piece of that insulation weighs that much. So the higher the number is, the warmer the insulation will be.

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. Lastly, consider what type of waterproofing you prefer. In our testing, models with waterproof membranes or seam-sealed constructions are equally reliable. Typically, the latter are somewhat more affordable but feel clunkier.

Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

How We Tested

Over the current and past cold seasons, our test editors have worn 24 pairs of snow boots in snowy, icy, muddy, and dry conditions on pavement and trails in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Wisconsin. 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.


Keen Revel IV Polar

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

Updated for this season, 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. On a 37-degree evening, our tester sat outside for more than half an hour before she 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 used our test pair in a serious snowstorm yet, but so far, we haven’t slipped on lightly dusted pavement or in wet conditions. The high-volume fit comes 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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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—and the women’s version, the Momentum 2—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 the foot keep moisture out. (The boot stayed completely dry during our waterproofing test.) Insulated with a 200-gram 3M Thinsulate removable liner, this boot ranked in the top half of 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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Sorel Caribou

Weight Per Boot: 2 lb. 3.3 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -0.4℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

The Caribou is a proven storm-ready boot. Its taller height, gusseted tongue, and waterproof construction block out snow and slush. The design is noticeably heavy, but that heft creates a sturdy platform for trudging through inches of fresh powder. And that’s saying nothing of its best-in-class insulation that curbed the temperature change to less than half a degree in our test. Comparatively, the next warmest boot—Baffin’s Impact—cooled 1.2 degrees after the five-minute ice bath. Credit to the removable 9mm recycled felt liner and the 2.5mm felt installed in the Caribou’s midsole. Unsurprisingly, this insulation kept us toasty on walks in 20- to 30-degree weather, and we’d trust it in colder temperatures, too. The boot is true-to-size, but if you’re often between sizes like our tester is, choose the larger of the two for the best fit. Our biggest complaint is with the round-lug placement on the outsole. The lugs are crowded together, which causes the tread to hang onto dirt, mud, and other muck. This is less of an issue in snow, though. A boot with this much protection will be overkill in some climates, but for fending off bitter cold and regular snowfall, you won’t find its equal.

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Forsake Halden

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. | Internal Temperature Change: -4.5℉ | Waterproofing: Good

Forsake designed this lightweight men’s boot 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.


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 one of the heaviest on this list. Part of the weight is from the 800-gram Thinsulate, which as expected, proved very effective at fending 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.


Danner Inquire Mid Weatherized

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. 0.4 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -2.1℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

This season, Danner updates its women’s-only Inquire by adding insulation, and that means the hiking boot is ready for winter’s worst on the trail or in the city. The tasteful fur trim at the cuff amps up the cozy factor, but the real warmth comes from the 200-gram insulation surrounding the foot and the aerogel added to the toe cap. This lightweight material is incredibly warm, and NASA has even used it to insulate a Mars rover. Out of the box, the Inquire didn’t pinch or need any breaking in. It’s a supportive boot and well-cushioned, too. We were just as comfortable after wearing it for eight hours as we were in the first few minutes. The outsole is made with Vibram’s tacky Megagrip compound, which is one of our favorites for waterproof hiking boots. It’s capable in slush and snow, though not as reliable as winter-specific soles like Arctic Grip. We did wish the lacing was more secure. The top hooks are very tight, so it took more effort than normal to wrap the wide, flat laces around them. And we recommend double knotting those laces, as we found they came untied somewhat easily when we didn’t. Currently, stock is limited in many sizes. If you can’t find your size on your retailer of choice, place a backorder on Danner’s website.


Sorel Kinetic Caribou

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

When you don’t need the serious protection of the original Caribou, turn to the women’s-only Kinetic for similar performance benefits in a more stylish package. The lower height and supple leather and felt upper result 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. 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. Paired with 100-gram insulation, the Kinetic has kept us warm enough. Just beware, the boot runs small. We recommend going up a half-size when pairing the boot with thinner socks or a full size if you’ll be wearing a heavier knit.


Wolverine ShiftPlus Polar Range BOA

Weight Per Boot: 1 lb. 11.5 oz. | Internal Temperature Change: -2.7℉ | Waterproofing: Excellent

The new men’s-only Polar Range is built for the worst of winter. It combines a confidence-inspiring Arctic Grip outsole, a quick and secure lacing system, and high-tech insulation into a comfortable, supportive boot that’s quickly become our tester’s favorite. Thanks this boot’s ultra-grippy outsole, we plowed through snow and slush without a second thought and felt fairly steady on patches of black ice, too. The traction originates in the heel and extends forward, ensuring we had solid purchase with each foot fall. Wolverine swaps traditional lacing for the dial-based BOA Fit System. A quick click and twist delivered the same security you’d find in a snowboard boot. Our foot solidly locked in place within the spacious Polar Range, and we never had to worry about tightening loose laces while we were out and about. A long-lasting PU midsole combined with a nylon shank kept us fresh-footed during all-day wear, and the 600-gram aerogel insulation staved off winter’s chill. As much as we enjoyed them, the boot’s premium features run up the cost. It’d make sense to invest if you live at elevation or up north, but perhaps not otherwise. If you can live without the BOA system, the traditionally laced model is priced more reasonably.


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 into the dead of winter. 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.


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 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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